A bit more on democratic theory

Just a follow-up on my previous post… Reading the Economist over breakfast this morning (yep, that’s what I do), I was struck by this line (in an article that was actually about Ted Cruz):

Of the top two Republicans in Iowa, one is a universally recognisable type. Short on policy, long on ego and bombast, promising to redeem a nation he disparages through the force of his will, Donald Trump’s strongman shtick is familiar from Buenos Aires to Rome, inflected though it is by reality TV and the property business.

I like the observation that Trump is a “universally recognizable” type, a figure that would strike most non-Americans (e.g. particularly South Americans) as a normal feature of democratic politics. (Think also PKP in Quebec…) Indeed, in certain respects the Trump candidacy represents the normalization of American politics.

And yet, when I turn to (normative) democratic theory, I find absolutely nothing that is of any use in understanding the phenomenon, much less thinking about how a society might respond to it.… Continue reading

The meaning of O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary’s recent musing that he might enter the Conservative Party leadership race has given the chattering classes what we have so desperately been lacking the past few months – something entertaining to talk about.

The bid, of course, would be a non-starter, since O’Leary doesn’t speak French. He claims that would be no problem, since he “understands Quebec” on a visceral level, having been born in Montreal. Of course, people who actually understand Quebec know that there is nothing francophone Quebecers hate more than people who are from Quebec, and yet can’t speak French. People from Saskatchewan at least have an excuse. People from Montreal do not.

In any case, the episode reminded me of a very good question that Tyler Cowen asked a while back (actually, now that I look it up, he was repeating a question asked by Robin Hanson), which is why the upper tiers of the political system in democratic societies (i.e the areas where television is the most important medium) are not simply taken over actors.… Continue reading

Retour sur le nouveau réalisme

Pour son cinquième anniversaire, le magazine d’art Zone Occupée m’a demandé de contribuer à son numéro thématique intitulé « Prospectives ». Comme je ne sais trop ce que l’avenir nous réserve—je n’ai même pas été capable de prédire le gagnant de la dernière campagne électorale fédérale!—, j’ai plutôt choisi de présenter une mouvance philosophique, le « nouveau réalisme », qui s’impose de plus en plus et dont notre monde a bien besoin. Le Devoir a publié une version abrégée du texte dans sa rubrique « Des Idées en revues », ainsi qu’une réplique d’André Baril. J’ai reçu des courriels de collègues séduits ou irrités par le nouveau réalisme, et le texte a suscité de nombreuses discussions sur Facebook. In fine, le plus réjouissant est sans aucun doute le fait qu’un petit texte portant d’abord sur des questions d’ontologie et d’épistémologie ait provoqué autant de réactions.

Quelques précisions sur la version du texte publiée dans Le Devoir.… Continue reading

If you want more than ambition, there is high-ambition: But what does it mean?

From Paris

At her closing speech on December 12, Christiana Figueres, Executive Sectretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted that the Paris Agreement was the result of years of work. Focused work started following COP17 in Durban, giving its name to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. In many respects the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform (ADP) carried out the process of working on a new agreement from 2011 to 2015.

As the ADP completed its work at the end of the first week at COP21, the working draft was a patchwork of hundreds of square brackets. A sentence, a phrase, or a word put in square brackets meant that some parties wanted it in while others wanted it out. In parts of the text, not words but entire paragraphs were bracketed. This process was important, for there was a mandate to ensure that draft Agreement be truly “party-owned”.… Continue reading

Why were the COP21 negotiations in Paris so tough?

From Paris

The Paris Agreement (full text here), adopted on December 12, 2015, was negotiated with a fear of failure looming over the delegates throughout the two-week conference. It was a difficult process with many setbacks.

The conference went on extended time until Saturday evening. The final three days were carried out almost entirely in closed meetings. Negotiators, together with the French Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat, worked indefatigably round the clock.

As the details of what went on in closed sessions are transpiring, it becomes clear that aspects of the draft text were being disputed until the end. According to sources, some countries were stating that they still had problems with the text as late as ten minutes before all gave their consent.

Why was it so tough?

There were many difficult issues to be resolved at Le Bourget. One of them was the question of differentiation of responsibilities.… Continue reading

The Firewall From the Other Side: The past and future of Stephen Harper’s agenda

It didn’t take long for the new Liberal government in Ottawa to start undoing the changes Stephen Harper made to the way the country is run over his nine years as prime minister. Many of these changes were in the tone and style of governance: Trudeau unmuzzled scientists, said nice things to public servants, promised more access and openness to journalists. From coast to coast to coast, bowling scores are up sharply, and mini-putt scores are way down.

Trudeau also took a few quick steps to reverse some of Harper’s key policies. Most notably, he immediately reinstated the mandatory long-form census, barely in time for the 2016 survey. Interestingly, the minister who oversaw the cancelling of the mandatory census, Tony Clement, could not bring himself to criticize Trudeau’s move last week, saying that in retrospect “I think I would have done it differently.”  (On a related note: Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose has come out in favour of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.… Continue reading

Don’t settle for shallow narratives to explain NDP loss

I published an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen explaining why I don’t think we should be satisfied with the analyses of the NDP’s underachievement in the last election. Among other things, I think that the view that one of the reasons explaining the NPD’s loss is that it was “outflanked from the left” by the LPC deserves more scrutiny. I realize that an electoral campaign is not a political philosophy seminar, but this doesn’t entail that hasty judgments should remain unchallenged. More importantly, the lessons that we will draw from the results will influence how we think about social-democracy’s prospects in Canada.… Continue reading

A Remembrance Day story

One of the things that I dislike about Remembrance Day is the ambiguity that has developed, and has in some cases been encouraged, about what exactly it is we are supposed to be remembering. When I was younger it was much more clear. Most of my uncles fought in the Second World War. The fact that they never talked about it told us most of what we needed to know, about what it had been like. My father was the youngest in his family, and so he did not have to serve. He wrote a story, however, about his older brother returning from the war. It has become a useful reminder, in our family, of what we should be striving to remember:


    The Soldier

    the door of the house opened.  a man in soldier’s uniform came out and stood on the back porch.  he put his boots down one after another on the four steps and then onto the dirt path.  

Continue reading