Forging Freedom: Critical Humanist Strategies of Resistance to Corporatism, the Munro Beattie Lecture, 1999-2000, Carleton University

[This essay was delivered on 11 February 2000 as the invited Munro Beattie Lecture, 1999-2000 at Carleton University. The version that appears here incorporates revisions made in 2003 for a projected volume, to be published by Carleton University Press, that was to have brought together the four most recent Munro Beattie lectures, but that never appeared. Abbreviated versions of this paper were delivered as invited lectures to the Miedzywydzialowy Zaklad Studiow Amerykanskich of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland (18 April 2000), and at the conference on Italy and Canadian Culture: Nationalisms in the New Millennium at the University of Udine, Italy (18-20 May 2000), but it has not previously been published.]


1. Inventing crises

I wonder whether the widespread failure of North Americans to notice that we are living in the midst of a social and political revolution stems more distinctly from inattention, from diffidence, or from incredulity. In the United States, one might incline toward the former explanation: our southern neighbours have a well-nurtured capacity (not seriously dented by the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath) for remaining sublimely unaware of much that goes on in the world. Diffidence, on the other hand, is supposed to be a national characteristic of Canadians: have we perhaps noticed the transformations taking place all around us, but all-too-tactfully refrained from giving them a name? Or have we simply been unable to credit what is happening, either because we think of revolutions as events that occur, by definition, elsewhere and in other times, or else because the very notion of a revolution has been so debased by its application in advertising to everything from automotive styling to men's toiletries that we greet fresh deployments of the term with a yawn?

Whatever else we might fault them for, the corporatist revolutionaries of our time cannot be accused of having failed to disclose their intentions—and their strategies as well. Ronald Reagan campaigned for the American presidency in 1980 as the bringer of something he called “the Reagan Revolution”; a year into his first term his budget director, David Stockman, revealed with surprising candour the way in which Reagan’s handlers (if not the president himself) understood what they were up to. All the talk about balanced budgets and prosperity through “trickle-down” economics was hot air, Stockman confessed. The real goal was a radical redirection of resources away from social spending, and a deliberate amassing of huge budget deficits that would make this redirection irreversible by depriving future governments of the wherewithal to restore the welfare and civil rights entitlements cut away by the Reaganites.1 A liberal welfare-state future, should the opposition to this radical conservatism ever sufficiently reassert itself to the point of contemplating such a thing, would be discovered to have been pre-emptively, already and for ever, bankrupted.

The anxiously proleptic temporality disclosed by Stockman’s indiscretions, this desire to constrain succeeding generations by bankrupting any possible alternative to the future that is being envisioned and announced, is one early sign—despite all the obvious continuities with prior forms of capitalist governance—of the radically transformative nature of what I will be calling the corporatist revolution. There is, of course, a large disjunction between the Reaganite rhetoric of economic and military rejuvenation, which implied the opening out of an expanding field of choices for the American polity, and the force of negation revealed in this desire for a foreclosure of all futures but one—beneath which may be detectable a more deeply rooted readiness to cancel human futures altogether. It was, after all, a colleague of David Stockman in Reagan’s first cabinet, Environment Secretary James Watt, who justified the issuing of mining permits in national parks by remarking that Jesus expects us to have exhausted all of the planet’s resources before he returns to earth.2 The strip-mining of national parks would, in this view, accelerate the Second Coming, the end of time, the cancellation of futurity in a blessed eternal present.

Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, Stephen Harper, and the other politicians who since 1984 have collaborated in hitching the Canadian caboose ever more tightly onto the tail end of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Express have, on the whole, been less forthcoming about their motives than David Stockman was. But the inhabitants of Ontario, our most populous and economically most powerful province, have had in Premier Mike Harris another self-proclaimed revolutionary—and in the figure of John Snobelen, Harris’s first Education Minister, one of the philosophers not just of Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution,” but also of the larger corporatist revolution of which it was a part. Shortly after taking office in 1995, Snobelen had himself videotaped explaining his plans for change to senior education ministry bureaucrats—one of whom had the decency to share a copy with the media. Despite the informal looseness of his syntax, Snobelen’s meaning is clear:

“[We must] bankrupt the actions and activities that aren’t consistent with the future we’re committed to. But there are a couple of things we need to get done properly along the way. One of those is ... to declare the future.

“.... It’s not a very collaborative process. That needs to be done before what needs bankrupting and how to bankrupt it occurs.

“I like to think of it as creating a useful crisis.... Creating a useful crisis is what part of this will be about. So the first bunch of communications that the public might hear might be more negative than I might be inclined to talk about [otherwise].

“Yeah, we need to invent a crisis. And that’s not an act just of courage—there’s some skill involved.”3

Snobelen’s words were dismissed by some commentators as mere “bafflegab”—an interpretation he encouraged when he responded to calls for his resignation by claiming that he did not mean to “invent a crisis” in any normal sense, but had been using a management-consultant jargon in which these plain words signified something else altogether. But with due allowances made for differences in historical context and in the scale of the bankrupting at hand, Snobelen’s project is quite obviously a development of the Reagan Revolution, and his posturings provide a glimpse of the mental workings that underlie and correspond to the radical material transformations being organized by contemporary capitalist corporatism.4 The strategy Snobelen enunciated was promptly followed by the Harris government, with invented crises in public housing, welfare, environmental regulation, labour legislation, municipal restructuring, primary and secondary education, health care, urban transportation, and public utilities, including water supply and the generation and distribution of electricity. Higher education has also come in for its share of attention.


2. Defunding criticism

With cuts of 25 percent during the 1990s to university budgets that in the late 1980s stood at little more than two-thirds of the funding per student provided to equivalent state universities in the northern United States, Ontario had by the beginning of the new millennium sunk to a level of per capita funding of post-secondary education that put the province last or second-last among the sixty jurisdictions with post-secondary systems north of the Rio Grande. But in this case the invented crisis is being compounded by demographic factors. University administrations have belatedly woken up to the fact that the demographic bulge known as the “baby-boom echo,” which will produce a ten to fifteen percent increase in the annual student cohort, is currently moving up through the Canadian school system, and will arrive at the college and university level at approximately the same time as the “double cohort” that Ontario’s elimination of Grade 13, the final year of secondary school, will produce in 2003.5 In anticipation of an overall enrollment increase of forty percent by 2010, the Council of Ontario Universities in October 1999 urgently requested the commitment of at least $1 billion per year in additional base funding, in addition to the $742 million that the government had announced would be allocated to capital funding.6 The Harris government promptly slapped the universities away from the cookie-jar with a further $30-million cut, and then in February 2000 initiated a reduced $660-million program of capital spending on universities and community colleges. Targeting this funding to such areas as information technology, engineering and the health sciences, the Ontario government also made it available only in cases where matching funds could be raised from outside sources, thus ensuring corporate control of a remodeled higher education infrastructure. As finance minister Ernie Eves declared, “The private sector ... believes it’s best to have some input on the ground floor of the postsecondary education system.... They know what skills are required in the marketplace.”7 Any shortfall in the capacity of the post-secondary education system is to be met by recourse to this same private sector, through an invitation to private degree-granting institutions to establish themselves in the province—presumably in the form of what historian David Noble has called “digital diploma mills”: low-overhead distance education operations employing ill-paid faculty on revolving door contracts to provide job-market training to large numbers of students in a manner that maximizes the institution’s profits.8

Having informed Ontario’s universities that capital funding could be requested from the provincial government only for expanded programs in the applied sciences, Premier Harris subsequently declared that the universities’ proposals for funding showed there to be student demand and institutional need for new money in these areas alone, and not in the humanities and social sciences: “The demand for new programs is not in liberal arts. The demand is in the areas where the universities have made applications for significant expansion [to prepare students] for jobs in the future.”9 When the Ontario university chancellors reacted to this maneuver by issuing a statement defending liberal arts programs, Harris simply repeated his claim: “We haven’t had very many universities saying they need to expand history and Latin and English departments. We have a lot of universities saying they have a huge demand for engineering, for mathematics, for a lot of these new programs. So we’re responding to their requests.”10

The deception is childishly transparent. As the premier and his policy advisers must have been aware, there had in fact been “a significant increase” since 1998 in student applications to Bachelor of Arts programs in Ontario universities, and at the same time “a decrease in applications to professional programs such as Engineering, and a slight decrease in applications to the sciences.”11 Setting aside the premier’s evident contempt for facts, it is interesting to see a discourse of “free-market” supply and demand applied to a policy system that more closely resembles a Stalinist command economy.

As with the invented crisis that our federal government has created by its withdrawal of support for the Canadian health care system, the current crisis in higher education seems designed to convince the public that a once very satisfactory arrangement—a publicly-funded sector that has fulfilled an essential social function with (in comparison to the American parallels) high efficiency, high quality and low cost—needs to be replaced by an increasingly privatized system run by private corporations for private profit.12 In this light the Ontario Conservative government’s deep tax cuts—44 percent between 1995 and 2000, with further cuts enacted in 2001,13 and additional corporate tax cuts promised for 2002-03—can be seen to have served the double function of rewarding the high-income supporters whom they disproportionately favour, and of preventing the economic boom of the late 1990s from pushing the government into budget surpluses that would have made it hard to justify continued cuts to essential public services in the name of deficit reduction.14

It would be naïve to suppose that Premier Harris’s repeated dismissals of the human sciences as useless and unwanted implied any claim to knowledge of some actual state of affairs. What these speech acts displayed was rather an ideologically formed intention, a will to bring about irrevocable change. Despite its grammatical form, Harris’s declaration that there is no new public demand for liberal arts programs was performative rather than constative in nature: a statement not of what he took to be the case but of what he intended should become the case.15 The agenda of the Ontario Conservative government, and of its imitators in British Columbia and elsewhere, involves a systematic defunding of those sectors of the universities and colleges within which a critical understanding of sociocultural structures and forces can be produced, and a transfer of resources to those sectors that are most purely instrumental in orientation and most clearly aligned with the profit nexus of corporate interests.

Harris’s sneering anti-intellectualism—“We seem to be graduating more people who are great thinkers,” he declared in February 2000, “but they know nothing about math or science or engineering or the skill sets that are needed”16—earned him an editorial cartoon in The Globe and Mail which revised Jacques-Louis David’s painting of “The Death of Socrates” to show a blandly smiling Ontario Premier handing Socrates the cup of hemlock.17 But Harris’s attitudes seem in fact to be widely shared among Canada’s political elites, for although the Ontario government has been more vociferous than its federal counterpart in valuing “skill sets” above critical intelligence, its instrumentalism and its drive towards privatization dovetail neatly with the higher education agenda of Jean Chrétien’s neo-Liberal national government.

In October 1998, federal Trade Minister Sergio Marchi took part in the Second Annual Canadian Education Industry Summit, a conference which energetically promotes privatization at all levels of the education system and enthuses over the huge profits available within the “education for profit industry.” The Summit’s aim, according to its own promotional literature, is “to create a platform for the education industry leaders and the investment community to discuss the unique opportunities in this new .... $700 billion growth industry.” Marchi’s participation in the event signalled, in the words of Summit organizer Charles Ivey, the “clear support and involvement of Canada’s Federal Government.”18

This and similar signals have been accompanied by action. Federal finance minister Paul Martin’s February 28, 2000 budget denied any funding increase to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Medical Research Council, while lavishing $900-million (a fraction of the sum withdrawn by the federal government from higher education funding since 1993) upon the recently established Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Louise Forsyth, president of the Humanities and Social Science Federation of Canada, noted that because CFI funding is restricted to the areas of technology and applied science, and because the federal government made no provision for the infrastructures needed to support a revival of research activity, this initiative can “only exacerbate the pressures on universities to sacrifice humanities and social sciences scholarship.”19 To obtain CFI funding, moreover, researchers must be able to match each forty cents of public money with sixty cents from other sources. Jim Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, noted that this “partnership” arrangement (which closely parallels the Ontario government’s provisions for capital funding) gives the corporate sector “effective veto power over who gets public money, renewing ongoing questions about the implications for the integrity and independence of university research.”20

It may be naïve to think that debate over such issues is still “ongoing,” when for corporatist organizations like the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council the matter is already settled. That body’s “national strategy” for 1997-2002 declares that Canada must focus research funding on

those areas with highest value and return on investment.... Priorities for applied research are set by the marketplace via partnerships, e.g., industry funds research that fits their priorities.... Augmented private-sector participation in research priority-setting will ... ensure scientists have access to the appropriate market signals, are aware of the technology requirements of industry and can focus their research appropriately.21

Scientific researchers who fail to focus their work “appropriately,” who work on subjects that do not hold out the prospect of a quick return on investment, or who adhere to antiquated notions of a public good that may not in every case be congruent with the maximizing of profits for Monsanto, Nortel, Microsoft, or General Foods, will have increasing difficulty in obtaining research funding. While their more compliant colleagues publish, they will perish.

