Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

America’s system is still liberalism’s best bet

The Liberal Party of Canadacolonial Canada’s earliest champion of American-style direct democracynow seems to take its inspiration from Europe’s more layered approach to politics.

Its parliamentary leadership accepts First Nation’s Chief Theresa Spence’s demand that the British Crown be represented at First Nation negotiations with Canada’s Federal Government. And Liberal leadership candidates say they would scrap Canada’s First Past the Post electoral systema system that favors big-tent national parties over protest parties, and often elects majority Prime Ministers, as the US system elects Presidents.

Smart people like the British, and Canadians too, can manage with today’s mixed monarchic, theocratic, and democratic system. Surrounded by danger, smart people like the Israelis can survive using a Proportional Election system that favors small parties and, consequently, puts a dozen party bosses in charge of hammering outafter national electionsthe leadership, orientation, and priorities of the Israeli Government. 

According to past liberal principles and instincts, however, both of those models are second best. The monarchal model confuses people and thereby makes it more difficult to figure out who’s accountable and how to vote for effective change. Multi-party systems make it easier to be a politician, but it's next to impossible for voters to decide directly who should be in charge and whose vision should hold sway.

The direct election of political heads of state does make cautious people nervous. The US presidential system and the quasi-presidential Canadian party system can accommodate intemperate swings in the popular mood. That’s why 18th-century liberals favored a written bill of rights, federalism, and executive and legislative checks. Their conservative counterparts in Britain and Canada successfully preserved an un-elected Upper House and celebrate the magic (confusion) that goes with a hereditary, constitutional monarchy.

The First Past the Post system, along with the national election of the President, has been hard on new and uncompromising interests that want to speak for themselves. However, as instruments of direct democracy, they have made it possible for Americans to elect working majorities and influence national choices.

It’s passing strange that after all America has accomplished in the last century, after witnessing the success of Barack Obama in winning two liberal national mandates, that Canadian liberalism’s republican and pan-Canadian ambitions are now so feeble.

Surely, the key to inspire interest in progressive politics and to solve problems like the woeful state of First Nation communities in Canada is to champion an electoral system that can actually mobilize the will of the people. This year, the President’s Inaugural Address took less than twenty minutes. However, tens of millions in every state paid attention, and over half the people could claim a piece of its authorship.

The First Past the Post system now favors the center-right in Canada because they are united. It would continue to work for Canadian democracy and, again, for the center-left, if they united too. 

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