When the mayor of Victoria, B.C., wrote "I am ashamed to say that I have an undergraduate degree in Canadian history, a master’s in Canadian history and a half-completed PhD in Canadian history," did she mean to indict the historical profession in Canada? Hardly.Read More
Unnamed archaeologists are doing their part to accelerate the irrelevance of the humanities and social sciences by conducting an extensive dig at the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival in upstate New York.
According to Deutsche Welle, a team of "historical experts" has already dug up large sections of the fields, including "the marketplace section, where sellers pawned hippie devotionals during the festival had their stalls." One of their most exciting discoveries is a soft-drink pull tab (shown above). Once the detritus of the marketplace has yielded its myriad secrets, the researchers hope "to use the excavations to determine the exact location of the stages on which the bands were performing at that time."
In case you're unfamiliar with Woodstock lore, more than 400,000 children of God went down to Yasgur's farm to set their souls free that long August weekend. It's true that they dropped a lot of acid. But is it not possible—just spit-balling here—that some of them could, even now, with the help of the 90,000 or so Woodstock videos posted online, point out where the stages stood?
Canadians have this week borne witness to two examples of historical erasure, one disturbing, the other edifying.
As expected, members of the Canadian Historical Association have voted "overwhelmingly," according to the National Post, to remove Sir John A. Macdonald's name from their most prestigious book prize. Virtue signalling is an overused and hackneyed phrase, but in this case the shoe fits. For professional historians to render Canada's founding prime minister symbolically non grata is evidence of their relentless politicization but also of their increasing insularity and irrelevance. To state what would have been obvious to the many historians who have passed through the CHA since its founding in 1922, the preservation of Macdonald's reputation as Canada's foremost English-speaking nation-builder does not require that historians defend his every policy or utterance. It requires only grit, a sense of proportion, and a willingness to let the past be the past. On all counts the CHA has failed abjectly.
On the brighter side, the Canadian Senate yesterday passed Bill C-66, which expunges the criminal records of men convicted for homosexual acts before those acts were decriminalized. Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson is covering the story, rightly characterizing the bill's passage into law as a triumph of Pierre Trudeau's reforms in the Sixties, Justin Trudeau's apology to the LGBTQ community last year, and countless unsung acts of courage from gay-rights activists in the half-century in between. Ibbitson notes that the Globe has itself played a leading role in the struggle, particularly by exposing the historic injustice suffered by Everett George Klippert (pictured above), whose conviction in 1965 for "gross indecency" put the reform process in motion. Modesty prevents Ibbitson from identifying himself as the Globe's point-person on this file, but he deserves a special vote of thanks from all Canadians. Well done, John.
It should be obvious that expunging the criminal records of gay men does not airbrush history in the sense that blackening the name of Sir John A. Macdonald does. That Klippert and others who suffered as he did should be pardoned and ultimately compensated represents true progress in a liberal, rights-based society like Canada's. Blacklisting the founding PM of one of the most successful countries in history because his nineteenth-century views do not accord with those of twenty-first-century historians does no such thing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's NYU commencement address, delivered on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, is likely to endure as one of the more significant expressions of his confused political doctrine. As J.J. McCullough noted in his scathing critique of the speech in the Washington Post, Trudeau has no business advising NYU grads to "let yourself be vulnerable to another point of view." From Bill C-16 to the summer-job values test and beyond, fumes McCullough, "there's almost nothing about Trudeau’s political career that suggests he’s ever had even slightest interest in 'discovering that someone you vehemently disagree with might have a point,' as he extolled NYU’s grads to do." British conservative James Delingpole was apoplectic about Trudeau's mingling of female genital mutilation and climate-change skepticism as equivalent moral transgressions (at 19:57 in the clip above). McCullough dismisses Trudeau's NYU speech as "appallingly dishonest," while Delingpole calls it "grotesquely hypocritical." Both appear to believe that Trudeau understands the contradictions inherent in his über-progressive world view, and therefore castigate him as the worst sort of cynic.
Another interpretation is, however, possible—namely that, like many progressives, Trudeau has no coherent political philosophy and is thus incapable of navigating the contradictions of his own gut instincts. If so, he is the antithesis of his father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who ascended to the office of prime minister only after theorizing a political-constitutional program for Canada that elevated "reason over passion"—tough medicine requiring that even he leave his deeply held pieties at the door.
When Justin told the NYU grads mid-way through his speech that we must all "fight our tribal mindset," he sounded very much like his father. But a moment later he departed wholesale from Pierre's signature idea that tolerance alone guarantees citizens' rights in free and diverse societies:
I think we can aim a little higher than mere tolerance. Think about it: Saying "I tolerate you" actually means something like, "Okay, I grudgingly admit that you have a right to exist, just don’t get in my face about it, and oh, don’t date my sister." There’s not a religion in the world that asks you to "tolerate thy neighbor." So let's try for something a little more like acceptance, respect, friendship, and yes, even love.
There are sentiments in this statement Pierre Trudeau would likely have applauded, but "aiming higher than mere tolerance" would not have been among them. The reason is fairly obvious to anyone who has thought about the practical application of liberal values within diverse societies: we can disagree with, disdain, or even deplore something and still tolerate it. But we cannot love it. The pacifist can tolerate the use of her tax dollars to fund the military, but she cannot love it. The environmentalist can tolerate the building of a pipeline, but she cannot love it. The religious conservative can tolerate the extension of abortion rights, but she cannot love it. "Tolerance is never sufficient," Justin Trudeau wrote in 2016 after touring Auschwitz. "Humanity must learn to love our differences." His father, by contrast, knew that perfection is the enemy of the good, and that loving our differences is not only an unattainable ideal in politics but a dangerous one. At the very least it inculcates political correctness, or what Michael Ignatieff has called a "coercive culture of ritualized, insincere approval." At its worst, it is authoritarian.
What the NYU speech appears to demonstrate is that Justin Trudeau has imbibed just enough of his father's classic liberalism to confound his own progressive impulses. "To let yourself be vulnerable to another point of view—that’s what takes true courage," Trudeau told the NYU grads. When he said this, he appeared to believe it. And when he added just moments later, "Let me be very clear: this is not an endorsement of moral relativism or a declaration that all points of view are valid," he appeared to believe that too.
The liberal in Justin Trudeau wants desperately to be tolerant, but the progressive in him cannot help but dictate the limits of that toleration.