Thus, while underfunded liberal arts faculties are exposed ever more completely to the proletarianizing processes acerbically analyzed by Cary Nelson and Stephen Watt in Academic Keywords, the sciences and applied sciences are ever more completely handed over to corporate interests and to a wholesale instrumentalizing that reduces scientific inquiry to what Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie call “academic capitalism.”22 As Bill Readings noted in The University in Ruins, the corporatist university defines and assesses itself in terms of “excellence,” a notion which “is like the cash-nexus in that it has no content….” The vacuous appeal to “excellence” at one and the same time “exposes the pre-modern traditions of the University to the force of market capitalism” and “marks the fact that there is no longer any idea of the University, or rather that the idea has now lost all content.”23

But we need to understand these developments in their widest (shall we say their global?) context.


3. Global corporatism

Beyond the domestic boundaries of its Reaganite or Harrisite manifestations, and beyond the confines of the higher education sector, the most conspicuous effects of the widely celebrated process of “globalization” include an accelerating transfer of wealth from already desperately poor countries in Africa, Central and South America, and southern Asia to the “developed” economies of North America, Europe and Japan. This transfer was already well under way by the 1960s and 70s, thanks to neocolonial political and economic relations that involved the routine subversion of democratic governments and their replacement by dictatorships which fostered high levels of corruption and bribery, cut labour standards and gave transnational corporations unfettered access to natural resources.24 At the same time, existing agricultural economies were being displaced by the “Green Revolution,” with an ensuing pattern of mono-crop export, concentration of land ownership and dependence on first-world loans.25

In recent decades the transfer of wealth and the ruination of traditional agriculture have been accelerated by the widespread imposition of World Bank and International Monetary Fund loan-repayment austerity plans, which dismantle any structures within debtor nations that might impede the maximizing and repatriation of the profits of transnational corporations, and at the same time accentuate social class divisions by reducing the infrastructures of civil society to a skeletal remnant. The concurrent imposition of an international trade regime that gives unprecedented global mobility to finance capital has made possible such events as the 1995 devastation of the Mexican economy and the so-called “meltdown” of East Asian economies two years later. A recognition that these developments have produced monstrous injustices has not been confined to thinkers on the left: Michel Camdessus, who as Managing Director of the IMF contributed in no small way to the internationalizing of the corporatist revolution, declared recently that “the widening gaps between rich and poor within nations, and the gulf between the most affluent and most impoverished nations, are morally outrageous, economically wasteful, and potentially socially explosive.”26

Within the “developed” countries—especially those that have most completely followed the recipes of Chicago School economics—there has been a correspondingly relentless transfer of wealth from poor to rich, with a resulting surge in immiseration and homelessness. Skilled (and once well-paying) jobs have been exported to foreign low-wage autocracies, or else have disappeared in a frenzy of down-sizing, the CEO instigators of which are rewarded with salaries that may be hundreds of times those of their remaining shop-floor employees.27 Once-progressive personal taxation structures have come increasingly to favour the rich; and U.S. Republicans, followed by their Canadian clones in the Reform and Alliance parties, have pressed for a truly regressive “flat” income tax and for further reductions of corporate tax rates, even though these have already shrunk to a fraction of their 1950s levels.

Growing disparities in wealth have been accompanied by an escalation of political corruption. Episodes such as the kickback scandals of the Mulroney era, the Reaganite Savings and Loan scandal (involving the transfer of approximately one trillion dollars from the public purse into private pockets), or the still-unfolding Enron scandal may invite one to suspect a shift from something distantly resembling democracy, government by the people, to kleptocracy, government by thieves. But the context of systemic corruption out of which these scandals have arisen is still more disquieting. International business deals resting on public-sector purchases commonly involve bribery and kickbacks of the kind that ex-Prime Minister Mulroney’s associate Karl-Heinz Schreiber has been accused of, and it has become generally accepted that corporate interests should be able to shape legislative agendas through campaign financing and through a lobbying industry whose sole purpose, as John Ralston Saul notes, is that of converting “elected representatives and senior civil servants to the particular interest of the lobbyist”—or in other words, “corrupting the people’s representatives and servants away from the public good.”28

The so-called “liberalizing” of trade which is the most conspicuous feature of the movement towards a “globalized” economy might be more accurately described as a formalizing and legitimizing of the power of corporate capital to maximize transnational profits at the expense not just of democratic governance, but also, more directly, of labour rights and environmental protection. Jeff Faux has written of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that

If the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico wanted simply to lower tariffs, the agreement could have been written on one page. Instead, it is one thousand pages of detailed rules, most of which are aimed at protecting the interests of U.S. and Canadian investors seeking cheap Mexican labor. Intellectual property rights for corporations, repatriation of capital, and deregulation of foreign business are not only spelled out, specific punishments and penalties are described. In contrast, the protections for labor and the environment—core elements in any modern social contract—are for all practical purposes non-existent....29

The basic asymmetry of NAFTA—as also of the World Trade Organization’s adjudication panels and the temporarily defeated Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)—is explained by Tony Clarke and Maude Barlow as stemming from an extension into international law of the U.S. constitutional principle known as the “takings” rule, which prohibits governments “from taking private property ‘without adequate compensation’ and ‘valid public purpose’.” This principle,

used to protect transnational corporations from any government intervention or regulation that inhibits the free flow of capital and profitable investment, ... has the effect of “taking” away the power of governments to serve and protect the democratic rights of their citizens. There are no corresponding rules to protect governments from the takings of transnational corporations.30

Transnational corporations thus emerge as strangely hybrid—or protean—entities. They have all the legal rights of human personhood (including, astonishingly, the right to free speech, which was the basis of the tobacco industry’s successful appeal in the Canadian Supreme Court against the federal law banning tobacco advertising). And yet they manage to evade most of the human condition's liabilities, remaining largely immune, it would seem, to those two fixities of human experience, death and taxes.

Should the clauses of the MAI become law, whether through inclusion in the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) or through some more devious means, transnational corporations would also acquire the status of nationhood, though in a similarly hybrid or doubled manner. They would be the equals in law of the nation-states that make up the membership of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), while at the same time enjoying free access to signatory countries for their key personnel, treatment no less favourable than that accorded to domestic companies, and exemption from labour and environmental standards.31 And since the new international trade regime enshrined in the regulations of NAFTA, the WTO and the MAI prohibits nation-states from considering “extra-jurisdictional” matters in relation to trade—that is to say, from discriminating in any way against imports produced (for example) by child labour, slave labour, or under conditions of systematic torture or mass-murder—transnational corporations are already effectively exempted from compliance with international law on human rights.32

Although the protean corporate entity has at once no fixed address and many shifting addresses, it thus claims equality with the spatially delimited nation-state—and indeed establishes itself within its household, claiming a key to the front door, the same (or better) rights of bed, board and access to the house’s contents that its citizen-residents enjoy, the right to bring in material of whatever kind obtained by whatever means, and finally the right to depart unmolested with whatever portion of the household goods it has been able to appropriate.

The extension and legitimizing of corporate power through what amounts to a slow-motion global coup d’état has of course had political as well as economic repercussions. John Ralston Saul argued in 1995 that contemporary corporatism is well on the way to fulfilling the primary aspirations of the fascist corporatism of the early twentieth century: these were to transfer political power from elected parliamentary bodies to hierarchically and corporately-organized socio-economic interest groups, to intrude entrepreneurship into previously public domains, and to “obliterate the boundaries between public and private interest....”33 A parallel recognition of a threat to the structures of representative democracy is evident in billionaire currency speculator George Soros's 1997 expression of his “fear that the untrammelled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society. The main enemy of the open society,” he went on to propose, “is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat.”34


4. The “civil commons” and “the tragedy of the commons”

The nature of the threat perceived by Saul and by Soros can be readily defined. The corporatist revolution operates through a diversion of professedly democratic state power into ever more complete subservience to the interests of transnational corporations—thereby making any claim of governments to be (in Lincoln’s words) “by the people” and “for the people” seem increasingly fraudulent. What is occurring, philosopher John McMurtry has argued, is a mutation of governments “to become more and more dominantly coercive debt collectors on behalf of banks and foreign bond-holders from citizens who have received little or no benefit from the debts, and international trade agents and deal-makers for transnational corporations against the most basic interests of domestic workers and businesses....”35

If we remind ourselves that one of the goals of transnationals is unrestrained access not just to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian basin, but also to resources like the forests of the Lubicon Cree or the Coast Salish and the Nis’gah, or, on a larger scale, to the diminishing remains of the Amazonian rainforest and to the fresh water of the Great Lakes and the Canadian Shield, it will be evident that something more significant even than political freedoms is at stake. What governments are collaborating in is, in McMurtry’s words, a “stripping of society’s shared life-ground,”36 an attack upon what he calls the “civil commons,” and defines as “human agency in personal, collective or institutional form which protects and enables the access of all members of a community to basic life goods.” This “civil commons” includes, at the same time, those aspects of our life-ground in nature which we can work to preserve through “conscious human acts and social constructions (for example, effective laws against environmental pollutants that destroy the ‘global commons’ of the atmosphere or oceans)”37—but which under unregulated market conditions are subject to what Garrett Hardin in a famous essay, first published in 1968, called “the tragedy of the commons.”38

McMurtry’s concept of the civil commons differs significantly from Hardin’s much more limited understanding of the commons. The things we define as “commons”—including, for example, the Grand Banks cod fishery, the “crown land” rain forests of the Pacific coast, or the St. Lawrence River, in its capacity as an open sewer—are all finite in nature. Hardin’s view of unrestrained freedom in a commons as tragic, in the sense of resulting in inexorable degradation, stems from this recognition. However, McMurtry finds reason for a more hopeful analysis in the fact that many different cultures have articulated their sense of interdependence with the natural life-ground in the form of a practical and institutionally embodied social ethic that offers alternatives to Hardin’s grim conclusions. 

