Harper is not Harper: the libertarian Conservative delusion

May 21, 2010 by  

Libertarian Conservative writer Gerry Nicholls wrote a blog post on the National Post’s “Full Comment” blog the other day in which he did his best to argue that A is not A. His subject was a book by Marci MacDonald titled “The Armageddon Factor”, in which she writes of the influence that evangelical Christians have over Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and over matters of policy in Canada. The thrust of his argument is that the book will not succeed in turning people away from supporting the Harper Conservatives, but that it may actually drive social (read religious) Conservatives into the Harper Conservative camp. I see at least three problems with this theory.

First, the lion’s share of people who want religion mixed with government – a minority in Canada – are *already* voting conservative. McDonald’s book won’t give any social conservative voter more ballots.

Second, Nicholls’ description of Harper in the 1997-2002 period (when Gerry says he knew Harper), is pretty much the description that anyone would have given Harper in that same period:

During all the time I knew him, he never displayed an ounce of zealotry. He never even talked about religion. He did, however, talk a lot about the intersection of religion and politics. And his views in those days would probably shock Marci McDonald.

Harper did not have much affinity for social conservatives. He viewed them as “culturally isolated” and a dwindling political force in Canada. That’s why he also believed a conservative political party would be successful only if it talked less about social and moral issues, and more about economic and fiscal issues. In other words, he was a libertarian.

But alas: people change. Religion in particular tends to become more attractive to many people when their children are entering their teens and making scary choices (Harper’s eldest lad is that age, and Harper has expressed concern that his children will increasingly come into contact with drugs in their teenage years). Religion is also more attractive to people once they are entering the last third or quarter of their life (Harper is 51). Harper is a member of the Alliance church, and is a church-goer. Harper fits the demographic.

Of course, I cannot know why any particular stranger – I don’t know Harper personally – chooses to hold on to any arbitrary (i.e., not founded on physical evidence) belief. I have observed, like many others, that some people just can not deal with the reality that you only get one shot at life. Such a person, considering his mortality, considers also that his life is not the one he wanted and hoped for when he was younger. To cope with the disappointment – disappointment that, for many, is crushing – he holds onto a belief like a lifeline: that he will have a non-physical afterlife in which existence in infinite, effortless, and blissful. And it is precisely because that arbitrary belief functions as a lifeline that it is regarded by many as the greatest of sins to cause such a person to lose his faith. It is equated with murder: death by reality.

But I digress. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Harper’s belief in a God, or the influence of religion in his decision making because….

3. If it barks and wags it’s tail, you can call it a cat all you like, and it won’t change the fact that it’s a dog. Before Harper was in power, he called for an end to corporate welfare, for lower taxes, et cetera. But by 2006, he was barking and wagging like a liberal. Call him “libertarian” cat all you like, but his government has cranked up the deficit to unbelievable levels, bailed out (even bought out) private businesses, declared war on a Canadian culture that doesn’t share his professed desire to prohibit marijuana use (“because it’s bad”), and expressly condemned libertarians and libertarianism. And he has expressly said that his conservative policies are “tempered” by one of his three values: faith (the other two being family and – oh p-lease – freedom).

For some, apparently, faith in the notion that a socialist is actually – somewhere deep down inside, eventually, in spirit, etc. – a “libertarian” is itself a belief that, like a belief in the afterlife, is held onto so as to cope with the fact that there is no libertarian party in power, and no party currently in power that has any plan of any sort ever to govern as libertarians. Libertarians, too, have their faith-based lifelines…which is why libertarians and social conservatives belong together.

Me: I’ll stay grounded on earth. Gravity is my only lifeline, and it’s the only one I want or need.


3 Responses to “Harper is not Harper: the libertarian Conservative delusion”

  1. Peter Jaworski on May 21st, 2010 1:44 pm

    I didn’t read Gerry as claiming that Harper is, deep down, a libertarian. Just that he once was. And he was. He told me himself at an NCC dinner many moons ago (although he said he preferred “classical liberal” because “libertarian” is associated with Ayn Rand, and she’s an atheist [and Harper said he wasn’t], and so on).

  2. Paul McKeever on May 22nd, 2010 10:17 pm

    I don’t know, Peter. The whole article essentially communicated the theory that Harper is just keeping up appearances for the so-cons, but that – deep down – he remains a libertarian. For example, although he spoke of the period ending in 2002, he says elsewhere in the article not “I knew the man” but “I know the man”. And, with respect to the libertarian label: in his Manning speech in 2009, Harper did not merely object to the term “libertarian” because of some association of the word with Ayn Rand (an unwarranted association…but I digress). Rather he actually condemned laissez faire altogether, in both the economic and social “spheres” (if one buys into such distinctions).

    At the end of the day: you are what you say and do. No psychologizing is needed to make a judgment about Harper having said that conservatives rightly “temper” freedom both with “family” and with “faith”. No psychologizing is needed to make a judgment about a person’s choice to end his speeches with “God bless Canada”. If one walks and talks like a religiously-motivated collectivist, one is a religiously-motivated collectivist, or a sanctioner of same.

  3. Nicola Timmerman on May 22nd, 2010 11:49 pm

    Hard to believe Harper is disappointed in his life, apart from the fact he is not a star hockey player or has a majority government!

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