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Stalking Imperial America

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$6.50 Vol. 16, No. 9 November 2008


Conrad Black on Margaret Atwood on debt

INSI DE THI S I SSU E Christopher Moore

John Gray

Timothy Cheek

Canada’s republican parliament

Paul Martin: angry Mr. Nice Guy

China’s return to Confucius

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PLUS Michael Decter on shrinking hospital needs + Suanne Kelman on the love of Charles Ritchie and Elizabeth Bowen + Mélanie Frappier on quantum history + Andrew Sharpe on national accounting + Michael Higgins on Thomas Merton + Janet Guildford on lady shipowners + Marian Botsford Fraser on cemeteries + fiction reviews by Richard Wagamese and Jason Rotstein + poetry by Kat Cameron, Jason Guriel, Julie Mahfood, Gerard Beirne, Joy Kogawa + responses

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17 Camille

3 Our Canadian Republic

A poem Kat Cameron

An essay Christopher Moore

6 Love-Making through Word-Making A review of Love’s Civil War: Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, edited by Victoria Glendinning Suanne Kelman

7 What Do We Owe?

A review of Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Conrad Black

9 Beyond the Counting House

A review of Duncan McDowall’s The Sum of the Satisfactions: Canada in the Age of National Accounting Andrew Sharpe

11 History Etched in Stone

A review of Old Canadian Cemeteries: Places of Memory, by Jane Irwin, photographs by John de Visser Marian Botsford Fraser

12 Eliminating the Caboose

A review of Who Killed the Queen? The Story of a Community Hospital and How to Fix Public Health Care, by Holly Dressel, and Critical to Care: The Invisible Women in Health Services, by Pat Armstrong, Hugh Armstrong and Krista Scott-Dixon Michael B. Decter

14 Tabloid Science

A review of The Quantum Ten: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition and Science, by Sheilla Jones Mélanie Frappier

16 Regret: For Joaquin A poem Julie Mahfood

17 as apology does A poem Joy Kogawa

18 The Cree in Crisis

A review of Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden Jason Ranon Uri Rotstein

19 Cross-Racial Tragedy

A review of The Retreat, by David Bergen Richard Wagamese

20 Angry Mister Nice Guy

A review of Paul Martin’s Hell or High Water: My Life In and Out of Politics John Gray

23 Imperial America

A review of The Perils of Empire: America and Its Imperial Predecessors, by James Laxer, and What Is America? A Short History of the New World Order, by Ronald Wright Peter Seixas

25 The Karaoke Classics

A review of China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, by Daniel A. Bell Timothy Cheek

27 Swiftian Wit and Zen Insight

A review of Thomas Merton: Hermit at the Heart of Things, by J.S. Porter Michael W. Higgins

28 Women on the High Seas

A review of Silk Sails: Women of Newfoundland and Their Ships, by Calvin Evans Janet Guildford

30 Letters and Responses

16 You Would Think

Farzana Hassan, Mahfooz Kanwar, Saeed Rahnema, Nader Hashemi, Rex Murphy

A poem Gerard Beirne

17 Conscience






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Our Canadian Republic Do we display too much deference to authority … or not enough? CHRISTOPHER MOORE


hen I met a group of Australian visitors to Canada recently, they observed that Canada has long flown its own distinctive national flag. Why then, they asked, has Canada not had a national debate on becoming a republic? Australia still uses one of those variants on the Union Jack, but it held a referendum on the monarchy almost a decade ago. True, referendums being what they are, an abolitionist consensus managed to sustain the monarchy in every single Australian state, but still… I ventured the idea that Canada has been too preoccupied with substantial constitutional wrangles—separation, federalism, an entrenched bill of rights—to become very much engaged with the fate of Elizabeth II and her progeny. But I might instead have recommended to them a recent essay on the British constitution by the young British scholar Adam Tomkins, professor of public law at the University of Glasgow. Tomkins proudly declares himself a republican, but he advises British constitutional reformers not to pay much attention to the queen. The “narrow question of who should be the head of state” is just not that important. The good health of our constitutional order, Tomkins insists, hardly depends on “the head of state issue.” He thinks we should all be republicans by now, but he dismisses obsession with the monarchy as a “depressingly thin, diluted account of what the republican alternative has to offer.” The task he recommends, the subject of his 2005 booklength essay Our Republican Constitution, is for Britons to pursue the real and serious issues posed by a republican analysis of parliamentary democracy. Monarchy may be the least of the problems. Britons are republicans? Not, Tomkins hastens to say, George Bush Republicans. Nor IRA republicans. Nor even division-of-powers written-constitution republicans, or even anti-monarchists, necessarily. Tomkins takes us back to the Latin root. Britain’s constitutional order, he declares, is a res publica, a public thing. Republicanism requires popular

sovereignty, and popular sovereignty is achieved when the government is constantly accountable to a parliament representing the people, through which the people are able “to contest the doings of government,” as Philip Pettit puts it. This is not just republican, according to Tomkins. “This is beautiful,” and for two reasons: “because it is democratic” and “because it can actually work.” Tomkins celebrates the republican principle as expressed in British-style parliamentary democracy

celebrated … Today, Parliamentary government, in Canada and Great Britain, is scorned” is how David E. Smith, the distinguished Saskatchewan political scientist, begins The People’s House of Commons, his Donner Prize– winning essay on the state of parliamentary government in Canada. Since Adam Tomkins has almost nothing to say about the Canadian parliamentary situation and David Smith has a great deal, let’s look at Smith on parliamentary institutions in Canada before taking up the former’s case that we already have in principle the best constitution in the world and need only apply proper republican values in order to make it fulfil its promise. Parliament is “scorned” in Canada, David Smith argues, because it has failed “to accommodate in existing constitutional structures attitudes that no longer presume Parliament’s predominance.” Anti-parliamentary attitudes come in two forms, he says: “constitutional democracy,” which means judicial review of political decision making, and “electoral democracy,” meaning initiatives, referendums, recall and all the other techniques of direct rather than representative democracy—the full Manning, in effect. On constitutional democracy, Smith counsels calm. He concludes that we have already accommodated the courts within Canadian democracy. We have always had judicial review, he notes: the British North America Act was litigated from the start, although mostly on federal–provincial issues. The addition of the Charter in 1982 greatly extended judicial power to review and revise parliamentary acts, but Smith is not persuaded by the extensive literature that decries the pernicious influence of unelected judges. Mostly Smith is confident that the courts’ new role, given by Parliament in the first place, accommodates itself easily into traditional parliamentary democracy. Constitutional democracy “revalues rather than devalues” parliamentary democracy and “intensifies rather than depreciates parliamentary democratic government.” Writes Smith: “It is the role of the court to reinforce values already alive that are central to parliamentary democratic government.” Smith is more alarmed about the impact of “electoral” or direct democracy. He acknowledges in his title the need for a “People’s” House of Commons,

For Tomkins, we already have in principle the best constitution in the world and need only apply properly republican values in order to make it fulfil its promise.

Christopher Moore is a writer in Toronto and the author of 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal (McClelland and Stewart, 1998), among other works. His website is <>.

November 2008

as “more suitable and more effective” at defending and implementing popular sovereignty than either the American or European versions of republicanism, and he attacks the fashionable view that we can rely on courts to restrain governments. He is, in other words, that rare species: a passionate advocate for the parliamentary system. He admits from the start that support for British-style parliamentary democracy is a minority view, now generally associated with complacent Victorian superiority. “We just do not seem to like our constitution very much any more,” Tomkins writes. “In the past thirty years, the British constitution has taken a real beating.” The Canadian constitution has been taking a beating too. “There was a time when the Parliament at Westminster and its Dominion progeny were


and he agrees that Canadians no longer accept a traditional understanding of parliamentary democracy, which he believes to have been rooted in deference and hierarchy. But he criticizes proposals for electoral democracy as impractical and negative. Changes along the lines of Preston Manning’s Reform Party proposals of the 1990s—which Smith argues were intended to “unite” the people and Parliament and also to separate Parliament from the government—would add uncertainty, make the House weaker, undermine the primacy of the Commons and “enervate the people’s house.” Smith wants active representation from an empowered parliament. But at the same time he asserts that parliamentary democracy requires a deferential, hierarchical population. Canada has always had a populist tradition, but the current assault on deference and hierarchy, he says, is “qualitatively different from past experience.” For Smith, representative democracy cannot survive without deference. Canadians’ new rejection of deference, he argues, is part of a “hostility to Parliament that goes beyond mere anti-partisanism.” The Canadian parliament imagined by David Smith turns out to be radically different from the British parliament described by Adam Tomkins. Tomkins evokes parliament as a republican forum rooted in the sovereignty of the people. Smith recognizes that Canadians today insist on the primacy of the people, but he tells us popular sovereignty is a non-starter. In The People’s House of Commons, he repeats over and over that Canadian government is not the people’s government. In Canada in the 21st century, he tells us, “authority comes from the crown … not from the people.” He declares that “sovereignty in Canada rests in the crown and not the people,” that “the heart of the constitution … is monarchy,” that we live under a “monarchical constitution that makes no provision for the people” and that “there is no base for popular constituent power.” In The People’s House of Commons, we the Canadian people seem not to exist, constitutionally speaking. Smith declares popular sovereignty incompatible with parliamentary government. After this, what a relief for a Canadian and a democrat to return to Adam Tomkins’s republican vision. Frankly, David Smith undermines not just our motive for defending parliamentary democracy, but also our reasons for being Canadian citizens at all. Subjects of the Queen? Seriously? Hell, if that’s the case, Preston Manning wasn’t half radical enough. Canadians will not, do not and should not accept a constitutional order in which subjection to the Crown is anything more than a ritual formula devoid of significance. Canadians’ “scorn” for the kind of constitution Smith describes is no failure of “deference,” but robust healthy citizenship, the natural reaction of any politically aware Canadian. For anyone who values both parliamentary democracy and popular sovereignty, Adam Tomkins offers reassurance. His assertion that all the “rules of the British constitution are reflective of, indeed based upon, the republican principle of popular sovereignty” applies as much to Canada as to Britain. Clearly we badly need an account of Canadian political practice rooted in this kind of understanding of popular sovereignty, but in the meantime, this examination of British constitutional practice offers clues to where Canadian democrats need to go.

What is the evidence set out by Tomkins that Britain’s parliamentary constitution, far from being some medieval holdover based on monarchical authority and deferential subjects, is a robust form of democracy? In a provocative survey of British constitutional history and philosophy, he reviews how it became established that a British monarch who subverts the will of the people as expressed by Parliament commits treason and will be held accountable, not by the courts but by Parliament. Of the last two kings to attempt such a thing, he shows, Parliament tried, convicted and executed Charles I and deposed James II. It is deeply engrained in British constitutional history that the Crown should be bound as much as any other citizen by the will of Parliament. Canadians should have the same confidence about our own constitution. Canadians have not put a crowned head on a spike, but as long ago as 1849

parliamentary democracy really works. Members of Parliament with independent authority are “unimaginable.” Tomkins can imagine them. Parliamentarians, he declares, must not “allow loyalty to party to obscure or even to obstruct loyalty to Parliament’s constitutional function of holding the government to account.” He therefore proposes, not some mealy-mouthed nostrums about party leaders allowing more “free” votes on insignificant matters, but “the removal of party and of party loyalty from the workings of Parliament.” Tomkins employs both principles and examples to build his bold case for the pernicious impact of political parties. The principles of parliamentary democracy, he argues, require members of parliament to be able to wield independent authority. When MPs allow parliament to be reduced to monolithic blocs, it is parliamentary accountability itself that they destroy, because a real parliament has two historic functions. One is to put together a government sustained by a coherent majority—and for that party solidarity is useful and important. But the other vital obligation upon Parliament is that it hold government to account. The familiar confrontation between government and opposition, Tomkins urges, cannot be allowed to obscure the other essential dynamic, the one “between Crown and Parliament, between front bench and back, or between minister and parliamentarian.” For observers steeped in Canadian parliamentary practice, where party leaders summarily eject from influence and probably from the House of Commons itself any MPs who show any hint of disloyalty by either voice or vote, the image painted by Adam Tomkins of a dynamic relationship between ministers and backbenchers must be almost incomprehensible. Yet Tomkins is at pains to demonstrate that dynamic at work in contemporary Britain. This law professor, scathingly sarcastic about the repeated and almost inevitable failures of British courts and British laws to restrain unconstitutional actions by British governments, offers vivid accounts of British MPs who regularly put their parliamentary authority ahead of their party loyalties to negotiate important changes to laws proposed by headstrong governments. Tomkins cites the British anti-terrorism law passed in the wake of September 11, 2001. He thinks it is terrible legislation, brutal and nasty and rushed through by a majority government in a climate of panic. But he notes that, even under those circumstances, Parliament sought independent testimony on the matter, formed independent judgements and imposed significant changes on the bill the government wanted. He then describes how Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to involve Britain in the Iraq war in 2003 was opposed in Parliament by scores of his own backbenchers, who forced a parliamentary vote on the decision and voted against it. Labour backbenchers also secured changes to fundamental aspects of Blair’s health and education policies by threatening to withdraw their support. (Even after that, the bills got barely enough Labour votes to scrape through the House, despite a Labour majority of more than 160 seats.) Tomkins argues that such displays of parliamentary independence show that even though Britain’s parliament is hardly what he would want it to be, it can still provide the “political accountability and

For Smith, representative democracy cannot survive without deference. Canadians’ new rejection of deference, he argues, is part of a “hostility to Parliament that goes beyond mere anti-partisanship.”


a thoroughly undeferential Canadian parliament told a governor general that no matter how much he might dislike the Rebellion Losses Bill (which provided property-loss compensation to rebels as well as to loyalists), it was too damned bad, he had to sign it. Loyalists rioted in the streets and burned the legislative building in Montreal, but the governor general acknowledged legislative sovereignty and signed. Since well before Confederation, in other words, the Canadian head of state has been accountable to the Canadian parliament. The right of the Canadian people to determine their own constitution was then and remains now the basis of our constitutional order. Monarchical formulas survive in both countries, but what Tomkins identifies as the republican order is as secure here as in Britain. Adam Tomkins is not out merely to defend the constitutional status quo by the ancient orthodoxies of Whig history. A constitution can simultaneously hold republican and monarchical elements, he says, and most of the anti-democratic failings he finds in British government today come from the lingering influence of monarchical principles. The urgent republican agenda, Tomkins argues, is to remove those lingering monarchical and antidemocratic elements that have survived to the detriment of full parliamentary accountability. Tomkins recommends several steps to reform parliamentary democracy in Britain. One is, yes, abolition of the monarchy. Others include the abolition of all forms of Crown prerogative and a radical commitment to open government and freedom of information. None involve rights charters or judicial review. (“To move away from a political constitution and towards a legal one is a mistake.”) But from the Canadian perspective, his most interesting target for “republican” scrutiny is party discipline, or what he calls “the problem of party.” David Smith too is vividly aware that the impotence of backbenchers and the four-year dictatorships of majority prime ministers have undermined Canadians’ faith in the parliamentary system. But Smith defends party discipline as “the essence of parliamentary democracy,” indispensable to the functioning of Parliament. He implies that Canadian proposals to reduce party discipline are rooted in our inability to understand how

Literary Review of Canada

contestatory democracy” that republican democracy requires. If British backbenchers and parliamentary committees can negotiate with governments, why can it not happen here? Tomkins, who would like the independence of British MPs to increase radically, has nothing to say about their ineffectual Canadian counterparts. Smith acknowledges the difference in British practice, but explains it away by noting that the British house is larger and its MPs have safer seats and longer careers. These hardly seem like compelling explanations for the frequent mass defections of British MPs, not on trivial matters but on crucial issues. In fact, there is one profound structural difference in the situations of British and Canadian MPs. In Britain, as in almost every parliamentary democracy in the world except Canada, MPs hire and fire their party leaders. Party leaders are caucus members, subject to caucus pressures rather like any other member and constantly under threat of removal if substantial factions of MPs lose faith in their leadership or reject their policies. In recent years British parties have started to drift toward the Canadian example, but it is that underlying power over the survival of the leader (and the naming of a new one) that has given British MPs, and particularly blocs of MPs, the authority to negotiate the terms of their support for their own party’s actions and to maintain the dynamic tension between government and backbench. In Canada, party leaders have no such accountability. Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion are party leaders not because any MP or bloc of MPs supports them, but because their supporters across the country purchased more votes (“member-

ships”) than those of rival candidates in extraparliamentary leadership contests. In Canada we take it as given that a leadership process based on the buying and selling of thousands of party memberships is “democratic.” But as long as our party leaders are selected by extra-parliamentary processes, they are not accountable to their own caucuses, and it will be impossible for MPs to hold them to account—or for government backbenchers to bargain with ministers over legislation and policy. A key mechanism underlying the accountability of government to parliament is lost. The constitutional implications of leadership processes and their role in undermining parliament never come up in David Smith’s synthesis of current Canadian thought about parliamentary government, and it seems safe to say they simply are not on the agenda of political thought in Canada. But if Adam Tomkins is right that political accountability is vital and parliament is the forum that must provide it, a process that allows parliament to be held hostage to extra-parliamentary forces is not just undemocratic but anti-democratic. If elected representatives cannot influence their own leaders, the whole edifice of popular sovereignty crumbles. Tomkins declares that political control of government, achieved through parliamentary democracy on the republican, popular-sovereignty model, is beautiful. How urgently do we need such a republican reimagining of Canadian constitutional practice? When the October 2008 federal election was called, sober, sensible commentators argued that Governor General Michaëlle Jean should, on her own initiative, refuse to grant the dissolution Prime Minister Harper sought. (Tomkins would not be surprised that a law intended to put a bridle on gov-

ernment once again proved ineffectual.) One can sympathize with their desperate wish for something to thwart a prime minister’s manipulation of Crown prerogative for partisan advantage. But 400 years of experience should have established that the Crown cannot be permitted to take independent measures, ever. A republican understanding of the Canadian constitution would suggest that the decision rested squarely with Parliament. If Parliament did not want an election, all it needed to do was withdraw confidence from the government and indicate there was an alternate government that it was prepared to support. But Canadian MPs are unlikely to act unless Canadians tell them we expect them to. David Smith’s study does not give much hope that that day is coming soon.

