It seems a bit narcisstic to offer correction and commentary on something I’ve written, but a surprising number of people would probably find it cathartic to know I’ve given further corrective thought to my post of last week. Perhaps, if only, I can reassure my left-leaning friends that I have not drowned in the Conservative kool-aid (it tastes like expensive scotch, by the way).
First, there was the smug elitist tone of the thing. It had that early morning pre-caffeinated quality of rant that is out of place in a written format. It was smug and rude, but I deny its elitism. Elitism gatekeeps; I begged for joiners, if not on the Hill at least at the polls.
There is no question some things have gotten bad, and I’m as dissatisfied as those placard-waving protestors. But the real tragedy underwriting this outpouring of dissatisfaction is it will never be heard. There may be a 99% in Canada, but recent polls show the majority is pretty happy with the sitting federal government. An election shows they’re content with the provincial government, or at least the 49% of them that showed up are.
The underlying Bolshevism of us versus them notwithstanding, all of the issues—and there are many—that are showing up could have hijacked what was an otherwise incomprehensibly dull provincial campaign. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that power won’t pay attention to the people. Power just spent the last several weeks begging the people to pay attention to it! The real sadness is that our democratic institutions are atrophying and failing, all while the young complain their voices are silenced and faceless institutions control their destiny.
Byron Borger’s charge (in the Facebook comments below the blog) of (huge) naïveté gets us much closer to the conviction I badly expressed. After recalling his own experiences visiting his Congressman and Senator, Byron rightly reminded me that it is enormously difficult—even for an educated, articulate man like himself—to influence the system of politics. Parliamentary distinctions aside, Byron’s point more or less holds true for Canada. What Byron has teased out here is that to suggest a merely reforming attitude—to institutions as badly broken and defeated as capitalism and democracy in North America—is naïve. And this is naïve. Working for change in the midst of those ruins is audaciously idealist.
It takes uncharacteristic idealism, maybe even huge naïveté, to suggest that slow justice rather than fast revolution can fix anything; that the system, the people, can survive slow repair or even that there is enough redeemable in it to justify the enormous patience of reform. This was the idealism of one of my forebears, Groen van Prinsterer and his anti-revolutionary party of the nineteenth century. In that century too, perhaps more than most, revolution was afoot and the colonial injustices which spawned it were terribly real. In the midst of it, van Prinsterer called for reformation, slow justice. In many ways, that sloth was wrong. Justice should wait for no system to reform. And yet, on aggregate that sloth may well have been right. The fast justice of other revolutions have birthed some of the twentieth century’s most terrible horrors. The impatience of a zeitgeist unrealized emboldened the worst violences of the twentieth century.
What van Prinsterer and his heirs, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd and others, embodied was a slower, stabler justice—a “banality of goodness” as Michael Gerson has ironically inverted Hannah Arendt’s now famous dictum from the Eichmann trials. These people were systemic collaborators or, worse, the servants of collaborators. Kuyper even demeaned himself to hold that lowest of servant roles in a society, prime minister of the Netherlands. His collusion was complete.
Why care at all? Because I, too, like van Prinsterer and Kuyper, am on a system’s side: holding the naïve hope that a broken democratic capitalism can be made a more functional, more just democratic capitalism. That democracy is not utterly bankrupt, though some of our representational strategies may be. And a market economy, not a market society, can still produce equity of scale. It won’t be perfect, but it can be better. Maybe even a lot better. That is a kind of conservatism, but one which—at least in Canada—all parties share.
Protest is important in that act of reformation. But when protestors feel so marginalized by a system in which they refuse to participate, we risk dangerous fragmentation. Protests do not have to be policy conventions, but they do have to be practical. That is what the greatest protests in history had: a tangible cause, that its people suffered and hurt for, and that broke the resolve of injustice and indifference. Those days do not have to be gone.