Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

Francis Fukuyama “Political Order and Political Decay”

October 4, 2014

Political Order and Political Decay: From Industrialization to the Globalization of Democracy

By Francis Fukuyama

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

The prolific political philosopher Francis Fukuyama has essayed again, this time with a weighty (in all respects) tome that outlines his understanding of political development in the west in the modern era. It’s the second and final installment of his treatise that began in 2011 with The Origins of Political Order.

The two-part series undertakes nothing less than an overview of the rise and fall of institutions of democratic accountability in western Europe, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States since the Industrial Revolution. In the current book, he picks up from the chronology of his inquiry in the first volume dealing with the governmental legacies of imperialist monarchies, the Enlightenment, and the important revolutions that took place before approximately 1800.

Fukuyama cut his scholarly teeth as an intellectual in sympathy with the so-called Reagan revolution that supposedly reasserted American dynamism and global significance following setbacks like the Viet Nam War. However, by the Iraq War he began to take some distance from the ideology and strategy of the George W. Bush administration — and a Republican party that he felt had lost its way. So, with the election of Barack Obama, Fukuyama had earned the uncomfortable distinction of facing criticism from America’s centrist and neo-conservative political thinkers alike. Perhaps such intellectual isolation fosters original work.

Fukuyama is famous, and in some eyes notorious, for the “end of history” theory that he first advanced in an article published by The National Interest in 1989. With Mikhail Gorbachev then championing perestroika and glasnost, and the Soviet system on the brink, Fukuyama posited that the imminent collapse of global communism, and the defeat of German fascism in the last half of the twentieth century, heralded humanity’s rejection of twentieth century grand schemes of social engineering and totalitarianism in preference for the ideals of liberal representative democracy. Fukuyama suggested that the world had taken Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini for a test drive, but opted for Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. His analysis elicited some very negative retorts; among many accusations, he was said to be blindly advocating a global system that privileged the USA and former imperial powers of ‘old Europe.’ Fukuyama insists that he was misunderstood, and accurately identified Hegel and Marx as originators of the ‘end of history’ analysis that describes inevitable (at least to the likes of Hegel and Marx) processes led by emerging bourgeois societies.

In Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama undertakes a further explanation — and perhaps a correction of sorts — of his post-Cold War argument. Its global scope is admirable, but the argument demonstrates its most evident strengths when Fukuyama focuses on the United States. (Born in Chicago, Fukuyama currently teaches at Stanford University.) In looking at the US, he advances some very unconventional thinking — at least for someone once considered to be an intellectual lion of the American right. Charting the historic role of a depoliticized civil service in fulfilling vital administrative tasks of government, Fukuyama makes useful comparisons between administrative institutions of government in countries influenced by either British parliamentary practice, or the American and French revolutions.

For instance, his analysis of the emergence of the US Forest Service, as an example of a body of professional bureaucrats at least temporarily decoupled from political expediency, patronage and lobbying, is fascinating and instructive. Also, his glance at attempts at railway regulation at the beginning of the twentieth century usefully foreshadows clumsy attempts in our own era to regulate telecommunication industries and the Internet. Fukuyama regards an independent bureaucracy — dedicated to serving all citizens — as a democratic bulwark. If he was once a Republican apologist, Fukuyama’s Republicanism goes back to the almost red Tory domestic policies and public duty of a Teddy Roosevelt. This ain’t no Tea Party.

Perhaps most thought provoking in his consideration of political decay in the US. He examines a system of checks and balances run amuck in which a surfeit of interest groups, lobbyists and lawyers create gridlock and stifle democracy while claiming to act in its name. His description of American “vetocracy” in which political actors, including the President, lack effectively representative (but reasonably constrained) decision-making power does not generate optimism in an age of climate change and Ebola outbreaks.

Francis Fukuyama is a contemporary political philosopher to be reckoned with. He has produced an intellectually valid yet readable work that draws on a myriad of examples — and a deep reading of his philosophical underpinnings. At times the book may suffer from being overly ambitious in its reach, but most readers, regardless of their political leanings, will find that Political Order and Political Decay challenges and provokes their thinking.

JAMES CULLINGHAM is a journalism professor at Seneca College in Toronto, and documentary film maker; his most recent film is In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey. James recently received his doctoral degree in history from York University, Toronto, with a thesis entitled “Scars of Empire: A Juxtaposition of Duncan Campbell Scott and Jacques Soustelle.”