Taking the example of common grazing land, Hardin argues that in conditions of social stability (which rule out wars or cattle-raids) its destruction is inevitable. For if the marginal benefit of adding an additional animal to each cattleherd’s share of a herd supported by common land accrues to the single owner alone, while the marginal deficit caused by overgrazing is communally shared among all users of the common land, it will always be in the private interest of every cattleherd to increase the number of grazing animals he or she owns. Claiming that each cattleherd “is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited,” Hardin declares that “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.”39

I have italicized the word “compels” because it so conspicuously does not follow from any of the stated assumptions of this case. If Hardin’s logic of marginal private advantage had occurred to medieval English cattleherds, it would have done so in the form of temptation rather than compulsion, because their common land was in fact regulated—and protected—by the requirement that each commoner could graze only as many animals on it as could be fed in his or her own corral over the winter.40 Only when the economic agencies in question are behaving in the same way as capitalized corporate bodies—operating, that is, in accordance with the demands of modern equity and commodity markets—can it be said that participants in a commons are compelled, on penalty of loss of market share, reduced equity value, and absorption by competing corporations, to maximize profits by following the logic of marginal private advantage (and marginal communal disadvantage) in relation to whatever in the commons can be appropriated for productive use or employed for the disposal of wastes. Hardin acknowledges this to be his guiding assumption when, in writing of waste disposal, or of what he called “the tragedy of the commons as a cesspool,” he remarks that “The rational man [sic] finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of ‘fouling our own nest,’ for so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free-enterprisers.”41

Hardin’s analysis of the commons is thus premised upon a quite specific economic logic, that of “free enterprise.” This makes it all the more compelling as a refutation of the claims made in support of deregulation and market “liberalization” by the ideologues of the corporatist revolution. Whether we think of the commons in terms of production, as the natural basis of all life-sustaining activities, or in terms of waste disposal, as providing sites for the absorption and dispersal of human wastes, Hardin argues that it is only through one or another form of social regulation that the tragedy of freedom in a commons can be averted. He proposes, for example, that “our particular concept of private property” contributed, as one such form of regulation, to a closing of the commons in relation to productive land use. However, he is at the same time aware that the rule of private property obstructs contemporary struggles to “close the commons to pollution by automobiles, factories, insecticide sprayers, fertilizing operations, and atomic energy installations.”42

The apologists of corporatism are seeking, in Hardin’s sense, to “re-open” the commons—for this is what it means to insist on the abolition of environmental regulation, and on unconstrained access by transnational corporations to natural resources. Corporatist attacks on labour legislation, union rights, welfare entitlements, public education and medicare add up to a parallel attempt to return human labour to the status—closely resembling that of an unregulated commons—that it occupied in the slums of the industrial revolution and in the thought of “classical” political economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

In the rhetoric of the corporatist revolution, “free competition” is described as the model and the basis of all other human freedoms. But this hoary orthodoxy is no truer now than it was a century and a half ago, when Karl Marx proposed that “The analysis of what free competition really is, is the only rational reply to the middle-class prophets who laud it to the skies or to the socialists who damn it to hell”—and when, having made such an analysis, he heaped scorn on the insipid view “that free competition is the ultimate development of human freedom,” concluding rather that “It is not individuals who are set free by free competition; it is, rather, capital which is set free.”43 Contemporary evidence of the continuing validity of this conclusion (and, at the same time, of the corporatist perversion of governments noted by McMurtry) is provided by Shell Oil’s unconstrained polluting of Ogoniland, aided and abetted by the Nigerian government's violent repression of the Ogoni people and judicial murder of their leaders; by the ecological and behavioural sinks of the maquiladora wastelands along the Mexico-U.S. border, constructed in collaboration with a Mexican government that has routinely stolen elections and collaborated in the elimination of opposition journalists by death squads; and, in Canada, by Daishowa Corporation’s ongoing despoliation of the homeland of the Lubicon Cree, a process enabled and facilitated by the Alberta and federal governments.

In these cases, and many others, one might respond to the rhetoric of the free marketers with Garrett Hardin’s observation that “Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin....”44 In their rush to re-open the commons, the ideologues of the corporatist revolution may be drawing us into a more radical bankrupting of future possibilities than even they intend.

What Hardin calls “the logic of the commons”—a logic of marginal private advantage and communal disadvantage most evident at present in the operations of transnational corporations—is diametrically opposed to the ethics and to the actuality of the “civil commons” as these are analyzed by John McMurtry. Let us consider the implications of this opposition. I have compared the labour market of the industrial revolution to an unregulated commons—one that might appropriately be called tragic, since it engulfed innumerable human lives in misery and despair. This unregulated commons developed in England as a direct consequence of the appropriation and enclosure of communally regulated village common-land for use as sheep-pasture by the landlords and merchants who participated in the emergent international wool-trade. Village commons seized for use as private pasture were simultaneously opened to exploitation as part of a nascent capitalist system of cloth-manufacture, and closed to use by the community, a large proportion of whose members were thereby driven off the land. Toward the end of the first great wave of enclosures, Thomas More wrote with bitter irony in his Utopia (1516) that English sheep, “that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very men themselves.” Rural people began to drift into the cities, deprived, More says, by “fraud, or by violent oppression…, or by wrongs and injustices”45 both of their own small-holdings and of access to lands which for centuries they had communally shared.

There were currents of resistance: around 1549 the anonymous author of “Jack of the North” declared his intention to restore common land to the common people “[w]herever it hath been yet common before”; a century later, Gerard Winstanley’s Diggers denounced the gentry with “their wisdoms so profound, to cheat us of our ground.”46 But by the early nineteenth century, after subsequent waves of enclosures, the once numerous class of yeoman freeholders had effectively disappeared from England, and a new urban industrial working class was beginning its long struggle to organize itself against unconstrained exploitation by employers in an “open” labour market.47

Historians have long recognized connections between the enclosure movement, which reached its height in England during the late eighteenth century, and the developing corporate organization of trade and manufacture.48 John McMurtry follows them in seeing a historical continuity between the privatizing tendency launched in England by the international wool trade, “the progenitor of the global market from the fifteenth century on,” and the movement towards the “clearance and appropriation of communal lands,” with a concomitant production of a landless urban labouring class and a growing “assault on the environment,” that has subsequently swept across the world.49

Central to McMurtry’s concept of the “civil commons” is its incorporation both of the natural life-ground that sustains human society, and also of the human institutions and the web of social and discursive interactions by which this natural life-ground is itself preserved and sustained.50 Insofar as this concept proposes an understanding of nature as suffused with and sustained by discursive terms that appear also in political, ethical and other discourses, it might be said to resemble traditional doctrines of “natural law” enunciated by thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas and Richard Hooker.51 However, McMurtry’s view of the civil commons differs from these in its recognition that the interactive co-dependence of social life and its basis in nature is the expression of human rather than of divine agency, that it is the product and material embodiment of human histories, and that it is a matter of the utmost importance to any human future. As he argues,

the progression or decline of the civil commons is the most fundamental social fact there is, though like the sea to the fish not recognized…. [T]he question of whether a society's civil commons is intact, falling or gaining in the life goods all its members have access to, is a real-world issue and of life-and-death reality for all on a practical level.52


5. Critical humanism and the civil commons

I have argued that we are living through a corporatist social and political revolution whose goal is the destruction, through strategies of deliberate bankrupting and invented crises, of what John McMurtry calls the civil commons. (Consider again the objects of the corporate revolutionaries’ attack: progressive labour codes, environmental regulations, redistributive taxation of private income and corporate profits, international law governing human rights, laws restricting the movement of corporate capital, civil rights entitlements, welfare and public housing programs, state-owned corporations and utilities, public non-profit health care, public education and, in particular, the potentially critical as opposed to instrumental functions of public higher education. The list amounts to a good first approximation of the institutional embodiments of the civil commons.)

Certain aspects of the corporatist attack on public higher education have been emphasized here: first, because this sector’s role in the reproduction, re-creation and transformation of the social order makes it an important part of the civil commons; and secondly, because this is a sector in which there has recently been a growing awareness of the need to defend the human values, institutional structures and forms of life threatened by the corporatist revolution. Public higher education is a strategic (if already seriously compromised) site in the defence of the civil commons and the resistance to corporatism.53

But what does it mean to speak of “critical humanism” as one way of defining the forms such resistance might take in my own discipline of literary studies, and possibly more widely across the human sciences? The term may well seem an oxymoron. Many of the self-identified humanists of the past century, in addition to leaning more in the direction of dogmatism than of an open or unconstrained criticism, were also dubiously, if at all, interested in formulating or supporting projects of a democratic tendency (it should suffice to name Irving Babbitt, B. F. Skinner and H. J. Eysenck as examples)54—while on the other hand, some of the most strenuous and most influential critical thinkers of the late twentieth century (among them Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida) defined themselves as anti-humanists. But although any deployment of “humanism” might seem controversial (not least one that would take the critical and emancipatory orientation of much of Renaissance humanism as exemplary for our time), outright dismissal of the term entails another kind of risk. Such at least is implied by Robert Young’s reflections on the dilemma faced by literary theorists who sought to resist the “‘technologico-Thatcherite’ assault on the humanities,” the British form of the corporatist attack on the critical functions of higher education:

[T]he terms by which their subject was established historically, and the only effective terms with which it could still be defended, were those of the cultural conservatism and humanist belief in literature and philosophy that ‘literary theory’ has, broadly speaking, been attacking since the 1970s. When theorists found themselves wanting to defend their discipline against successive government cuts they discovered that the only view with which they could vindicate themselves was the very one which, in intellectual terms, they wanted to attack…. In short, for theorists the problem has been that in attacking humanism they have found themselves actually in consort with government policy.55

A brief glance at the history of the term “humanism,” and at the cultural phenomena it was coined to describe, may help to dissipate confusions of this sort. Among cultural historians of early modern Europe, the word usually refers to a particular phase in the development of what we now call the humanities—that surge of critical, scholarly and creative energies that shaped the cultural forms of the western European Renaissance of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italians had a word, umanista, for those who were engaged in restoring or emulating the textual remains of ancient Greece and Rome; this word passed into French (1552), English (1589), and Spanish (1614) usages.56 But rather surprisingly, the abstract noun dates only from early nineteenth-century Germany, where Humanismus was coined as the name of a traditional or conservative theory of education in the classics and Christian doctrine which opposed itself both to progressive Rousseauistic or Enlightenment pedagogies, and also to practical or utilitarian tendencies.57 The teaching practices of what we would now call Renaissance humanism were no doubt the source of this German pedagogical Humanismus,58 and yet the new term seems to have referred to current practices rather than to those of the Renaissance.

Subsequent appropriations of the term have likewise often been both ‘presentist’ and politically conservative in nature, even when professedly referring to the humanism of Renaissance scholars and writers. Detailed analysis would be required to show that this was the case in Jacob Burckhardt’s influential 1860 interpretation of the Italian Renaissance as the moment at which “man became a spiritual individual, and recognized himself as such,” and of Renaissance humanism as the ideology of autonomous selfhood;59 but a reactionary ‘presentism’ is clearly evident in Douglas Bush’s claim, first published in 1939, that sixteenth-century humanism amounted to a proleptic echo of Matthew Arnold’s conservative mid-Victorian “orthodoxy of sweetness and light.”60

More recent and more historically adequate interpretations of Renaissance humanism include Hiram Haydn’s recognition of an antagonism in Renaissance Europe between divergent strains of Christian and “naturalistic” humanism;61 Michel Foucault’s proposal that humanism invented what he called “subjected sovereignties,” structures within which human subjectivity claims a restricted, usually internal rule or control, at the cost of a fuller subjection to external powers, both social and metaphysical;62 Anthony Grafton’s and Lisa Jardine’s argument that humanist pedagogy, “foster[ing] in all its initiates a properly docile attitude towards authority,” served the needs of an emergent Europe of “closed governing élites, hereditary offices and strenuous efforts to close off debate on vital political and social questions”;63 Donald Kelley’s analysis of Renaissance humanism as embodying complementary motifs of institutio (individual and collective self-fashioning) and restitutio (the recovery, encyclopedic reintegration, and reanimation of antiquity);64 and Charles Nauert’s argument that whatever Renaissance humanists may have thought themselves to be doing, humanism’s historical function was “to act as an intellectual solvent, striking at traditional beliefs of all kinds.”65

Lest we fall ourselves into the ‘presentism’ of supposing that recent writers on the subject, despite the fault lines that separate some of them, might be approaching a consensual understanding of the diverse tendencies that together constituted Renaissance humanism, let us end this brief list of interpretations with a mention of John Carroll’s neoconservative sermonizing in a book whose subtitle indicates with sufficient clarity the nature of its argument: Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture.66

The “ism” termination of “humanism,” which would seem to identify it as the name of an ideology, may be one source of the debates that have swirled around this term. Yet the tendencies in early modern culture to which “humanism” refers are perhaps better described, in the manner of contemporary scholars like Kelley and Nauert, in terms of the cultural practices they involved. (As they are both aware, Paul Oskar Kristeller insisted that umanista carried no specific doctrinal or ideological sense, but referred simply to a professor or student of the studia humanitatis, “a well-defined cycle of teaching subjects listed as grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history and moral philosophy.…”)67

Renaissance exponents of the studia humanitatis, obsessed with what Donald Kelley calls restitutio, the project of giving a “re-naissance” to the discursive, artistic, architectural and social forms of the cultures of ancient Rome and Greece, coined the term “Middle Ages” to speak of that which stood between them and the forms they wanted to re-vivify. The nineteenth-century term “humanism” likewise came to confer upon a previous age meanings that it did not find in itself: as Burckhardt’s classic study makes evident, this later restitutio developed into an appropriation of early modern traditions in the service of a Romantic ideology of essentialist autonomous subjectivity.68 But if, setting aside this and subsequent primarily ideological deployments of the term, we focus instead on Renaissance humanism as a set of cultural practices rooted in a particular sequence of western European social contexts, it may be possible to draw different consequences from the emergence of humanism out of the interactions of a nascent (or re-nascent) Italian civic culture with the remains of ancient Roman and Hellenistic literary, rhetorical, juristic, philosophical, and historiographic writings.

