American Philosophy and Canadian Potential, Composing, 14/04/2017

So as part of my research for Utopias, I started reading The Federalist Papers yesterday, and I want to tell you why.*

* I also want to apologize for having taken an unintentional break between posts. To be honest, I just haven’t been feeling too well this week. Nothing serious or anything – I just haven’t had the energy to write that much.

You know, instead of the portraits, I'm just going to use images from
the Hamilton musical when I want to throw up a picture of
Alexander Hamilton or James Madison.
First, it’s simply something I wanted to include. I’m on a streak of reading through thinkers in the classical tradition of politics, threading a fairly unique path of influence for my ideas in political philosophy.

Before the explosion of Karl Marx, I think the most important political thinkers in the Western tradition for my project make out a materialist approach to radical democracy.

There was Immanuel Kant’s vision of a world in progress toward perpetual peace in the enlightenment of humanity’s own powers of reason and calm thought. Some interesting ideas, but overall kind of a bust for me.

I found unexpected value in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of humanity’s immanent powers to build solidarity in communities. Same with Machiavelli’s vision of humanity as universally capable of the virtues to sustain a harmonious, free society. Even if we constantly fuck all that up.

The Federalist Papers are a central work of public philosophy for the foundation of a wholly new nation. The testament of those immanent powers, virtues, and horrifying mistakes in action on a scale of millions of people.

Second, while I don’t think it’ll become a major dimension of Utopias, I want to develop a way of thinking about the perennial problems of political philosophy that’s distinctly Canadian.

Hugh MacLennan was one of the first political thinkers to deal
with the nature of Canada, but he couldn't get past the old European
concepts that the new country gave you the opportunity to give up.
MacLennan saw the problem of Canada as being composed of two
nations, literally two solitudes. Not what could come from
bringing them (and many, many others) together.
This is probably a future project, but one of the questions I want to deal with in my work – whether philosophy, fiction, cinema – is the nature of Canadian identity. I think Canada as a country has the potential to be a model for all humanity as a democracy that harmoniously combines a totally open multiculturalism with the solidarity of communitarian virtues.

Now, that totally isn’t where we are right now. But I think contemporary Canada is best positioned of any country on Earth to move in this direction as we improve our democracy. And as far as I’m concerned, a perfectly multicultural and communitarian democracy is paradise on Earth.

But there hasn’t really been a work that hits perfectly on that essence of Canadian political philosophy. The Federalist Papers are the genesis of the distinctly American political philosophy. So let’s compare and contrast.

Third, it has to do with the circumstances of the book. Utopias is going to deal with some universal question of politics. How do we live together in peace? How can we build a society of equals that is also free? What is the kind of equality that really matters? What is the best kind of freedom?

But it’ll deal with those problems with the issues of my own time at the forefront. Political thinking today has to confront the resurgence of violent nationalism, a world of densely integrated and fast communication more populous than we’ve ever been, teetering on the brink of severe ecological shifts that can upend our whole civilization. And people are rattling nuclear weapons.

Worthwhile political thinking for the present and the future has to develop answers to those universal questions in the context of this unique situation of human history.

So who else in the tradition of those questions has developed a vision of the most free society based on humanity’s own power to build it our damn selves without having to rely on authorities or unthinking dogma?

Well, I’ve found that’s Benedict Spinoza, Niccolò Machiavelli, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Antongio Negri. I want to see if Alexander Hamilton or James Madison also deserve a place on that list.

I think they might.

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