This review first appeared in The Journal of Wild Culture.

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Ontario Provincial Election 2014

June 13, 2014

This election provides further proof that campaigns matter. It was lost by the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservatives more than it was won by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Wynne’s Liberals had been been in power for 11 years. The government she inherited from former premier Dalton McGuinty was tainted by serial scandals.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP and humiliated, now outgoing PC Tim Hudak join the likes of British Columbia’s Adrian Dix and Québec’s Pauline Marois in the annals of Canadian PoliSci101 under the rubric ‘how not to wage a provincial election campaign.’

Says here that Ms. Horwath was correct to defeat the Liberals in the legislature. She then proceeded to conduct a thick-headed campaign. For example, her NDP once had some environmental credibility. Promising to reduce car insurance rates for urban drivers in the era of climate change? Good social democratic and environmental policy, Ms. Horwath!

Further, like the governing Grits and the diminished Tories, Horwath’s NDP stands for a separate, publicly funded, Catholic school system in Ontario. For the NDP, a self-described social democratic movement aimed at equitable use of taxpayers’ money, this is an aching policy contradiction. In Ontario politics, the silence around this issue, resolved long ago in some Canadian jurisdictions, is deafening. Former provincial PC leader John Tory (now a Toronto mayoral candidate) once proposed an ill-conceived, but much fairer arrangement. It cost him an election. No ‘major party’ leader has gone near the matter since. In this election, among significant parties only the Greens stood for a secular school system.

Other ‘takeaways’:

1. slightly more than 50% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s grim news. As an educator, I observed scant awareness and interest in the election among the college and university students I teach. Troubling.

2. I agree with those who are suggesting that Ontarians deserves a pat on the back for not making Premier Wynne’s sexual orientation an issue. Kudos.

3. As a bilingual Ontarian, I suggest that the lack of French in the campaign, in a province with a sizeable Francophone population, was lamentable. Neither Horwath nor Hudak bothered to say a word en français as they bowed out last night. Wynne’s efforts to use French, even though she speaks it poorly, are commendable. Keep it up, Ms. Wynne. One day you might speak it as well as Stephen Harper!

4. Speaking of Prime Minister Harper. Last night’s result could be good news for him. Like neighbouring Québécois, Ontarians often choose balance in provincial – federal power. As Ontario’s debt and de-industrializing realities continue to take hold in the next year or so, Wynne’s government could well make some unpopular choices. That might just provide an opportunity for Harper’s Tories in the 2015 federal election.

Best of 2012

December 22, 2012

This is somewhat random in that the following is restricted to what I saw and read. So while this is hardly an exhaustive selection, I suggest all these works merit our careful attention.

If you’ll indulge me further, here’s the best of what I saw or read in 2012:

Best feature film: “The Master”, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson; strong runner-up “Argo” ,dir. Ben Affleck (the new Clint Eastwood).

Best non-fiction film: “Cuates de Australia” dir, Everardo Gonz (“Drought” en inglés) – a documentary about a community in northern México besieged by drought and globalization; runner-up “The Law In These Parts” dir. Ra’anan Alexandrowicz – a courageous, intellectually rigorous film in which the director stages a devastatingly clever mock trial of the very Israeli jurists and military governors who have built ‘legal’ bulwarks to justify Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967.

Best Fiction Book: “War and Peace”, Leo Tolstoy. I finally read it this year. Having done so, I figure it would be the best novel any year since Leo coughed it up in 1869 except perhaps “Madame Bovary” or “Oliver Twist”. Tolstoy manages to describe the most intimate and sweeping epochal events of human experience simultaneously. He was a genius. His novel about Napoleon’s doomed invasion of Russia reads like an account of current events.

Best Non-Fiction book: “A Geography of Blood – Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape”, by Candace Savage. The sort of  history/geography/environmental study Canadians and Americans generally don’t want to know about told with great verve. In this case, people are reading it. Ms. Savage is winning awards. Her slim, powerful, elegantly written and researched effort is truly mind expanding.  “There are a lot of things nobody talks about in the imposition of colonial power.” -Keith Bell, companion of Candace Savage-

Walter Lewis Robbins, 1926-2012 Long may he run!

July 23, 2012

Walter Lewis Robbins died on Wednesday, July 18 2012 in a Kingston, Ontario hospice. He was lovingly surrounded by his family.

