The first condition of success is secured in putting ourselves right. We have recovered ourselves from our false position, and planted ourselves on a law of Nature. – Ralph Waldo Emerson1
Some political and social arrangements nurture all the excellences of which human nature is capable, while others stunt and deform it. -Theodore Dalrymple2
The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.- James Madison 3
In the framers’ view, corruption in the broader sense of using public office for private ends was essentially the opposite of public virtue, and was therefore a central threat to the life and health of the republic…For James Madison, without civic virtue, “no theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea. – David Cole4
While some bands have done well, it is a sad truth that everywhere in the world, small governments with large powers and little accountability tend to become corrupt-not always, but often. The reserve system is the centre of this…Indians are human beings just like the rest of us. But most are burdened by the system. – Gordon Gibson, Canada Enables the Sickness of the Reserves5
What is it about the twentieth-century mind that it so readily dealt with masses, categories, rather than comparing people as individuals? -D.M. Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A Century in His Life 6
For the truth is that, though the self may be an anxious item, and we are all no more than a face drawn in the sand on the very edge of the waves in a collapsing cosmos, the self as we’ve invented and pampered it, the private self, the personal self, is a being worthy of treasure. -Malcom Bradbury, To the Hermitage 7
The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities, and his right to these peculiarities. – Vasily Grossman– Life and Fate 8
The individual human being is the ultimate unit of all law. -Hersch Lauterpacht 9
I have made reference above, and have implicitly referred and relied upon throughout, to our “classically liberal values.” Canada is fortunate to be a product of the Western Enlightenment, best personified historically by Great Britain, of which these values are a shining feature.
In his book, Death of the Liberal Class,10 author Christopher Hedges adopted the definition of liberalism offered by the philosopher John Gray:
Classical liberalism has four principle features or perspectives, which give it a recognizable identity: it is individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity; egalitarian, in that it confers on all human beings the same moral status; universalist, affirming the moral unity of the species; and meliorist, in that it asserts the open-ended improvability, by the use of critical reason, of human life.
Daily life for Indians in Canada’s reserve system, not at all a reflection of true, pre-contact aboriginal culture, and all the other aspects of the status quo related to the reserve system, offend each and every one of these four features of classical liberalism- these four pillars of the most enlightened system of political thought in the history of civilization.
(Marilynne Robinson, in The Tyranny of Petty Coercion, above, laments, in her view, the death of liberalism thusly:
As a principle, liberalism is essential to the sanity and humanity of this civilization. As a movement, it is virtually defunct. Those who have espoused it have failed it, in a way and to a degree that has allowed the very word to become a term of opprobrium. Some authoritative consensus turned against it, and, obedient to that consensus, its allies have abandoned the cause, if not gone over to the other side, into the embrace of illiberalism.)
The reserve system is purportedly collectivist and egalitarian rather than, like “Western” life, individualistic and inherently unequal. But the so-called equal rights of the Indian “group” are too often and too easily controlled and exercised by an almost mafia-style form of oligarchic, hierarchical rule, which is antithetical to pre-contact aboriginal tribal life, and so the raw power of these alpha rulers- exercised unequally and arbitrarily- too often prevails over the rights of Indian individuals. This kind of “resource seizure by people in power” 11 is more typical of the excesses of modern capitalism than authentic, pre-contact aboriginal culture, where such selfish, anti-group-welfare behavior usually resulted in either banishment or death for the offender.
Band Indians have no property rights on their reserves. They have no proper justice system. They have lessened civil liberties. This is indisputably politically primitive and morally unacceptable.
William Wuttunee, in Ruffled Feathers, described the chief and band council- controlled land management system as “feudal.”
Aboriginal writer Calvin Helin, in Dances With Dependency, set out in clear and depressing detail all that is wrong and illiberal about the status quo:
…band governments answerable to no one; powerless community members; an AFN comprised of and representing only the self-interested Chiefs- “colonizers of their own people”- and generally, “a situation not unlike many banana republics.
There should only be two legally recognized, fundamental units in our constitutional makeup; the individual and the state itself. Intermediate units, like ethnic or religious groups, should have no formal, constitutional, legal status per se. To the extent that, for historical and legal reasons, the Canadian Indian “group” presently does have that separate constitutional status, our overall, long-term policy should be to move away from that situation, to evolve out of it and into a higher and more morally and politically just state of national, constitutional being.
Like all in tribal societies, the political and social culture of Indian bands is male-dominated, (although admittedly Indian women, possessing, seemingly more than men, the “soft skills” more in demand in the post-industrial society, are becoming increasingly politically influential.) Many women have second class social status, and only very sketchy, uncertain rights on marriage breakdown, rights that vary from band to band, and that are, in any event, practically viewed, unenforceable.