BOOKS CONSULTED The People’s House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention David E. Smith University of Toronto Press 192 pages ISBN 9780802092557, hardcover ISBN 9780802094650, softcover

Our Republican Constitution Adam Tomkins Hart Publishing 156 pages, softcover ISBN 1841135224

Making a difference. Making you think. | | 403-220-3514

RAIN/DRIZZLE/FOG: Film and Television in Atlantic Canada edited by Darrell Varga ISBN 978-1-55238-248-6 Cinemas off Centre series, No. 2

SHRINES IN AFRICA: History, Politics and Society Edited by Allan Charles Dawson ISBN 978-1-55238-246-2 Africa: Missing Voices series, No. 5

November 2008

FROM MANY, ONE: Indians, Peasants, Borders and Education in Callista Mexico, 1924–1935 by Andrae Marak ISBN 978-1-55238-250-9 Latin American and Caribbean series, No. 7

THE FREE PEOPLE LI GENS LIBRES: A History of the Métis Community of Batoche, Saskatchewan, Second Edition by Diane Payment ISBN 978-1-55238-239-4 Parks and Heritage Series, No. 12

LANDS THAT HOLD ONE SPELLBOUND: A Story of East Greenland by Spencer Apollonio ISBN 978-1-55238-240-0 Northern Lights series, No. 11 Co-published with the Arctic Institute of North America

NEIGHBOURS AND NETWORKS: The Blood Tribe in the Southern Alberta Economy, 1884–1939

REPRESENTATION AND RESISTANCE: Indian and African Women’s Texts at Home and in the Diasporas by Jaspal Kaur Singh ISBN 978-1-55238-245-5

PATRONS, PARTISANS, AND PALACE INTRIGUES: The Court Society of Colonial Mexico 1702–1710 by Christoph Rosenmüller ISBN 978-1-55238-234-9 Latin American and Caribbean series, No. 6

WOMEN BETWEEN: Construction of Self in the Work of Sharon Butala, Aganetha Dyck, Mary Meigs, and Mary Pratt

BRONZE INSIDE AND OUT: A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver

by Verna Reid ISBN 978-1-55238-242-4

by Keith Regular ISBN 978-1-55238-243-1

by Mary Strachan Scriver ISBN 978-1-55238-227-1 Legacies Shared series, No 25


Love-Making through Word-Making Elizabeth Bowen’s letters and Charles Ritchie’s diaries create a passionate mix. SUANNE KELMAN

Love’s Civil War: Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie Victoria Glendinning, editor McClelland and Stewart 496 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780771035661


he late Henry Dasko, a Polish Canadian with a passion for culture, once remarked that love is one tenth sex, nine tenths literature. The Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen and the Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie would surely have agreed. For more than 30 years, they shared love almost entirely through words. You can find the evidence in Love’s Civil War: Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, a collection of letters from Bowen to Ritchie and passages from Ritchie’s diaries, most of them previously unpublished and edited by Victoria Glendinning. The romantic reader can savour almost 500 pages of thwarted passion. Bowen and Ritchie, in love for more than three decades, never snatched more than a few days at a time together. When they met in 1941, Ritchie was 35, diffident and single. Bowen was married to Allan Cameron, a stolid bureaucrat. At 42, she was already a literary and social lion. A devout Anglican with some conventional views, she never considered divorce. But as a diplomat and as a man, Ritchie needed a wife. In 1948, he married his cousin Sylvia Smellie. Three years later, Bowen’s husband died—leaving her free too late. Ritchie, an honourable man, stayed with Sylvia, in a strange but confessedly “happy, happy marriage.” So far it all sounds like a 19th-century potboiler, but the details undercut the melodrama. Bowen was still a virgin when she had her first fling with a young Oxford don ten years after her wedding. That goes some way to explaining her husband’s complacency in the face of her infidelities with other men and at least one woman, the American poet May Sarton. Ritchie, despite some self-loathing, also cheated on both his mistress and his wife. All this is much more piquant because the couple seem like such Edwardian relics on the surface. Bowen preferred, in her fiction, to portray what she called “life with the lid on.” Ritchie, a courtly fellow, could not afford scandal and genuinely loved his wife. (Too bad she didn’t keep a diary!) For me, the saddest passage in the book concerns Ritchie’s love for his wife, not Bowen: “I should like to write Suanne Kelman is an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University. She is working on a book about attempts to raise perfect children.


to Sylvia and tell her how much I wanted to be in bed with her … but I can never talk to her about my desire for her.” Seen through the lens of today’s tabloid vulgarity, Bowen and Ritchie can look like a rather tame cougar preying on a slightly younger man. And that vision is not entirely false, although Bowen could never be called tame. In the diary entry that chronicles their first sexual encounter, Ritchie praises her body by saying it is like Donatello’s David, an odd image for a female lover. Two years into the affair, he worries that he is “being absorbed by a love which wishes to penetrate and to possess”—making Bowen sound like a rapist. Her literary talent and fame were vital to him; he often imagined that their time together would end up in her fiction, fluctuating between longing and dread. Ritchie, much as he loved her, might not be Bowen’s greatest fan. That title could also go to the book’s editor, Victoria Glendinning, the British writer who produced Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer, the first (and very respectful) biography of the novelist in 1973. Today, she is the self-chosen keeper of Bowen’s flame. She obviously expects that demand for the book will be stoked by the popularity and stature of its two principals. Thirty years ago, she would unquestionably have been right. In the years after World War Two, Bowen rose to icon status—a best-selling author sufficiently respected to teach, by invitation, at Bryn Mawr and Princeton, to serve on Britain’s Royal Commission on Capital Punishment and to spend her free time with such legendary intellects as Sir Isaiah Berlin, Lord David Cecil and Cyril Connolly. Her friends included Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, Eudora Welty, John Buchan, Lady Diana Cooper and Ann Fleming (wife of Ian). Bowen’s novels were once part of the cultural landscape of Britain. In the early 1980s, Barbara Pym—another novelist who liked to keep the lid on—used Bowen to signal the old-fashioned outlook of her own heroine in An Unsuitable Attachment: “She saw herself perhaps as an Elizabeth Bowen heroine—for one did not openly identify oneself with Jane Austen’s heroines—and To the North was her favourite novel.” Ritchie never became that kind of household name in Britain, but he is—to paraphrase Mel Brook’s To Be or Not to Be—world famous in Canada. His career as a diplomat was impressive, including stints as Canada’s ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations. The serial publication of his diaries, beginning with The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937–1945 in 1974, received enormous attention here. Yet I doubt if most readers under the age of 45 would recognize either name. In an age that rejects

history, Ritchie’s role has lost its glamour. Bowen has fared worse. John Buchan’s black-sheep son William, now dead a couple of months, told Ritchie sadly in 1960 that Bowen “isn’t a very fashionable writer just now.” Her restraint and formality are even less in style today. Nonetheless, I hope that the book finds many readers, even though they might not enjoy every page. There is an inherent imbalance here. Bowen was writing to Ritchie. Ritchie was writing to himself. These are very different activities: Evelyn Waugh’s reputation rose with the publication of his zestful, funny, even affectionate letters, and fell sharply with the later appearance of his savagely misanthropic diaries. For this reader, at least, Love’s Civil War had the reverse effect. Bowen becomes rather tiresome, while I slowly fell in love with Ritchie. Why? Even though Bowen was the professional writer, far too much of her correspondence is a repetitive refrain of longing, often irritating in its self-indulgence: “Do you know, it sometimes tears at me like one of those iron hooks used (I believe) by mediaeval torturers, our going on being apart like this …” To be fair to Bowen, she also sends Ritchie sharp descriptions of countries she visits, plus delicious gossip. (Let it be admitted that even the Fox network might find her too right wing, however, and her casual anti-Semitism is repulsive.) But it is Ritchie’s responses to her probing, possessive love that are most apt to intrigue readers today. He sometimes resisted, even struggled, but mostly he loved her back. Although the physical affair ended early, he could write: “She is life to me.” Their lifelong obsession contradicts everything we know about love. Mad passion is supposed to expire after four years at most, according to anthropologists such as Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray. But Bowen’s passion for Ritchie never died; in 1955 she wrote that “the flame” of their love had never turned into something tamer for her. And while his passion flickered more often, Ritchie also loved her to the end of her life and beyond. Their love story ought to win them both new readers. They provide at the very least a reminder of the crabbed horizons of our own time. This, lifted from the dialogue of Juno, is what passes for a declaration of love these days: “You’re, like, the coolest person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even have to try, you know.” Whereas this, from Ritchie’s diaries, is his final reflection after Bowen’s death: “I need to know again from her that I was her life. I would give anything I have to give to talk to her again, just for an hour. If she ever thought that she loved me more than I did her, she is revenged.”

Literary Review of Canada

What Do We Owe? An exploration of pacts with the Devil and other transactions. CONRAD BLACK

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Margaret Atwood House of Anansi 280 pages, softcover isbn 9780887848100


argaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth is a very provocative reconciliation of moral with financial indebtedness, and of the need to repay debts—especially when they have the character of penalties for previous misconduct—with severe consequences for not paying them back. She lays out a learned but never pedantic or turgid cultural history of the evolution of debt to trespass, to social thoughtlessness and selfishness. Despite the heavy moral content of her message, Ms. Atwood never ceases to be an elegant stylist with a fine sense of humour. In these five Massey lectures, Ms. Atwood puts down the anthropological roots of a sense of fairness in matters of exchange, citing the bartering that goes on between chimpanzees and the concept of retribution for unfair trading even with subhuman but social animals in the most primitive conditions. She describes the tradeoff between material and moral success, especially in early religions. Debtors and creditors, as she states several times, are “joined at the hip,” and could not exist without

But are they always trades of something higher and more valuable for something worthless? The Marlowe and Goethe versions of Faustus record the discreditable arrangements with the Devil, but they are not as reprehensible as the original disobedience to God of Adam and Eve, suborned by the same tempter, and with which sinfulness all JudeoChristians are sullied. Cultural and social history are replete with sacrificial exchanges of, broadly speaking, one’s soul, or life itself, for good or noble things, not just the redemption of scoundrels such as Sidney Carton. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, many saints, and winners of medals for conspicuous valour in mortal combat have made pre-emptive

Marley makes Scrooge seem like a hemophiliac bleeding heart, and he has always tantalized my imagination. each other. No one would lend if not reasonably confident of being repaid, and there would be no borrowers if there were no lenders. The relationship of debt and sin naturally arises, and with it the concepts of the sale and redemption of valuables, including one’s soul. We scale determinedly, with Margaret Atwood deftly leading us, the sheer heights from the familiar pawnshop to Dr. Faustus and Ebenezer Scrooge. She represents Faustus’s pact with the Devil as “the first buy-now, pay-later scheme,” and claims that all such transactions are the forfeiture of something valuable, one’s soul or at least integrity and moral health for “a lot of glitzy but ultimately worthless, short-term junk.” Conrad Black is the author of biographies of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and has been publisher of several newspapers.

November 2008

moral first strikes against diabolical forces: the preredemption of what has not been pawned. In her exploration of Faustus and Scrooge, Ms. Atwood presents them as “reverse images.” Faustus makes his bargain and is ultimately called on it, in a contractual framework. Scrooge, morbidly materialistic and a grasping miser, is cautioned by his late business partner in bad dreams, and emerges on Christmas morning with a new and more altruistic world view. This is interesting and diverting, but are they really reverse images, and so what if they are? Faustus was frightened of time and mortality, and had an underdeveloped or at least quite superable moral sensibility. But Scrooge was fearful of poverty, consumption, kind-heartedness and the unknown. He made no pact with anyone, but protected himself from his fears in the only way he knew. The vanity and moral cowardice of Faustus are quite distinguishable from the very different

sin of avarice that afflicted Scrooge. But they both repented, sincerely—Scrooge successfully in terrestrial life because he had made no transaction with Satan. Somewhere in the midst of this Ms. Atwood introduces The Merchant of Venice. It has never been clear to me whether that drama was antiSemitic or an exposé of the evils of anti-Semitism. I have generally thought that Shakespeare presented a Jewish caricature, then reviled anti-Semitism and wholesomely allowed all the protagonists to keep their lives. I don’t believe that charging interest on debt ever passed out of fashion, or that only Jews provided credit, or that the medieval church went much beyond a largely ineffectual condemnation of usury. But I do not hold myself out as an authority on the Middle Ages, and I am not now in a place that facilitates the study of them. Whatever their great talents, Marlowe and Dickens were not divines. Their presentations of the themes of excessive materialism and moral and physical cowardice are particularly vivid, but they are not Revelation or prophecy. In the spirit of the subject, and emboldened by Margaret Atwood’s charming reminiscences of a United Church, lowermiddle-class upbringing in 1930s and ’40s Toronto, I have a confession to make. I was brought up a few years later in the same city, in an episcopal but not very observant Protestantism, and apparently a somewhat more prosperous household. And I spontaneously conceived a considerable admiration for Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, which I have never entirely lost. To me, his is one of the great cameo roles of cultural history, like one of the strangely inter-related fathers and mothers in the Ring Cycle, or Orson Welles’s portrayal of Louis XVIII in the film Waterloo. If we accept the context of pure arithmetical and unimaginative capitalism in which the fabled enterprise of Scrooge & Marley operated, then for Scrooge to protest to


the chained and festooned ghost of his partner, who had admonished him to mend his ways, “You were a good man of business, Jacob” is a supreme accolade. Marley makes Scrooge seem like a hemophiliac bleeding heart, and he has always tantalized my imagination. What could he have done to have achieved such a status? Only Dickens knew. Margaret Atwood holds that debt, and particularly the sinfulness of debt, became a “governing leitmotif of Western fiction” in the 19th century, citing Dickens, Zola, Flaubert, Thackeray and Edith Wharton. Debt played a part in the works she cites, but when I read them, many years ago, I never thought that debt was the principal message of Germinal, Madame Bovary, Vanity Fair or House of Mirth. No doubt, as Ms. Atwood says, debt greatly expanded in the capitalist industrial revolution of the 19th century, but it had not been such a rarity before. The Reformation was partly a response to the financial and other profligacy of the Roman Catholic church. She refers to the “occupation” of the monasteries by that very flamboyant religious leader, Henry VIII, but he seized the monasteries and their contents to pay for his wars in France. He apostatized to obtain a divorce, so he could marry a woman whom he later beheaded on a false charge of adultery, for failure to produce a male heir, although the heir Anne Boleyn did produce, Elizabeth I, was the greatest monarch in British history. Having received the title, “Defender of the Faith,” to which Ms. Atwood refers, from the Pope for a paper Erasmus wrote for the king, Henry ordered his puppet parliament to continue that title for him, even though the faith had changed. It survives yet, on the British and, the last I saw, even the Canadian coinage, although a plurality of Canadians are of the faith Henry deserted and ransacked. These things are complicated, and it is hazardous to over-simplify them. Debt was a constant problem in all ancient civilizations, especially Rome, where the currency was constantly being debased and financial ethics were very deficient. One of the original triumvirs with Caesar and Pompey, Marcus Crassus, famously operated a private-sector fire department and not only extinguished fires when pre-paid to do so, but also assured a steadily growing cash flow by setting the fires prior to putting them out. The size of the money supply and of transactional activity certainly expanded with increased and more efficient commerce, but it is not clear that the social attitude to excessive debt, or the penalties for it, have changed much over the centuries. Ms. Atwood traces the historic interchangeability of debts, trespasses and fines, especially in various translations of the Christian Lord’s Prayer. The episcopal Christian churches seem to prefer “trespasses,” as matters to be forgiven, and the nonconformist Protestant churches prefer “debts.” The Latin Roman liturgy debita nostra … debitoribus nostris seems to confirm debts, and the French word amende is a fine that, if legitimate, is also a debt. But I don’t think it follows that financial debts are necessarily sins, which is why debt is ecclesiastically defined as moral as well as pecuniary. It is not and never was sinful to lend or borrow money if the purposes and terms were unexceptionable. Even more imaginative is Ms. Atwood’s effort to stigmatize “mills” and “millers” by linking the “mills of God which grind slow but grind exceeding fine”

to George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. Good try, Peggy, but no sale. There is no sinfulness intrinsic to an industrial mill, any more than to God’s mills for sifting human conduct. Blake’s infamous “dark, satanic mills” are sinful because they are dark and satanic, not because they are mills. If they had avoided child labour, paid fair wages, enjoyed reasonable working hours and conditions, had scrubbers on their smokestacks and treated their effluent thoroughly, they would still have been mills but would not have seemed diabolical even to Blake. The next phase of this account is a lively treatment of debt collection and counter-collection techniques, from debtors’ prisons and the bondage of debtors and their families to physical extortion of payment, violence both ways between debtors and creditors, acts of heavy official repression and violent revolution by populations that consider themselves overtaxed (the famous riddles of Wat Tyler, the American and French revolutions, etc.). And then comes the payback that gives these lectures their title. As has been mentioned, everything Marlowe’s Faustus did, Scrooge did in

bulldozer over his mountainous, warehoused pile of gold and silver coins, was immensely rich, but from Marlowe to Goethe and Dickens and on to Mr. McDuck is splendid but unrigorous; the cultural chain snaps. The next spirit, a man-spirit of Earth Day Present, takes Scrooge Nouveau on to the delights and horrors of ecology and, we are told, he would remind us physically of Al Gore and the Prince of Wales. This seemed to me at first a send-up of the corn-fuelled automobile and other modern environmental excesses, but Margaret Atwood, the intrepid and knowledgeable ornithologist of Point Pelee, seems to be putting in an appearance to celebrate Scrooge Nouveau’s double apotheosis. She laments the ecological imbalance between debt and credit, between what people have taken from the world and not put back. The world’s wealthiest 25 million people have more resources than the poorest two billion. This is a legitimate concern, but it will not provoke a revolution as Ms. Atwood suggests. Nor is it as much the fault of the International Monetary Fund as she says, inept though that organization has often been. The poor occasionally revolt, but never successfully. Only the middle and upper classes can do that. Louis XVI had 200,000 troops and agents collecting his salt tax, but Mirabeau, Marat, Danton and Robespierre, much less Napoleon, were not poor and were not much concerned for the poor. Rousseau was concerned for them, but he was not a revolutionary and died before the Revolution. As for the American revolution, it was staged and led by a few continentalist lawyers, merchants and land owners. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and the Adams were well-to-do, never spoke of the poor, and the Father of the Nation and the Champion of the Rights of Man could not quite bring themselves to emancipate their slaves in their lifetimes, although the Sage of Monticello was happy enough to procreate with them. The best way of lifting up the world’s poor is the continued adoption of market economics in China, India and Brazil, which contain over 40 percent of the world’s population, and which have been enjoying annual economic growth rates of nearly 10 percent, pulling scores of millions of people upward out of poverty each year. This too is a revolution of sorts, but apparently not what the author has in mind. The Spirit of Earth Day Future is a giant cockroach that shows Scrooge the coming spoliation of the world. All is chaos and misery, reminiscent of the Black Death. Scrooge Nouveau’s five wives are all peddling sexual favours in exchange for tinned sardines. Scrooge awakens and determines to fight the desolation portrayed by the Cockroach Spirit. The author then re-emerges and plays her green card, but can only give an ambivalent forecast as to which vision of the future will prevail. Payback is well written, even by Margaret Atwood’s very high standards, and is an etymological tour de force, although I don’t really see a straight line from the Egyptian Crocodile God to the Cockroach Spirit, and the economic-terrorists have oversold the green scare. But these are minor cavils; Payback is a stimulating, learned and stylish read from an eminent author writing from a heartfelt perspective.

Debt was a constant problem in all ancient civilizations, especially Rome, where the currency was constantly being debased and financial ethics were very deficient.


reverse, but Marlowe and Dickens lived 300 years apart, and writers can shake up a plot in that time. Dickens was writing a Christmas story, but was he, as Margaret Atwood claims, writing of the rebirth of the Infant Jesus and of the baby Scrooge? I don’t want to be weighed in the balance and found wanting in Christmas cheer and fidelity, but I find this a high hurdle. Surely Dickens’s purpose was more basic and more earthbound than that: Marley liberates Scrooge from his paranoid avarice, and Scrooge finds that jollity and minor acts of charity are more fun. Ms. Atwood treats us to a tour with the spirit of Earth Day Past, “a sententious girl, as such spirits tend to be,” first to Solon’s Athens and then to European society at the time of the Black Death, which she likens to a cat with a fur ball. (I believe that is technically called a phytobezoar.) Are we to take this as a feline payback or redemption, perhaps for the greedy apprehension of mice? The Black Death is a virus, punishing human excess and wastefulness, and Boccaccio’s Decameron and Albert Camus’s The Plague are invoked. Boccaccio might make it as divine punishment, but Camus’s plague was a metaphor for the Nazi occupation of France. Is Margaret Atwood adopting the Pétainist line that Nazi occupation offered the redemption of France from its inter-war sins? Surely not, but if so, what was the Liberation? In the last section of Payback, Scrooge is updated to a garish, oft-married parvenu, a caricature of the vulgar, modern, nouveau riche. The tour is a delight but again, at the risk of being a bit of a Marley, I think we have missed the nature of the real Scrooge. He was not immensely wealthy, nor was he a particularly creative or talented businessman. He was a chiseller, a miser, a cheapskate and a misanthrope. He was too nasty to pass as a curmudgeon, but a bit more “Bah! Humbug!” and he might have made it. He clung to every farthing, but he was not a great, daring capitalist. If he had been, he would have been more confident and indulgent, and self-indulgent. Scrooge McDuck, driving his

Literary Review of Canada

Beyond the Counting House How Canada developed a system of national accounts to explain our economy. ANDREW SHARPE

The Sum of the Satisfactions: Canada in the Age of National Accounting Duncan McDowall McGill-Queen’s University Press 328 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780773532885


o economic statistic is more woven into Canadians’ lives than the gross domestic product. Strong GDP growth means that the economy is performing well and incomes are rising, while falling GDP signals recession and layoffs. GDP matters, but the development of GDP and the national accounts—one of the 20th century’s great inventions according to Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson—is poorly understood, even by many economists. Carleton University historian Duncan McDowall therefore does a considerable service with his fascinating look at the development of national accounting in Canada, set within both its domestic and international contexts. Commissioned by Statistics Canada, The Sum of the Satisfactions: Canada in the Age of National Accounting bears a title based on the premise that satisfactions themselves cannot be measured and, therefore, money incomes, or the values of goods or services from which satisfactions are derived, must serve as a proxy. McDowall starts by discussing how Andrew Sharpe is executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards and the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, both based in Ottawa.

