Thoughts on America and Canada

February 2, 2006

I’m beginning to become quite insatiable with some of the material to be found in the Globe and Mail’s Saturday edition. My family usually buys it on the weekend, but for some reason, I never manage to get through everything until the middle of the week. This week I had a good excuse: a massive power outage that left me in the dark for over two and a half hours in the evening. Pretty difficult to read when there’s no light available.

Anyways, one of their features this weekend was about Bernard-Henri Levy’s book American Vertigo that follows in the footsteps of his fellow countryman Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 book Democracy in America. The article was called Two Parisians in America written by Christopher Dreher. It can be found here (subscription required, just a warning). Both Tocqueville and Levy spent a significant amount of time living and travelling in the United States to create an understanding of the country to report back to France with. After reading several book reviews about Levy’s book, watched an interview of Levy on the Daily Show, and now having read an article comparing both books, it makes me definitely want to read Tocqueville’s account, with Levy’s book further down on the list.

I may have heard of Tocqueville before, but the name never stuck in my mind. Probably because I was raised on the Canadian education system and an event like a French man wandering through a country seemed kind of tame compared to our French-Indian Wars, French-English wars, history of French explorers in Quebec and into western Canada, and so forth. But just look at these gems:

“If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.”

“By a strange coincidence of events, religion has been for a time entangled with those institutions which democracy destroys; and it is not infrequently brought to reject the equality which it loves, and to curse as a foe that cause of liberty whose efforts it might hallow by its alliance.”

“The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money [or] Americans are so enamoured of equality they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

How could I have ignored a man like this who’s thoughts from the early 1800’s still remain current now, including how this prediction of a revolution happening around race actually happening (re: Civil War) ?

It is the last quote that concerns and interests me the most. I’m wondering if we are already at that point of being enslaved by the government and having giving up our rights of freedom? We freely elect officials to act in our best interests in Parliament or the House of Representatives in the U.S., but we are disconnected from any actions they may do in those chambers. We sit passively, awaiting the news of the daily events, and maybe have a conversation here and there about the highlights, but then the topic disappears to slumber underneath our beds. Even how we receive the news and judge what is important is through the eyes of the slithery, manipulating mass media with their final sliced up goods served to us. There is no direct link between our government and the people that are supposed to be in control. We are here; they are there.

It has always puzzled me how the decision of who runs certain areas of the country always comes down to one person. The Prime Minister elects his cabinet ministers, and we can only hope some riding in the country elected a competent politician who could look after Education, Foreign Affairs, etc. In the United States, it’s almost worst. The President appoints his various Secretaries of State, Defense, Environment, and so forth. Those appointments can be any American, not picked from the Congress or Senate. Any issues with accountability have to be handled in government, and we have to trust government to operate in an ethical and timely manner. If they don’t, for the most part, we have to support them regardless. We can voice our concerns, but we don’t have the power to decide on when to have an election or to fire an official. Canada is still going through this mess, and the United States could easily have a much larger mess on their hands if the power had more authority in how government operates.

I’m not sure what the solution is to these problems, but I think a starting point would be the destruction surrounding the mystique of politicians. The mass population seems to get it in their heads that politicians are smarter, have greater resources and are able to make better decisions than most people. This may be true, but we may never know, because these positions of power are separated by money issues. The cost to enter the Liberal Party leadership race is something like $300,000. The price to be a senator in the US or President must be an outrageous amount of money, too.

I’m going to stop now before I lose even more focus.

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