Walter was my father-in-law. I admire him hugely. Walter was an unrepentant social democrat, a wondrous fiddler, an environmentalist, husband, father and grandfather.

Walt and the family moved to Canada from Washington D.C. after the election of Richard Nixon. He had served as a civil servant in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In Winnipeg, he first put his War on Poverty experience to work for the NDP government of Ed Schreyer. Walter Robbins was among those gifted, left-leaning Americans of conscience who came to Canada during the Nixon and Vietnam war eras. He made a significant contribution to Canada where he lived for 40 years.

He was a wonderful father-in-law to me. Thank-you, Walter. Peace and love.

Top Docs

January 6, 2012

In recent days, I had occasion to see both “Surviving Progress” and “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie.” Both films rail against unbridled development and warn of the possibility of ecological catastrophe.

“Progress…” is based on ideas in a book and series of lectures by Ronald Wright. It’s a BIG IDEAS film which is threaded neatly with stunning visuals and provocative commentary from Wright and the likes of Margaret Atwood and the aforementioned Suzuki, among other deep thinkers.

Suzuki will be well known to Canadian readers – he’s been the leading figure in Canadian environmental and scientific broadcast journalism for decades. The film sprouts evocatively from clips from a ‘legacy’ lecture Suzuki delivered as he reached his 70s and began to scale back his public life. Like “Progress…”, this film, superbly directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, also touches on  ideas about the folly of limitless growth and the arrogance of contemporary economics.

The Suzuki film is remarkable for its intelligence, intimacy and sensitivity in revealing private aspects of a very public man. The film follows the arc of Suzuki’s life from forced removals of Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II, to the legacy of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima, the American civil rights movement and aboriginal protests in Canada.

Canadian election: The Igster & Steve Take Over

April 3, 2011

One week down and just over four to go in Canada’s federal election.  Some quick thoughts: while the ‘mainstream media’ expresses universal surprise and admiration at The Igster’s start out of the blocks, nothing has really changed in the polls.  Steve’s Conservatives are still perched at a near majority with a small increase in their 144 seats predicted. Monsieur Layton, leader of Canada’s kinda democratic socialists, on the other hand, may have reason to worry.  One must concede that The Igster and his team have made some inroads in framing the election, in ‘English Canada’, as a choice between the Grits and Steve’s hellcats.

Meanwhile, le suave Gilles is on cruise control in Quebec.  Barring a Grit breakthrough, the BQ will win 50+ seats on May 2. The Quebec independence movement is dead you say?  Just couple that result with a likely PQ victory over the decaying Jean Charest in Quebec’s next provincial election. Then, we’ll talk.

If you ever wondered just how dead environmentalism actually is in Canada witness the lack of collective moral outrage over the exclusion of Elizabeth May from the planned leaders’ debate. The Greens are officially a political non-entity on the federal scene. If they ever win a seat, we’ll talk.

Finally, regarding the debate: that will be The Igster’s one real chance.  Basically, all he needs to do is stand there and not drool in order to belie the Tories’ devastatingly brilliant caricature. If, in addition, the Harvard prof turns Pierre Trudeau for 90 minutes or so in both English and French – that is, an intellectual Canadians can stomach and admire, he could catch lightning in a bottle.  Very slim odds, but a possibility.

Failing the above, Canadian political junkies will spend the night of May 2 counting to 155.

Rob Ford: The War on Cars?!?!?!?!?!

December 4, 2010

So Toronto’s new Mayor reported to work on December 1, 2010. It was and will remain  a sad day indeed for a wannabe ‘world class’, wannabe NYC North, backward-looking city.

Disturbingly, Ford ran against public transportation; and for cars. He bellowed throughout the campaign that ‘The war on the car is over!’ He repeated that mantra when he assumed office.

Mayor Ford vows that ‘Transit City’, a plan that took close to a decade to negotiate and fund, is also “over”, He claims that under his administration Toronto will build subways, rather than the ‘Light Rail Transit’ (LRT) streetcars favoured by the plan he says he’ll put an ice-pick into. Subways would cost two to three times as much as LRT. It is highly unlikely that there will be the kind of massive subway construction that could substitute for the planned LRT lines. Subways are too expensive.

What a Rob Ford administration probably foretells is more cars and more freeways in Toronto.  To suggest that Toronto ever experienced a “War on cars”, is laughable. Toronto is the hub of southern Ontario which suffers from car addiction economically, aesthetically, environmentally and in terms of public health.

