Sunday, 27 May 2012

Harper seen through Thomas Paine

As a self-made creature and proponent of liberal arts education I often find insightful points to ponder in classics literature. I have found that history does not, cannot, repeat itself (it is impossible) but that human beings tend to inherit certain characteristics and ideologies that, if left unexamined and unchallenged, will not allow society to advance and learn from its mistakes.

I've been quoting Thomas Paine quite a bit recently. It is because I see many parallels between what is happening today in Canada under Harper's regime and what Paine witnessed and wrote about in The Rights of Man (1791). Mr Burke, like Harper and the CPC, was an extreme right-wing conservative and an apologist for the despotic establishment. Paine's The Rights of Man (1791) is a response to Mr Burke:

When a man in a long cause attempts to steer his course by any thing else than some polar truth or principle, he is sure to be lost. It is beyond the compass of his capacity to keep all the parts of an argument together, and make them unite in one issue, by any other means than having this guide always in view. Neither memory nor invention will supply the want of it. The former fails him, and the latter betrays him.

Notwithstanding the nonsense, for it deserves no better name, Mr Burke has asserted about hereditary rights, and hereditary succession, and that a Nation has not a right to form a Government for itself; it happened to fall in his way to give some account of what Government is. 'Government, says he, is a contrivance of human wisdom.'

Admitting that Government is a contrivance of human wisdom, it must necessarily follow, that hereditary succession, and hereditary rights, (as they are called), can make no part of it, because it is impossible to make wisdom hereditary; and on the other hand, that cannot be a wise contrivance, which in its operation may commit the government of a nation to the wisdom of an ideot...

...He puts the nation as fools on one side, and places his government of wisdom, all wise men of Gotham, on the other side; and he then proclaims, and says, that 'Men have a RIGHT that their WANTS should be provided for by this wisdom.' [...] 'The Rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; and in times between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle; adding-subtracting-multiplying-and dividing morally, and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral demonstrations.'

As a wondering audience, whom Mr Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter. The meaning then, good people, of all this, is, That government is governed by no principle whatever; that it can make evil good, or good evil, just as it pleases. In short, that government is arbitrary power. (pp. 166-168)

Mr Burke and Mr Harper are of two different ages but their ideologies are so similar as to be one and the same. Power then, to both men, is not derived from the nation and its consent (which is 'chaos' itself) but from differences in socio-economic classes (the nation must be protected from itself): Father knows best so Big Brother (ie, the CPC) will implement His policies.


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