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Rule by pseudo-intellectual

Trudeau SpeechJustin Trudeau is not intelligent but he thinks he is. There’s no other explanation for his long, rambling speech at the McGill Institute yesterday, a speech he doubtlessly believed proved he was a man capable of grappling with deep questions of political philosophy, but was in practice an incoherent mess of fashionable truisms, politically-correct bromides, and circular logic.

Its purported topic was “liberty,” but since liberty is a complicated abstract concept with a long pedigree, Trudeau mostly just talked about things he likes.

Trudeau likes multiculturalism. Therefore, “Liberty means inclusion.” Not-liberty means discrimination, as manifest by various historic morality plays — the internment of the Japanese during World War II, for instance.

Why did Mackenzie King intern the Japanese? “He did it because people were afraid.” Why were people afraid? Trudeau doesn’t get into that, but presumedly it’s because we were at war with Japan at the time and many felt — wrongly of course — that any random Canadian of Japanese origin might engage in terrorism or sabotage to destroy the nation’s liberty.

Such is one of the great tensions of democratic society: to what extent can we justifiably restrain the freedom of a dangerous (seeming) minority in order to preserve the safety of the majority? This is essentially the anxiety Canadians feel about Muslim immigrants today — the concern is less about their personal faith than the extent to which fundamentalist Islam seems to correlate with domestic terror.

In Trudeau’s mind, alas, there is never rational motive on the other side. The political arena simply contains nice people and nasty people, and the nasty people do what’s wrong and the nice people do what’s right. Justice is achieved by hammering down the nasties.

He provides his own abortion policy as an illustrative case-study.

“Forcing a Liberal MP to vote against their conscience on a matter of morality is an unjust restriction of [his or her] liberty,” he posits rhetorically. “It sounds like a reasonable argument.”

But of course it isn’t, since “the right of a woman to control her body is more important than the right of a legislator to restrict her freedom with their vote.”

Importance, in this context, does not seem to be determined by any metric beyond what liberal politicians believe wins elections. As a practicing Catholic, one might expect Trudeau to at least be dimly aware that abortion opponents believe restricting the “right of a woman to control her body” is entirely justifiable when the exercise of that control entails ending the life (and thus rights) of another body inside her.

He continues, even more preposterously, that “for me, Canadian liberty is not about the freedom of powerful people to exercise that freedom according to the dictates of their conscience. It is about Canadians’ rights not to have their freedom unduly restricted, especially by the state.”

Trudeau may be surprised to learn that freedom of conscience is not a treat for him to dole out as he sees fit, but rather a protection guaranteed to everyone by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — regardless of how “powerful” their job happens to be. Likewise, when the state is found to have unduly restricted a right, it is the government as collective that’s liable, not individual legislators or their principles.

A few paragraphs later, when the conversation turns to banning burkas, Trudeau gets incredulous at the tactics he just finished endorsing. “Whatever happened to a free society’s requirement that we can disagree with a person’s choices, but must defend their right to make them?” Indeed.

What Monday’s speech makes most apparent is that Trudeau’s doctrine of liberty is less coherent ideology than a string of improvised defenses for policy positions he’s inherited from individuals much smarter than himself. Beyond a dispositional instinct that everything his party supports is right and everything conservatives — or people in the olden days —believe in isn’t, his ideas are not united by any overarching philosophy, a fact best reflected by what he identifies as the most “fundamental” disagreement between himself and the Prime Minister: “Leading this country should mean you bring Canadians together. You do not divide them against one another.”

A democratic polity will always be divided, and its reasons for division are rarely frivolous or petty. Ours is a society polarized by significant disagreement on deep legal, moral, and cultural questions, and we elect politicians to accurately represent our competing opinions. For all his patriotic bluster, Trudeau does not grasp this basic reality of the country he wants to lead, and instead furrows his brow at the perplexing existence of people who don’t think exactly like him, whom he can only analogize as the spiritual successors of racists and anti-semites.

The most frightening figures in politics are not the ideologues or demagogues, for the rigidity of their beliefs makes them boring and predictable. It’s leaders who lack firm intellectual grounding, since their exercise of power is destined to be confused, erratic, and arbitrary — the very antithesis of stable, safe government.

Trudeau spends a great deal of time scolding the Prime Minister for sowing fear, then turns around and encourages us to “shudder” at this government.

I shudder at him.