'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Tommy Douglas and the Difference Between Canada and the USA 

Yesterday, there was a panel discussion on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer about the current rift in relations between the United States and Canada. For the most part the panelists made the obvious points, but I found the closing comment of Mark Kingwell, a professor at the University of Toronto, to be particularly interesting:

One thing I agreed with in what [Margaret Wente, of The Globe and Mail] said is that we don't understand Americans as well as we think we do. That's why there was so much bafflement after the election results. It's also the case that we are far more different from Americans than the Americans think we are. We are not your northern 51st state. This is a completely different political culture. Our baseline values are quite distinct.

The CBC just ran, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a contest to decide who was the greatest Canadian. The winner was Tommy Douglas, who -- a name I'm sure is unfamiliar to many of your viewers, if not most, who was the architect of universal health care in this country. So that is our baseline value, or one of them, and it's not one that we share with you.

Kingwell is correct; I'm fairly well-versed in these matters, and I had no idea who Tommy Douglas was. From the brief bio included on the CBC's web page announcing that Douglas had been voted the greatest Canadian, one thing is pretty clear: the guy was a socialist. To me and I think to most American leftists, this is fascinating -- it would be like if NBC conducted a poll of its viewers to name the greatest American, and Eugene V. Debs was the winner.

What accounts for such huge differences in culture between two countries that are in other ways so similar? I think it's the power and dominance of the corporate system in the USA -- the same historical forces that led to the US becoming an economic and military superpower have created an internal culture that values profits and the rights of corporations above all else. One wonders if such an internal culture is a necessary condition of global hegemony and empire.

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