Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ramsay Cook on fascism, Canadian style

I have just read an excellent review essay by Ramsay Cook in the December issue of the Literary Review of Canada (yes, as usual, I'm behind on reading even the things I enjoy reading). Cook is reviewing the book The Canadian Führer: The Life of Adrien Arcand by Jean-François Nadeau (and translated by three people amazingly!). Arcand was the journalist and pseudo politician who headed a fascist party in Canada in the 1930s, the Parti National Social Chrétien du Canada. He was, I suppose, Canada’s version of Oswald Mosley.

Cook does a delicate job of putting Arcand into his place in the politics and general milieu of Canada and Quebec in the first half of the twentieth century. People like Arcand took the general anti-semitism that was never far below the surface of Canadian life and drank it up like a mosquito squelches your blood in June.

But what’s most interesting in this review for me at the moment is the fascist desire for certainty. It’s the great love of the leader, le chef or the führer. Democracy was just a messy impediment for those who wanted to get things done – a noisy place of bickering and inefficiency. Wouldn’t it be better to simply have a great leader represent the people to themselves – to get things done?

In this at least, I am struck by all the minor hints of this in our current political discourse.

Just the other night listening to the radio, I hear someone suggesting that what Toronto city politics needs is political parties. It seems that some are upset by the fact that the mayor is being obstructed in his plans for the city – especially transit – by a bunch of city counsellors who think (and vote) for themselves and don’t answer to a party whip. Wouldn’t it be better, the man is suggesting, if we just elected the city mayor and city counsellors as we do provincially and federally (and in some cities), hoping for a majority and hence a de facto dictatorship in which the party that gets a majority of the seats can do pretty much whatever it wants for the duration.

The same sentiment was there in the last few federal elections, in the disgruntlement on the part of some with minority parliaments and the fact that things weren’t getting done. (Although really it just meant that compromises were being made in almost all areas of policy – and this was covered up by heated and vicious political attacks.)

And then there is the way the current Conservative government is shutting down parliamentary debate at every turn, invoking closure seemingly without even considering the options. There was a point in time (I’m thinking of the Pipe Line debate of 1956) when this kind of thing evoked national outrage. Now, it is merely humdrum.

We may not want a führer or generalissimo but the benign dictatorship of whoever gets the most seats sure seems fine to some Canadians. Historians aren’t good at predicting the future so I won’t say what this will lead to. But I can at least point to those in the past (ie read the review and the book on Arcand) where some rather unsavoury figures shared the kinds of belief that we now accept in fact (if not in principle).

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