November 2008

the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, the forerunner of Statistics Canada, attempted to measure Canadian economic activity during the first four decades of the 20th century, before the development of the national accounts. He notes that the economic statistics of this period offered little insight into the workings of the national economy, making the DBS “a mere counting house” that could do little more than gauge trends in national wealth and production. The first rough stabs at a comprehensive national accounting framework were made in the 1930s and 1940s, at the time when Keynes was revolutionizing economic theory and researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States were conducting seminal research on how national income is produced, distributed and spent. These developments, particularly the approach devised in Britain,

to their social context and the personalities behind them. The poignant story of Agatha Chapman, a brilliant economist with left-wing sympathies caught up in the Gouzenko affair, is particularly memorable. The royal commission investigating the Gouzenko accusations contended that Chapman was a “cell leader” whose “actions were ‘prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State’.” But the judge ruled that the Crown failed to produce any persuasive evidence that Chapman was a Soviet agent or even a Soviet dupe and she was vindicated. Despite her innocence, after being tainted as a potential communist Chapman’s career as a DBS national accountant was over. McDowall then surveys the many “useful directions,” as he puts it, in which Canadian national accounts evolved during the post-war period, including social accounting, productivity analysis, input-output tables and analysis, the integration of the balance of payments with the national accounts, the estimation of fixed capital, the supply of statistics for econometric modelling of the national economy and the computerization of national accounting databases. In addition, he outlines how the system of national accounts shared by virtually all countries, including Canada, is constantly evolving, driven by both structural changes in the world economy and theoretical breakthroughs in economics. This complex international process— coordinated by the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on National Accounts, which is in turn overseen by the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, Eurostat and the United Nations— has led to major revisions released in 1968 and 1993, with an update expected in 2008. The national accounts have serious limitations as a measure of human welfare, limitations well recognized by national accountants themselves. Conventional national accounts shed little light on

During the 1940s and ’50s, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics devised new yardsticks that put Canada near the vanguard of international national accounting. were eagerly adapted to the Canadian context, with DBS economist George Luxton producing the first national income worksheets in 1944, one year before his tragic death from tuberculosis at age 30. During the 1940s and ’50s, the DBS devised new yardsticks that put Canada near the vanguard of international national accounting. In examining these innovations, McDowall gives rich attention

environmental degradation, income maldistribution or the contribution of unpaid work to wellbeing. Many attempts have been made to address these issues. McDowall highlights these limitations and the constant tension between the desire of national accountants to embrace new economic and social priorities while at the same time maintaining methodological consistency.


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McDowall congratulates the current generation of national accountants at Statistics Canada for their willingness to develop novel, innovative and experimental data sets that go beyond traditional national accounting definitions in such areas as unpaid work and the underground economy. I share this positive assessment. But because of the importance of credibility and Statistics Canadaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s role as an information provider, not an advocate for the societal change, there are significant limitations on how far Statistics Canada can go in devising new measures of well-being. For example, its unwillingness to assign weights to different variables for the construction of a composite index of economic well-being means that this type of innovation is best left to non-governmental groups. The Sum of the Satisfactions gives a sophisticated and nuanced history of the development of the national accounts in Canada within the framework of international national accounts, post-war Canadian economic policy and the constant tension between the desire of national accountants to innovate and their recognition of the methodological constraints in which they operate. McDowallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s extensive historical research, including numerous interviews of key participants, is particularly commendable, putting faces on the hitherto anonymous public servants who laboured to give Canada a world-class system of national accounts. He is well aware that the seminal contributions in the national accounting field were not made by Canadian economists. But he makes the case that Canadians have made major contributions to the field, and cites as examples the rectangular input-output tables, the satellite tourism account, regional disaggregation of economic activity and estimates of the valuation of unpaid work, among others. Unfortunately, except for the rectangular input-output table, McDowall does not document in a convincing and rigorous manner the impact of these contributions on international national accounting practice. The definitive study of the contributions of Canadians to the national accounting field remains to be done. Equally, McDowall continually stresses that Canada has one of the best and most comprehensive systems of national accounts in the world. This is likely true. But I would have liked to have seen more evidence. How do the national accounts series made available by Statistics Canada compare in number, length of time series and other criteria (timeliness, level of disaggregation, extent of revisions, etc.) to those of other OECD countries? McDowall points out the large revisions that GDP underwent in the 1970s, with loss of credibility for Statistics Canadaâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;for example, the original growth estimates for the first quarter of 1971 were revised upward from 2.3 percent to 9.2 percent! The result was an inappropriate overstimulation of the economy, with negative effects on economic performance. But McDowall fails to note that this same issue of large revisions returned for productivity statistics in the late 1990s. For example, Statistics Canada originally reported that business sector output per hour grew 0.7 percent annually between 1996 and 1999. By 2003, this estimate had increased to 2.8 percent. In contrast, the U.S. made a downward revision from 3.3 to 2.6 percent in the productivity growth estimates for the same period. Consequently, the initial, and highly influential, perception that Canada was lagging behind the United States in terms of productivity growth in the second half of the 1990s proved incorrect. By most measures, Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the world. Yet

paradoxically, we have a centralized statistical system, both from the perspectives of federal and provincnial levels of government. Provinces do have statistical offices, but they largely rely on the surveys conducted by Statistics Canada for their data. Other federal departments and agencies gather statistics, but these data-gathering exercises are small compared to those of Statistics Canada. This high degree of centralization in the collection of statistics has paid significant dividends for the country, benefits not realized by the three statistical agencies in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of the Census). Given the trend toward decentralization that has characterized the Canadian federation in recent decades, it would have been useful for McDowall to have discussed how responsibility for economic statistics, and the national accounts in particular, has remained highly centralized. This reviewer was struck by two traits in the backgrounds of the pioneers in national accounting in this country. The first was the large number trained in the Economics Department at McGill, reflecting its leading status for economic theory during the period. The second was the disproportionate number of Jewish background. As noted by McDowall, this appears to be related to the emphasis placed on competence in the recruiting of DBS employees, as may have not been the case elsewhere in the public service. The book contains a number of oversights. For example, McDowall correctly points out that Canada has punched above its weight in the national accountants club, the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth. Yet he fails to mention that this organization has been headquartered in Canada since 2005. He also fails to identify Karen Wilson as the current assistant chief statistician responsible for national accounts, a position she assumed well before the book went to press. McDowall also does not address the practical issues related to the fact that statistics in general, and national accounts estimates in particular, are a public good. In other words, once they have been produced, the marginal cost of making them available to the public is effectively zero. This means that their price should also be zeroâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a pricing policy followed by the vast majority of statistical agencies throughout the world, but not in Canada. Statistics Canada has long charged users, resulting in the underutilization of Canadian statistics, particularly by those outside academia and outside Canada. Steve Landefeld, director of the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, once noted that firms in the United States pay taxes and also expend resources in responding to surveys from statistical agencies. In his view, they would never accept to pay a third time for the data they had supplied and paid for and the U.S. statistical agencies would never ask them to. Yet Canadians still accept this third payment. Fortunately, common sense is beginning to prevail and Statistics Canada is providing free access to an increasing number of data sets, including national accounts data. But until free access to all CANSIM series is available, the benefits of the public-good nature of data will not be realized. Although this issue goes beyond national accounting, it merits McDowallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s attention. But as an invaluable record of the intellectual development of our key economic metric, this book is highly recommended to anyone wishing to gain an understanding of the development of national accounting in this country.

Literary Review of Canada

History Etched in Stone A new book takes readers on a tour of last resting places in Canada. MARIAN BOTSFORD FRASER

Old Canadian Cemeteries: Places of Memory Jane Irwin, photographs by John de Visser Firefly Books 320 pages, hardcover ISBN 9781554071463


f, like me, you are someone who does a Uturn on the highway when you catch a glimpse of an unpainted wooden sign crookedly pointing the way to a church down a dirt road; if, like me, you have crawled on your belly under a prickly wire fence in the pouring rain through long grasses and clouds of blackflies in the middle of nowhere to visit a forlorn little cemetery with a sternly padlocked gate; if, like me, you have stacks of photographs of cemeteries in every place in the world you have ever visited and a long list of favourite cemeteries in Canada, in places like rural Quebec, Jackson’s Point, Ontario, the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island, Resolute Bay in the Arctic—then despite its heft (weight and price), you will want to buy this book and keep it in your car or at the ready for when you set out on the briefest of road trips. Cemeteries are open-air cultural museums, art galleries and loci of historical record. In small communities especially, the cemetery is as important as a written document, a testament to a community that once existed, perhaps now vanished except for a collection of graves and careful epitaphs. One such cemetery (the one I crawled under the fence to get to) is the Krugerdorf Hebrew Cemetery near Engelhart, Ontario, which I had never known about when growing up in nearby Kirkland Lake, home to many of the cemetery’s inhabitants. One of the graves, decorated with the statue of a small spotted dog, is that of Roza Brown, one of the great colourful characters of early Kirkland Lake, and I am ashamed to say that it never occurred to me that she might be Jewish. I placed a pebble on the gravestone of a childhood friend. (What I learned from this book is that locked gates are characteristic of Jewish burial sites, where the protection of graves is a greater priority than “idle contemplation”; in the case of Krugerdorf, the Jewish community itself has disappeared, leaving only the cemetery as a marker.) Cemeteries are ironic. They celebrate a notion of immortality, the record of births and deaths carved in stone, feelings of loss and grief captured

in words and symbolic figures, elaborate marble monuments erected to the wealthy and famous. But all are subject to the tyranny of weather, and the words eventually fade from the granite into which they were deeply carved, erased as effortlessly as, if more slowly than, words scrawled with a stick into seaside sand. In some instances, the churches themselves disappear, leaving only the graveyard; in other cases, even the graveyards disappear, are rolled under for development, and only a handful of gravestones remain, pulled together on a small palette of concrete, in the corner of a farmer’s field. All of which makes this book not only handsome but valuable as a record in words and photographs of places that will not always be, although many of the large, important cemeteries and monuments are increasingly tended to, repairs are made, stones

symbols? And angels, much beloved in Roman Catholic cemeteries, and their Protestant—chastened, wingless—equivalent, Hope, who carried an anchor (Methodists often chose just the anchor). And mourners, almost always depicted as women: there is one exquisite photograph of a gravestone, in St. Boniface Cathedral Cemetery in Manitoba, with a bowed, shawled head over crossed arms on top of the stone, with one hand reaching out over the edge, holding a scroll bearing the epitaph: “À la douce memoire de…” One suspects that Irwin and de Visser could cheerfully have assembled a book twice as long, but for the practicalities of publication. Fortunately, there are thoughtful and not pedantic notes, a generous bibliography and a truly excellent index. There is also much information as well as pleasure to be gleaned from de Visser’s splendid photographs; there are leafy glades and angels (heartbroken, sunkissed, vertigrised) aplenty and shots of familiar images, such as the formal incinerator columns and altar at the Old Chinese Cemetery as close as possible to the water, facing south, in Victoria, or the “Carpenter Gothic” entrance gate to the Necropolis in my neighbourhood in Toronto. There is one chapter called simply “A Visual Tour” revelling in the drama of cemeteries at dawn, dusk, in fog and under snow and fallen leaves, and featuring the grave markers of the famous, such as Pierre Trudeau and Tim Horton, and unknown places such as the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hamilton, which appears to be populated by a multitude of bowed stone figures (wingless—are these “Hopes”? it does not say), all facing the same direction. But Irwin’s true love is words, and she finds many literary texts (Dickens, Munro, Laurence) as the basis for her contemplation of cemeteries. And those on the stones themselves are generously quoted; as Irwin notes, the words chosen for tombstones are rich in cultural and historical meaning. Like this, from the Old Methodist Burying Ground in Sackville, New Brunswick: Here Lays The Body Of Jacob Powley Who Gave Much Satisfaction Until The Last Period When He Sat in His Chair Facing The Door On The 21st day of June 2 o’clock Afternoon Year 1814 He Lay Down His head With Out a Struggle Or a Groan To Sleep In Silence Being Aged 69 yrs 8 M 7 Dys

In small communities, the cemetery is as important as a written document.

Marian Botsford Fraser is the author of Requiem for My Brother and the CBC Radio Ideas documentary “Ashes and Bones.”

November 2008

protected. Jane Irwin—bookseller, former English professor and an active local historian—is an ideal guide, articulate, knowledgeable, affable. The book is scrupulous in its attention to the burial traditions of a range of Canadians: aboriginal mounds and caves, the cemeteries of Methodists, Jews, Chinese and Japanese Canadians. There are chapters on changing cemetery styles (the huge influence of the English garden cemetery, preferably with “no flowers at all”) and evolving burial traditions, referring especially to cremation, which has become the norm; in North America, more than 50 percent of people are cremated; it is now the law in England and Japan. This shift to cremation and the scattering or back-garden burial of ashes also contributes to the demise of the cemetery as historical record; cemeteries, and what they have to tell us about our ancestors and history, have themselves become relics. But not much comment is made in this book of new traditions in cremation monuments or columbaria, even or especially in the large cemeteries, like Ross Bay in Victoria. (Cemeteries too require tenants.) Irwin properly includes many of the large public memorials in Canada, again some very familiar, such as the war memorials in Ottawa, but others less so, such as the lovely Inuit memorial in the Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton to those who died of tuberculosis in nearby sanitoriums and the mass grave of Métis, nine wooden crosses in the Batoche Cemetery in Saskatchewan, commemorating Riel’s Northwest Rebellion of 1885. My favourite section in the book is called “Reading Monuments.” For the lover of graveyards, what could be more perfect than iconography dissected—essays on skulls, doves, hand freemasonry


Eliminating the Caboose Technological advances need to override nostalgia and ideology in our healthcare system. MICHAEL B. DECTER

Who Killed the Queen? The Story of a Community Hospital and How to Fix Public Health Care Holly Dressel McGill-Queen’s University Press 479 pages, hardcover isbn 9780773533400 Critical to Care: The Invisible Women in Health Services Pat Armstrong, Hugh Armstrong and Krista Scott-Dixon University of Toronto Press 228 pages isbn 9780802093332, hardcover isbn 9780802096081, softcover


ealth care in Canada is a massive enterprise as well as a valued social program. More than $140 billion per annum, or 9.5 percent of our economy, is devoted to health care. More than one million Canadians get out of bed each morning and go to work in the healthcare system to look after the ill and infirm. Health reform has been an ongoing and important process for more than a decade. Yet there is far too little thoughtful analysis beyond the daily press. The relentless cry of health reform leaves many Canadians wondering what exactly is being reformed, why and with what results. Two quite different books ask what might seem to be unrelated questions: Holly Dressel’s Who Killed the Queen? The Story of a Community Hospital and How to Fix Public Health Care and Critical to Care: The Invisible Women in Health Services, by Pat Armstrong, Hugh Armstrong and Krista ScottDixon. Why did this particular Montreal hospital close? Who should we consider to be a healthcare worker? But the answers to these questions have their roots in the same period of reform. These two books examine from quite different vantage points the underpinnings of the great consolidation of health service delivery in the 1990s. Needing to cut government deficits and debts, both the government of Canada and the provincial governments squeezed overall government spending during that decade. These same governments appointed task forces and commissions to examine hospital and health services and to recommend changes Michael B. Decter has served as founding chair of the Health Council of Canada, chair of the Canadian Institute for Health Information and deputy minister of health for Ontario. He is the author of three books on Canadian health care, most recently Navigating Canada’s Health Care, co-authored with Francesca Grosso and published by Penguin in 2006.


to increase efficiency. The result was the closure of hospital beds in the early 1990s and the closure of many smaller hospitals in the mid and late 1990s. There were also significant staff cuts in nursing and other aspects of hospitals. Two of the ideas that guided 1990s hospital restructuring were the notion of core services and benchmarking of length of stay. These concepts, borrowed from management consulting and industrial process redesign, held that organizations should focus on their core competencies—in the case of hospitals, patient care—and that measurement should drive change. Activities deemed “non-core” should be eliminated, consolidated or outsourced to more efficient, specialized providers. And then everything should be benchmarked or subjected to a comparative measurement of performance. If Hospital A can perform hip replacements with an average length of stay of five days and Hospital B takes eight days, then benchmarking would lead to an effort to reduce Hospital B’s length of stay to five days. Shortening lengths of patient stay became the major undertaking of the day. In parallel with these ideas was the powerful reality of minimally invasive surgery and the resultant increase in same-day surgical procedures.


ho Killed the Queen? is the well-told and compelling tale of the Griffiths, father Alexander and his sons. Their opening of the Montreal Homeopathic Hospital of Montreal in 1894, later renamed the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was a reaction to the lack of acceptance of homeopathic medicine at the larger, older Montreal hospitals. Many readers will be surprised at the breadth of support for homeopathy in that era. Harold Griffith emerges as a pioneering leader in anesthesiology. His homeopathic training proved a source of insight into the impact of tiny quantities of chemicals on the human body. These insights in turn supported his innovations in the field of anesthesiology. In a lengthy chapter entitled “Medical Bills,” Dressel traces the evolution of hospital funding from the charity of the 1920s through the inception of medicare in the 1950s and ’60s. She presents thoughtfully the contrast between the Canadian and American approaches to funding health services, noting the opposition of the leadership of the Queen Elizabeth to universality. It is in the early 1990s that both the Queen and Holly Dressel go astray. By the early years of that decade the early spirit of creativity at the Queen had been replaced by, in Dressel’s own words, “stagnation.” She finds evidence for this in failed accreditations and mounting issues of quality. It was a bad time for the Queen to have drifted from its historical tradition of concern for the patient and innovation. Closing a hospital is the most difficult task facing any government or elected politician. It is not a

decision taken lightly or before all other possibilities have been explored and exhausted. Yet in the 1990s elected Canadian leaders of all political stripes— from New Democrat Roy Romanow in medicare’s heartland of Saskatchewan to Conservative Mike Harris in Ontario to Liberal Jean Rochon, Quebec’s highly knowledgeable health minister—all closed small hospitals. Why? V.S. Naipaul wrote in his novel A Bend in the River that “the world is what it is: men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” His harsh assessment of life is true of nations and hospitals. By the early 1990s Canada had achieved the dubious distinction of being the most indebted nation in the G8. Our largest government spending program was not medicare but the payment of interest to bond holders. In a changing world, Canada, along with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, drifted toward the loss of control of its own destiny. Fortunately, political courage was shown by Finance Minister Paul Martin and fully supported by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. The federal budget was balanced through expenditure cuts, including reduced transfers to the provinces for health care. The provincial governments took steps to slow the rate of healthcare spending, one of the early consequences being the closure of hospital beds. Later the closure of a number of hospitals also occurred, among them the Queen. Dressel’s explanation for the Queen’s and other closures is that misguided politicians and government officials blinded by deficit concerns recklessly set about to dismantle the hospitals of Canada. She then concludes her book by declaring “we should all get tears in our eyes when we think about how a full 20 percent of Canada’s hospital system was destroyed in 1995.” She substitutes her affection and nostalgia for one hospital for an understanding of the bigger picture. Dressel goes on to invoke “the basic physical laws of this planet.” One can only deduce that she believes that the 1994 bed complement of Canadian hospitals, like Avogadro’s number or the boiling point of water, is some necessary and natural constant of the universe. Fortunately, the democratically elected leaders of our nation and our provinces allowed the evidence of better care for patients based on less invasive surgery to guide their decisions. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, between 1994/95 and 2005/06 the number of inpatient days—hospitals stays requiring an overnight stay—declined by 13 percent. In the same eleven-year period, the total number of surgeries performed by Canadian hospitals increased by 17 percent. How was this possible? The number of day surgeries increased by 31 percent while the number of inpatient surgeries decreased by 17 percent. The advance of minimally invasive surgery