Ford was also elected by campaigning openly against immigration. In Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities, you say? Yes, that’s right.

It gets worse. In victory, a member of his staff slyly all-but-admitted that team Ford had staged calls to a radio phone-in program in hopes of scaring off one potential opponent; and investigative journalists seemed to show how the campaign team had created a false Twitter account to locate and fend off a citizen who had experienced a potentially highly embarrassing encounter with Ford.

In political terms, his victory means that suburban voters and their municipal councilors, largely right-leaning Ford supporters, will significantly determine political life for the minority of voters who live in what most of the rest of the world considers Toronto – its downtown. Downtown areas voted overwhelmingly for Ford’s opponents, but thanks to urban amalgamation, the suburban majority rules. That’s democracy Ontario style. Ford’s victory might foreshadow an American-like economic and cultural hollowing out of downtown Toronto.

Ford ran a sophisticated campaign built on resentment of elites, real and imagined. Good luck to him if he’s serious about rooting out waste and ending the “gravy train” for entrenched interests at City Hall. However, his victory appears to represent nostalgia for a Toronto that ceased to exist 30-40 years ago. His mastery of his opponents in what passed for an electoral contest was astonishing and instructive.  Toronto’s pretense of sophistication has been laid bare by a political campaign that made mockery of environmental concerns, insulted the city’s immigrant tradition and displayed contempt for those who rely on public transportation. World class, eh?

Deer along the Don

July 5, 2010

An update for readers of my Don River musings: I just spotted two deer at a distance of 10 metres along the Don ravine about 20 minutes on foot from the centre of downtown Toronto. Thanks to the Don River reclamation activists for years of tree planting and pushing back rapacious developers and car addicts!

Giambrone – The Real Losers

February 14, 2010

So Adam Giambrone decided to blow himself up before the Toronto mayoralty race even got truly underway. Of course in some jurisdictions (Brazil and France come to mind), Giambrone’s sexual indiscretions would not have been considered the purview of politics. In settler, retro-puritan Toronto, the revelations were killing.

One hopes that Mr. Giambrone, his family and friends can move forward with their lives. What’s left for the voters of Toronto?  That’s actually the bad news.  Giambrone as TTC Commissioner and former New Democratic Party official had a social democratic agenda. Significantly, he believed in public transit, an underfunded service in Toronto which is deteriorating in front of the citizenry’s eyes.

Front runner George Smitherman, last seen as a ministerial acolyte of ‘The Premier Who Most Resembles Norman Bates’, seems determined to show that he can be a tough guy by fancying himself a budget slasher.  With that mindset, the concern here is that Toronto can kiss much needed rapid transit and subway expansion goodbye.  Smitherman was an integral part of a McGuinty government that fell over itself giving taxpayers’ money to automobile manufacturers.  There’s slim chance Ferocious George will change those stripes now. Rocco Rossi, the erstwhile Liberal whiz kid once deemed capable of saving federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff from himself, argues that bike lanes and public transit just get in the way of cars.  That’s just what Toronto needs – more cars on its roads! How’s that for a visionary twenty-first century campaign in a ‘world class city’?  PUH-LEEEZ!!! Of the remaining viable candidates for mayor, only Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone demonstrates an interest in public transportation. Pantalone has served Toronto well. He will never be elected mayor.

I don’t care what Adam Giambrone has in his pants or what he does with it when it’s removed. He’s not a priest, an elementary school teacher or a psychiatrist…he’s just an idiotic politician who self-immolated. And with him burns his agenda.  Sadly, it is a banner that no one with a chance to win next autumn wishes to embrace.

Toronto’s public transportation fare hike

January 16, 2010

All you really need to know about our society’s actual commitment to the environment is contained in two recent measures:

1. It now costs $3.00 for a single fare on the Toronto Transit Commission. That would be $121 a month for a pass.  Such prices make public transportation almost an elite service. In Mexico City, it costs about $0.25CDN to ride a subway that is vastly superior and much cleaner than Toronto’s.

2. The “Liberal” government of the premier who looks like Norman Bates recommends fiddling car insurance rates to lower some premiums.  As ever, dear Dalton is privileging the car industry and automobile drivers over others.

Public transportation is prohibitively expensive, but you might get a break if you buy a car. As the world learned in Copenhagen, Ontario and Canada are not environmentally responsible jurisdictions.