Social practices, even without constituting a coherent ideology, can have large transformative effects, at once discursive and material. The crucial contribution of the humanist practices of the Italian Renaissance, as I proposed in Lunar Perspectives, was that they opened out within the civic culture of cities like Florence and Venice

a discursive space, which the advent of printing subsequently made accessible across Western Europe under the name of “the republic of letters.” Within this space various forms of writing (among them the highly wrought epistles with which humanists flattered, cajoled, and bombarded one another) could acquire a previously unknown degree of autonomy, and thoroughgoing critiques of constituted authority and authoritative dogma could be envisaged and undertaken.69

While conceding to Michel Foucault that humanist subjectivities commonly incorporated a duplicitous conflation of supposed autonomy and actual subjection, we may perhaps uncover a deeper historical significance to humanism if, focusing on the literary and critical productions of humanists, we understand the movement out of which these texts emerged as

a collection of enabling strategies, which is also to say, a rhetoric (Renaissance humanism was, if anything, rhetorical)—but a rhetoric whose general tendency and function was to bring into being and to sustain a discursive space, a public sphere, within which the power of established authority no longer retained its previously overwhelming position as a criterion of judgment, and within which the goal of legitimizing established authority no longer exercised a determinative influence upon the various forms of writing which at one and the same time constituted and were enabled by this newly opened discursive space or public sphere.70

In this emergence of a public sphere we can identify an essential precondition for the fully conscious development of the civil commons. John McMurtry makes a point of distinguishing “between ‘the commons’ as nature-given land or resource and ‘the civil commons’ which effectively protects it, and ensures access of all members of the community to its continuing means of existence.” The latter “is ‘civil’ insofar as the common life-good it embodies is protected by conscious and co-operative human agency,” and “what was once the ‘commons’ of nature becomes ‘civil commons’ as it is preserved by conscious human acts and social construction….”71

In reconstituting the republic of letters, a res publica or “public thing” that had been a distinctive feature of certain phases of classical culture but had wholly disappeared after the collapse of the western Roman empire, Renaissance humanism reinvented, as a social possibility, public debate about a public good. The respublica litterarum of the humanists amounts therefore to the social space within which a reflexive awareness of the common good could develop. It would not be an exaggeration to describe it as the emergent—if also fragile and perpetually endangered—matrix of the civil commons in its modern form.

Satirical discourses flourished within this social space, many of them belonging to the mixed genre or anti-genre of Menippean satire or anatomy that was epitomized for Renaissance readers by the second-century writings of Lucian of Samosata: More’s Utopia, Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, and Cornelius Agrippa’s Of the Vanity and Uncertainty of All Arts and Sciences are prominent examples of the type. These works contain wide-ranging critiques of social injustice, misgovernment, corruption, religious dogmatism and clerical tyranny—and display, in addition, a very interesting willingness to contemplate alternative arrangements. Within the humanist public sphere to which they contributed it became possible to undertake, as Machiavelli did in The Prince and The Discourses, a wholly disabused analysis of political power; to declare, as Agrippa did in his Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex, that the inferior social status of women results from masculine bad faith and violence, “without reason or necessity natural or divine, but under the pressure of custom, education, chance, or some occasion favorable to tyranny”;72 and to offer unstinted praise to fearless social critics, as Thomas Nashe did to the memory of Pietro Aretino in a text that has been described as an important late work of “humanist poetics”:

If out of so base a thing as ink there may be extracted a spirit, he writ with nought but the spirit of ink, and his style was the spirituality of arts, and nothing else; whereas all others of his age were but the lay temporalty of inkhorn terms. For indeed they were mere temporizers, and no better. His pen was sharp pointed like a poinyard; no leaf he wrote on but was like a burning glass to set on fire all his readers.… No hour but he sent a full legion of devils into some herd of swine or other.... He was no timorous servile flatterer of the commonwealth wherein he lived. His tongue and his invention were foreborne; what they thought, they would confidently utter. Princes he spared not, that in the least point transgressed. His life he contemned in comparison of the liberty of speech. 73


6. Exposing forgery, forging freedom

In what ways, then, might a contemporary critical humanism affiliated to certain practices of Renaissance humanists and, more widely, to the social function of Renaissance humanism as the emergent matrix of the civil commons, be of strategic relevance to the multiple invented crises brought on us by the corporatist revolution?

Etymology may provide one clue. I am thinking of the cognate Greek and Latin verbs krino and cerno and their declinations and derivatives. The Greek krino (meaning “to separate, distinguish, choose, or pick out”) is part of a semantic field that includes the adjective kritikos (“able to discern”), which moved into Latin as criticus (“critic”), as well as the nouns kriterion (“a tribunal, standard or test”) and krisis (“a choice, separating, a power of distinguishing, or the result of a trial or contest, a decision or judgment”). The Latin cerno (meaning “to sift, separate, distinguish, to decide or determine, and also to see distinctly or perceive”) is the root both of the English verb “to discern” and also, through the past participle certus, of our adjective “certain.”

With this semantic field in mind, Glyn P. Norton has understood Renaissance humanism as showing that “Criticism and crisis are etymological friends”:

Throughout history, literary criticism and cultural crisis have tended to follow convergent trajectories. Renaissance humanism, above all, was responsible for generating a language that would not only reflect the cultural crisis at hand, but base that crisis in its own distinctiveness as a period. The deepest, most central impulses of humanism are thus critical.... The critical temper, in its cultural as well as literary dimension, fixes the Renaissance view of time squarely within the Greek concept of krisis as designating a moment both of separation and of decision.74

Taking a hint from these etymologies, I would propose that a contemporary critical humanism should understand the present crisis or crises as a trial or contest that calls upon us to exercise our powers of distinguishing across the whole field of the civil commons, and in so doing to separate ourselves decisively from the business-as-usual of placid orthodoxy.

Let me be explicit. I am talking about taking sides against corporatism, and repelling its incursions with all the resources of critical analysis, rhetoric and public mobilization that may be at our command.

If such language seems hortatory beyond the norms of academic discourse, then it may be time we subjected those norms as well to thorough criticism. For those who value intellectual freedom, there is not, I think, any large choice to be made: when the whole system of the civil commons is at stake, so also is the free critical thinking that is one of its constituent parts.

But what particular forms of discernment could a critical humanism, as opposed to other kinds of critical thinking, contribute to this struggle? Anthony Grafton has argued persuasively that the critical methods of humanist scholars in the Renaissance, based on a growing awareness both of historical contexts and of dialectal differences and changes in linguistic usage within the texts they studied, arose out of the need to distinguish between genuinely ancient texts and documents and the large numbers of pseudepigraphic writings and outright forgeries that had accompanied them in ancient Greece and Rome and in early Judaeo-Christian traditions—as well as the vast quantity of more recent forgeries.75 As Grafton writes,

Forgery and philology fell and rose together, in the Renaissance as in Hellenistic Alexandria…. And in all cases criticism has been dependent for its development on the stimulus that forgers have provided. Criticism does not exist simply because the condition of the sources creates a need for it. The existence of so many sources created with a conscious intention to deceive, and the cleverness of so many of the deceptions, played a vital role in bringing criticism into being.76

One of the most celebrated humanist exposures of forgery was Lorenzo Valla’s demonstration in 1440 that the Donation of Constantine, which documented the Emperor Constantine’s supposed transfer of the western half of his empire to the papacy, contained “elements that are contradictory, impossible, foolish, strange, and ridiculous….” When Valla at the same time criticized this text as having fraudulently legitimized papal corruption, war-making, and “spiritual wickedness in high places,”77 he knew very well that he was not just correcting a false understanding of the past, but was also, at serious risk to his own safety, delegitimizing a contemporary structure of political power.78

Grafton’s reference to “the existence of so many sources created with a conscious intention to deceive” may strike one as evoking a not unfamiliar contemporary situation. Any critical watcher of CNN or Fox News, or any critical reader of the corporate press, cannot help but be aware of some of the principal causes of that widespread American ignorance of the world at large to which I alluded at the outset—and of course the structures of deception and mystification by means of which news media under highly concentrated corporate ownership induce the population to acquiesce in policies which are manifestly against its interests have been lucidly analyzed by (among others) Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.79 The processes by which governments and the media collaborate in the manufacture of consent commonly involve fabricated evidence: it would, for example, be difficult to find any recent publicly acknowledged act of war on the part of the United States that was not accompanied and justified by a cloud of deliberate falsehoods.80 In this context, the metaphor of “mind-forged manacles”81 by which William Blake explained the perpetuation of bondage and oppression can be understood as carrying a double sense.

The primary purposes of the critical work I am proposing—to unmask and discredit falsehoods circulated by the apologists of corporate power and to delegitimize the agencies responsible for them—resemble those of Lorenzo Valla’s critical labours. Yet what is involved, I would emphasize, is not just the philological detective work required to expose forgeries, plagiarisms, or impostures, but also, perhaps more importantly, a critical deployment of contextual and historical analyses capable of showing up those larger processes of distortion-through-selective-omission that I have elsewhere termed “subtractive politicizing.”82

Beyond this defensive work there lies the further constructive labour of what I would call forging freedom: the consolidation of our civil commons, and the extension of the civil commons into domains where the necessity of preservation through public stewardship has not previously been acknowledged. If in the present political climate such a project seems utopian, I can only say in response that utopianism is one of the native dialects of critical humanism.

Let me admit that the key question of how to get there from here is not going to be answered in this paper. I am inclined to agree with Noam Chomsky’s off-the-cuff remark, when asked what might be a good strategy for organizing against the harm caused by imperialism and such international agencies as the World Trade Organization, that “Everything is a good strategy.”83 Within my own sphere of work, I would therefore support any movement towards a de-corporatizing of universities, and towards a corresponding enhancement of the emancipatory potential of their social function as institutions of social reproduction; more widely, I would support any movement towards restoring the primacy of human and life values over money values and profits.84

I want to conclude, however, with a reminder of the odds which any project of taking past practices and traditions as a guide to present struggles must face. Sixty years ago, in 1940, the year of his death, Walter Benjamin wrote in his great meditation on history that

Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it “the way it really was.” It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.... The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes.... The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious.85




1  See Stockman’s interview with William Greider in the Atlantic Monthly (November 1981). As George Clark has observed, “Stockman's candour cost him his job, but mentioning his name in the mainstream media is politically and journalistically incorrect” (“Brian Segal on the University: A Response,” ACCUTE Newsletter [June 1994]: 8).

2  Astonishingly, this statement did not cost Watt his job; only after he had scornfully summed up a congressional committee to which he had to report as consisting of a black, a woman, a Jew and a cripple (the latter being Senator Daniel Inouye, who lost a leg in military service) was President Reagan persuaded to replace him.