Literary Review of Canada

has been the central driver of the trend to shorter lengths of stay. These trends are remarkably consistent across many nations, suggesting that technology was the driver of the direction of change, with cutbacks clearly dictating its timing and pace. The pivotal fact that Dressel pays little attention to is that remarkable technological change transformed healthcare services in the 1990s. It was scientific progress that killed the Queen. In the same way we were able to close sanitariums set up for the isolation and treatment of those with tuberculosis a generation ago; in the same way that polio was transformed from a horrific epidemic to somethig preventable by a vaccination, as much as 80 percent of all surgery in Canada moved in a decade to sameday surgery. Here is the smoking gun: advances in science. This omission is particularly ironic given the space devoted in Dressel’s book to covering advances in laparoscopic surgery pioneered at the Queen and the leadership role of Dr. Harold Griffith and others. It is ironic because the widespread adoption of laparoscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery, brought about dramatic efficiencies in patient care and the closure of millions of hospital beds worldwide. To read Holly Dressel’s book is to be bombarded by a right–left struggle in which the right triumphs. Given the destructive events catalogued in Who Killed the Queen?, one would imagine that public health care in Canada must be a shambles. It would be hard to believe the reality that tens of billions of dollars are being invested over ten years to modernize Canada’s hospitals, that the diagnostic infrastructure has been modernized so that Canadians can access much more rapid diagnoses using MRIs and CAT scans, and that wait times are being reduced in every province in Canada through the reinvestment of $41 billion by the federal government through the 2004 First Ministers’ Health Accord and through increased investment by provincial governments. Here is where I agree with Holly Dressel—and these are important agreements. We know too little about the type of teamwork that promotes caring. We need to understand her “teeny bits of excellence” better: bigger in hospitals is not always better. Her chapter on “Social Pathologies” contains a powerful analysis of the tidal wave of drug marketing that affects both patient and provider. And I also admire her energy and hard work in researching and writing a lengthy, well-constructed work.

fully researched. Yet the values and views of its coauthors are clear and forcefully stated. The question of who is a health worker is loaded with significance for the authors. Their book is a lengthy argument for including all ancillary workers—kitchen staff and cleaners primarily—as part of the “health team” and therefore “critical to care.” It is also powerful advocacy for considering the importance of all health workers to the maintenance of safety and infection control in the hospital setting. In the 1990s, as a result of examining what is essential, reformers drew a line between clinical services, which were valued and preserved, and support services, which could be eliminated, downsized or outsourced. Medicare was, in a tough

workers is that it implies much more than inclusion in facility-wide efforts. The authors would like to move to much greater reliance on collective bargaining. There are large and uncalculated costs to such a move. As well there is the considerable downside of rigidity and increased complexity in work organization associated with complete unionization of a sector. Inter-union battles over ownership of work are another potentially negative feature. Very high levels of unionization in the broader health sector will present greater barriers to the changes needed for sustainability. When the Canadian National Railways led by Paul Tellier moved to end the caboose as a feature of every train in Canada, there was enormous resistance to the shedding of the redundant personnel who staffed the cabooses and their bargaining agents. Yet technology had rendered the caboose an expensive, unnecessary anachronism. Technology has the essential trait of eliminating old work. This is true in health care as in railways. New vaccines did away with wards filled with polio patients. New medications and knowledge closed the sanatoriums for tuberculosis patients. Minimally invasive surgery and better medications closed millions of hospital beds worldwide and allowed resources to flow to prevention and treatment rather than the hotel function of hospitals. Kidney stones that required surgery are now smashed by sound waves in lithotripsy machines. Exploratory surgery has been displaced by better imaging technology. As a society we need to accelerate a process that prevents illness or speeds its treatment rather than waxing nostalgic about the historic institutions of the treatment system or old and bureaucratic forms of labour organization. In the absence of evidence and performance measurement many arguments advanced in health care, passionately held as they may be, are simply claims. The effort to move the management of healthcare services from an era governed largely by history and politics to one based on evidence and patient outcomes is ongoing. While not easy reading, both these books are passionately argued by thoughtful and committed authors. Whatever faults found should not dissuade readers from looking at each of these books and making up their own minds.

In the absence of evidence and performance measurement many arguments advanced in health care, passionately held as they may be, are simply claims.


here are sound health reasons for preferring shorter hospital visits. An array of recent studies, led by the “Canadian Adverse Events Study: The Incidence of Adverse Events among Hospital Patients in Canada” by Ross Baker and Peter Norton and their colleagues, has revealed the dangers of hospital stays. Some 9,000 to 23,000 Canadians die prematurely each year because of preventable adverse events in hospitals, many of which are due to hospital-acquired infections. Most recently hospitals have reported hundreds of deaths from C. difficile. Critical to Care is a more daunting read than Dressel’s book, with the safety and cleanliness of hospitals a central theme. The book is academic in its construction and relies heavily on statistical work on the health labour force. As I have come to expect from previous works by Hugh and Pat Armstrong, the book is thoroughly and thought-

November 2008

time, viewed as medical care, and cleaning, for example, was viewed as an ancillary service and afforded the status of a cost centre to be reduced wherever possible. Clearly hospitals delivering a far greater percentage of services in an ambulatory setting require far fewer patient meals. Significant downsizing was well justified by reduced work in parts of the hospital. However, issues of cleanliness and infection control have proven difficult to manage and they require action and vigilance by all staff, not just clinical staff. However, as Critical to Care powerfully illustrates through detailed interviews, hospitals are complicated labour environments with complex collective agreements that require extremely detailed management. The book’s point is that we under-appreciate the frontline managers and staff coping with this complexity. This is a fair and wellsupported point about the current organization of hospital work. But this reviewer wonders whether bargaining to achieve fewer job classifications and much simpler work rules would serve the patient better than accepting the existing situation. Sadly the history of collective bargaining has little tendency toward simpler more manageable agreements or much concern for patient care. The book is at its most forceful when detailing the failures of various reform efforts. Many reforms are gathered by the authors into the category of privatization and dismissed as failures. Privatization is a label the authors apply to everything from the contracting of health services to the introduction of competition among not-for-profit healthcare providers. This analysis is a little simplistic and unhelpful. Armstrong, Armstrong and ScottDixon ignore two decades of British experience with internal markets under both Conservative and Labour prime ministers and a wealth of evidence about improved outcomes. In their enthusiasm for opposing full privatization, their condemnation of all efforts to introduce more responsiveness into bureaucratic command-and-control hierarchies is too sweeping. The strength of Critical to Care is that by casting a wide definition of who is a healthcare worker the authors capture the important reality that all those who work in a hospital can contribute to its safety. The central problem with the hypothesis that all those employed in the health sector are healthcare

RELATED BOOKS Health Services Restructuring in Canada: New Evidence and New Directions Charles M. Beach, Richard P. Chaykowski, Sam Shortt, France St. Hilaire and Arthur Sweetman, editors McGill-Queen’s University Press

Riding the Third Rail: The Story of Ontario’s Health Services Restructuring Commission Duncan Sinclair, Mark Rochon and Peggy Leatt McGill-Queen’s University Press


Tabloid Science Does a personal approach to scientists’ lives help explain quantum physics? MÉLANIE FRAPPIER

The Quantum Ten: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition and Science Sheilla Jones Thomas Allen Publishers 323 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780887623318


ossiping can be great fun. This is why celebrity magazines religiously update us on the lives of Brad and Angelina. But gossip can also be misleading. For example, if I were to infer from the tabloids’ reports of twin births (from Julia Roberts’s to Jennifer Lopez’s to, yes, Angelina Jolie’s), I would conclude that every other birth involves twins. But let’s compare Hollywood stars with the ten men Canadian journalist Sheilla Jones selects in her history of quantum physics, The Quantum Ten: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition and Science, as the physicists who had the greatest impact on the discipline: Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Paul Ehrenfest, Max Born, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac and Pascual Jordan. As far as I know, only Heisenberg had twins or, as Pauli put it, managed a “pair creation” (a typical physicist joke: the term “pair creation” refers to the simultaneous production of a particle and its antiparticle). I did not learn about Heisenberg’s twins in The Quantum Ten, probably because Jones only covers the story of quantum physics up to the 1927 Solvay conference where Nobel Prize winners Werner Heisenberg and Max Born solemnly decreed that quantum physics was complete, while Wolfgang and Maria, the twins, were born a decade later. But I did learn a lot more about the personal lives of these ten physicists than I expected. The book’s subtitle does not lie. At the forefront of this tale are the romantic affairs of these physicists (and of their wives), the deaths that darkened their existences—among which are two disturbing murdersuicides—and oppressive parents who made these men awfully talented, yet often awkward characters. Who needs gossip columns when you can get all of this from a history of 20th-century physics? Mélanie Frappier teaches the history of science and technology at the University of King’s College, Halifax, trying to convince her students that, like the rest of the universe, modern science is subject to the uncertainty principle.


Surprised? I certainly was, for I expected an utterly different book after its provocative introduction, “The Regression of Science,” where Jones claims “theoretical physics is in trouble”—and she is talking here about more serious trouble than Pauli’s drinking binges. More than 80 years after the formalization of quantum physics, the quantum world still bewilders scientists. Admittedly, on its own, quantum physics is weird enough. It talks of a world where corpuscles move like waves and where special pairs of particles, those we call entangled, apparently act instantaneously on one another even when separated by light years. But if you add to this Einstein’s relativity, the other theory modern physics gave us, things get catastrophic. Relativity absolutely prohibits any action at a distance between any particles, entangled or not, for this would imply something propagating faster than light. Unless one is schizophrenic, it is impossible to simultaneously hold both quantum physics and relativity as true descriptions of the world. Some still think that there is hope. Well, sort of. Once worked out, string theory could very well be the leading theory of everything. This is so exciting that we may forget all about the small footnote: “be aware that string theory cannot be experimentally tested.” This, not Einstein’s illegitimate daughter, is the real scandal of physics, as Jones makes clear in her introduction. Think about it: scientific claims that cannot be tested, claims that are about what happens beyond the observable. Arguably, that is called metaphysics (literally “beyond physics”) and metaphysics is philosophy, not physics. As a philosopher of physics, I find this prospect very exciting. But it is also a little scary. Physicists have not dared to express so much confidence in pure thought since the déconfiture of Descartes’ physics, when, from “clear” and “distinct” ideas rather than the muddy sense data Englishmen kept bringing back, the great French philosopher concluded that the Earth was simultaneously at

rest and moving around the sun. Clearly and distinctly moving and at rest at the same time? No wonder physicists are a bit nervous about string theory, which claims that everything we observe is due to the vibrations, in a tendimension space-time, of strings smaller than the smallest particles we know about. As Jones reminds us, even Brian Greene, the famous author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, believes that unless we find the way to experimentally verify string theory, the latter will be nothing more than “an elaborate game of Dungeons and Dragons.” How did physicists get themselves in such a perilous situation? Jones’s hypothesis, and the motivation behind The Quantum Ten, is that it all started with quantum physics. Even Einstein, she says, developed his outrageous relativity theory following the “long-standing” scientific method: 1) developing a hypothesis, 2) expressing it in a mathematical formula that leads to verifiable predictions and 3) experimentally testing the hypothesis. However, Jones argues, physicists soon abandoned Einstein’s approach to physics for one increasingly relying on mathematics and foregoing experiments and, perhaps more importantly, hypotheses. Why? The fundamental reason, Jones proposes, is that at the turn of the 20th century, physicists discovered “a strange new atomic realm with bizarre rules that were impossible to visualize.” The strangeness of quantum phenomena, Jones suggests, forced physicists to rely increasingly on mathematics. How else could one talk, for example, about electrons disappearing from one location only to immediately appear at another? If this is where you generally get cold feet, don’t worry. From Planck’s quantum to the infamous BKS theory to the puzzling uncertainty principle, Jones’s discussion of the scientific landmarks of quantum physics is compelling and clear and will make the most math-phobic people feel they have mastered the most abstract theoretical concepts early 20thcentury physics has to offer. This said, with the help of the engaging explanations in The Quantum Ten, you may very well still conclude that, in the end, quantum physics does not really explain atomic phenomena. You may want to conclude, with Jones, that “for some of the

Literary Review of Canada

quantum revolutionaries, it wasn’t necessary to be able to visualize the quantum world as long as their calculations matched experimental results.” Since quantum physics, Jones suggests, this disregard for theories that would explain the world in favour of mathematical formalisms merely predicting phenomena has grown in importance, leading to string theory, which not only cannot be visualized but cannot be tested either. Did physics have to develop into these highly abstract theories that cannot be tested? The fact is we do not know. One reason why we are still uncertain about how to interpret even quantum physics—let alone string theory—is that the recent history of physics has shown that the development of quantum theory has not been the rational, calm, objective and lucid enterprise we once took it to be. There are two reasons why physics did not progress as rationally as we might have hoped it would. First, we do not know the ultimate reality of things and so always advance blindly when developing new theories. Second … well, let’s put it this way: scientists are sometimes overconfident, ambitious and stubborn and thus rush to conclusions that depend more on their prejudices than on empirical evidence. It is this second situation that Jones explores in The Quantum Ten. Her lively narrative shows that she is not merely an engaging popular science writer but also an excellent storyteller. Through the unifying thread of the life of Paul Ehrenfest, a relatively unknown, self-doubting physicist, but a personal friend of Nobel Prize winners such as Einstein and Bohr, Jones weaves an insightful story of the friendships, dissention, fears and rivalries that marked the development of quantum physics, from the inception of the notion of quantum by Max Planck to the “quantum showdown” of the 1927 Solvay conference. I confess, reading about the celebrity the young Niels Bohr enjoyed as an upcoming Danish David Beckham was fun. I also admit that sometimes knowing more about the specific ambitions or personal situations of physicists explained, at least in part, their reactions to the developments of quantum physics. One cannot deny that Heisenberg’s forceful defence of his version of quantum physics against Schrödinger’s was strongly dictated by the fact that his apparent contribution to physics would eventually decide whether he would land the professorship he desired. Whether or not Schrödinger’s interest in pre-nubile women is relevant to this development is another story—one I would rather not have inquired into. I admit that even glancing at the inescapable front pages of tabloids when waiting at the cash register of a grocery store makes me feel nosy. I felt the same way reading The Quantum Ten. Maybe this is just rationalized snobbery, but I think that the personal tragedies and joys of superstars, politicians, musicians and even scientists are largely irrelevant to what they contribute to my life and society in general and that consequently I have no right to pry into their private lives. By examining the character and personal lives of physicists, Jones is following an important trend in the history of science that focuses on the rhetoric of science and the personal motivations of its practitioners. This approach has recently brought much-needed insights into the evolution of scientific networks and their impact on the development of science. But it is a method that should be used

sparingly, as it hides the philosophical and methodological motivations behind scientists’ decisions when applied too liberally. Jones, for example, suggests that, blinded by dreams of glory, young physicists of the 1920s, such as Heisenberg, put aside Einstein’s hypothesisprediction-test method in favour of easier-todevelop mathematical formalisms that could make predictions about the world, but could not truly explain it. Heisenberg’s ambition played a large role in the aggressiveness he displayed toward the competitors

come together. Nothing, surely, could be missing. Well, Heisenberg was a bit overconfident—but certainly not more than Einstein was about his general theory of relativity. When asked what his reaction would have been if the first results testing the theory had contradicted his predictions, Einstein famously replied: “Then I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct.” Compared to Einstein’s, Heisenberg’s conviction of the validity of the over-confirmed quantum mechanics seems almost faint-hearted. More importantly, for our purpose, Einstein’s reaction shows that the belief in highly abstract theoretical work that is found today in string theory is not something that was seeded by the quantum theorists of the late 1920s, as suggested by the storyline in The Quantum Ten. Its historical and philosophical roots are more various and go a lot deeper than this. Such an analysis, of course, would be too long and complex for the kind of introductory book The Quantum Ten aims to be. If you are curious about modern physics but do not have the time to read many biographies and history books about the fascinating people its founders were, and if you like gossip (whether you are ready to admit it or not), The Quantum Ten might very well be the introduction to quantum physics you have been looking for.

Scientists are sometimes overconfident, ambitious and stubborn and thus rush to conclusions that depend more on their prejudices than on empirical evidence.

November 2008

of his quantum mechanics. This does not mean, however, that he necessarily offered a botched or unmotivated theory of quantum physics. Jones does not imply anything like this—far from it. But her narrative’s insistence on the personal motivations of quantum physicists and their personal disagreements often makes us forget the philosophical convictions they shared. As Robert DiSalle pointed out, far from rejecting Einstein’s approach to physics, Heisenberg was in fact consciously trying to emulate the latter’s methodology when he decided to introduce only observable quantities in his quantum mechanics, remembering that in Einstein’s first paper on special relativity he had claimed that physical concepts needed to be defined by the way we measure them. Heisenberg must have been quite shocked when Einstein told him that, while he may have made use of this kind of philosophy in his earlier days, it was nonetheless “nonsense.” The fact is, Einstein added, that it is not our observations that tell us what the theory should be like. Rather, it is the theory that “decides what one can observe.” Heisenberg must have felt like Luke Skywalker after Yoda told him “named must your fear be before banish it you can.” What could this mean? Well, the Force must have been with Heisenberg, because it took him but a few months to realize that what Einstein meant was that in order to understand what quantum mechanics was about, it was necessary first to understand how the theory forces us to rethink the phenomena we observe. Applied to quantum physics, this exercise led Heisenberg directly to the uncertainty principle that revealed to him something totally unexpected: no experiment can prove that objects always have a definite position and velocity. There is always a small, but unavoidable, indeterminacy in our measurements. Imagine his reaction when he realized he could actually derive this result from the formalism of quantum mechanics! Heisenberg must have thought that, this time, he had it right. He now had both a mathematical formalism that made accurate predictions and a philosophical argument for why quantum concepts were better than “ordinary” ones: they embedded fewer prejudices about nature. This, he thought, was the quantum equivalent to Einstein’s redefinition of time after his recognition that we cannot synchronize all the clocks in the universe. That Einstein was not convinced was one thing, but it did not mean that Heisenberg did not have a good reason to think that quantum mechanics was as good a theory as relativity. Both experiment and theory had finally

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Regret: For Joaquin The wind makes the leaves sound like sheaves of paper rustling as the pages of a book are flipped, then like the ocean, waves lapping to the shore of my regret. The book cannot be studied, for its pages are uncut — temperance for the blind. I cannot find you, though I see your face on the internet. You are lost to me, and in an attempt to avoid sounding like a stereotype, I place mother-of-pearl, heart-shaped, inside the shell of our memory, coat its sheen with saliva until the article which forms is too big for my mouth. I spit it out, create another, end up with a whole plateful of sad, silver, heart-shaped pearls which no one wants. I glue them to the cover of the book, cut the pages and turn them, in hopes of a good story. The pages are empty. The pearls are unwanted. The sound of the ocean is just a slight breeze — there is no water to be found, no glimpse of blue anywhere. The only thing the wind brings me is sound, and I have been deaf for years. The echo of your love still rings in my ears.

Julie Mahfood Julie Mahfood is a writer and editor, born in Kingston, Jamaica, now living near Montreal where she hosts WIRE, a quarterly reading series for Montreal’s West Island writers. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Room, carte blanche and Telling Stories: New English Stories from Quebec, and on the CD DuBref Session 1: Spoken Word Anthology. Currently, Julie is reading The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry edited by Carmine Starnino and The Silver Palace Restaurant and Blue Sand, Blue Moon by Mark Abley.

