The managerial-therapeutic regime in Canada
An insoluble dilemma for real democracy?
Canada is indeed one of the most “exceptional” societies on the planet. Unlike the U.S. and some other Western societies, it mostly lacks an effective social conservative movement. It is given over to some of the most extreme forms of “political correctness” in any Western society. Same-sex “marriage” and abortion rights are very tightly entrenched. Peaceful protest at abortion facilities has been banned, and pro-life activists have served months or even years of jail-time for carrying out such protests. Doctor-assisted suicide is now legal, and full legalization of marijuana is expected shortly. Canada also has some of the highest rates of immigration of any society on the planet (now about 300,000 a year – three times more per capita than the U.S.), and it has been suggested in recent articles in the Canadian press, that if such immigration rates continue, whites will be around 20 per cent of the population in less than a hundred years.
It has been argued that there has emerged today, in most Western societies, something called (by its critics) “the managerial-therapeutic regime.” The term is derived from a combination of the ideas of James Burnham (author of The Managerial Revolution (1941)), and Philip Rieff (author of The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966)). Similar critical observations were echoed by George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), Canada’s leading traditionalist philosopher.
It could be argued that Canada today is among the fullest embodiments of such a regime – which is mainly socially liberal and economically conservative. As George Grant had aphoristically put it: “The directors of General Motors and the followers of Professor (Herbert) Marcuse sail down the same river in different boats.” There are discernible plutocratic aspects to modern-day Canada, and wide swaths of the population are unemployed or underemployed in what is, at least for some people, a “hyper-competitive” environment.
The managerial-therapeutic regime is based on relatively new structures of social, political, and cultural control. The structures of a regime of this kind are usually able to exercise power in a “soft” fashion. These consist mainly of: the mass media (in their main aspects of promotion of consumerism and the pop-culture, not to mention the shaping of social and political reality through the purveying of news); the mass education system (an apparatus of mostly unidirectional instruction from early-childhood-education to post-graduate studies); and the juridical system (generally speaking, by way of the “judicialization” of important political questions and, more specifically, through restrictions on political and religious speech, and on freedom of religion, by human rights commissions/tribunals).
As far as early-childhood-education, and primary and secondary schooling, these are under the jurisdiction of the provinces. There are far fewer private schools in Canada than in the U.S. (relative to population size), and homeschooling is comparatively rare. There has been “Catholic public” education in Canada because of the provisions of the Canadian Constitution of 1867, but the Catholic aspects of this schooling have by now been mostly washed out. The teaching profession is extraordinarily well-rewarded financially in Canada (especially in Ontario), but the public educational administrative bureaucracies have for many decades been pushing an anti-religious, anti-historical, anti-traditional agenda.
As far as the Canadian academy goes, there are far fewer conservative or traditionalist professors in the humanities and social sciences (relative to population size) than is the case in the United States. Also, there are very few private, religious-based universities, the most prominent being Trinity Western University in British Columbia. In the U.S., there are literally hundreds of such institutions. Trinity Western University is now trying to establish a law school, but the professional lawyers’ bodies of three provinces including Ontario have refused to allow TWU graduates to practice law in those provinces, because TWU’s Code of Conduct allegedly discriminates against homosexuals. The Code of Conduct – among numerous other provisions – asks students to confine sexual relations to the intimacy of heterosexual marriage. It is interesting to note that the legal profession in the U.S. has never made an issue in this way about Christian law schools.
The intellectual climate at most Canadian universities is arguably more stifling than is the case in the U.S. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) produces an annual Campus Freedom Index, a state of academic freedom in Canada report. It finds that there is a multi-pronged assault on academic freedom in Canada. For example, student unions have banned pro-life groups from obtaining official university club status, controversial speakers and events have been cancelled by university administrations. What strikes one about the Canadian university administrations is that they are far more timid than those in the U.S., ready to cancel conservative speakers and events at the slightest hint of threats from the “antifa” – anti-fascists. Having so little to react against in Canada, the “antifa” is far less organized in Canada than in the U.S.
Indeed, this has become an issue in federal politics, where the leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer (the Conservatives are currently the parliamentary Opposition), had, in his leadership campaign, threatened to cut off federal funding to universities that try to censor views on campus.
Inspired by dissident University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, a university movement called the Students in Support of Free Speech has emerged in Canada. They held a successful
event near the University of Toronto campus in late June 2017, where, among others, Peterson spoke.
However, as noted above, the number of conservative or traditionalist professors in the humanities and social sciences in Canada, is very small. There are in Canada huge bureaucratic and juridical structures dedicated to upholding social-liberal orthodoxy.
The diffuse presence of these structures in society throws into question longstanding, classic understandings of government, politics, and democratic self-governance. In Canada, the right to exercise freedom of speech – a supposed bedrock of democracy — is no longer valued much, even in theory, as opposed to the imperative of being “politically correct.” Democracy today is no longer understood as a vehicle for choosing between somewhat differing visions of politics and life, but rather as one, all-encompassing system of “democratic values” that must be upheld and imposed on everyone in society. The word “democratic” is usually used with the implied meaning of “socially liberal.”
The tendentious social and legal instruments of the regime are so deeply entrenched in Canada’s social/cultural fabric, moreover, that they are more than adequate when it comes to containing any popular challenges to the regime, whether these stem from the resistance mounted by residual traditionalist enclaves or from more thoroughgoing and deeply rooted channels of ecological or social democratic thought.
It could be argued that the regime is strengthened further by a “pseudo-dialectic of opposition” between an “official” Left and Right, which serves to exclude from the very outset many truly serious issues from public debate and consideration. Thus, elections may bring different parties and candidates into office, but the managerial-therapeutic regime endures.
The end-result of such a regime is a tendency towards so-called “soft totalitarianism,” of which the best known literary foreshadowing is probably the dystopia portrayed by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932). In contradistinction to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), an apparatus of violent coercion has proven unnecessary to maintain the regime. However, the points Orwell made about the importance of the use of language – “Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak” – remain pertinent.
When a regime controls the mass media, the mass education system, and the juridical apparatus, it does not need to exercise massive coercion to keep itself in power. Opponents of the system are frequently enough derided as “haters” or “Luddites.” Unlike in the case of the former Eastern Bloc, there is no groundswell of tacit popular support for dissidents – indeed, quite pronounced feelings of seemingly popular outrage appear to be directed against them. Despite an ostensibly free society, they find very few public defenders.
Ironically, “soft totalitarianism” may in fact arise in the most ostensibly free and formally democratic systems.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.