I found Warren Kinsella’s harangue on the failings of Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party (“The Biggest Losers,” July/August) disappointingly superficial and painfully self-serving, hardly worthy of The Walrus, to which we look for thoughtful discussion of public affairs.
In an article that reads as if it was written mostly before the election, Kinsella neglects the primary reasons for the Conservative victory: Stephen Harper’s successful insistence that the economy was the only thing that mattered; and the public’s distaste for the debasement of political discourse in this country, which the Tories, though largely to blame, cleverly exploited. The writer’s scheme to “rip their faces off first” (through anti-Tory attack ads) would have further compromised public life without discernible benefit to the Liberals, and Mr. Ignatieff wisely rejected it.
The Liberals’ circumstances call for a more considered analysis. For one thing, there is indeed a solid case to be made for the merger of the Liberal Party and the NDP, to produce the kind of unity on the centre-left that Stephen Harper has achieved on the centre-right. A merger would be in the Liberal Party tradition of absorbing other forward-looking movements, as it did under Mackenzie King with the Progressive Party. However, a merger can only occur when there is a perceived mutual benefit to both parties. At present, it is doubtful the NDP would see any benefit in getting into bed with a party they believe they have a good chance of displacing.
In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man. His book asserted that the world had reached the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution, and that the universalization of Western liberal democracy would be the final form of human government. Similarly, the ’90s marked the Liberal Party of Canada’s own “end of history”—the end of a long period of nation building in which Liberal governments transformed Canada into a modern welfare state, with a modern Constitution and Charter of Rights; a strengthened federal system with protections against secession; and a multicultural society that, despite inherent problems, has become a model for the world. Having reached these goals, and tested the affordability of the social safety net, the Liberal Party reverted to a short-term policy of brutal fiscal management—as it had to—but in the process lost its sense of national purpose and any claim to a common vision.
Three consecutive Liberal leaders have been unable to articulate a vision for the twenty-first century. Liberals must find a way to deliver new solutions to new problems if they are to make history again. Kinsella’s emphasis on “[winning] a fucking election” is an insult to that great mission.
Something tells me that Warren Kinsella and Iggy aren’t going for beers anytime soon.
If Kinsella’s account re: Afstan is right, Ignatieff refused to sacrifice principle for politics. So unlike the winner.
Kudos to Joanne Tod and The Walrus for “Portraits of the War” (July/August). It is important that these brave men and women—so many, so young—be honoured and remembered.
I would like to note that one portrait is missing between those of Lt. Andrew Richard Nuttall and Sgt. John Faught—missing, that is, if the intention was to portray all the Canadians who have died in the Afghanistan war. Michelle Lang, a Calgary Herald reporter, was killed by the same IED explosion that tragically took the lives of Pte. Garrett William Chidley, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. George Miok, and Sgt. Kirk Taylor. Another member of that convoy, a diplomat in her mid-twenties, lost her right leg and has had to undergo extensive surgery for internal injuries.
Michelle was my niece, a beloved family member whose loss shocked me into an understanding of what Ms. Tod so aptly describes as “the ubiquity of war: it can conform to any location”—and, I might add, to any Canadian civilian, even those as removed from this war as I once was.
These soldiers have served us honourably while many of us blithely go about our lives. Many, if not most, died doing what they believed in. Sadly for her family, friends, and colleagues, that was also true of Michelle. Journalism was her calling: she firmly believed that uncovering truth would serve a higher purpose. Freedom of the press is worth fighting for, but I have yet to reconcile whether it is worth dying for.
I attended a seminar Marshall McLuhan (“Divine Inspiration,” July/August) conducted at my college in the mid-’70s. At the time, I knew nothing about him except that he had said “The medium is the message,” and that he had been satirized on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In with a one-line running gag: “Marshall McLuhan, what’re ya doin’? ” But the effect of seeing him in person was electric. Whereas my professors had generally treated their subjects as subspecialties within subspecialties, resenting any critiques that violated departmental boundaries, and rejecting any effort to synthesize across disciplines (or even to draw from their studies practical implications for human life), McLuhan was truly visionary.
The effects of media far transcend the messages they contain (so that even today, my fellow commuters are much more likely to talk about their Kindles than about what they read on them). One might legitimately quarrel about McLuhan’s contradictions or the opacity of much of his writing, but he certainly inspired one to be unafraid to synthesize, to search for relations among seemingly unrelated disciplines, and to draw important implications for understanding our own lives. In any event, that night made a huge difference for me.
I have recently signed up for Facebook, and I cannot understand, except in the most abstract way, what all the fuss is about. In that sense, I am suspended between the futuristic message of McLuhan’s philosophy, and an admittedly reactionary response to much of the media that surrounds me. When I read about McLuhan’s Catholicism, however, I sense that perhaps he lived with a similar conflict. So, yes, it seems we cannot adequately appreciate him apart from his faith.
Peter Kougasian (online)
“The Pain Principle” (July/August) incorrectly identified witbier, a popular Belgian brew. The Walrus regrets the error.
This appeared in the October 2011 issue.