You Would Think You would think, would you not, that you and I, with all that we’ve been given, would be capable of understanding? Take the paved road for instance in the aftermath of rain, or you stepping from the shower in a steam-covered mirror. You would think that your reflection was enough. •

You say you see me driving, rain falling in the tiniest of pieces, the windscreen wipers spreading darkness, until I am no longer visible. You claim you offer me light and I refuse. •

I think I find you blindfolded, groping your way through the bathroom the accidental touch of switches the fan turning on and off. I pause, hold back the gift of sight. Take the bed for instance that I lay on while you stumbled through the mist, the sheets white beneath me, my eyes closed tight. You would think, would you not, that sleep was possible? •

Neither of us, it seems, can recall the moment the rain stopped. You claim the road was always dry. I look in the clearest of mirrors, I see you behind blindfold in hand, but you are not there. You offer me your absence. •

Some other time we will learn, will we not, that what we have been given is not enough? Say it and I will listen Listen I can hear you say it.

Gerard Beirne Gerard Beirne is an Irish writer who has lived in Canada for more than ten years. He has recently been appointed writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick for 2008/09. His collection of poems Digging My Own Grave (Dedalus Press, 1997) won second prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award. His novel The Eskimo in the Net (Marion Boyars Publishers, 2003) was short listed for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. His story Sightings of Bono was adapted into a short film featuring Bono. He is currently reading Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards and Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction by Charles Baxter.


Literary Review of Canada

Camille I. La Danaide

II. Le Baiser

III. Sakuntala

My back curves, the scapula releasing like wings from the imprisoning

Two bodies.

Alone at forty, no money, no food, I cast Sakuntala in bronze.

marble. Muscles slide over ribs to the jut of hips. Ripples of long hair spill into rock.

I long to stroke his back the soft deep groove from neck to ass. His hand holds the hollow of my hip.

See how he loved me once. I was the Danaide, the Greek nymph. I was Eve. But there was also Rose, his mistress.

I pull him towards me, my leg angles my body closer. Fused marble.

How he feared us. Rodin captured me, turned me to stone, freezing flesh into immobile motion. See how I bend for him.

One kiss banished the lovers to the second circle of hell. I wish I could banish Rodin as easily.

Conscience That tiny voice that bites like bit and spurs you on whenever stopping by woods on snowy evenings. The blank verse of Mrs. Macbeth in your ear, stage-left, or smaller more portable Lucifer who epaulets your left shoulder, or chorus of voices in mouldy textbooks that try in vain to warn us. The Romans. The news from poems.

Jason Guriel Jason Guriel is the recipient of the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine. His next book of poems will be published by Véhicule Press in 2009. He is currently reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

November 2008

as apology does

An abandoned woman waits in a hermitage. The ancient king kneels and wraps withered arms around her. She presses her cheek to his. Rodin feared me. Lover. Muse. Never equal. Locked in my studio, a pale light flickering, I smashed my statues so he could not steal them.

Kat Cameron Kat Cameron’s fiction and poetry have appeared in CV2, Descant, Prairie Fire, PRISM international and South Dakota Review. With an MA in creative writing from the University of New Brunswick, she teaches English at Concordia University College. At the moment, she is reading Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay and Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival and Ted Hughes’s Doomed Love by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev.

necklaces, scarves, umbrellas hats, gloves, socks watches in the lost and found department among trinkets in a box of sorrowing beads names drifting in a stream of words a debris of words during a recent shower during a small momentary flood in this indelicate place the word “integrity” one so dear friend wore on his lapel or in his heart how is one ever to know except that integrity is lost neither by deluge nor judgement

Joy Kogawa Joy Kogawa is working on a novel or memoir entitled Gently to Nagasaki. She lives in Toronto. She has been reading Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman.


The Cree in Crisis A novel laments the loss of traditions from one generation to the next. JASON RANON URI ROTSTEIN

Through Black Spruce Joseph Boyden Viking Canada 352 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780670063635


oseph Boyden’s trademark is telling stories of the dispossessed. His writing celebrates the narration of the lives of the violated and the unreachable. He manages to bring these stories within our grasp through humane but extreme portrayals of flawed heroes. Moosonee, the setting in Through Black Spruce, a place likely unknown to most readers, is a place where Boyden has poked around before—in Three Day Road—and it is a place that he will likely return to again in his fiction. The place may not be the remembrance for the author personally of an ur-home, but it is an outpost and a fount to his fiction. Boyden, of Irish, Scottish and Métis roots and a teacher of writing at the University of New Orleans, seems to gravitate to residences on the edge or intersection of cultures—as is clear from a recent article in Maclean’s where Boyden expatiated on the frontier of James Bay in Ontario as a political and environmental “fault line.” Moosonee, located just south of James Bay on the Moose River and home to a community largely of Cree, seems like the centre of the earth in Through Black Spruce. It is to Boyden’s credit that he is able to make the environs of James Bay breathe and bustle with life and appear, as Thomas Hardy does with the heartland of the Wessex countryside, to encompass entire worlds. The focus on Moosonee—the largest wetland area on the planet, it should be said—is less about physical boundaries and more about cultural ones. Just as Boyden lobbies in the pages of Maclean’s for a greater awareness of the Ontario Power Authority’s plans to fleece the region of James Bay for its hydroelectric power, he writes in Through Black Spruce about the deep cultural incursions that come to define a region and

the markers of cultural pride and preservation that run so deep in and around James Bay. Part of what gives Boyden his increasing power and relevance in the contemporary world is the perpetual flood of crisis to which he exposes his characters. Crisis as a specific term is rarely alluded to, but its implications seem ubiquitous and are confronted continuously by his characters, even if sometimes only in their dreams and visions or in drunken whispers in the wind. Boyden’s acclaimed gifts as a storyteller can be traced to the very exertion of this effect on his characters. He is often read less as an artist than as an advocate, because of his tireless effort to extend sympathy to new and unexpressed points of human sensitivity. The novel Through Black Spruce is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of two distinct

On the other end we have Annie Bird, Will’s second niece. She is sister to the miraculously beautiful Suzanne Bird, who left Moosonee with her boyfriend Gus Netmaker to live the glamorous life of a model in Toronto, Montreal and New York. When Suzanne goes missing, Annie sets out looking for her. While on her travels, Annie finds herself following in the footsteps of her sister, eventually working as a model, sometimes inadvertently and at other times intentionally impersonating Suzanne at the A-list parties and casting calls that she frequents. Along the way Annie confronts drugs, violence and her urban Indian brethren as she tries to find her own identity and step out of her sister’s shadow. The book suffers palpably, however, as a work of art and a statement of Cree culture, in the sacrifices Boyden makes, cavalierly at times, to ensure the accessibility of his work to contemporary audiences. Throughout the peregrination of plot from Moosonee to the maelstrom of urban encounters with drugs and DJs, we are compelled to wonder about the corresponding costs involved in bringing the Cree world to the city, in a sense commodifying and packaging it. The book does not engage with these issues; instead, the lengthy tome is content with making the “trip” seem entertaining and readable. We are left contemplating the compromises of what was meant to be an honest attempt at the representation of an integrated picture of Cree identity in the 21st century. What holds the narrative together, though, is Boyden’s singular handling of the Cree material. Through act of enchantment alone Boyden speaks in a unique language, one that is resolutely attendant and sensitive to the simple yet subtle symbolic patterns of Cree speech:

Boyden makes the environs of James Bay breathe and bustle with life. narrators. One is the Moosonee Cree uncle, Will Bird, the other his niece, Annie Bird. The narratives take the form of diaries or letters, but they are at the same time a kind of last will and testament, an appeal for closer community and an intergenerational dialogue. We do not learn until later that these entries are ostensibly instigated by the injuries, indeed the coma that Will Bird incurs in coming to the aid of his nieces in martyr-like fashion. It is eventually the spoken reality of Annie’s words—words that provide the apparent proof of a

Crisis confronts his characters, even if only in their dreams and visions or in drunken whispers in the wind.

Jason Ranon Uri Rotstein is poetry editor of the Jewish Quarterly in London, England, and a regular contributor to the book section of The Globe and Mail. He currently lives in Toronto.


continued Cree oral tradition—that is able to revive and resuscitate Will’s spirit. At the metaphorical level, the story is about the challenges inherent in passing tradition on through generations—particularly in an era when Moosonee Cree relate to themselves in English using alien labels such as Indian and Cree. The story runs as follows: Will Bird, the flawed protagonist, is an over-the-hill Moosonee Cree alcoholic, a former bush pilot, hunter and trapper who has never really left Moosonee and who has seen all of what he possessed—including his wife and children—taken. He feels “absolutely alone,” that is, until he gets dragged into a family vendetta involving his nieces at the same time as he is trying to be that great bearer of tradition to the next generation represented now by those very nieces.

Something I rarely tell anyone is that I’m left with fractured images of people I recognize, and sometimes don’t, floating around my head, like memories of experiences I’ve really had. It’s like seeing those memories in a mirror that has been smashed on the floor. It’s up to me to bend down and pick them up and try to reassemble them into a reflection that makes sense. Boyden’s ritual attendance to this memory is the legacy of this book.

Literary Review of Canada

Cross-Racial Tragedy A white writer uses an incendiary Native event purely as backdrop. RICHARD WAGAMESE

The Retreat David Bergen McClelland and Stewart 321 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780771012532


n the summer of 1974, Ojibway militants occupied Anicinabe Park in Kenora, Ontario. From July 22 to August 8, they stood behind barricades pressing for action on a long list of grievances and, until the Oka crisis of 1990, it was the longest continuous armed protest by Canada’s Native people. The small northern mill town of Kenora, surrounded by Ojibway reservations, had been called Alabama North by Native peoples for its long history of racial intolerance. Indeed, the relationship between red and white was a tense and strained one, long before the summer of 1974. An armed Ojibway resistance did nothing to improve it. Canadians had been rocked by the 71-day siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the year before. There, the American Indian Movement had engaged in firefights with police, the FBI and militia. Fears that something similar could occur in their own backyard stirred national anxiety in this country. Negotiating Native issues at the barrel of a gun was not something mainstream Canada and the town of Kenora itself were prepared for. It was a turbulent time. Emotions ran high. The threat of violence, of bombings, of firefights, was a strain on everyone. For the working class population of Kenora and the poverty-stricken Ojibway communities that surrounded it, the summer of 1974 was a boiler plate of racial unease, mistrust and fear. So it is interesting that Giller Prize winner David Bergen should choose to set his new novel there. The Retreat leans heavily on the event but presents little of the racial tension that could be smelled in the air like cordite. Instead of getting a sense of what it was like that summer, the reader comes away with no clear impression at all, but a confusion that results from Bergen’s frequent shifting from one story to another.

In the beginning, it is the story of Raymond Seymour, an 18-year-old Ojibway kid who makes the tragic mistake of dating the daughter of a prominent Kenora businessman. The girl’s uncle, a vindictive and racist town constable, objects and maroons Raymond on a small island in the middle of the Lake of the Woods. The boy barely manages to survive and get back to town. Next it becomes the story of the Byrd family. A year later and square in the summer of unrest, the matriarch of the family hauls them to Kenora to attend a commune, the retreat of the book’s title, run by a guru-like character named Doctor Amos. The family is conflicted by her secret need and desire to be there. The turmoil they feel and the resentment at being uprooted without explanation are then waylaid by the next storyline. The third tangent centres on Lizzy Byrd, the eldest of the children. When she meets Raymond, who by now is delivering chickens to the retreat from his isolated cabin, she is captivated. They begin a romantic entanglement that is compromised by the presence of Raymond’s brother, Nelson. Nelson had been taken away and settled into a religious white family for ten years. He is educated

Leaving them as mere plot devices is this novel’s great failing. Bergen does this because he is set on telling the story of Raymond and Lizzy. But we know it is a tragedy from the outset and when it finally happens, no one is surprised. It is a letdown really, because Bergen is a good writer who deftly analyzes the psychology of relationships with subtle detail and nuance. Here, however, the strand omitted from the weave is the standoff in the park and its effect on the minds, spirits and lives of the people who were close to it. No one was untouched by it. Undeveloped, it sits there on the page like a frustrated militant: brooding, petulant, begging to be told. Kenora in the summer of 1974 was a place crackling with the heat of pent-up resentment. For years, the store owners of Main Street had set sharpened iron spikes on angles on their window ledges to discourage the Ojibway from congregating there. One hotel barroom had a line across the floor dividing the white side from the Indian side. To step across that line was an invitation to the back alley, known as Moccasin Square Garden in Kenora lore. Gangs of white men would ramble about in pickup trucks to beat drunken Native people and leave them in the bushes. The town police cells were filled with Ojibway and the notoriously racist provincial court magistrate, Nottingham, made sure the district jail was stuffed with them too. Added to all of this was the crushing poverty of the Ojibway communities and the disdain of white townsfolk for a people just awakening to their political consciousness. Those politics included land claims and treaty rights that threatened forest lots and the future of the mill and the local economy. To be in Kenora in 1974 was to feel a great rent in the fabric of the country. The dividing line between the red and the white was never, until Oka in 1990, brought so sharply into focus. A novel set in that time and place is gifted with an awesome narrative texture to drive it. Unfortunately, Bergen fails to capture this. Perhaps it is the failing of nonNative writers to snare aboriginal angst adequately, or maybe Bergen himself was never close enough to the conflict or the town of Kenora at that time to represent it vividly. Either way, his tale of a dangerous interracial romance is set less against this volatile backdrop than against his need for a heavyfingered poke at the hearts and the heads of his characters. A great story gets lost in this overworked and distracting approach.

The Retreat presents little of the racial tension that could be smelled in the air like cordite in Kenora in 1974.

Richard Wagamese is from Whitedog, an Ojibway reserve north of Kenora, Ontario. He recently published his fourth novel, Ragged Company (Random House, 2008), and a memoir, One Native Life (Douglas and McIntyre, 2008). He lives outside of Kamloops, British Columbia.

November 2008

and worldly behind the bitterness and anger at his forced displacement and he knows the danger involved in his brother’s dalliance with the white girl. Nelson’s story is compelling, but it too gets short shrift. Mrs. Byrd begins a clandestine affair with Doctor Amos. Lewis Byrd, her husband, knows and tries to hold the family together, even after she flees to find some peace with a vague promise to return. Everett Byrd becomes fascinated with Nelson. The youngest Byrd child, nicknamed Fish, disappears and Raymond and Lizzy are confronted by the vindictive cop. Referenced almost casually behind all of this is the simmering heat leading up to the Anicinabe Park occupation. Mrs. Byrd is an awesome character and her story would make a wonderful novel in itself, perhaps a better one than The Retreat. She is lost in an emotional and spiritual void and her search for a place to stand and declare herself is astounding ground for a novel. So would the story of her husband and his blind, fumbling idea of love and loyalty. Doctor Amos and his retreat, or the handicapped and cuckolded Mr. Harris, the director of Lizzy’s intellectual life, are great and interesting fictional personalities.


Angry Mister Nice Guy The last prime minister’s memoir displays contradiction, not candour. JOHN GRAY

Hell or High Water: My Life In and Out of Politics Paul Martin Douglas Gibson Books 504 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780771056925


aul Martin and his friends and acolytes have always insisted that what drives the man is not politics but policy. True, his early years were framed by politics, the child of a famous father whose talent and taste for shaking hands and garnering votes made him almost a caricature. Anybody here from Windsor? On the Sunday mornings when Paul Sr. was not travelling the world, he and Paul Jr. would make the rounds of the local parish churches to shake hands, to see and be seen. Good to see you. How have you been? How are the kids? And how’s the wife? So that’s the journey. An impressive kid in privileged circumstances, a big money job through his father’s connections, he makes it on his own in a business environment that is not made for comfort, and he dutifully attends while those who once professed to be friends read the last political rites for his father. Paul Sr. was gone, but it was a while before Paul Jr. admitted that he was interested in the succession. That interest in the succession is important. Martin did his best to shrug off any interest in politics in that period when he had just bought control of Canada Steamship Lines. In fact, he totally denied any interest. Yet the diary of the father faithfully records his son’s declared eagerness—not just interest in politics but in the perhaps-soon-to-beavailable job of Liberal leader and prime minister. He told his father he wanted Pierre Trudeau’s seat in Mount Royal. That, of course, is not reported in these memoirs. It is the kind of revelation that Martin and his team of researchers and writers would not think perhaps

appropriate to his role as an apparently reluctant leadership aspirant. Martin does not declare ambition and as a result appears almost a dilettante, except that the ambition was too obvious to deny. Martin reports that when John Turner was stepping down from the leadership of the Liberal party after the 1988 election, Jean Chrétien was the logical choice to succeed to the leadership. So Martin

admission that “I had never been one to dally over taking an opportunity when it presented itself, for they rarely re-occur. And after the 1988 election, there was an opportunity—and I took it.” It would not have been pretty, but if Paul Martin had permitted himself candour in his judgement of Jean Chrétien, he might have produced a dazzling book. Instead, he pulls his punches and plays Mister Nice Guy. The best that can be said is that his distaste is unmistakable: “For all that our political careers eventually became entwined, for good as well as for ill, Jean Chrétien and I never really knew each other very well … I thought he was a nice guy.” The difference, of course, was that Jean Chrétien did not try to be a nice guy. Whether either man was a nice guy or not is probably immaterial. The point is that Martin tried to seem to be a nice guy, Chrétien did not. So when Martin’s faithful followers tried to organize a putsch against Chrétien at a Toronto airport hotel in 2000, the finance minister could not bring himself to acknowledge any responsibility for what was done in his name. It was all a terrible misunderstanding. But in his own memoirs, Chrétien pulled no punches—the incident persuaded him to stay and fight another election: “I was damned if I was going to let myself be shoved out the door by a gang of self-serving goons.” Goons may be harsh, but the significant oversight in Martin’s memoirs is his relentless campaign for the Liberal party leadership, a post clearly occupied by a leader who was not ready to step aside. From even before he was first elected to the House of Commons to the day that Chrétien announced he would step aside, there was about Martin and his gang a sense of entitlement. He deserved to be the Liberal leader, and Jean Chrétien was a rube. That implies more overt hostility than is apparent at least in Martin’s recollections. Martin’s distaste is inescapable but it is at least couched in language that is civil: “Jean Chrétien and I had a personal relationship that ran the gamut from cool to non-existent … the frigid river between me and the prime minister.” When Chrétien was finance minister, Trudeau undermined him to the point at which Chrétien

Martin told his father he wanted Pierre Trudeau’s seat in Mount Royal. That, of course, is not reported in these memoirs.