Indian elites baselessly assert that Indians are somehow fundamentally different, as human beings, from non-Indian Canadians, and thus should continue to live legally and even physically separate and apart from the rest of us. They propagate the fundamentally false (and unintentionally fascistic) idea that the individual Indigenous person best expresses himself or herself as part of “mass experience.”12This disgracefully condemns these vulnerable Canadians to always be suffering from a form of ghetto physical existence and ghetto mentality. This is the opposite of universalism, which sees all people as equal “members of an extended family living in a shared and interconnected world.”13Ironically, this phrase fairly accurately summarizes the basic world view and operating principle of pre-contact aboriginal societies, which modern aboriginal societies, as evidenced by their conduct, and despite the mere words of their elites, eschew.
For all the reasons set out in this essay, the reserve system and everything connected to it is the very antithesis of progressive and meliorist. Under it the situation of Indians as a whole can never improve – can only stay the same or, more likely, get worse.
A political system based on classically liberal values will give individual Indians a far greater chance of maximizing their individual potential as human beings – of “inclining them to virtue”,14 and thus to accomplishment, than does either the present Indian Act reserve model or would the utopian “self-government” model advocated by Indian elites. Both of these models presume a basic collectivist and tribal ethos, essentially antithetical to private property rights and individual freedom and initiative, both will have to be backstopped forever by the Canadian taxpayer, and both will only result in more and endless, debilitating dependency for individual Indians.
Finally in this regard, as stated above, the nature of governance regimes on too many reserves constitutes an opaque, family and crony relationship-based, oligarchic, rentier, “extractive” political and economic reality, devoid of the rule of law and devoid of any of the necessary “theoretical checks” called for by James Madison, all of which dooms “First Nations” to always be failing nations, and forecloses most reserve residents from Madison’s goal of a civic society of true liberty and happiness.
As columnist Lorne Gunter wrote:15
At any one time, more than a third of First Nations reserves are under full or partial federal financial control because band leaders can’t manage.
Economics professor Daron Acemoglu, co-author of the recent book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, wrote of this dysfunctional and “extractive” reality:16
Most successful countries fall into the camp of inclusive societies, where political power and economic benefits are shared broadly among the population. Failed nations, on the other hand, tend to be extractive societies, where an elite controls the economic and political system and uses its power to extract wealth from the society at everyone else’s expense.
Chiefs of small Indian bands engineering unconscionably large salaries and other benefits for themselves and their cronies are too-frequent examples of what James Madison was warning against: of social and political “arrangements” disinclining to virtue those at the top of them, of cronyistic, extractive behavior, and of the sickness of the reserves described by Gordon Gibson.
A prime area where this dysfunction is prevalent is the area of aboriginal business ventures. As Tom Flanagan wrote in First Nations? Second Thoughts:
In some ways aboriginal enterprise bears a striking resemblance to the “crony capitalism” that flourishes in countries where politicians control resources and allocate business opportunities to the relatives, friends and supporters. Crony capitalism can certainly make an entrepreneurial elite very well off. And, as aboriginal participation rates in higher education approach those of other Canadians, the aboriginal professional class will grown and flourish. Taken together, these trends point to an internal polarization of the aboriginal population, in which the emergence of well-to-do entrepreneurial and professional minorities has been accompanied by increasing unemployment and welfare dependency of the majority.
Mr. Flanagan was referring in different words to the sometimes illiberal, rentier state reality of too-many Indian bands, (discussed in Dancing With Danegeld, chapter 26, below), where, amongst their elites, worldly success and civic-type virtue can too easily remain strangers to one another:
In a rentier state every ambitious person know that the way to become rich and powerful is to grab the sources of wealth and hold onto them, by force if necessary. Rentier states tend to be run by unelected dictators. 17
Canada’s Indian elites are selfishly fighting for more of this same cronyistic, stunting and deforming, segregated, rentier-like, capitalistic, extractive-tending status quo.
They don’t want to free their people from this or push them in the healthy direction of joining the rest of Canada’s overall inclusivity, where Indian individual and group success is much better assured. They refuse to see themselves as members of an extended family, comprised of all Canadians, living in a shared and interconnected world. They don’t want to join and be parties to the Canadian citizenry’s social contract. Rather, they’d rather stay forever on the sidelines of that, as essentially passive, toll-collecting, third-party beneficiaries.
