Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Failed Elite

"What is a failed elite?" John Ralston Saul asks in his most recent book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. He then answers his own question:

One afraid of ideas, afraid to talk to the citizenry through ideas, afraid to encourage the wide discussion of ideas in order to find the basis for its actions, unable to act except in a veiled or populist manner, afraid of the idea of power except as an expression of interests. A failed elite would rather sell than buy, rather trade in wealth than create it. They would rather be employees than owners, managers than risk takers. Some people believe that elites fail because of their particular ideology. But ideologies are usually the refuge of the fearful.

When looking back on the four years since the Harper government came to power, it is remarkable to note how its prime directive has been fear: fear of debt; fear of "unreported crime;" fear of the other -- whether they be Tamils, Muslims or "a separatist coalition."

They are not the only failed elite. Much the same can be said of the Opposition, and -- in the United States -- the second Bush administration, and now the Tea Party, which is overwhelmingly white and wealthy. As time passes, failed elites become increasingly divorced from the citizenry they supposedly serve. James Travers, in yesterday's column, notes that trend in Ottawa:

Always a place apart, the village huddled below the Peace Tower is less and less like, or connected to, the rest of the country. Insulated from the worst of hard times and obsessed with scoring partisan points, the national capital has lost touch with Canadians focused more on pressing personal and local issues.

Our leaders, Saul says, refuse to recognize that "we are a Metis nation," which has historically been committed to the Aboriginal concept of the ever expanding circle. Instead, taking their cue from Mike Harris' so called "Common Sense Revolution," they see Canadians as a collection of interest groups to be played off one against the other. Their strategy -- divide and conquer -- is as old as it is inappropriate for this country.

Saul points out that, like Canada's aboriginal peoples, we have traditionally negotiated solutions to problems -- like national health care or Quebec separatism. Quite simply, we solve problems by talking our way through them. The Harper government has a hard time talking its way through anything. When things get sticky, it prorogues Parliament. It would much rather proclaim policy, as it did this summer with its decision to eliminate the long census form.

The result is anger and cynicism everywhere -- sure signs that our so called "best and brightest" are intellectually exhausted.


The Mound of Sound said...

Nice piece, Owen. I'm not sure our best and brightest are actually intellectually exhausted. I think they're probably just disengaged.

Owen Gray said...

The price of cynicism is disengagement. Polls -- and recent voter turnout -- tell us that Canadians are disengaged.

In the end. we get the government we deserve. But a real debate -- which was about ideas, and not just tactics -- might reinvigorate Canadian democracy.

ChrisJ said...

Power mongers like to create fear and urgency; they work more quickly than ideas and discussion - a political version of "candy is dandy, but..."

Owen Gray said...

And it is based on the paternalistic certainty that the mongers know what is best for us.

It's the same hubris which drove Ozymandias to declare, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."