John Gray has written for a number of newspapers, most recently The Globe and Mail, for which he was Ottawa bureau chief, national editor, foreign editor, foreign correspondent and national correspondent. He is the author of Paul Martin: The Power of Ambition (Key Porter, 2003).


had to explain why, as a member of Parliament for a scant few months, he should contest the leadership, even though Chrétien, as a veteran parliamentarian, was a 100-to-1 favourite. It would have been preferable if he had simply admitted he was ambitious, but that might have seemed coarse: “There is always room for more than one candidate in any race, and sometimes with a combination of luck and pluck, the underdog actually wins. Was it hubris for a barely elected rookie MP to begin thinking about the leadership of the Liberal Party? I like to think of it differently.” If Martin had acknowledged to himself and his party that a challenge for the leadership would be overweening hubris, he might have saved himself and the party much grief. At least he is candid in his

Literary Review of Canada

was almost destroyed. Martin knew this and cited it to explain why Chrétien would defer to Martin even when he thought his finance minister was wrong on budget disputes. On those questions Martin permits himself a certain generosity to his rival: We only won the battles we did because the prime minister decided to allow me to charge ahead, despite his many reservations and those of the people around him. It was Jean Chrétien’s absolute resolve to back me up as finance minister that enabled us to accomplish what we did. I am proud of our accomplishments together, which were the product of a partnership. But his support did not mean that he shared my feelings of urgency about the fiscal crisis; nor did it mean that the strain didn’t tell, and tell deeply on both sides. Chrétien also supported Martin in disputes with other Cabinet ministers over cuts to their budgets when Martin was leading the fight to eliminate the federal deficit. Chrétien did not agree with the spending cuts Martin was demanding and various ministers appeared to be readying a rebellion. When it got to Cabinet Chrétien stepped in: “Let me say just one thing before this goes any further. There’s no need for any of you to come and see me, and there’s no need to debate this here. I support the minister of finance.” And that was the end of the discussion. If Martin was grateful to the prime minister for that support, there was another role of Chrétien’s that will never be forgiven. When he stepped down as prime minister, Chrétien left behind the sponsorship scandal, in particular the report on the scandal by auditor general Sheila Fraser. Rather than make public the auditor general’s report while he was still in office, Chrétien adjourned the Commons so that the report would be Martin’s first order of business as prime minister. The evidence suggests that Martin had nothing to do with the sponsorship scandal and knew nothing about it. Chrétien excluded him from any Liberal affairs in Quebec. As he said, “my organization in Quebec was barely tolerated by the party there. The Little Sisters of the Poor would have known about the scheme before I did. Those who were involved were my political foes.” Martin’s anger is understandable. Sponsorship will forever be what is remembered of his time as prime minister. Small wonder that “it drove me crazy that I had to deal with this leftover mess when there were so many more important issues I had come into government to confront.” There is something poignant about that invocation of so many important issues he had gone into government to confront. That is Martin’s policy over politics, and why he got into politics. That is why he can write excitedly about a five-hour conversation with a research scientist, why he writes with equal excitement about schooling for aboriginal kids or the African Development Bank, the Congo rainforest or his pet project of expanding the G8 club of nations into a G20. At a guess that is also why there are people who signed up to work for Martin 20 years ago and why some of them are still around. But of course there were too many elements of politics that intruded. In Martin’s own little black book of politics will be the name of Giuliano Zaccardelli, until two years ago the commissioner of the RCMP. Zaccardelli was responsible for the unprecedented revelation of the RCMP investiga-

November 2008

tion into the possible leak of planned changes in the taxation of income trusts. For the government in the midst of an election campaign, the effect was devastating. Martin permits himself to wonder whether the incident was an act of ineptitude or malice, and concludes that nobody can be that inept. Martin also wonders whether the income trust fiasco was payback for his decision to launch an investigation into the arrest and detention of Canadian Maher Arar and then his “rendition” to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured. Martin complains that after he became prime minister he could get no explanation about the case from the RCMP or CSIS. Instead of an explanation he got contradictory information about the role of Canada’s security services: “It was muddy, very muddy.” Martin and his wife, Sheila, subsequently tried to organize a Christmas party at 24 Sussex Drive for the RCMP officers who served on their security detail. Zaccardelli forbade the party because it would be improper fraternizing. Such nuggets are rare. Except when he is paying handsome tribute to those who worked with him over the years, Martin stays away from people. With his team of researchers and writers, and hours and hours of interviews, he was determined to write history worthy of a historian rather than the memoirs of a combatant in the political wars. It is doubtlessly naive to observe it, but there is not even an acknowledgement that there was a Martin leadership team whose task was to get rid of Jean Chrétien. This is not a minor oversight. Chrétien had led the Liberals to three election victories and his government had managed significant triumphs, none greater than Martin’s elimination of the deficit.

Martin’s thoughts on the formation of the G20 forum of finance ministers and his promotion of a comparable group of heads of government is of some interest in certain limited circles, and is no doubt worthy. But forcing a successful prime minister from office is of perhaps rather greater interest and might even serve as a useful how-to guide for future Liberal leadership hopefuls. The fact of the matter is that Martin has only a limited interest in candour, or perhaps it is better expressed as an interest only in limited candour. There is a temptation to suggest that it would have been useful if Martin had tried from his own perspective to explain why his government failed as signally as it did. It was not for lack of good ideas: think only of child care and Kelowna, both unravelled by the Harper government. More obvious was the lack of new ideas and energy. The Martin people were good at getting rid of Chrétien but they did not know what to do when that job was done. Martin himself was exhausted; he had been campaigning non-stop since he was forced from the Chrétien government, first to unseat Chrétien, then to quell the sponsorship explosion, then to win the election. I interviewed Martin two weeks after the 2004 election and the 90-minute interview was almost useless because the man was so wired that there were almost no complete sentences to be pulled from the transcript. Three priorities became five became endless. His managers ought to have tried to manage him. From his time as prime minister there will be some satisfactions for Martin to contemplate, but I can only imagine how profoundly bitter and angry he must be.

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The Reluctant Land Society, Space, and Environment in Canada before Confederation

At the Far Reaches of Empire The Life of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra

Settlers on the Edge Identity and Modernization on Russia’s Arctic Frontier

The Reluctant Land shows how a deeply indigenous land was reconstituted in European terms, and, at the same time, how European ways were recalibrated in this non-European space. It also shows how an archipelago of scattered settlement emerged out of an encounter with a parsimonious land, and suggests how deeply this encounter differed from an American relationship with abundance.


Deeply researched and eloquently written, Settlers on the Edge shines light onto hitherto unexplored territory in the literature of the Arctic, namely the tortured birth and mercurial fortunes of Russia’s large arctic settler population … The picture that emerges makes an important and long-overdue contribution to our understanding of who belongs in the North.

May 2008, 512 pages, 6 x 9” 52 b/w photos, 106 maps, 3 figures 978-0-7748-1450-8 PB 39.95

April 2008, 496 pages, 6 x 9” 14 b/w photos, 6 colour photos, 2 maps 978-0-7748-1367-9 PB 39.95


Capitán de Navío Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was the most important Spanish naval officer on the Northwest Coast in the eighteenth century. Serving from 1774 to 1794, he participated in the search for the Northwest Passage and, with George Vancouver, endeavoured to forge a diplomatic resolution to the Nootka Sound controversy between Spain and Britain.


– Farley Mowat

Makúk A New History of AboriginalWhite Relations

Quebec A Historical Geography



A monumental survey, by one of Canada’s foremost historical geographers, of the changing use of the territory that became Quebec, from the beginnings of human occupation to the present .... – Cole Harris, author of Making Native Space and The Reluctant Land June 2008, 352 pages, 6.625 x 9.5” 65 figures, 23 tables 978-0-7748-1426-3 PB 34.95

We need this book. Next to the pathological Indian, the lazy “Indian” is the most persistent and damaging stereotype with which we have to contend. Makúk will be one of the most important books on aboriginal history written in Canada. – Mary Ellen Kelm, author of Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in Canada, 1900-50 April 2008, 448 pages, 8 x 10” 180 b/w photos, maps, tables, figures 978-0-7748-1140-8 PB 32.95

May 2008, 304 pages, 6 x 9” 978-0-7748-1468-3 PB 32.95

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best of the fal l S e a s o n f r o m B l a c k R o s e B o o k s FAITH IN FAITHLESSNESS An Anthology of Atheism

TRIUMPH OF IGNORANCE AND BLISS Pathologies of Public America

Dimitri Roussopoulos

James Polk

An international bestseller among persons and groups concerned with the rise of fundamentalism and superstition, this work is intended to contribute to the legitimacy of godlessness as a philosophical and moral stance.

Understanding the contemporary United States is essential for all readers who want to know how to act for change. This work, in the tradition of Herbert Marcuse, by one of his students, helps us a great deal.

Faith in Faithlessness is a unique anthology that presents a comprehensive selection of writings by some of the world’s most celebrated thinkers, past and present. Also includes quotes from celebrity atheists and a major resource guide.

Triumph of Ignorance and Bliss examines the foundations of a culture that favours firepower over diplomacy, passions from the pulpit over rational critique, and the star appeal of media idols over a debate about the real problems. Where engaged public discourse should channel effective dissent, there is ignorance; where public outrage should ignite corrective action to oppose wrongs, there is bliss.

Among the contributors are: John Stuart Mill, George Elliot, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Michael Bakunin, H.L. Mencken, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Albert Einstein, Gore Vidal, Kai Nielsen, Christine Overall, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michel Onfray, Tariq Ali, Sam Harris, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut. DIMITRI ROUSSOPOULOS is author or editor of some eighteen books. 440 pages: 978-1-55164-312-0


Polk’s portrait of America is riveting…his arguments are sound and convincing. An important, fascinating book written with a strong message. —Norm Goldman, JAMES POLK teaches philosophy at the University of Southern California. 326 pages: 978-1-55164-314-4


Available at your local bookstore or by calling 1-800-565-9523 To view our full Fall line-up and our Forthcoming books for Spring Visit our website at 22

Literary Review of Canada

Imperial America Two Canadian authors examine our over-reaching neighbour. PETER SEIXAS

The Perils of Empire: America and Its Imperial Predecessors James Laxer Viking Canada 248 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780670063611 What Is America? A Short History of the New World Order Ronald Wright Knopf Canada 371 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780676979824


istorians have long recognized a conundrum involving the past and the present. In order to write about history in a way that is significant for us today, they ask questions and frame issues that arise from contemporary life. On one level, our present-day conceptual lenses (such as nation, gender, power) are what enable us to think about the past; on the other hand, “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” If history is oversimplified, if historical characters and situations are simply flattened into earlier versions of ourselves and our problems, then history loses its power to show us anything new. In the final months of the Bush administration, two mature left-wing Canadian thinkers, neither a historian by training but both well known for their ability to address a broad public, focus their gazes on the United States. Both express the horror and rage felt by most Canadians at the “extravagant misrule” south of the border over the past eight years and are thus products of a particular moment in time. Over a long career, James Laxer has straddled academia, politics and public broadcasting, and has written a dozen books on themes of political economy and globalization, and on Canada and the United States through those themes. Ronald Wright is the author of nine books, among them the 2004 Massey Lectures, published as A Short History

of Progress and Stolen Continents: 500 Years of Conquest and Resistance in the Americas. Both have now written books—The Perils of Empire: America and Its Imperial Predecessors and What Is America? A Short history of the New World Order, respectively—that purport to use history to shed light on the present, with mixed results.


n 1836, American painter Thomas Cole completed his magisterial series of five landscapes, entitled “The Course of Empire,” to show stages in the development and dissolution of empire. He combined allusions to Europe and North America to fashion a dire warning about the hubris of Jacksonian America: the seeds of destruction are present at the height of imperial power. Cole wrote: “We see that nations have sprung from obscurity, risen to glory, and decayed. Their rise has in general been marked by virtue; their decadence by vice, vanity, and licentiousness. Let us beware!” American concern with the dangers associated with expansion and empire is nothing new, but writing about it has become a minor cottage industry since the ramifications of Bush’s Iraq disaster have

people by another. Laxer sees two possible futures: that the U.S. will give up its founding democratic ideals and pursue a course of unbridled power or, alternatively, that it will give up its empire. He further defines the scholarly debate among imperialists as divided between “unilateralists” (such as Niall Ferguson and the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century) and “multilateralists” (Zbignew Brzezinski, Francis Fukuyama and Michael Ignatieff ). These are two strategies, he asserts, with the same imperial ends in sight. Two problems surface immediately. First, Laxer’s sketch of the scholarly debate serves his dichotomous scheme (unilateralists versus multilateralists), but hardly does justice to the outpouring of literature on the topic. The authors listed above comprise the entire reference list. One would think that Laxer’s attempt to draw lessons from the history of empires and apply them to the U.S. today was a new project, not one that had been undertaken very recently by eminent American scholars such as Charles Maier (Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors) or the team of Craig Calhoun, Frederick Cooper and Kevin Moore (Lessons of Empire: Imperial Histories and American Power) or a multitude of others. Although the book is intended for a broad audience, one does need to ask just how little intellectual context a serious writer can get away with. Second, if multilateralists seek to promote an orderly world through multi-state cooperation, and if those states do remain sovereign, then the appropriateness of the term “empire” becomes questionable at best. Motyl goes further, suggesting that the ubiquity of empire talk may be quite a specific response to the Bush administration’s reckless unilateralism: “The United States and its institutions, political and cultural, certainly have an overbearing influence on the world today, but why should that influence be termed ‘imperial,’ as opposed to ‘hegemonic’ or just ‘exceptionally powerful’?” By the end of the book, Laxer himself backs away from the idea that multilateralists are just another variant of imperialists: “If a more multilateralist tendency prevails,” he concludes, “the world can look forward … to a long-term shift away from empire toward an international regime in which a myriad of voices, tendencies, peoples, and ideas have their place in shaping the world.” This is surely not an outcome we need to fear.

Laxer’s book lays out a typology of empire, with individual chapters on Egypt, Athens, China, Rome, Spain and Britain.

Peter Seixas is a professor and the Canada Research Chair in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. He is the editor of Theorizing Historical Consciousness (University of Toronto Press, 2004).

November 2008

become widely recognized. In a 2006 article in Foreign Affairs, Alexander Motyl noted “the recent flood of books and articles” attempting to assess the lessons of historical empires for America today. In The Perils of Empire Laxer sets his stage with George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, landing under the banner “Mission Accomplished.” The combination of unprecedented concentration of military power and cultural influence, on the one hand, with a debt crisis and the nadir of America’s international reputation, on the other, promises a dramatic plotline. “One of the greatest challenges for people in any epoch,” Laxer writes, “is to imagine vast changes to the political and societal order in which they live.” Laxer’s definition of empire is broad and open: “an empire exists when one people or state conquers, subjugates, or dominates another people for an extended period of time.” He notes the reluctance of American politicians to speak in terms of empire, given the obvious incompatibility between an ideology founded on popular sovereignty and respect for human rights and the domination of one


The second section of the book lays out a typology of empire: slave, mercantile, capitalist and the post-Soviet “global” empire, with individual chapters on Egypt, Athens, China, Rome, Spain and Britain. A book that promises to mine “the lessons” of empire, however cautiously, probably needs to be based on what scholars already know about historical empires. Laxer’s Egypt is based entirely on the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt; his Athens entirely on J.B. Bury’s history, published in 1913. Is this good enough? Each of the chapters in this section yields a small nugget that Laxer suggests might apply to the 21st-century world. Thus Egypt created an aura of metaphysical permanence, demonstrated in the connection between the physical monuments of the pyramids, the lives of the pharaohs and the order of the universe. Athens suggests “that the American Empire will either have to be short-lived or … have to pass through a period of intense political and cultural crisis and emerge as an imperial state that has banished the anti-imperial ideals on which it was originally based.” The Spanish, Laxer observes, learned few other languages and relied on the financial resources of capitalists in other parts of Europe: “Like Americans in our time, the Spanish became famous for their arrogance and their narrowness of culture.” For their part, the pre–World War One British “failed to see that the globalizing regime [mistaken for the human condition] was, in fact, the product of a particular power arrangement in which one imperial power dominated the globe.” These are the components of a morality tale much like Cole’s series of paintings or Shelley’s Ozymandias: Beware imperial overstretch. Nothing lasts forever. They set up the final section, which surveys “four strategic challenges” faced by the United States today: the relationship with the Islamic world, China, Latin America, and petroleum supplies and “the emerging global environmental crisis.” The tour of imperial history helps very little in the specifics of this analysis; Laxer’s important lesson is that, given enough time, everything changes. A final chapter fails to put the Bush policies of the last seven years into a larger context. Despite what Laxer has said about the twin approaches to empire (unilateralist versus multilateralist), as the book draws to a conclusion, the American empire is the Bush disaster. Approaching the present, The Perils of Empire descends into cable news discourse, with little distance or analytical clout, sure to be revised in the light of the unfolding of tomorrow’s events. The profundity of the change that could be coming is surely the highlight of the book. Laxer’s treatment of the current situation convincingly demonstrates how precarious it is, while the historical vignettes underscore the historical fact of cataclysmic disruption facing powers that have dominated the globe in what seemed like eternal power arrangements.

Wright sets the thesis for What Is America? at the outset: Recent difficulties run much deeper than a stolen election and an overreaction to a terrorist assault. The political culture and identity crisis of the United States are best understood as products of the country’s past … The frontier became a breeding ground for militarism and religious extremism … The nation did not wake up one morning and find that it was suddenly imperial; it always has been so. Wright arrives at this view by reading all of American history, from the Columbia space shuttle encounter to today, through the narrow lens of the Bush-dominated present. Moreover, he provides no footnotes or references to show where his interpretation fits within 30 years of critical American

’80s, with more recent references dominated by the work of journalists and pundits. In Wright’s reading backward from the present, history appears to offer “foretastes” of the future. McKinley wanted the Philippines “just as George W. Bush wanted Iraq,” while his secretary of war, Elihu Root, presages Donald Rumsfeld. Wright’s most brazen mining of the present comes, however, through reading back from the most recent presidential elections and their “red” and “blue” states. All U.S. history is thus a war “between the sophisticated internationalism of the seaboard and the parochial extremism of the inland ‘backwoods.’” By 1812 “the United States was splitting into the two cultures that still contend within it: educated, establishment Easterners and illiterate, isolated, hard men of the hinterland.” This simplistic projection of the election of 2000 works very poorly in explaining the gathering storm over slavery that led to the Civil War: where would log cabin–born Abraham Lincoln fit in such a scheme? The red/blue dichotomy offers little help either in understanding pivotal battles over Reconstruction, the accomplishments of Progressive women in the early 20th century, workers’ activism in Depression-era conflicts or the civil rights movement more recently. In the penultimate chapter on the Cold War, Wright recapitulates the ironically unchanging dynamic in the soul of America: a widespread fear without end of “heathen Indians in the seventeenth century or an ‘axis of evil’ in the twenty-first.” And so, “isolated, unschooled, messianic in their thinking … the frontier folk came to see themselves as victims … During the Cold War … they became, as it were, Afrikaners with atomic weapons.” History at its best aims to show how things developed, with the future in some sense up for grabs at each moment in time, subject to the decisions, wise or foolish, of those in power, the resistance or capitulation of those who are not, the interplay of unintended consequences and, above all, the possibility, reality, indeed the inevitability, of change, which Laxer makes so central in The Perils of Empire. Wright’s narrative starts from the fixed and over-determined present, from which it reaches back to find essences and foreshadows. Such a method can never yield a satisfactory historical explanation, since it is clear from the beginning that the outcome has already been set.

In Wright’s interpretation, European explorers and settlers started out as murderers and rapists, Native Americans as impotent resisters and victims, and that is pretty much how things ended up.


axer’s work acknowledges the change and the contradiction between the democratic promise of the Declaration of Independence and the swashbuckling imperial arrogance of the Bush administration. For Ronald Wright, America was born evil and has been evil ever since: not much has changed at all.


historiography, making his book appear (to nonspecialists) more original than it is. In 1975, when Francis Jennings upset the traditional dichotomy of “savage” versus “civilized” in The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest, it represented a breakthrough, but this is hardly innovative today. Wright has taken the work of Jennings, along with Howard Zinn, Alfred Crosby and William Appleman Williams—all writing in the 1960s and ’70s—and worked them into a synthesis, with none of the nuance or complexity that has been built upon their early trailblazing. The result is a series of startling leaps backward from today to two, three or four hundred years ago, accompanied by sweeping (but evocative) moral judgements. Thus the Spanish were “uncouth and violent strangers”; the British immigrants behaved “with all the desperation, superstition and showy violence of early post-Medieval Europe.” The materialist analysis of the first substantive chapter, “Loot, Labour and Land,” degenerates quickly into character assassinations of the bad Europeans. This is curiously ahistorical history. In Wright’s interpretation, European explorers and settlers started out as murderers and rapists and Native Americans as impotent resisters and victims, and that is pretty much how things ended up. The chapter on colonial America provides almost nothing on the colonial economy (notwithstanding the previous chapter’s promise of a materialist analysis). The American revolution passes by in a blink, within the space of a couple of pages. Joyce Appleby, Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood might as well have put elsewhere the energies they devoted to untangling the complex of ideologies that surrounded the upheavals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The chapter entitled “White Savages” has no reference to the writings of historians Richard White or Gary Nash (among many others), whose crucial contributions led to the rethinking of relations among “red, white and black” (as Nash’s earliest work framed it), none of whom were merely passive victims in their struggles. Indeed, despite a superficially impressive 18-page bibliography in Wright’s book, most of the historical writing dates from the 1970s and


ublic intellectuals are always faced with the question: how much can the public handle? Books such as The Perils of Empire and What Is America? offer big interpretive frames that might help to shape the public perception of the past. At their best, they could provide a conduit that helps to mobilize recent scholarship to shift the terms of debate about American power by providing links between recent academic history and public discussion of policy issues. Moreover, a Canadian perspective on the U.S. could offer something distinctive, not only at home, but to an American readership as well. But what should the public demand in the way of scholarly rigour and disciplinary integrity? Laxer and Wright have set the bar disappointingly low. When the lens of the present is too narrowly focused, our perspective on the past is distorted rather than clarified, our horizons constricted rather than broadened.