3  These excerpts from Snobelen’s talk are derived from the linked quotations given by Richard Brennan, “Minister plotted ‘to invent a crisis’,” The Toronto Star (September 13, 1995): A3; Lisa Wright, “Apologize for remarks Harris tells Snobelen,” and Thomas Walkom, “Snobelen scales windy heights of bafflegab,” The Toronto Star (September 14, 1995): A3, A25. A slightly different transcription of the concluding sentences quoted here appeared in an unsigned article, “Harris Mainly Mum on Plans for Post-Secondary Education in Ontario,” in the CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin (November 1995): 6.

4  James Watts’s apocalyptic ramblings deserve our close attention for the same reason; however bizarre they may seem, similar forms of thought appear both among the leaders of the Canadian Reform/Alliance Party and among the members of George Bush Jr.’s cabinet.

5  The “baby boom” was a dramatic and sustained rise in birth rates in Canada from the years immediately following World War Two until the end of the 1950s. Demographic statistics revealing a significant surge in numbers among the offspring of the baby boomers, available since the early 1990s, and showed that in 2006-07, at a time when the postsecondary education system would still be coping with the “double cohort,” the number of Canadian students graduating from secondary school would be about ten percent higher than in the preceding year.

6  “Multi-Year Commitment Needed, Says COU,” At Guelph (October 13, 1999): 1, 5.

7  John Ibbitson, “Universities and colleges get big boost from Ontario,” The Globe and Mail (February 23, 2000): A1, A7.

8  See David Noble, “Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education,” Toronto: distributed by OCUFA, October 1997; and “Digital Diploma Mills, Part II: The Coming Battle Over Online Instruction,” Toronto: distributed by OCUFA, March 1998. For some historical context to the developments outlined here, see Janice Newson and Howard Buchbinder, The University Means Business (Toronto: Garamond Press, 1988); and Neil Tudiver, Universities for Sale: Resisting Corporate Control over Canadian Higher Education (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1999). Parallel developments in the U.S. have been analyzed by Sheila Slaughter and Larry L. Leslie, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

9  Richard Mackie, “Postsecondary-education reforms support job-related courses,” The Globe and Mail (February 24, 2000): A9. In the same press conference Harris declared, no less disingenuously, that “We’re very supportive of liberal arts and continue to fund them to the same levels that students wish to take those programs and the same levels as they have been in the past.” The guiding assumption of such statements as this is clearly that the electorate has a very short memory.

10  See Chris Wattie, “University chancellors back liberal arts studies,” National Post (March 1, 2000): A21; and Richard Mackie, “Harris denies bias against liberal arts: Universities sought science funds, Premier says,” The Globe and Mail (March 2, 2000): A6.

11  Communication from Charles Cunningham, Registrar of the University of Guelph, March 2000.

12  This agenda has been pressed with increasing insistence over the past two decades. In a 1992 address to the Canadian Corporate Higher Education Forum, John H. Panabaker, former CEO of the Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada and former Chancellor of McMaster University, advocated the development of “alternative privately-financed and customer-driven institutions,” but felt that although “individual programmes and functions” might be privatized, it would not yet be “possible to ‘privatize’ a major Canadian university.” See Panabaker, “The University for Tomorrow,” Canadian Federation for the Humanities Bulletin 15.2 (Autumn 1992): 4-5, and my comments in Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars (Toronto: Anansi, 1996), pp. 34-35.

13  See Richard Mackie, “Harris ponders steeper tax cuts,” The Globe and Mail (February 7, 2001): A6.

14  The recession of 2001 may in this sense have been welcome to the provincial government, as helping to push any question of substantial social reinvestment beyond the horizon of acknowledged possibilities. The manipulative use of budget deficits is of course a well-established feature of recent attacks upon social programs. In 1995 Dean Neu and David Cooper (professors of accountancy at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta) analyzed the Klein government’s calculations of debt and deficit and argued that “the provincial Conservatives [had] inflated deficit figures by about 30 per cent to justify deep cuts in program spending....” See Linda Goyette, “We Don’t Want Cheeky Professors Questioning Our Oil Barons, Do We?” CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin (March 1996): 9. The political economy of deficit hysteria has been lucidly analyzed by Linda McQuaig in Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths (Toronto: Viking, 1995).

15  The Council of Ontario Universities’ attempts to inform Premier Harris of (for example) the evidence that humanities and social sciences graduates do as well on the job market as the graduates of job-oriented programs were consistently futile. The performative nature of his statements shows him to have been interested not in such facts, but rather in establishing a new set of facts.

16  Richard Mackie, “Ontario’s colleges get more cash to cope with growing enrollment,” The Globe and Mail (February 22, 2000): A7.

17  The Globe and Mail (March 3, 2000).

18  I am quoting from a press release, “The Canadian Education Industry” (October 7, 1998), issued by a coalition including the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the Ontario Federation of Labour, and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

19  Quoted in Perspectives 3.7, ed. Wayne Kondro (7 March 2000),

20  Virginia Galt, “Students, faculty worry that private sector's campus presence tainting the ivy,” The Globe and Mail (March 2, 2000): A3.

21  Quoted by John McMurtry, “Accountability and openness to whom?”, At Guelph (November 24, 1999): 4. For an account of the bizarre inefficiencies as well as the alarming epidemiological consequences of agri-business pseudo-science, as applied to cattle-raising, see Edward Luttwak, “Sane Cows, or BSE isn’t the worst of it,” London Review of Books (8 February 2001): 26-27.

22  See Nelson and Watt, Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education (New York and London: Routledge, 1999), and Slaughter and Leslie, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Nelson and Watt observe that under this regime, scientific departments commonly become no more than product-testing laboratories: “The most thoroughly degraded corporatized university program is one that no longer does any original thinking; it simply tests products developed elsewhere by the corporation” (p. 87).

23  Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 13, 38, 39.

24  See Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights, vol. 1: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1979).

25  Essential reading on this subject is still Susan George’s How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger (1976; 2nd ed., Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).

26  This statement by Camdessus, made at the Tenth UN Conference on Trade and Development in Bangkok, February 13, 2000, is quoted by Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Head of the IMF: A Secret Radical?” Comment, 34 (February 15, 2000; email forwarded by the Council of Canadians). For analysis of the issues noted in this paragraph, see Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, eds., The Case Against the Global Economy (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996); Paul Smith, Millennial Dreams: Contemporary Culture and Capital in the North (London and New York: Verso, 1997); Graham Dunkley, The Free Trade Adventure: The WTO, the Uruguay Round and Globalism—A Critique (London and New York: Zed Books, 1997); Biplab Dasgupta, Structural Adjustment, Global Trade and the New Political Economy of Development (London and New York:Zed Books, 1998); Ronaldo Munck and Denis O’Hearn, eds., Critical Development Theory: Contributions to a New Paradigm (London and New York: Zed Books, 1999); Jim Yong Kim, Joyce V. Mullen, Alec Irwin, and John Gershman, eds., Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor (Lonroe, Maine: Common Courage, 2000); Sarah Anderson, ed., Views from the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries (Chicago: Food First Books and International Forum on Globalization, 2000); and Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust, and the New Capitalism (Toronto: Penguin, 2001), pp. 40-93.

27  The previous business strategy of “vertical integration” (in which corporations sought control-through-ownership of as many levels as possible of the processes of production, distribution and sales) has been supplanted by a strategy of “branding” and “out-sourcing” (which depends on saturation advertizing of brand-name goods which are manufactured under contract, and at a small fraction of the final sales price, in off-shore free-trade zones where working conditions are no less brutal and destructive than those of the early nineteenth-century industrial revolution). For a brilliant analysis of this pattern, see Naomi Klein, No logo: taking aim at the brand bullies (Toronto: Knopf, 2000), pp. 195-229.

28  John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization (Toronto: Anansi, 1995), p. 93.

29  Jeff Faux, “Jeff Faux Replies” [“Jay Mandle and Jeff Faux on free trade and the left”], Dissent 45.2 (Spring 1998): 81.

30  Tony Clarke and Maude Barlowe, MAI: The Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the Threat to Canadian Sovereignty (Toronto: Stoddart, 1997), pp. 32-33.

31  Clarke and Barlow, pp. 33-38.

32  John McMurtry, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (London: Pluto Press, 1999), pp. 232-37.

33  Saul, p. 87. Saul here acknowledges Traute Rafalski, “Social Planning and Corporatism; Modernization Tendencies in Italian Fascism,” International Journal of Political Science 18 (1988):10; Rafalski is in turn quoting from Paolo Ungari, Alfredo Rocca e l'ideologia giuridica des fascismo (Brescia, 1963).

34  George Soros, “The Capitalist Threat,” Atlantic Monthly (February 1997): 45, quoted by McMurtry, Cancer, p. 202.

35  McMurtry, Cancer, p. 219. See Eduardo Galeano’s acerbic discussion of “the power of kidnappers” and of what he calls “globalitarian power” in Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, trans. Mark Fried (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), pp. 148-56.

36  Ibid., p. 192.

37  McMurtry, Cancer, pp. 204-5.

38  Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162 (December 13, 1968); rpt. in Mary Elizabeth Bowen and Joseph A. Mazzeo, eds., Writing About Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 331-48. I am concerned here only with Hardin’s analysis of the logic of the commons; the principal argument of his essay, a neo-Malthusian proposal of a need for coercive population-control measures, does not interest me; it rests upon sociological and anthropological assumptions that are naive in the extreme.

39  Hardin, p. 336.

40  See Gary Snyder, “Understanding the Commons,” in Susan J. Armstrong and Richard G. Botzler, eds., Environmental Ethics: Convergence and Divergence (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), pp. 227-30 (cited by John McMurtry in Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market as an Ethical System [Toronto: Garamond Press, 1998], p. 399).

41  Ibid., p. 338.

42  Ibid., pp. 338, 347.

43  Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), trans. Martin Nicolaus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), pp. 651-52, 650.

44  Ibid., p. 347.

45  Sir Thomas More, Utopia, trans. Ralph Robinson, ed. Edward Arber (London: Murray, 1869), pp. 40-41. (I have modernized Robinson’s mid sixteenth-century spelling and punctuation.) For a summary account of changes to the landscapes of England, Wales and Scotland brought about by enclosures during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Michael Reed, The Age of Exuberance 1500-1700 (1986; rpt. London: Paladin, 1987), pp. 69-98.

46  David Norbrook and W.R. Woudhuysen, eds., The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse (London: Penguin, 1993), pp. 389, 465. (I have modernized the spelling.)

47  Linda McQuaig offers a lucid analysis both of the enclosure movement and also of the popular resistance to it in All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust, and the New Capitalism, pp. 161-93.

48  In the early 1920s, for example, Arthur J. Ireland noted that the enclosure movement of the late eighteenth century “marked the appearance of the trust system in operation, although it was still in the embryo stage” (“English Life in the Eighteenth Century,” in J. A. Hammerton, ed., Universal History of the World [10 vols.; London: Educational Book Co., c. 1925], vol. 7, p. 4219). See also G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History (1942; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp. 391-95.

49  McMurtry, Unequal Freedoms, p. 399.

50  In this he differs from Hardin, who assumes human society to be an aggregate of atomistic individuals motivated by considerations of immediate self-interest, and gives no consideration to the social and discursive interactions (themselves constitutive of the complex subjectivities of members of the society) which in any functional social order also include countervailing suasions and sanctions that have the effect of subordinating private to public interest. For detailed expositions of the civil commons, and its rootedness in communal discursive practice, see McMurtry, Unequal Freedoms, pp. 368-95, and Cancer, pp. 190-254.

51  See, for example, Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 94, art. 1-6, in Anton C. Pegis, ed., Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (2 vols.; New York: Random House, 1945), vol. 2, pp. 772-81; and Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, ed. Christopher Morris (2 vols.; 1907; rpt. London: Dent, 1963), Book I. iii, vol. 1, pp. 154-61.

