Saturday, November 19, 2005

Buying Canada

There is an old joke that George Bush (senior) wanted a kinder, gentler America - so he bought Canada.

Canada is recognisable to Europeans as one of their own - a kind of Switzerland-ish state. America? - Well, that's something else. One explanation is that in Canada, the state reached the Pacific before the settlers did - there was never any frontier where men made their own societies. Canadians have a European attitude to the state (perhaps carried to extremes!) . The state is the consensual public authority for social welfare. (Putting Quebec to one side here!).

In the States, things seem more complex. As in the well-known inclination for 'voluntary associations' noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, American culture views the state more as an alien force than as a guarantor of the public good. The state is viewed with suspicion, and is not to be relied upon in preference to self-help.

Hence the fragmentary nature of American social life - so many distinct groupings, each with their own agendas and internal solidarity (asabiya!) but with national solidarity artificially achieved by loyalty to symbols and institutions rather than a genuine national fellow-feeling.

When a social group which is unashamedly tribalist (e.g. the Southern loyalist group around George W. Bush) gets to sit in the driving seat of the state apparatus, it is not surprising that the results are fantastically divisive.

Running America effectively is neither an exercise in expressing a pre-existing social consensus according to the European/Canadian model, nor should it be the ruthless execution of one faction's view of the world. Instead, it should be a rational interests model, which acts to increase social solidarity within the diversity which is American society and deepens the roots of all that symbology. Most reforming administrations have had that goal ... so perhaps the next one?

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