Literary Review of Canada

The Karaoke Classics A view from inside China’s Confucian revival. TIMOTHY CHEEK


China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society Daniel A. Bell Princeton University Press 258 pages, hardcover ISBN 9780691136905


ow do China’s classi ca l p h i l o s o p hy o f Confucianism and the contemporary popular pastime of karaoke group singing go together? And why might this be interesting to Canadians? Read China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society and you will find out. In nine substantive chapters and two appendices, Daniel A. Bell delivers on his promise “to uncover and explore distinctive and deep aspects of Chinese culture” in their “contemporary manifestations.” His politics are clear: a rising China needs to be understood by the world’s western powers and an appreciation of the Confucian realities of what is often referred to as communist China will help defuse misunderstandings and the dangers of unnecessary conflict between Us and Them. Bell, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, works to foster this mutual understanding from a particular standpoint: he is a Montreal-born and western-trained political theorist, with humanist and communitarian leanings, who speaks on the basis of his professional experience in Singapore, Hong Kong and now Beijing “as a teacher and selfstyled Confucian educator.” Taken alone, this self-identification is somewhat vague: what is it to be a Confucian today? Confucius’s avowed followers since the sixth century BCE have been surprisingly varied, ranging from the Han Dynasty syncretist Dong Zhongshu to contemporary Harvard philosopher and “New Confucian” Tu Weiming. But almost all take seriously some fundamental tenets of classical Confucianism: the relational nature of all ethical decisions (the idea that ethical obligations to others vary, depending on one’s relationship to them—as parent, child, in-law, teacher, student and on and on), the principle of civilizing passions rather than Timothy Cheek is a professor and the Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. His most recent book is Living with Reform: China Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2006) and he is editor of The Cambridge Critical Introduction to Mao (forthcoming, 2009).

November 2008

suppressing them and the centrality of family and filial piety (care of parents, deference to elders), as well as political ethics that accept hierarchy based on educational merit and stress the state’s responsibility not to guarantee liberty but subsistence. Daniel Bell’s book speaks to the endurance of these classical ideas, with his goal to show that there has been a profound and pervasive Chinese “revival of the Confucian tradition in politics and everyday life.” Focusing particularly on the country’s growing urban middle class, he offers a mix of personal narrative and more theoretical arguments. These cover three broad topic areas of interest to general readers wondering what on earth is really going on in China today: politics (domestic and foreign policy), society (family, work, labour relations, popular culture, and—in 2008—sport and the Olympics) and education (on the nature of critical thinking, teaching political theory in China and this new Confucianism). Bell’s approach is resolutely iconoclastic and, he claims, Confucian. He aims to entertain and instruct, but he also aims if not to offend then at least to chide western academic and cultural presumptions. This is the job of the Confucian educator, he says: “the task of the morally committed individual is to resist the excesses of the dominant [intellectual/cultural] fashion in order to bring things into balance.” So, those who are sure proper scholarship should be “objective” (or at least safely harnessed in abstract theoretical frameworks) and who embrace ideas of modernity (or the Good) that include the sanctity of individual rights, electoral democracy and contractual protection of labour, along with the perniciousness of prostitution—be prepared for rebalancing.

e l l’s a p p r oac h c o m e s together in his spirited treatment of the recent Chinese karaoke boom, hardly the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Confucianism. But he connects this trend with Confucius’s advocacy of music and the relationshipbuilding effect of singing together. True to his claim in a later chapter that “Confucians Needn’t Be Old, Serious and Conservative,” Bell then goes on to defend the parallel rise of a new form of prostitution, in which karaoke hostesses charge clients for sexual favours between songs. He explicitly engages the questions that leapt to my mind: Is this bad for women? Bad for the family? Is it moral? His answers are relativistic and pragmatic, much like his reading of classical Confucianism. He is less concerned with abstract virtue and more concerned with actual relationships and their social consequences. He makes a reasonable argument for a form of prostitution that builds something more than a cash nexus in the sex trade, constrains passions with the sociability of group singing and limits extra-marital sex to time-limited engagements (contrasted to affairs with co-workers or others that may compete with the marriage, and therefore family, bond). Not my conventional, Fung Yu-lan understanding of Confucianism. Nonetheless, Bell makes a compelling case that such views can be argued from the tradition’s fundamentals. He notes, for example, that in the early 20th century, Confucian philosopher Kang Youwei proposed the idea of annual marriage contracts between two men and two women. Despite any drawbacks of that particular proposal, Bell ultimately argues, “one way of civilizing the sexual urge is to legalize alternative forms of marriage involving more than two persons … The idea of monogamy stems from Judeo-Christian values and societies with different cultural heritages need not be bound by such ideas.” This startling conclusion captures Bell’s appropriation of Confucianism and his approach to explaining contemporary China. He makes a similarly challenging assessment of democracy’s prospects there: don’t hold your breath. Bell maintains that most government officials and intellectual elites in today’s China would instead endorse something like “a strong, meritocratically chosen legislature that would have constitutional priority over the democratically elected house.” Furthermore, he argues that a meritocratic legislature selected by Confucian exams would probably be a better arbiter of the public good than standard democracy


(or, to be fair, than the communist party’s authoritarian rule). If sex is okay in Bell’s Confucianism, so is elitism. In this he is on solid ground so far as the classics are concerned. His application of this Confucian approach to the contemporary polity is, if nothing else, arresting. What I find astonishing is the Maoist resonance to Bell’s description of the role of a Confucian lower house: “the national democratic legislature’s main function is to transmit the people’s (relatively uninformed) preferences to the meritocratic house.” The parallel of part of this ideal-form to Mao’s “mass line” is obvious to those familiar with the history of the Communist Party of China. “From the masses, to the masses,” said Mao, although in his case the meritocratic elites intended to both learn from and lead the common people were communist party cadres and not Confucians.¹ But Bell’s proposal is far more interesting than this partial parallel. Indeed, the resonance with Maoism underscores how Confucian Mao’s sinified version of Marxism-Leninism was, as much as it raises an ironic continuity with Mao’s mass line politics.² And Bell’s challenge to most westerners remains clear: Should we complain just because [the proposed Confucian] system doesn’t satisfy our ideas about democratic rule, or should we allow for the possibility that there are morally legitimate, if not superior, alternatives to Western-style liberal democracy? This is as much a rehearsal of the classicist’s debate with the modernists as a Confucian confrontation with liberal or socialist ideologies. But whether discussing sexual or national politics, Bell offers a sympathetic, nuanced approach to China that counsels tolerance and reason, informing the general reader reliably and concretely about the significance of Confucian ideas in China today. This is a helpful counterbalance to breathless journalistic accounts that either anticipate electoral democracy around the corner or lament pervasive state repression. Indeed, both electoral experiments and official suppression of dissidents occur in China, but the vibrant, diverse urban population that Bell documents is part of the mix, and a disproportionately important one, as it includes the intellectuals and the financial middle class. Bell cannot cover everything, of course. Readers will not get a literature review of studies on Confucianism in the 20th-century or post-Mao People’s Republic of China, nor will they get much sense of contemporary discussion. For that story, readers will have to turn elsewhere.³ Yet Bell’s broad characterization of the varieties of Confucianism in China today seems to me accurate and helpful for his purposes: apolitical (“be good”), state-endorsed (“be obedient”) and left-communitarian (“be a gadfly”). The book’s two very useful appendices expand briefly on the first and the third varieties, but Bell leaves the presentation and defence of the second to your local Confucius Institute.4 Since Bell is employed in China, it is hard for him to address the conflict between the leftcommunitarian Confucianism he supports and the “be obedient” version that Beijing authorities prefer; the danger of new Confucianism supporting repressive government is a topic he does not address directly. Nevertheless, his views are clear in his trenchant criticism of former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan-yu’s Confucian authoritarianism. Sometimes I think Bell goes wrong, as in his presentation of the contemporary ideological scene in


Beijing. His section on “The End of Ideology” really describes the end of Marxist orthodoxy, which is certainly true. But Mao Zedong thought is something different, and more persistent. I fully believe that most of the professors and students Bell works with do not even mention Mao, but that is not the same thing as the end of ideology. That most people in China do not believe the latest pronouncements from the CCP and probably cannot enumerate the “Three Represents”—the principles at the core of the party to advance social productive forces, culture and the interests of the majority—does not mean that the positive values (that is, explicit norms) of Maoism and, more so, the ways of thinking and reasoning from decades of Maoist study are dead. From labour demonstrations to intellectual debates on agricultural problems, Mao’s example, Maoist goals and Maoist ways of making a point continue to appear (for better or worse) across China.5 Rather than the death of ideology, I see the death of orthodoxy, with the resultant pluralization of ideologies in contemporary social and intellectual life. The Confucian reawakening that Bell documents is certainly occurring, but along with a revival of Chinese liberalism amongst the intellectual elite, all blending with remaining habits and hopes from Mao’s China.


hina’s New Confucianism is also important for its contribution to a refreshing reversal of the direction of China studies. Bell is not unusual in taking the stand of a sympathetic foreigner offering his suggestions for China, but he makes Confucianism part of his analytical method and not just the object of his analysis. Many Chinese intellectuals use the ideas of Habermas, von Hayek or Weber, but few anglophone intellectuals use those of Confucius, Mencius or Xunzi.6 Bell thinks we should, and not just for studying China. I agree. Of course, Bell is not the first to make this argument, nor does he claim to be. He follows in the footsteps of Roger Ames and Henry J. Rosemont Jr. (whose translation of Confucius’s Analects he uses in this book). Bell’s book most reminds me of Rosemont’s challenging A Chinese Mirror: Moral Reflections on Political Economy and Society, whose left-communitarian reading of American life uses Confucian thought to critique the faults of contemporary commercial society. Likewise, Bell presents Confucianism as a developmental political philosophy of community and basic social justice that balances private (conservative) and public (progressive) good. He knows western philosophers have wrestled with these issues (his first book was on western political theory), but he is inviting us to include Confucian thought substantively in this conversation. If we do, it will change the conversation in ways that promise to build one bridge, at least, between people of good will in China and western societies. Of course, such readings of Confucian political philosophy by Bell or Ames or Rosemont do what Chinese (or sinophone) readings of liberal philosophy or critical theory do: they change the use of the borrowed ideas as they are brought into the target conversation. Gloria Davies has demonstrated that critical theorists in China—such as Gang Yang and Wang Hui—use post-modern theory in ways that western critical theorists would not and that critical theorists outside China do not find interesting. This is largely because sinophone discourse takes a decidedly non–post-modern stance, assuming truth can be known and that theoretical interventions are about showing personal moral qualities that will qualify the disputant to lead others in the

search for correct theory. Chinese theorists make these assumptions because they make sense to that discourse community, and yet they find it useful to bring in ideas such as “civil society,” “public sphere” and “discourse analysis” to enrich and extend the Confucian and Maoist strains in their talk. In a similar way, we must assume that we westerners (anglophone, francophone or other) will “distort” Confucian concepts such as filial piety, ren (humanity and relational ethics) and junzi (the exemplary person) in similar ways. Bell’s stress on the most appropriate form of legislature is a case in point: he spends much more time on issues of political representation than most Chinese thinkers because republican government (and its woes) is on our minds. I am much more comfortable debating civil society or filial piety in print than I am applying Confucian ethics to labour arrangements for my domestic help or—save me—exploring karaoke, as Bell does. I am a proper, lettered sinologist with a reputation to consider; personal information in a professional context is just too much information—except, as a historian, I believe what E.H. Carr admonished years ago: when reading history, study the historian first. So Bell’s self-revelations nag; they are kind of interesting and do help me see where he’s coming from. They also reflect his cheerful and slightly self-mocking challenge to China specialists: Confucius says the political (and professional) is personal. What are you going to do about it? Well, I know what I am going to do. The next time I’m in Beijing I am going to look Daniel Bell up—and maybe invite him to karaoke.

NOTES 1. The locus classicus of Mao’s thinking on the “mass line” is his 1943 “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership,” reproduced in the third volume of the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1965). 2. Stuart Schram has noted the parallels and debts in Maoism to Confucianism, albeit with fundamental differences, in The Thought of Mao Tse-tung (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). 3. A good place to start is Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, edited by Chung-ying Cheng and Nicholas Bunnin (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002), especially its afterword on contemporary trends, and Benjamin Elman’s Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002). 4. An excellent, short policy analysis of the China’s Confucius Institutes is given in Xiaolin Guo’s Repackaging Confucius: PRC Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Soft Power (Stockholm: Institute for Security and Development, 2008) and available at < publications/ap/08/xg08repackagingconfucius.pdf>. 5. See Re-envisioning the Chinese Revolution: The Politics and Poetics of Collective Memories in Reform China, edited by Ching Kwan Lee (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). 6. For a vivid portrayal of the sinophone discourse that uses western liberal and critical theory, see Worrying About China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry by Gloria Davies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).

The LRC continues its exploration of China today with two Online Originals, which will be posted on November 1, 2008, at A review of David Ownby’s Falun Gong and the Future of China by Jeremy Paltiel And a review of Yuezhi Zhao’s Communication in China: Political Economy, Power and Conflict by Bernard Frolic

Literary Review of Canada

Swiftian Wit and Zen Insight The monk Thomas Merton receives a love letter from a Canadian adorer. MICHAEL W. HIGGINS

Thomas Merton: Hermit at the Heart of Things J.S. Porter Novalis 215 pages, softcover ISBN 9782896460083


his year marks the 40th anniversary of the death by accidental electrocution of monk-poet Thomas Merton. You can count on numerous conferences, study seminars, workshops, public lectures, commentaries and broadcasts of varied length and quality to dot the landscape—the world landscape as it happens— because Merton was one of those genuinely extraterritorial figures who bestride all time zones. Merton was an essayist, poet, calligrapher, photographer, controversialist, social and political commentator, editor, anthologist, translator and sometime novelist and cartoonist. Readers are drawn to him for the same reason that they are drawn to St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal and Simone Weil: the personal revelation, the confessional tone. Merton also appeals to the modern fascination with the journey, the peregrinatio or going forth into strange lands. In his 53 years of earthly life he took many journeys before he found a measure of stability. Born in Prades, France, on January 31, 1915, he was educated variously in the south of France, in English boarding and grammar schools as well as at Cambridge University and then at Columbia University. He dabbled with the ideologies of the day, delighted in his undoubted sexual attractiveness, explored career options, travelled extensively, wrote down his every thought and impulse with obsessive zeal, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1938, taught briefly at a Franciscan university and then, on December 10, 1941, entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, popularly known as Trappists, at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. He was largely unknown. The monastery, it seemed, would ensure holy anonymity forever. But in 1948 he published his autobiography, The Seven-Storey Mountain, by any measure an international bestseller, and this event guaranteed that Michael W. Higgins, president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, knows something of the Merton industry, having published scores of books and essays on Merton and his thought, including the award-winning Heretic Blood (Stoddart, 1998; also a CBC Radio One Ideas series).

November 2008

the silence, obscurity and solitude he thought he had was at an end. His perduring appeal resides in his recovery of contemplation as a means of deepening human experience and in making the wisdom of this tradition available to everyone and not exclusively to monastics. It also resides in the ruthless honesty that compelled him to chronicle his personal search for the true self in such a way that his readers could and can continue to vicariously share in both the light and dark sides of spiritual growth. And it resides in his bold poetic and intellectual project to recover “archaic wisdom” and reintegrate a shattered humanity. Merton is the William Blake of our time. He was engaged in the same kind of spiritual and intellectual tasks as the English Romantic visionary: critiquing a dehumanizing culture, subverting conventional modes of perception, radically re-visioning human destiny, liberating the senses from the shackles of constrictive reason, commingling the imaginative arts. Like Blake, Merton was a social critic, a poet, a visual artist, an outsider, the consummate rebel. And, like Blake, he was largely misunderstood by his contemporaries, his ideas and his art sanitized for general consumption. More than anything, however, it is the diaries, the journals, that reveal the man. We discover a monk who is an artist, a divided self, a conscience of the nation, a troublesome charge, a renegade, a lover, a dutiful son, a guru. The diaries disclose the many voices to be found in the one monk: the voice of the garden with its discipline and the voice of the field with its wildness; and as the Canadian writer and critic George Woodcock observed apropos an analysis of Merton’s poetry, the voice of the choir and the voice of the desert. Merton’s diaries are at once seductive, disturbing, amusing and oracular. They care not a whit for consistency or for the straitjacket of logic. They are eclectic and alogical with a heavy dose of Swiftian wit and Zen insight. J.S. Porter, a former professor at Mohawk College, is enthralled by the personal Merton. He has published on Merton, either exclusively as in his The Thomas Merton Poems, or selectively as in his Spirit Book Word: An Inquiry into Literature and Spirituality. He is not unacquainted with the Merton landscape. He has been there before. Many times. Thomas Merton: Hermit at the Heart of Things is his latest exploration and it reads like a love letter, a genre that presumes familiarity, speaks from the heart and discloses the innermost self. Love can be an addiction but more often it is a check on the passions, the right measure when all is out of

proportion, the centre when the margins have gone mad. Porter’s love letter is a testament to that right balance and a corrective for those who have transformed a wounded, struggling, contradictory monk into a cult figure. Porter painstakingly makes sure the personal struggle is never lost sight of—not in spite of but precisely because of—the larger context of ideas. That is why, when speaking of Merton’s desire for “a complete and holy transparency,” Porter compares him to his contemporary, the priest-psychologist Henri Nouwen. When he pores over the Merton oeuvre and recognizes the special place of the journal: that most democratic of art forms puts all entries on an equal plane; no one part aristocratically reigns over another part. The form is inherently anti-climactic and serendipitous. What is stumbled upon is commented upon. Porter generously and religiously draws upon the diaries of Anaïs Nin to establish the appropriate benchmark. He ensures that we never see Merton isolated from his culture, his contemporaries, his time. Merton’s may be a unique voice—the monastic visionary poet—in a complex, riven and seductive world, but it is indeed a voice in that world, neither neutered nor irrelevant. To the degree that Porter’s love letter conveys Merton’s connectedness with our time, his book works well: kaleidoscopic, quirky and epiphanic. But it has its own identity crisis. It is part analytical study, part memoir, part portrait, part paean—a veritable hodgepodge—and it does not hold together as a piece. Love letters, of course, have their own logic. They cohere but in their own way. The reader feels like an interloper, eavesdropping in medias res. There are shared memories, points of reference and the freedom to confess. We know the players whether they know it or not. And we know a great deal of what Porter thinks about Merton and what he loves about him. But we know little about Merton himself. Everything is in the riff. Porter’s own liberating honesty helps to secure the charm and appeal of his book: “I’ve been a kind of cheerleader for him, a proselytizer for his work, along with hundreds of other nameless ones who have responded to his photogenic face, his firecracker walk, and his ‘Aaahhhh! to life’.” Here we have all the passion and familiarity of the love letter. What we need now is the firm architecture or argument to conclusively persuade us.