52  McMurtry, Cancer, p. 212.

53  The public status of Canadian public universities has been compromised by the government policies described above—which, as David Noble writes, have resulted in “an intensified web of interlocking directorates between the boards of universities and private corporations, a plethora of largely secret contracts with private companies, and the establishment of an intellectual property regime throughout the institutions, which include[s] unprecedented emphasis on confidentiality and non-disclosure…” (“How Public Are Our Public Universities?” CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin [January 2003]: A3). Noble also exposes at his own institution, York University, moves by the administration to re-define it as “a private, charitable corporation, which is ‘publicly assisted’”—while at the same time withholding from public disclosure “any information regarding student enrollment, which is the chief criterion for government funding, and course offerings, the educational grounds for charitable status,” by declaring these matters to be “commercial” in nature (ibid., A13).

54  For a brief indication of the reactionary and anti-Enlightenment orientation of Babbitt’s “New Humanism,” see William V. Spanos, The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 79-93, and my Lunar Perspectives, pp. 146-47. Skinner and Eysenck were both involved with the British Humanist Association (see their essays in A.J. Ayer, ed., The Humanist Outlook [London, 1968]); Kate Soper has described their behaviourist stance as a “'technical fix' humanism” which “approaches human affairs on the model of the industrial enterprise, where all can be set to rights provided we adopt the more efficient management techniques afforded by scientific and technological development” (Soper, Humanism and Anti-Humanism [London: Hutchinson, 1986], p. 14).

55  Robert Young, “The Idea of a Chrestomathic University,” in Richard Rand, ed., Logomachia: The Conflict of the Faculties (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 113.

56  See Nicolas Walter, Humanism: What’s in the Word (London: Rationalist Press Association, 1997), pp. 13-14.

57  Walter briefly discusses Friedrich Niethammer’s Der Streit des Philanthropinismus und Humanismus in der Theorie des Erziehungs-Unterrichts unsrer Zeit (1808) in Humanism, pp. 17-19.

58  See Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986). On the basis of a fascinating study of Renaissance humanist pedagogy, Grafton and Jardine make what seem to me unacceptable generalizations about the orientation of humanism as a whole.

59  Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy [1860], trans . S.G.C. Middlemore (2 vols., 1958; rpt. New York: Harper & Row, 1965), vol. 1, p. 143; Burckhardt characterizes the exponents of humanism as “the advance guard of an unbridled individualism” (vol. 2, p. 479).

60  Douglas Bush, The Renaissance and English Humanism (1939; rpt. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), p. 83. Bush argued that the biblical, patristic and classical texts with which Erasmus and his predecessors worked were seen by them as offering “a working ideal of a universal state in which reason and the will of God should prevail” (p. 65). “Sweetness and light” and “making reason and the will of God prevail” are Arnoldian catch-phrases: see Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, ed. Samuel Lipman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 31-32, 37-39, and my comments in Lunar Perspectives, pp. 203-07. Bush maintained that “sceptical and naturalistic doctrines” were the “two great philosophic enemies of religion and morality, and hence of Christian humanism” (p. 85)—thus with the stroke of a pen banishing from the ambit of humanism such figures as Valla, Agrippa, Rabelais and Montaigne, not to mention Erasmus himself. He claimed that, like “the great body of continental humanists,” English humanists were “unanimous in their defence of established authority”—a defence which appears, however, to have been an anxious matter. For as Bush immediately added, “this solid, all-embracing orthodoxy is a dyke which the smallest stream of water may undermine, and every hole must be stopped.” But reinforcements are available: Shakespeare himself “is no less attached than the most orthodox humanist to constituted authority, is no less scornful of the mob” (pp. 88-89, 95).

61  Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance (1950; rpt. New York: Grove Press, 1960), pp. 27-67.

62  Michel Foucault, “Revolutionary Action: ‘Until Now’,” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 221-22.

63  Grafton and Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities, p. xiv.

64  Donald R. Kelley, Renaissance Humanism (Boston: Twayne, 1991), pp. 23-33.

65  Charles G. Nauert, Jr., Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 197.

66  Carroll, Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture (London: Fontana, 1993). For other more responsible contemporary interpretations, see the essays assembled in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

67  Kristeller, Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 3.

68  For an argument to this effect, see Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (2nd ed., 1989; rpt. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993). As Dollimore notes, one famous Renaissance text, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, does assert a radical human autonomy—while at the same time inverting the traditional relationship between being and acting: in Pico’s rewriting of the creation myth, Adam has the freedom to fashion his own nature into a vegetative, animalistic, angelic, or divine nature. Dollimore (p. 169) quotes Ernst Cassirer’s recognition that this text is existentialist rather than essentialist in implication: “It is not being that prescribes once and for all the lasting direction which the mode of action will take; rather, the original direction of action determines and places being” (Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, trans. Mario Domandi [1963; rpt. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972], p. 84). While Burckhardt’s study gave a particular view of humanist subjectivity its canonical late-nineteenth-century form, it seems no accident that the coinage of Humanismus in the early nineteenth century coincided with von Humboldt’s formation, in Berlin, of the first modern university, an institution dedicated to the producing of autonomous subjectivities—or perhaps, as Foucault would say, of “subjected sovereignties.” See Readings, The University in Ruins, pp. 7, 46, 66-69; and Walter, Humanism, pp. 17-20.

69  Lunar Perspectives, p. 148. Major contributions to an understanding of the cultural impact of printing include Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), and The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), and Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

70  Ibid., pp. 148-49. Jürgen Habermas identified the development of the public sphere of civil society as an eighteenth-century phenomenon; see his classic study The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society [1962], trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (1989; rpt. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991). More recent scholarship has shown that various forms of public sphere were decisively active at least a century earlier; see for example David Zaret, “Religion, Science, and Printing in the Public Spheres of Seventeenth-Century England,” in Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 212-35. Emergent forms of a public sphere are evident in the humanist mobilization during the Reuchlin affair (1510-20) as well as in subsequent Reformation controversies.

71  McMurtry, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, p. 205.

72  Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex, trans. and ed. Arthur Rabil, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 95. As I noted in Lunar Perspectives, Agrippa’s feminism was not merely theoretical: “At a time when such interventions were dangerous, he mocked the theological faculty of the University of Cologne for having given its approval to that notorious handbook of witch-hunters, the brutally misogynist Malleus maleficarum. And when in 1518 he served as municipal advocate in the city of Metz, he put his life and career on the line by intervening in the case of a woman who had been arrested and tortured by the inquisition on a charge of witchcraft. Agrippa secured her release and the return of her property—and made the inquisitor answer to a charge of heresy” (pp. 145-46).

73  Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller, in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow, revised by F. P. Wilson (5 vols., 1957; rpt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966), vol. 2, pp. 264-65. I have modernized Nashe’s spelling. The identification of this fiction as an important late statement of humanist poetics is Arthur F. Kinney’s, in Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), p. 329. Aretino was not quite the sixteenth-century Noam Chomsky that Nashe makes him seem—but Nashe, whose books were burned and banned by the Bishop of London five years after he wrote this passage, and who subsequently disappears from history, had good reason to admire Aretino’s success in negotiating the literary patronage systems of the period.

74  The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol. 3: The Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 1.

75  Ancient forgeries and pseudepigrapha include at least thirteen of the forty-six surviving works ascribed to Aristotle, most of the Hippocratic canon, the complete works of the Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, several of the canonical letters of the apostle Paul and his entire correspondence with Seneca, all of the writings of Paul’s disciple Dionysius the Areopagite, and large numbers of other literary, historical, medical and religious texts. The scale of more recent forgeries, many of them in the domain of law, is indicated by Grafton’s remark that “perhaps half the legal documents we possess from Merovingian times, and perhaps two-thirds of all documents issued to ecclesiastics before A.D. 1100, are fakes. And the volume swelled enormously as scientific jurisprudence established itself firmly in the West, and every practice and possession needed written documentation; the basic code of canon law, Gratian’s Decretum, contained some five hundred forged legal texts” (Grafton, Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990], pp. 24-25).

76  Grafton, p. 123.

77  The Falsely-Believed and Forged Donation of Constantine, ii.6 and xxii.19; quoted from Lorenzo Valla, The Profession of the Religious and the principal arguments from The Falsely-Believed and Forged Donation of Constantine, ed. and trans. Olga Zorzi Pugliese (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1985), pp. 65, 71. In the second passage Valla is quoting Ephesians 6:12.

78  See Valla, i.1, p. 63: “… how eagerly and hastily would they drag me off to torture, if they only could, now that I am writing not just against the dead but against the living too, not just against this or that individual but against a multitude of men, not merely private citizens but even public officials? And which officials? Why, even the Supreme Pontiff who is armed not only with a temporal sword, like kings and rulers, but with a spiritual one too….”

79  See Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 1988), and also, as samples of other critical perspectives on the media, Joyce Nelson, The Perfect Machine: TV in the Nuclear Age (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1987), and Linda McQuaig, Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths (Toronto: Penguin, 1995).

80  Some salient examples: the American invasion of Vietnam was justified by fraudulent claims of a North Vietnamese invasion of the south and by the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin naval incident; U.S. aggression against Nicaragua in the 1980s (condemned by a judgment of the World Court) was justified by fraudulent claims of Sandinista subversion of neighbouring countries; the U.S. refusal to contemplate a negotiated withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 was supported by fabricated atrocity claims and the lie that Iraq was preparing to invade Saudi Arabia; in 1993, a cruise missile attack on Baghdad was justified by fraudulent claims that the Iraqi dictatorship had attempted to assassinate ex-President George Bush; in 1999, the NATO attack on Serbia was justified by false claims of massacres in Kosovo; and finally, in 2003 the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq was justified by multiple falsehoods, including outright forgeries and plagiarisms, which were exposed by critical analysts almost as quickly as they were launched (for evidence, see Michael Keefer, ed., War on Iraq: Critical Resources, available at this website.

81  The Poems of William Blake, ed. W. B. Yeats (London: Lawrence & Bullen; N.Y: Scribner’s, 1893), “London,” p. 77.

82  See Lunar Perspectives, pp. 86-95, 122-24, 205-06. Since subtractive politicizing is a practice thoroughly embedded in the formative history of my own discipline of English Literature, my closest colleagues and I may have a head start in work of this kind.

83  Quoted by Milan Rai, Chomsky’s Politics (London: Verso, 1995), p. 121.

84  See John McMurtry, Unequal Freedoms, pp. 330-31.

85  Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” VI, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, ed. Michael W. Jennings et al. (4 vols.; Cambridge. Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996-2003), vol. 4, p. 391.   

John Fekete and Moral Panic

First published in English Studies in Canada 21.3 (September 1995): 347-53. Unusually, the editor commissioned two reviews of John Fekete's book Moral Panic, and published them side by side in parallel columns. The other review, by David Williams of McGill University, concluded by declaring that “Anyone who believes in the value of higher education and is committed to academic freedom must read the account of the attack on these values that John Fekete has had the courage to write.” My own judgment of the book was less flattering.


Review of John Fekete, Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising (Montreal and Toronto: Robert Davies, 1994)


John Fekete's Moral Panic incorporates three distinct literary genres: it is at once a jeremiad, a martyrology, and (somewhat less obviously) the testament of a strong cultural theorist fallen among neoconservatives. My own reactions to the book are no less multiple: they include respect, exasperation, and (since I remain an admirer of Fekete's previous work) a certain sadness. This book, I would insist, merits close reading—not least by those who will find themselves, as I do, in sharp disagreement with most of its conclusions. However, Moral Panic also exemplifies to an embarrassing degree the very condition it sets out to analyze. And, since its arguments are marked by serious and systematic failures of understanding, the book cannot be accepted as an adequate guide to the complex issues with which it engages.

In his first chapter, Fekete informs us that “Politics has historically begun where biological factors and the demands of the body give way to the common concerns of a cultural community, a body politic” (22). What he calls “biopolitics” is thus by definition a kind of anti-politics, “a regression from politics to a new primitivism which promotes self-identification through groups defined by categories like race or sex” (22). This regression involves a dissolution of cultural boundaries, and hence fosters a condition of “moral panic,” which Fekete associates with “fearful imaging of shifting or collapsing boundaries in the meanings, values, codes, and institutions that make up our cultural world” (22-23). This implied narrative seems to me tendentious. In Plato's Republic, “biological factors” (including eugenics and a dread of gender instability) are very much in evidence:1 the political, as one could demonstrate from this and other examples, has for good or ill always included the biopolitical. But Fekete's narrative defines factors of this kind—and in particular what he calls “biofeminism”—as intrusive.

