Language and Political Science in Canada

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[Note to readers: Not long ago, I was asked to contribute a post to Praxis: The Canadian Political Science Association Career Blog, which aims to “provide practical career advice for emerging and established political scientists in Canada.” I wrote something that essentially contains two pieces of advice: (i) that francophone political scientists need to watch out for the CPSA; and (ii) that anglophone political scientists need to reform it – if, that is, they want to be good colleagues. Admittedly, these two are more polemical than, say, suggestions about how to format one’s CV, but then I am a political philosopher. When the blog’s editors received my post, they asked for changes. I made the changes, but now they’re asking for more and so I’ve decided to give up on them and publish it here instead.]

C’est donc en anglais, la langue réelle de
l’Association canadienne de science
politique, et la langue du voyage, que
j’ai “choisi” de présenter cette allocution
présidentielle.
            Alain Noël, 28 May 2014

I’ve been asked to offer some career advice about working in political science in Canada. The question led me to recall, of all things, the uproar this past summer over that float at the Fête nationale parade here in Quebec, the one pushed by four black men wearing colonial khaki outfits and followed by a parading chorus of white people dressed, alas, all in white. Why did I think of the parade? Bear with me. Someone, a colleague, raised the question on Facebook as to whether it was possible – no more than this – that the four men were happy to participate in the parade. The question seems to me to reveal a failure to grasp the sometimes intricate workings of systemic racism. Which brings me to the case of the political scientists over at the Canadian Political Science Association. … Continue reading

Refusing Conversation

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I will not give you a penny more than you deserve
I don’t know why you bother asking anymore
All of your charm couldn’t make me change my mind
I will not give you a penny more than you deserve
…Whoa, for a lover, no one compares to you.
            The Skydiggers, “A Penny More

The hard Canadian
He don’t have much to say
But he hurts your feelings
Almost every single day
            Gordon Downie and the Country of Miracles, “The Hard Canadian

The Quebec government would like to have a conversation about the place of Quebec in Canada. They’ve published a document, Québécois : Notre façon d’être Canadiens / Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian, about their thinking and they’d like to hear back.

Not everyone’s open to this, however. “Vous connaissez mon opinion sur la Constitution,” replied the prime minister before the document was even released, “on n’ouvre pas la Constitution.” And if that’s too curt for you, here’s the sadly predictable conclusion of Andrew Coyne’s latest opinion piece in the National Post: “The same debates, the same fallacies, the same doubletalk, and all of it just as pointless and unnecessary as ever. There is no problem these proposals would solve, no power Quebec needs it does not already have. There is only the inexhaustible self-importance of its political class. How about we just don’t?”

Are these men clear about what’s being asked? There’s no “couteau sur la gorge” this time, nor even the suggestion, such as the one made by the wise but frustrated Charles Taylor in 1992, that Quebec issue an “ultimatum” should the conversation fail, that it “would signify the end of the country” (Taylor called for coupling this with “an expression of openness” so as to avoid “damaging the interlocutor.” As if). Some fellow Canadians are merely expressing a desire to talk. They’re dissatisfied about something and they want to see if we can work it out. Isn’t it the obligation of every good citizen to at least listen to them with an open mind?

Yes, there appears to be little new in the document (though I haven’t finished reading it yet). But what is new – and this is a major difference from the past – is not only the way it’s being presented but also the context. There’s no referendum on the horizon. The forces of sovereignty are extremely weak. Coyne, and evidently Trudeau, take this to mean not that we have an opportune moment here but that the issues raised can be dismissed, if not ignored outright. They’re wrong. We have a duty to respond – critically, if need be, but constructively.

More to come.

Donald Trump and Yuval Noah Harari

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Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais. Pour le confort de l’utilisateur, le contenu est affiché ci-dessous dans une autre langue. Vous pouvez cliquer le lien pour changer de langue active.

Introducing for the first time
Pharaoh on the microphone
Sing all hail
What will be revealed today
When we peer into the great unknown
From the line to the throne
          The New Pornographers, “The Laws Have Changed

Informed of a rival’s demise, the scheming, turn-of-the-19th-century French diplomat Talleyrand could be heard muttering, “I wonder what he meant by that?” So goes “the great game of politics,” in which even death is perceived as but another move. Of course, real politics is no game; still, there’s a long tradition of confusing the two. It’s the same with war, which is why Clausewitz once felt it necessary to declare that “war is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end.”

To treat something serious as if it were a game is to aestheticize it − to take it out of the domain that we might call “the practical” and put it in “the aesthetic.” The practical is where we strive to fulfil our values or interests; to do things, that is, for our sakes. By contrast, in the aesthetic we take on a disinterested attitude and so do things for “their own sakes,” as the saying goes. This can be a lot of fun, and fun is the ultimate goal, but we can only reach it indirectly, which is why, to repeat the point, a game’s rules are respected for their own sakes rather than for some practical end. Why should I kick the ball in that goal or shoot the puck in this net? Because that’s how the game is played, nothing more. And why can’t I pick up the ball with my hands or kick the puck in with my skate? Because these things would violate the rules − rules, again, which exist simply because we couldn’t play without them. Of course it’s possible to play a game seriously, which is what professional athletes do, for example. But their salaries or glory are things that exist outside of the game, in the practical rather than in the aesthetic, since one can always play for free or without a care for the recognition of others.

There are three other modes of the aesthetic, and these exist alongside playing for fun and often overlap with it. They are disinterested appreciating, as when you savour something or enjoy its beauty, whether it be an artwork, a fine wine, or a person; disinterested imagining, when you fantasize by using your imagination in ways unrestricted by fact, letting it “run free”; and disinterested presenting, when you put on an entertaining show, a spectacle. … Continue reading

Donald Trump and John Rawls

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Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais. Pour le confort de l’utilisateur, le contenu est affiché ci-dessous dans une autre langue. Vous pouvez cliquer le lien pour changer de langue active.

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.”
                             Withnail and I

Informed of a rival’s demise, the scheming, turn-of-the-19th-century French diplomat Talleyrand could be heard muttering, “I wonder what he meant by that?” So goes “the great game of politics,” in which even death is perceived as but another move. Of course, real politics is no game; still, there’s a long tradition of confusing the two. It’s the same with war, which is why Clausewitz once felt it necessary to declare that “war is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end.”

To treat something serious as if it were a game is to aestheticize it − to take it out of the domain that we might call “the practical” and put it in “the aesthetic.” The practical is where we strive to fulfil our values or interests; to do things, that is, for our sakes. By contrast, in the aesthetic we take on a disinterested attitude and so do things for “their own sakes,” as the saying goes. This can be a lot of fun, and fun is the ultimate goal, but we can only reach it indirectly, which is why, to repeat the point, a game’s rules are respected for their own sakes rather than for some practical end. Why should I kick the ball in that goal or shoot the puck in this net? Because that’s how the game is played, nothing more. And why can’t I pick up the ball with my hands or kick the puck in with my skate? Because these things would violate the rules − rules, again, which exist simply because we couldn’t play without them. Of course it’s possible to play a game seriously, which is what professional athletes do, for example. But their salaries or glory are things that exist outside of the game, in the practical rather than in the aesthetic, since one can always play for free or without a care for the recognition of others.

There are three other modes of the aesthetic, and these exist alongside playing for fun and often overlap with it. They are disinterested appreciating, as when you savour something or enjoy its beauty, whether it be an artwork, a fine wine, or a person; disinterested imagining, when you fantasize by using your imagination in ways unrestricted by fact, letting it “run free”; and disinterested presenting, when you put on an entertaining show, a spectacle. … Continue reading