Women on the High Seas Another study adds to the little-known history of Canadian female occupations. JANET GUILDFORD

Silk Sails: Women of Newfoundland and Their Ships Calvin Evans Breakwater Books 271 pages, softcover ISBN 9781550812428


hipowning put Mary Huelen in the path of danger. In 1814 Huelen, a successful farmer and trader in the Codroy Valley on the west coast of Newfoundland, boarded her schooner and set sail for St. John’s with a cargo of cured salmon. The danger came from U.S. privateers who roamed the coastal waters of Newfoundland during the war of 1812 in search of prizes. Huelen and her schooner was captured and taken to New York, where her cargo was sold. She was lucky it was just her cargo that was taken. Her vessel was eventually released and new American friends generously helped her to re-provision, and she was able to return home. In Silk Sails: Women of Newfoundland and Their Ships, Mary Huelen’s story is just one of nearly 500 sketches related by Calvin Evans, and the details of her dramatic story reflect both the book’s biographical strengths and its deep thematic tensions. The author takes pains to demonstrate that shipowning was just a normal part of many Newfoundland women’s lives for centuries, something taken for granted at the time but now forgotten; nevertheless, by highlighting stories of drama and high seas derring-do, he undermines his theme of ordinariness with exceptionalism. The book never really resolves this paradox. Silk Sails is a welcome addition to the historical literature about women in Atlantic Canada. Its Janet Guildford teaches history at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. Her research focuses on the history of women in Atlantic Canada.


strengths are the excellent primary research and the richly detailed brief biographies of shipowning women in Newfoundland between the late 17th century and the 1960s. Evans’s meticulous research offers readers a wealth of new information about Newfoundland women’s roles in both the fishing industry and shipping. Study after study by historians of women in Atlantic Canada and beyond in the past four decades have provided examples of women who transgressed the supposedly rigid rules governing women’s behaviour. In 1980, for example, Sylvia Van Kirk published Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870, which provided persuasive evidence of the importance of aboriginal women’s economic contributions to the western fur trade, previously seen as the exclusive domain of men. Historians of women have found similar trends in virtually every facet of the economy across the country—among both aboriginal women and settlers. Marjorie Griffith Cohen exposed the economically valuable work of women in 19th-century Ontario farm families in Women’s Work, Markets and Economic Development in 19th-Century Ontario. My own research on women in business in Halifax in the middle of the 19th century included women in a wide array of service and manufacturing industries, including not just hotel keepers and seamstresses, but also a gunsmith. Rusty Bittermann and Margaret McCallum have made a recent and valuable contribution to this literature with Lady Landlords of Prince Edward Island: Imperial Dreams and the Defence of Property, a study that adds considerably to our knowledge of women’s roles as landlords and their political influence in the period before the end of landlordism in Prince Edward Island. It was Calvin Evans’s research for a history of his own family, For Love of a Woman: The Evans Family and a Perspective on Shipbuilding in Newfoundland, that led him to the subject of lady shipowners. When he found the names of four women listed

as shipowners in the Maritime History Shipping Records he assumed it was an error. Further checking turned up hundreds more, and a new project specifically devoted to women shipowners was born. This research allowed Evans to examine the wide variety of roles played by women in shipowning and to explore the changing legal context in which they operated. Although he discusses the impact of English common law and the advent of married women’s property acts, Evans does not address the concept of couverture: the idea that a married woman’s legal personality was “covered” by her husband. This has always been a problem for historians trying to understand the economic roles of married women in family enterprises. When a husband and wife were, as Evans claims was necessary, real partners in the family economy, the role of the wife is invisible to the historian because all formal records were in the husband’s name. Evans does point out that practice was often ahead of changes in the law. The first evidence he found of married women owning ships was in 1844, more than a decade before the change in married women’s property law in Newfoundland. Even earlier, he notes, there were married women who owned property that included boats and fishing premises. He also provides an interesting discussion of the occupations of shipowning women. They were often simply listed in the records according to their marital status: single, married or widowed. But many did list other occupations and this long list, which includes designations such as mariner, merchant, trader, dealer, brewer, teacher, seamstress and stenographer, alerts us to the multitude of roles that women in Newfoundland played in the economy. Chapter Three, “Newfoundland Women and their Ships,” is obviously the heart of the book. It is organized chronologically, allowing the reader to understand the factors that changed over the 300 years of the study. However, it is the family

Literary Review of Canada

context that remains central throughout the period. Family was an important context for Lady Sara Kirke (wife of the better known David Kirke, sometime governor of Newfoundland), one of the first woman shipowners in the Atlantic region. She and her sister, Lady Frances Hopkins, were both plantation owners who pursued the fishery under very adverse circumstances. David Kirke became governor of Newfoundland in 1637, and the next year he and his wife arrived in Ferryland. Evans tells us that his “tenure was marked by the fiercest possible controversy with both French settlers and West Country merchants.” In 1651 he was recalled to England and imprisoned. Lady Kirke returned to the settlement and carried on the family fishing business for several years after her husband’s death. Her sister moved to Ferryland in 1643, and she too was a plantation owner who actively pursued the fishery. The sisters had to travel back and forth to England to protect their claim to their property, which in the end proved a losing battle, and by 1661 Lady Kirke had become a tenant in her own house. Newfoundland women continued to hold inshore property and small boats in the 18th century. They were comfortable buying and selling boats and ships, and quite willing to use the courts to defend their property. Evans’s analysis of the Conception Bay Plantation Book of 1805 determined that 13 percent of plantation owners were female, although he does not tell us whether the property of women was as valuable as that held by men. The appointment of registrars of shipping in the 19th century created a rich body of records for historians. Evans has made good use of these, supplemented in many cases by family information. He determined that women could be sole owners or own vessels jointly with husbands, with their deceased husbands’ partners, with men completely unrelated, or with one or more women. He provides an interesting speculative discussion of women who may have “staked” planters, noting for example, that Elizabeth Freake, spinster, of Joe Batt’s Arm, owned all 64 shares of her brother Charles’s vessel. Women were also mortgage holders on ships, suggesting that ship ownership was seen as a fruitful investment for Newfoundland women. Evans set 1968 as the end date for his study, but this chapter concludes with a list of shipowning women in the period from 1968 to 1990. The fourth and final chapter offers conclusions about women shipowners in Newfoundland. Here Evans reiterates his argument that women were involved in a substantial way as owners of boats, ships and waterfront properties, and identifies the patterns that have emerged. He found that while most women were subordinate in partnerships with men, marital or otherwise, some enjoyed equal partnerships and a few were completely in control. He places shipowning women most firmly in their familial roles in his conclusion, and repeats his regret that “our society has collectively forgotten that there was a time in our maritime history when women’s substantial roles were being played out.” There are some problems with Silk Sails. As stated above, while Evans ultimately argues that women’s economic activities were taken for granted as necessary contributions to their families’ wellbeing, the book suffers from an unresolved tension between women’s ordinariness and their exceptionality. Evans repeatedly expresses his surprise

at the extent to which women were involved in the formal economy, but in his conclusion he argues that we “must move past the comment that this [activity] was exceptional, understood in the sense that it was occasional, sporadic, and not to be taken seriously.” The author’s surprise about shipowning women in Newfoundland is largely the result of the blinkered approach of historians who accepted the idea that women of earlier generations were restricted to the private sphere. This was a widely held ideal of womanliness, but it did not reflect the reality of women’s lives. Evans’s contribution is in uncovering women’s roles within a very

ficult not to include footnotes. He compensates by providing information about a number of his sources, both primary and secondary, in the body of the text, but I personally would have liked to see formal references. I, too, have experienced the reluctance of publishers of popular history to include footnotes or endnotes, but they are useful for many different kinds of readers. They are essential for scholarly research, but they are also very useful for genealogists and community historians who would like to develop their knowledge further. The extensive bibliography and two appendices listing women shipowners at the end of the book help to redress this problem. The history of women in Atlantic Canada is still a work in progress, and we are especially lacking in book-length studies about women’s roles and activities, so the publication of two new historical monographs in 2008—both Evans’s Silk Sails and Bittermann and McCallum’s Lady Landlords of Prince Edward Island—makes it an excellent year for those of us with an interest in the field. One of the many unanswered questions for scholars of Atlantic Canadian women’s history is whether or not there were distinctive features about the experience of women in the region compared with those living in other parts of the country. Silk Sails bridges the two positions. In owning ships Newfoundland women were conforming to the national patterns of women’s important economic contributions to their families and their communities. The fact that it was ships they owned makes the practice distinctive to the region.

Silk Sails suffers from an unresolved tension between women’s ordinariness and their exceptionality.

November 2008

specific regional industry—one that, like the western fur trade, has too often been regarded as the purview of swaggering, swashbuckling men. But he does not always follow to its logical conclusion the evidence he has unearthed. Another somewhat tricky problem is this: what is a ship? Evans’s definition is much broader than local usage and needs further attention and development. The book also has a catalogue-like quality and too much repetition because it places the same women in different categories as family members, investors, sole and part owners, for example. Some questions deserve further analysis, particularly why women shipowners were more common on the south and southwest coasts of Newfoundland. Evans argues that earlier generations of shipowning women served as models for their daughters and granddaughters, and this was no doubt a factor. However, I would like to have this preponderance placed in a demographic context. Were there, for example, more women shipowners on a per capita basis on the south coast? How did ethnicity and demography shape the prevalence of women’s shipowning? In discussing women of one generation modelling new behaviour, Evans mentions the pattern of women’s leadership in the Methodist church. Did this pattern of female leadership play out in the economic arena? Were Methodist women more likely to be shipowners than women of other denominations? In my research on Halifax business women I found that Catholic women were overrepresented in the group, for example, and this I attributed to the fact that on average Catholics were poorer than Protestants in the city at mid-century and this poverty placed heavier demands on the women in Catholic families. It seems reasonable to suspect that religion and ethnicity did play a role, and more community context for female shipowners would have broadened the explanatory possibilities. Every historical subject has its own constraints, especially regarding the primary documents available to the researcher. The structure adopted by Bittermann and McCallum in Lady Landlords of Prince Edward Island placed an emphasis on just four of the landowning women in PEI, and this strategy allowed for a very thorough exploration of the familial, social, legal and political context in which these women operated. It is highly unlikely that any of Evans’s subjects left the rich documentary record that this approach requires, but certainly more generalization and analysis would have enriched his book. My final criticism is directed at the publisher rather than the author. Evans is a meticulous researcher and as a librarian he likely found it dif-


Letters and Responses TO



In his critical review of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State by Tarek Fatah (“Political Islam versus Secularism,” September 2008), Nader Hashemi has demonstrated a warped and onesided view of Muslim history, something he is quick to accuse Fatah of repeatedly. His claim that Islamic history is largely free of internecine tensions over minute differences in dogma is not supported by documented evidence. Hashemi, in comparing western and Islamic history, fails to acknowledge obvious parallels that point to a continued presence of religious and sectarian strife within both cultures. The Fatimids were wiped out by Saladin, the Abbasid rulers promoted the Asharites over the Mutazila or vice versa according to personal preference, resulting in the frequent persecution of ordinary citizens. Furthermore, contemporary Muslim society is riven by bloody conflicts. Hashemi appears to be turning a blind eye to the daily bloodbaths in parts of the Muslim world where fundamentalism is gaining ground. Wouldn’t this be enough reason to advocate the separation of religion and state? Another glaring flaw in Hashemi’s review is his deliberate omission in not addressing human rights abuses in Iran. Chasing a Mirage devotes a considerable section to the political culture of contemporary Iran under the Ayatollahs, however Hashemi, being an Iranian himself, has conveniently dodged this subject in order to avoid being challenged over what is undeniable reality. Farzana Hassan Mississauga, Ontario I do not recall ever having read a book review with such selective commentary until I read the review of Tarek Fatah’s Chasing a Mirage written by Nader Hashemi. Fatah did not spend as much time writing about Turkey as he did discussing the situation in Iran. Yet Hashemi, of Iranian background, seems to have declined to challenge Fatah’s narrative on fundamentalism in Iran and concentrated on Turkey and other countries. In my judgement, that borders on intellectual dishonesty. In my long academic life, I have observed Islamic fundamentalism creeping in the system in Pakistan, first with Abul Ala Maudoodi, and later shoved down the throats of Pakistanis by a fundamentalist and vile military dictator, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. I have also studied and written extensively about fundamentalist mullahs in Pakistan and in the Middle East, including the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia as well as the fundamentalists ayatollahs in Iran. Hashemi seems to have avoided all this. Yes, Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey would have been a secular democracy if the Turkish constitution had not allowed the military takeovers in Turkey. Iran allows its citizens, both men and women, to vote, but it cannot be classified as a Muslim democracy because the top ayatollah has final authority. Even in Indonesia, Muslim fundamentalists are known to interfere with the state’s affairs. For example, they want Ahmadis to be declared as non-Muslims, as is the case in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among other places. A similar situation is emerging in Iran in regard to the Iranians of Bahá’í faith. A genuine system of democracy does not allow these things; only a fundamentalist regime does.


Hashemi has mentioned some of the right wingers such as Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn and Bernard Lewis. I think these people are Islamophobic to the extent of hating Muslims. However, like Fatah, I have defended their right to express things as they see them. Although I do not deny Hashemi’s right to review this book, his review of Chasing a Mirage is not balanced. Mahfooz Kanwar Calgary, Alberta

which no democracy is possible. The example of a powerful Islamic state, the reviewer’s and my native country Iran, which he consciously avoids discussing, is a case in point. After 30 years in power, the mullahs are faced with strong secularist movements, women and youth, among others, which the regime has to keep at bay through sheer force and suppression, garnering a low rank in the Freedom House rankings. Saeed Rahnema Toronto, Ontario

It was disappointing to read Nader Hashemi’s review of Tarek Fatah’s Chasing a Mirage. While I may not agree with everything in the book, I found the review hostile and inaccurate. Unlike serious academic reviews that specifically critique content, the reviewer makes a few denigrating remarks about the author and the book, and provides a lengthy discussion of his own views on secularism. Impressed with Freedom House’s ranking of civil liberties, he picks Turkey and Indonesia as cases that supposedly refute Fatah’s claims about the dangers of Islamism, and conveniently avoids reference to the countries discussed in the book except for Palestine. Praising religion-based parties in those two countries, he declares that “left-wing parties and secularist intellectuals cannot claim credit here.” A minimal familiarity with politics and history suggests that without the existence of strong secular movements in these two countries, Islamists would not be much different from their peers elsewhere in demanding the rule of sharia: Indonesia had one of the largest communist movements in the world, and the strength of Turkey’s secularism is well known. The review is full of assertions that are substantiated by assertions of other like-minded authors. We don’t see, for example, any reference to authoritative works of Abdullahi-an-Na’im, who has demonstrated that an “Islamic state” has never existed, or works by Abdelwahab Meddeb and others. What prompted this response is Hashemi’s claims about secularism in Muslim-majority countries. We are told that since Muslim societies did not have religious wars like Christendom, “no inner political dynamic” in favour of secularism emerged, they “never had the need to think about secularism,” and their experience of secularism has been “largely negative” because it was an “alien ideology” imposed “top-down” by colonial and post-colonial states. He also implicitly assumes that in these societies everyone is religious. On the basis of these unsubstantiated claims, it seems Muslimmajority countries are essentially different from the West. Evidently, new anti-modernists share some of the views of the old Orientalists! Attributing the push for secularism only to states ignores the rich history of the struggles of thousands of secular intellectuals, writers, poets, artists, professionals and politicians. The sketchy familiarity with modernist history in these societies inevitably obscures the reality of political suppression, always in full support of the clerical establishment, as the reason why secularists could not “earn” secularism. The reviewer also seems to confuse public sphere with state, for no one has denied the “participation of religious groups in the public sphere.” The issue is keeping them out of the state, without



My critics draw special attention to my ethnic origin. How bizarre and disturbing that they expect the content of a review to be determined by the birthplace of the reviewer’s parents. Rather than discuss an individual country, such as Iran, I provided a structural critique of the central theme of Fatah’s book, namely religion–state relations in Muslim societies, to illustrate the author’s superficial knowledge of Muslim politics. Moreover, I’ve provided extensive media commentary on Iran over the past seven years. Charges that I am reluctant to discuss clerical despotism are spurious. Saeed Rahnema and I have deep philosophical differences on religion and politics. Like Fatah, Rahnema subscribes to the erroneous view that there is a global consensus on secularism, especially in the non-western world, and that the normative role of religion in government was arrived at through democratic negotiation and bargaining with strong input from civil society. My position is categorically different. In the Muslim world, there has been no democratic consensus on the normative role of religion in government. These debates are in their infancy and, as I argue in my forthcoming book, one cannot de-link debates on democracy today from debates on the normative role of religion in government. They are occurring simultaneously, a situation that partly explains why Muslim politics are so vertiginous. In short, political secularism needs to be socially constructed, not ideologically affirmed. Rahnema is guilty of projecting his secularity onto the Muslim world resulting in a distorted view, especially where religion and politics intersect. Farzana Hassan attributes to me a position I do not uphold. I never claimed that “Islamic history is largely free of internecine tensions.” I say something quite different. Because she is unfamiliar with the origins of political secularism in the anglo-American tradition—especially the relationship between religious toleration and political order—she cannot see how different the experience of religion–state relations has been between the West and the Islamic world. Finally, I would like the LRC readers to know that Tarek Fatah has commented on my review. On his extensive Muslim Chronicle e-list, he distributed my essay while referring to me as a “termite” (email him or me for the full text). This was a Freudian slip on his part. Termites are insects that are to be exterminated. This confirms my suspicion that in terms of tolerance and political pluralism, Mr. Fatah is the mirror image of the Islamists whom he critiques. Nader Hashemi Mississauga, Ontario

Literary Review of Canada




“The truth is that most Canadians know little about Atlantic Canada.” That’s the one sentence from Margaret Conrad’s essay that spoke most tellingly to me (“History Does Matter,” October 2008). I’ll hazard she wrote it with the same weariness I read it. There are a basket of easy clichés and prefabricated pseudo-thoughts about the Atlantic provinces that some people cherish in place of any real acquaintance with the facts, the people or the region. A few jokes about unemployment insurance, deploring the “dependency culture,” the “why don’t they move if there’s no work?” meme (not raised when it’s auto jobs in Windsor) and the “terrible burden” of Ontario “subsidizing the whole East Coast” pass for the sum of all knowledge. And, of course “they’re very friendly down there.” The view from the mainland is nearly as shallow as it is condescending. I think, for example, it is fair to wonder what the response would be if, on a single day, 600,000 jobs were lost in Ontario. Every newspaper, radio and television station would start running daylong specials until eternity if such a shock to the central province’s economic, social and cultural existence occurred. But when 30,000 jobs, in an industry that could claim half a millennium’s tenure—the fishery—were lost in Newfoundland, it was hardly more than days when the “terrible cost” of assisting those hauled from an honest and ennobling occupation started to “worry” observers upalong. In Newfoundland, 30,000 is the equivalent of 600,000 in Ontario. Problems or challenges in the Atlantic region do not rank with problems or challenges in the centre. That’s the hardest truth that people on the East Coast carry. And they do not rank because, unconsciously or otherwise, the far eastern margins of this country really are marginal to those who most think about, or move, the dynamics of Confederation. Another hard truth carried by most people from the East Coast is that they are weary of trying to oppose or fix the lazy second-hand view of their life and circumstance. Special pleading is distasteful and unprideful both; and fishing for victim status, which is one definition of successful politics these days, is highly unattractive to those who, as will be clear on close examination, take more solace from stoicism than hope from whining. I think Margaret Conrad’s essay is on many fronts dead-on. But that sentence was her fullest. Rex Murphy Toronto, Ontario The LRC welcomes letters — and more are available on our website at <>, including more responses to Nader Hashemi. We reserve the right to publish letters and edit them for length, clarity and accuracy. E-mail <editor@>. For all other comments and queries, contact <>.

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November 2008

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