“Biofeminism,” which includes nearly all of the feminist thought of the past two decades, is the principal object of attack in this book. Fekete claims to have been “reading and teaching feminist texts for more than twenty years” (16); rather more obviously, he has been attending to the writings of contemporary American anti-feminists. As he acknowledges, “biofeminism” is roughly equivalent to Christina Hoff Sommers's term “gender feminism” (351 n. 1).2 And he is grateful to Warren Farrell's The Myth of Male Power and to Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae for reminding us “of things we used to know and talk about ... before two decades of biofeminism succeeded in inflecting our thoughts and feelings with the viral cancer of half truths and the emotional tyranny of false appeals” (345 n. 4).3 Remarks of this kind do not amount to evidence of engagement, critical or otherwise, with feminist literary and cultural theory. Thus, when Fekete writes that “Biofeminist patriarchy theory, abducting the last third of this century, is exactly as divisive, exactly as false, and exactly as seductive as theories of racial supremacy and class supremacy had been in the first and second thirds of this century” (35), I am not sure that he knows what he is talking about—but I hope he is aware that language of this kind amounts to panic rhetoric.

If Moral Panic contained no more than shaky political theory and overcharged rhetoric, it would not deserve our attention. However, Fekete's charge that “Biofeminism has much to answer for, for hijacking the discourse of women's 'liberation,' diminishing and redirecting the concept of liberation to aim at 'equity,' and deforming and abusing the goals and practices of equity to assault all the libertarian principles that could provide meaning and moral value to it” (14) is backed up by five chapters that criticize recent studies of violence against women, and by a further three that explore the impact of feminist advocacy on Canadian universities.

The main target of Chapters 2 to 6 of Moral Panic is the 1993 Report of the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women—which as Fekete demonstrates engages in statistical panic-mongering on a grand scale. For example, the Panel's claim that 80% and 50% respectively of Canadian Native girls and boys under the age of eight are sexually molested turns out to be derived at third hand from an estimate by one physician practising in the Mackenzie Delta (122-30). The no less distressing claim that 83% of disabled Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes is again derived, at several removes, from a single source: a study that reports interviews with fewer than three dozen institutionalized mentally handicapped women in California (138-44).4 And the report from which the Panel drew its most sensational result—a lifetime prevalence figure for sexual violation of 98%—is revealed to be both incomplete and methodologically chaotic (147-61).

Fekete's work in tracing these and other instances of irresponsible generalization is clearly valuable. However, his own wrestlings with statistics need to be approached in the same spirit of “intelligent scepticism” (40) that he recommends we bring to the work of social scientists. Fekete is right to note errors like the one by which prevalence figures for rape (26%) and for attempted rape (20%) in an American study were transformed in a Canadian pamphlet to the information that “47% of all women will be raped in their lifetimes”—thus doubling a rape figure that is arguably already too high (44, 48-50). However, when he turns to consider claims as to how many charges of sexual assault and rape are false—he cites figures of 14%, 40%, and 60% (the latter derived, at second hand, from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Air Force)—the scepticism he applies to other cases in which one might suspect ideologically driven statistical inflation is quietly forgotten. Fekete's bias is equally apparent when he challenges studies of domestic violence against women by citing evidence of “symmetry between male-to-female and female-to-male violence ... at every level of severity” (76). Scoffing at the insistence of responsible social scientists that such supposedly “objective” data need to be supplemented with information about the context, intention, and consequences of the acts, Fekete does not explain why, if domestic violence is symmetrical all the way up, 3.2 times more women than men die as a result of it (65).

The narratives of the institutional persecution of Canadian professors by their own universities that occupy Chapters 8 and 9 of Moral Panic are in a similar manner both valuable and suspect. The three cases analyzed at length in Chapter 9 are, in different ways, genuinely shocking. These involve, at Dalhousie, a charge of sexual harassment that ought to have been immediately recognized as vexatious (256-66); at Waterloo, a quarrel between an admittedly “difficult” senior scholar and a junior woman colleague that by Fekete's account resulted in unjust disciplinary actions (267-86); and at Victoria, a blatantly political deployment of sexual harassment charges in the context of what appears to be an opportunistic manipulation of the “chilly climate” issue (286-318).5

The fourteen cases discussed in Chapter 8, however, are a mixed bag. In two of these, the university in question acted decisively to defend the academic freedom of faculty members; in a third, I believe a fuller presentation of the case would show that harassment proceedings were justified; in a fourth, which has nothing to do with gender politics, the complainant was Xerox Corporation; and in a fifth, a law professor accepted feminist criticism of his pedagogy, and denounced the intervention of Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as “feminist baiting” (212).6 Of the remaining eight cases, at least five can be taken to exemplify cowardice, “casual tyranny” (246), or a lack of good judgment on the part of university administrators; in another two, it seems likely that gender issues were improperly or injudiciously used to deal with faculty members who for other reasons were an embarrassment.

That leaves the case of Philippe Rushton, the University of Western Ontario psychologist whose overtly racist theories have for the past six years been a source of controversy. Drawing on Barry Gross's biassed defence of Rushton in the journal Academic Questions, Fekete uncritically quotes Rushton himself (“This is unheard of in science, that something should become forbidden”), and treats his work as “one of the limit cases of free inquiry and expression” (214-16). Nowhere does Fekete hint that many distinguished psychologists think otherwise (as one of them declares, “To admit ... Rushton into the scientific mainstream ... is a betrayal of science”).7 More bizarrely still, nowhere does Fekete recognize in Rushton's work a particularly grisly example of what he elsewhere calls the “dark mythologies” and the “mental debris” (12) of biopolitics. Nor does he pause to note a relevant symmetry in this case: the president of UWO, while vigorously defending Rushton's academic freedom, did not hesitate to summon television cameras into a senate meeting to publicize his own attack upon the academic freedom of four women faculty who had criticized systemic sexism at Western.8

This slip, given Fekete's blinkered understanding both of feminism and of academic freedom, may not be very surprising—but it seems to me a conclusively revealing one.




1  See for example Republic 386c-388b, where Socrates expresses concern that those who are being bred as guardians (388a) may be rendered feverish and effeminate (thermoteroi kai malakoteroi, 387c) by exposure to the wrong sort of poetry; his anxiety about the instability of gender and class identities resurfaces more distinctly at 395d-396e.

2  See Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994). Published some six months before Moral Panic, this book anticipates it in several respects: Hoff Sommers is highly critical of social science work on violence against women, displays a rancorous hostility to contemporary feminist cultural theory, and claims that feminism has contributed largely to making American colleges “islands of intolerance in a sea of freedom” (107).

3  See p. 193 for a more extended use of this disease metaphor in Fekete's account of “the cancerous progress of infectious sex panic, and panic remedies.” One wonders whether he is aware of the manner in which metaphors of social pathology have served in totalitarian discourses of the right and left as means of evoking panic.

4  Not content with generalizing from this tiny sample to the Canadian population at large, the Panel subsequently inflated the prevalence of sexual abuse figure to 90% in its training video “Without Fear” (144-45). (The term “prevalence” in crime statistics refers to the percentage of a population victimized in a particular manner over a long period, which may range from ten years to a lifetime; “incidence” figures indicate the percentage of a population victimized in a given year.)

5  For wide-ranging discussions of the “chilly climate” barrier to women in Canadian universities, see the essays collected in Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty, ed. The Chilly Collective (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1995).

6  For some context on the issue of sexism in Canadian law schools, see Bruce Feldthusen, “The Gender Wars: 'Where the Boys Are',” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 4 (1990): 66-95; rpt. in Breaking Anonymity, pp. 279-313.

7  Leon Kamin, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics,” in Russell Jacoby and Naomi Glauberman, eds., The Bell Curve Debate (New York: Times Books, 1995), pp. 102-03. Gross's article is “The Case of Philippe Rushton,” Academic Questions 3.4 (Fall 1990): 35-46. Academic Questions is the journal of the neoconservative National Association of Scholars, an organization of which Gross is Treasurer.

8  See Breaking Anonymity, pp. 61-170; esp. pp. 137-42.   

The Research Council Merger: Cause for Concern

[First published in the ACCUTE Newsletter (December 1992): 2-6.]

by Michael Keefer

The Mulroney government's decision last year to merge the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada with the Canada Council and with the Department of External Affairs' special cultural programs was taken without any visible consultation of the scholarly and artistic communities. It is therefore scarcely surprising that these communities were not invited to take any part in the discussions which preceded the announcement, in the last week of November 1992, of the legislation designed to bring about this merger. Equally characteristic of this government's evident contempt both for scholars and also for writers and other artists, is the announcement that it intends to pass this legislation before the end of the current session of parliament—that is to say, before Christmas.

There were very good reasons for the separation in 1978 of humanities and social sciences funding from arts funding, and for the corresponding establishment of the SSHRC as distinct from the Canada Council. In reversing this separation, the Mulroney government has not offered any comparably persuasive arguments to show that the communities presently served by the two councils will benefit from the merger, or that there will be any significant saving in administrative costs. What then is the government's agenda? And what should our response be?

The legislation

Let's consider the proposed legislation. The council merger figures as Part III of an omnibus bill, C-93, which also deals with twenty-five other distinct matters. According to the preamble to Part III,

The purpose of this part is to wind up the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and transfer its functions and staff to the Canada Council and to transfer certain functions and staff of the Department of External Affairs concerned with the promotion of Canadian culture abroad to the Canada Council. The Canada Council would be renamed the Canada Council for the Arts and for Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities to reflect its expanded functions.

As Craig McNaughton, Executive Director of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, has observed, the language of Bill C-93 gives the “strong impression ... that the Government is simply 'tacking on' the research function to the arts function.” The government, he suggests, “is not serious about maintaining the momentum of the research enterprise created through SSHRC over the past fourteen years. The original promise was that this would be a brand new agency with equal weight given to each former component. It is not.”

There is indeed cause for concern in the details of what the legislation says—and equally so in what it does not say.

Bill C-93 separates the function of management from that of governance. It provides for a President (the Council's chief executive officer) and a Vice-President, and at the same time establishes a governing Council of 21 members. The Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of this Council, like the President and Vice-President, are to be appointed for a term of five years, and the other council members will be appointed for a term of three years. So far, so good—and the fact that Dr. Paule Leduc, the present President of SSHRC, will be the first President of the new Council is no doubt grounds for relief. ACCUTE has had differences with Paule Leduc on such matters as research time stipends (a subject on which I will something to say below), but she has stood up strongly for the interests of researchers in the humanities and social sciences.

We have every reason to be worried, however, by the fact that the government's legislation makes no provision for the oversight or approval of executive or Council appointments by parliament or by any parliamentary committee. What then prevents the government from stacking the Council (as the Reagan and Bush administrations did in a quite scandalous manner with the Advisory Council of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities) with people whose opinions, or rather prejudices, on cultural matters happen to coincide with its own? When I put this question to a well-informed source in Ottawa, he replied, in so many words: “Nothing—except the vigilance of the academic and cultural communities.”

Equally worrisome is the fact that Bill C-93 does not require that people appointed to the governing Council should be Canadians who have made outstanding contributions or who have outstanding expertise in the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, or the area of international academic and cultural relations. The only requirement is that as a group they should be “broadly representative” of the Council's goals.

Nor does Bill C-93 assign fixed numbers of Council members to represent each of the new council's constituencies. Rather, it states in deliberately vague terms that in making such appointments the government “shall have regard to the importance of maintaining a broadly representative membership that reflects the functions of the Council.”

