Monthly Archives: June 2005

Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!

Go ahead. Make my list. Those savvy folks at the American Film Institute just released their 100 top movie quotations of all time and I think it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Of course it featured many of the usual suspects, including those two from Casablanca. At No. 20 and No. 32, they were further down than I would put them, but on the plus side, that film had the most total quotations, at six.

Some people might sneer at the whole project as a cheap publicity stunt or because movies are vulgar entertainment, not true art. In response, unprintable movie quotations too numerous to print spring to mind. So let me say instead that the making of best (or worst) lists is no more invalidated by the impossibility of securing definitive agreement than is voting, say, or theology. See, the world is like a box of chocolates (No. 40). And list-making is useful for what it tells us to try (or avoid, like nougat) and for how it clarifies our ideas about what makes a good, or bad, book, movie, historical event or taste. Continue reading

The Supreme Court is taking over the role of Parliament

My goodness. What has the Supreme Court done now? I said some time ago, pace Kaspar Gutman in The Maltese Falcon, that one never knew what it would do next except that it was bound to be something astonishing. Taking health policy away from Parliament certainly qualifies.

I did not merely fail to predict its ruling that failure to provide timely medical treatment contravened the Quebec charter of rights; I actively predicted the opposite just one day earlier on the radio. In my general failure to see it coming, I was far from alone. But I have less of an excuse than many because I have, in previous columns, warned that the gradual process whereby Parliament wrested real executive power away from the Crown over many centuries is being recapitulated at high speed nowadays as the courts wrest executive power away from Parliament. Even so, I underestimated that speed.

To this point, the Supreme Court’s activism had largely consisted of mandating that all important public policy be left-wing. I think most pundits and politicians understood that it was doing so, although clearly we did not all feel the same way about it nor did we all describe it in the same language. It has, to general consternation, now taken us a considerable step further away from anything that could, without doing violence to the language, be described as self-government. There is much to be said about judicial activism, most of it bad. I have said it before and will again. But not here. Here I want to single out what is special about this ruling. Continue reading

Ten books you may not like, but really should read

Well, here’s a summer reading list from hell. Human Events, an American national weekly newspaper, just asked 15 conservative scholars to rank the 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Great. Now I have to run out and get the four I haven’t read.

I’m serious. On the principle of “Know your enemy,” I already in this space, on Sept. 6, 2002, recommended reading Mein Kampf, which is 2nd on the Human Events list. Hitler was not merely evil, but very successfully evil, and it behoves us to understand not only what evil looks like, but also how it so often manages to succeed. On that same basis I had also already read their top choice, The Communist Manifesto, their 3rd, Quotations from Chairman Mao, and their 6th, Das Kapital (fair do’s: Communists slaughtered far more people even than the Nazis did, over a much longer period, in many more places).

I feel differently about #9 on the list, Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I don’t believe I ever read this particular one, but I’ve read enough Nietzsche to say I think he gets a slightly bad rap. He saw with unpleasant clarity that we could not cling to traditional Judeo-Christian morality once we discarded its intellectual and theological foundations, and also what sorts of horrors we would gradually but inevitably be driven to embrace as a result. But beneath Nietzsche’s thin veneer of juvenile relish, there is, surely, anguish at the prospect, even a veiled cry of “The horror, the horror.” The ideas he expresses are without doubt terribly harmful. But I think his writings are as much firebell in the night as torch in the straw. I even suspect the very lucidity of his nihilism that initially attracts the young also ultimately helps them reject it comprehensively. Continue reading

It’s the complexity, stupid

In 1944, amid the roaring of the guns and the Keynesians, an obscure economist named Friedrich Hayek published an obscure book called The Road to Serfdom. Widely ignored, occasionally ridiculed, it transformed public debate by demolishing the very concept of economic planning.

People had long argued whether public control of economic activity would make society fairer, more friendly and maybe even richer or be unjust, create soul-destroying dependency and strangle the economy. Hayek said it didn’t matter. Desirable or not, planning was simply impossible for the same reason that, if attempted, it would destroy liberty.

To liberals his argument, or his title, seemed absurd. They were convinced that freedom from want was indispensable to real liberty, and that increased state power in the hands of well-meaning people like themselves would never be used maliciously. Hayek’s argument, however, was technical not moral, though it has moral implications. Continue reading

Two no’s that spell the end of a ‘Europe’ that never was

The defeat of the new European Union Constitution in a French referendum should send a lot of clever people back to the drawing board. Or possibly the atlas.

First, it further upsets the received wisdom that the Iraq war was a political liability. Forgive my shabby Anglo-Saxon empiricism, but supporters of the war (such as George Bush, Tony Blair and Australia’s John Howard, though not Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar) generally seem to be doing better than its opponents, from Canada’s Liberal party to Jacques Chirac, with Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder soon to follow.

More profoundly, this ponderous 448-article Constitution was Europe’s answer to the Charlottetown Accord: convoluted, confusing and above all disconnected from the populace whose interests it is meant to serve by an elite itself so disconnected as not to realize the disconnect exists. And while rejecting it was a blunt instrument, it was about the only way the public had left to rein in the Eurocrats, so they used it. Continue reading