(But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?) 18
They seem to want nothing of a common, united, integrated future with the rest of Canada. They feel that there’s no money or power in it for them. It’s so tragic in this regard that they are unable to put the best interests of their peoples ahead of their own.
Just one example amongst countless of the social harm this apartheid/nation to nation chimera causes is the Gerald Stanley/Colton Boushie messy/tragic Saskatchewan murder trial. There were protests about the lack of indigenous persons on the jury. But our elites, indigenous and non-indigenous, with all their nation to nation blather, are in effect telling indigenous Canadians that they aren’t a natural, organic part of Canada. Rather, they are suggesting to them that they are “citizens” or members of some other nameless, “independent self-governing nation.” If so, why would they want to participate as jurors in the nation of Canada’s criminal justice system,- a fundamental obligation of the Canadian social contract-or feel themselves treated fairly by it? Our elites wrongly blame the criminal justice system, which involves a contest between the State and an individual- a contest designed to be “colour-blind”- for its inherent structural inability to cope with group identity/”social justice”/racial problems of the elites own making.
Unfortunately, so far today, there seems to be no Indian-Canadian version of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King emerging from amongst this self-satisfied, elitist group! There was one once, William Wuttunee, but he was frozen out by his own band-elite peers!
Despite this illiberal opposition from Indian elites and from the Indian industry generally, Canadians should be shouldering them aside as much as possible, adopting the pre-contact aboriginal worldview of all of us living in a shared and interconnected world, taking Nelson Mandela’s, Martin Luther King’s and their own William Wuttunee’s positions on behalf of Indian people generally, and starting to strive to live up to our liberal values and ideals. Our politicians and governing classes, if they are to restore their moral authority in the country, must start doing the same.
Because in the final analysis, as history has taught us, liberalism, liberal values and a cosmopolitan ethos, all focussing on the sanctity of the individual over any kind of group or “ism”, are the best we’ve got.
Liberalism and democracy, with all their limitations, are what remains after every utopia and extremist scheme based on blood and territory has been exposed and shattered by reality.
(From Robert Kaplan’s, In Europe’s Shadow, (above). Mr. Kaplan quotes Romanian intellectual E.M. Cioran, who, after World War Two, when he saw where it had catastrophically led, ruefully and guiltily renounced his own former blood-and soil-nativism and concluded:
One can only be a liberal out of exhaustion, and a democrat out of rational thought.)
Canada has achieved great things in the past when it set out to do so: the creation of the country itself in 1867 – our participation in the two world wars of the last century – becoming a beacon of national civility and hope for peoples the world over. We can do this too! We can and we must help our indigenous peoples to become emancipated from their no-doubt reassuring, but false nonetheless, “blood”-based and “race”-based sense of uniqueness- of apartness, where illusory, non-existent, unique “blood” falsely implies unique, special rights. We can and we must help to lead Indians out of their illiberal, race-obsessed, waking dream of voluntary servitude.
To borrow from the poet Robert Browning, a country’s reach should exceed its grasp, or what’s a heaven for?19
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.-John Lennon- Imagine
- From The Emancipation Proclamation, his 1862 essay celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the American South.
- Theodore Dalrymple.How to Read a Society, from Our Culture, What’s Left of It, Ivor R. Dee, 2005.
- from Federalist Paper No. 57, The New American Library, New York and Toronto, 1961
- From How Corrupt are our Politics? New York Review of Books, 25 September 2014.
- Column, Canada Enables the Sickness of the Reserves, The Globe and Mail, 8 September 2014.
- Cited above.
- The Overlook Press, 2001. A wonderful, witty, erudite good-humored historical novel that tells you everything you might like to know about the French philosopher of “reason above all else”, Denis Diderot.
- Cited above.
- One of the originators of the concept of “crimes against humanity.” FromEast West Street, by Philippe Sands, above.
- Christopher Hedges. Death of the Liberal Class. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
- From Tribe- On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. 2016
- Robert Conquest writes in Reflections on a Ravaged Century: “It was argued by such sophisticated exponents of Fascism as Giovanni Gentile that the individual best expresses himself as part of mass experience.”
- Arianna Huffington. The Globe and Mail, December 2010.
- Theodore Dalrymple, above
- Lorne Gunter. The Sudbury Star, 9 April 2014.
- Daron Acemoglu. The Globe and Mail, 14 March 2014.
- Adam Davidson, What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know About the Deal, New York Times, March 17th, 2016
- A fundamental question asked by Allan Bloom, (but of course never asked by our elites) in The Closing of the American Mind, above.
- From his poem, Andrea del Sarto, in Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language, Harper Collins, 2004