On the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation – the case against current-day Canada (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Examining the arrival of “soft-totalitarianism” on the 155th anniversary of Canadian Confederation
Without considering the broader social and cultural context of current-day Canada, it is not easy to see how very difficult the situation for “small-c conservatives” and social conservatives, actually is.
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.”
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).
The diffuse presence of these structures in society throws into question longstanding, classic understandings of government, politics, and democratic self-governance. 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 highly 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.” In stark contrast to the situation of populations in the former Eastern Bloc under Communism, there is no groundswell of tacit popular support for dissidents – indeed, a smothering tide of what seems to be popular outrage appears to be directed against them from all quarters. 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 Canadian writer and historical researcher.