According to Bill C-93, the functions of the new Council are to

(a) foster, promote, sponsor and assist the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts;

(b) promote, sponsor and assist research and scholarship in the social sciences and humanities;

(c) promote a better knowledge and understanding of Canada and Canadian achievements abroad, and of other countries in Canada, through its activities in support of artists, scholars, researchers and others in Canada and abroad; and

(d) advise ministers of the Crown with respect to any matter falling within its functions and duties.

One notes, with interest and alarm, that the word “foster” appears in clause (a) but is nowhere evident in clause (b); this is presumably a signal that the Council will be expected to focus its resources more distinctly upon the arts than upon support of research and scholarship.

Another aspect of Bill C-93 is more directly alarming—and not just to scholars in the humanities and social sciences, but to members of the artistic community as well. The Bill declares that “In performing its international functions and duties, the Council shall take into consideration the foreign policy of the Government of Canada.” What, in this instance, is left of the traditional “arm's length” relationship between the government and federally-funded cultural institutions? Craig McNaughton of the CFH has commented astutely on this provision of Bill C-93:

Academic relations with other nationals and with educational institutions in foreign countries should not, save in extremis, be subject to Canadian foreign policy. It is one thing to try to maintain control over special programs put in place by External Affairs; it is quite another to suggest that the Council may have an obligation to constrain or disrupt research and academic relations which scholars feel are essential to the integrity of their intellectual inquiry. This provision needs limitations. This is a serious compromise of the “arm's length” relationship to Government and reflects one of the inherent difficulties with the original idea to combine functions of a government department with those of an autonomous research council.

Non-legislated features of the Council

According to other Ottawa sources, an informal agreement has been reached as to the probable constitution of the governing Council. It appears that there will be three members from the humanities and three from the social sciences; six from the arts community; three or four from the domain of international affairs; and the remaining five or six from “:the public.” For reasons that have to do both with patronage and with fair representation, scholars in the humanities and social sciences should find this arrangement deeply disturbing.

The legislation provides that Council members will be paid, in addition to travel and living expenses, an allowance for each day of Council meetings that they attend. While no-one would object to such a provision for unsalaried representatives of the arts community, the payment of allowances to all Council members makes it overwhelmingly likely that the five or six members of “the public” on the Council will be patronage appointments. Remember: there is no legislative requirement that these people should possess any special expertise or reputation in the humanities, the social sciences, or the arts, let alone the domain of international academic or cultural relations. Who is to say that they will not turn out to be a most egregious (if nonetheless “broadly representative”) collection of Tory party pot-scrapers, gate-greasers, bagmen, belly-scratchers and ideologues?

One might also ask why international programs should be entitled to sch a large representation on the new Council. The present Canada Council employs some 250 people (including 15 who are seconded to UNESCO), and has a budget of $105 million; SSHRC, with 110 employees, has a budget of $105 million; the cultural and academic section of External Affairs employs 16 people in Canada and a further 55 abroad, and has a budget of $25 million. On this basis it would seem difficult to argue that the work of the External Affairs cultural program is of comparable importance to that of SSHRC. Since, moreover, this external program is entirely secondary in nature (for only if we are training and producing scholars and artists can we think of sending them abroad), it is not evident why it should require a representation equal to or greater than that of all the humanities disciplines.

The manner in which the new Council will maintain an appropriate level of consultation and collaboration with the communities it is designed to serve is another area left undefined by the legislation. Ottawa sources have indicated that each of the three areas served by the amalgamated Council is to have a Program Advisory Committee whose membership, appointed by the Council, will be composed in equal numbers of Council members and of people from the appropriate community. Two questions come to mind. How, in the case of the external program, is the appropriate community to be defined? (Would it consist of scholars and artists who enjoy foreign travel?) And why, if the government is really committed to establishing a Council which will be responsive to the communities it serves, are these advisory structures not written into the legislation?

The prospect of a Council only 12 of whose 21 members are to be representatives—and not necessarily distinguished ones—of the productive areas which that Council serves in the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences is not an encouraging one. However, the most serious concerns raised by the proposed new Council arise in the area of finances.

Money matters

As mentioned above, the present Canada Council has a budget of about $100 million; SSHRC has a budget of $105 million (which the government has said will rise to $117 million over the next four years); and the cultural and academic section of External Affairs has a budget of $25 million. These funds—in particular those of the present Canada Council and of SSHRC—come from what are spoken of in the dialect of Ottawa bureaucrats as different budget “envelopes.” The Canada Council's money comes from the “cultural envelope,” within which the Council has had to compete with the National Film Board, the CBC, and the National Museums; the Council has tended to come off poorly in these competitions. SSHRC's money, in contrast, has come from the “science or research envelope”; and if SSHRC has also done poorly in competition with the medical and natural science research councils, it has at least been recognized as a research agency.

The government has promised that for the first several years of the new Canada Council's operation, the existing funding arrangements would remain intact. But what then? Several Ottawa sources have expressed the opinion that it is vitally important for the humanities and social sciences that their research funding within the new Canada Council continue to come from the science or research envelope. However, one does not have to dig very deeply in Ottawa circles to discover that despite the best efforts of senior officers of the SSHRC, there is very little understanding in bureaucratic or ministerial circles of the specific identity of the humanities research community in particular, and even less sympathy for what we do. The danger that hostile or indifferent ministers will toss the new Canada Council into the cultural funding envelope, and then let the Council's disparate components fight like cats in a bag for their share of a deliberately inadequate sum of money, is a very real one.

I mentioned above that I would have something to say here about the issue of research time stipends. This issue in fact provides a salient example of the level of incomprehension of and hostility to humanities research that seems to prevail in ministerial and bureaucratic circles in Ottawa.

For the past several years, SSHRC has restricted the amount of money that its Research Grants Adjudication Committees can spend on research time stipends to 10% of their total allocations. ACCUTE and the other members societies of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities have protested that this ceiling ignores the fact that one of the most pressing needs among researchers in the humanities is for time in which to carry out their research. But SSHRC has remained unmoved, arguing that the ceiling on research time stipends makes it possible to fund 100 more researchers in each annual competition than would otherwise be possible, and claiming as well that SSHRC's governing Council is opposed to the idea of devoting the Council's research funds to what could be understood as direct support of the universities' teaching function.

This claim appears perverse, especially in view of the fact that SSHRC encourages researchers to include provision for the training of young scholars in their research projects. However, as several distinct Ottawa sources have indicated to me, research time stipends have in fact been understood in precisely this manner within bureaucratic and ministerial circles—as amounting to a diversion of (federal) research funds into the support of (provincial) teaching functions. SSHRC's inflexibility on this issue is, one may suppose, a simple measure of the fact that the pressure exerted from below has been outweighed by the opposing pressures from above.

In one sense, this example may seem to provide us with a discouraging lesson. But in another sense, it may remind us that if we wish our voices to be heard, we may have to raise them a little louder than we have done in the past.

What is to be done?

I borrow this question, not from the title of Mavis Gallant's splendidly acerbic play, nor yet from Lenin's more famous (if now unread) tract of the same title—but rather from the 19th-century novel by Chernyshevsky whose title Lenin himself borrowed. I'm thinking in particular of that passage in which Chernyshevsky's hero, an uncomplicated person of a strongly utilitarian persuasion, responded to the experience of being elbowed by an officer on the Nevsky Prospect by leaping at the man, flinging him into the gutter, and warning him that should be attempt to get up, he would promptly be dragged to a still muddier place.

The moral of this little story? Well, I wouldn't want to recommend that mild-mannered scholars start knocking the hats off every member of the government whom they encounter. But while we laugh at the macho antics of Chernyshevsky's protagonist, let us also remember another reader of this passage—the Underground Man of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, who is much closer in spirit to the contemporary scholar in the humanities, and who, having been similarly elbowed out of the way by an officer, spends much of the text in a state of abject indecision as to whether or how he can bring himself to respond.

We have been rudely shouldered aside by a government that harbours an evident contempt both for humanities and social science research and for the arts. Let us, at the very least, ensure that our colleagues and our compatriots know what is at stake in the Mulroney government's hasty and ill-considered actions.

A Lobbyist's Report: On the One Hand, or On Both

[First published in the ACCUTE Newsletter (March 1993): 10-11. I am including as appendices to this text a copy of my December 7, 1993 letter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (versions of which were also sent to thirty-nine other leading figures in the government and the opposition parties), and a copy of the Prime Minister's reply alluded to in this article.]

In early December I wrote on behalf of ACCUTE to more than forty people on Parliament Hill (including the Prime Minister and senior members of his government, leading members of the opposition parties, and influential senators) to protest against the proposed merger of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canada Council and with the cultural and academic programs of the Department of External Affairs. One at least of the replies, which bears the signature of Brian Mulroney and is dated January 15, may strike members of this Association as being particularly revealing.

Four of the six issues raised in my letter—the absence of any adequate rationale for the merger, the lack of consultation with the scholarly and artistic communities, the fact that Part 3 of Bill C-93 does not require members of the governing Council to possess any reputation for expertise in the arts, humanities, or social sciences, and the consequent possibility that this governing Council may be used for patronage appointments—go unnoticed in the Prime Minister's response.

Focussing rather upon the other two—the compromising of the new Council's integrity by the requirement that it conform in “its international functions” to our government's foreign policy, and the question of the government's commitment to adequate funding for humanities and social science research—the Prime Minister's letter claims that

the legislation establishing the new Council will protect the interests of both artists and academics and will maintain the organization's traditional arm's length relationship with the government. It will also strike a right balance by, on the one hand, recognizing the independence of the Council and, on the other, including a provision requiring the new Council to take into consideration the foreign policy of the Government of Canada. Furthermore, the levels of service to the arts and academic communities will not be affected by the merger.

One can recognize, without any need for a nudge in the ribs from the ghost of Roland Barthes or of Michel Foucault, that a text of this kind raises interesting questions with respect to authorship. Although the empirical, the historical Brian Mulroney may haunt the letter written in his name, the words were no doubt generated by a PR flack in the PMO, and the signature by a machine. But the recognition of this 'author' as an institutional function—let us call it PM—doesn't make its illogic any less disturbing.

PM's ploy is a kind of shell-game, a dunce's Hegelianism in which the linking of two mutually destructive terms—the Council's independence and its subservience to government policy—is held to amount to a satisfactory synthesis, “a right balance” (which the letter's concluding sentence promptly rephrases as “greater policy coherence”).

Given how effectively this kind of thinking guts the still notionally accepted principle of an arm's length relationship between government and research or cultural agencies, one should perhaps anticipate its wider application. With this in mind, I am ready to go so far as to believe PM's claim that the merger will not affect “the levels of service to the arts and academic communities”: PM has other means—including an application of this logic of the “right balance”--of dealing with such matters as research funding.

A postscript: On February 23, 1993, Robert Nadeau, the President of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, made a brilliant and devastating presentation in Ottawa to the Legislative Committee on Bill C-93. He began his remarks by distributing to the Committee a Treasury Board document dated February 20, 1992, which shows the anticipated savings over five years from the amalgamation of the SSHRC with the Canada Council as amounting, Nadeau's words, to “a rather impressive string of zeros. No money is to be saved.” The Treasury Board document claims that 10 person-years (out of a total of 425 in the amalgamated Council) can be saved. But as Nadeau remarked,

it is not necessary to turn everything upside down to trim 10 person-years. It's like taking the proverbial sledgehammer to the pesky fly: you stand a reasonable chance of getting the fly in the end, but you're likely to do quite a bit of damage in the process.

And frankly, to be a little partisan, I don't think the 10 person-years were expected to come from the SSHRC part of this merger. SSHRC has one of the very lowest administrative budgets in Ottawa—less than 8% of its overall budget. That is tight fiscal management for which Paule Leduc deserves full marks. And a strong and well managed agency deserves a better fate than being dismantled in the name of efficiency—especially when ... the officials behind the move haven't any idea what efficiencies can be gained.

The full text of Nadeau's remarks, which are printed in In House/Chez nous, 2.5 (March 3, 1993), are available in ACCUTE's electronic mailbox, along with articles on the subject (dated February 24 and 27, 1993) from The Globe and Mail.