Archive for the 'Friends' Category

Farney: Social Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States

August 7, 2013

farneySocial Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States
James Farney
(University of Toronto Press, 2012)
208 p.

This book (written by a dear friend) examines the history and changing fortunes of social conservatism in North America since the Second World War. Generally speaking, social conservatives have had better success in the United States than in Canada, and the author argues that this has been only partly due to relative differences in opinion among the electorate; he stresses, in particular, differing views among the political classes about appropriate borders between the political and the personal (with the Canadians, influenced by British models, placing stricter limits on the scope of politics) as well as differences in party structure and discipline (with the Canadian parties subject to stricter discipline from party leaders).

These basic claims are illustrated through a thoughtful rehearsal of the history of social conservatism on both sides of the border. I found this tremendously informative, and valuable too for the perspective it brings to an appraisal of the current role of social conservatives in North American politics. For instance, social conservatives sometimes express disappointment with Stephen Harper (the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada) for his aloofness from matters of concern to them, especially abortion policy. Reading about the history of the conservative wing in Canadian politics, however, made me realize that Harper’s behavior is actually quite consistent with the mainstream of conservative politics in this country. That may not make social conservatives less disappointed, but it may make them less disappointed with him.

Another surprise was the generally positive appraisal of the efforts and accomplishments of Canadian social conservatives. I have generally considered the political wing of social conservatism in Canada to be weak and sickly, especially in comparison with its American counterpart. Though there is some reason in that assessment, this book helped me to see that, given their respective histories and differing political cultures, the Canadians have actually used fairly intelligent political tactics and achieved some notable successes — even if those successes have not extended to actual policy victories.

The book closes with a brief prediction about the future course of social conservatism. Although social conservatives have succeeded in influencing party platforms and political rhetoric, they have mostly failed to achieve their political objectives. This, together with the observation that public opinion is trending away from the social conservative positions on several issues which most interest them, leads to the prediction that the influence of social conservatism is likely to wane in the coming decades. This may well be true, but I am not wholly convinced: abortion, in particular, is an issue that seems to refuse to go away, and survey data indicate that public opinion lies somewhere on the social conservative side of the status quo; as such, there seems little reason for them to abandon the fight. Furthermore, the social conservative movement is reactionary — and I use the word in a descriptive, not a pejorative sense: it mobilizes around particular issues only because those at the other end of the political spectrum have raised the issues in the first place. Considering that the left seems in no mood to rest on its laurels, it may well serve as a source of continual rejuvenation for social conservatism.

The book is based on the author’s doctoral thesis, but it is written in an engaging and accessible style devoid of jargon. A reader like myself, with little background knowledge of the subject, has no difficulty following the argument. Many of the details in the book’s historical sections are based on the author’s interviews with the people involved, making it a particularly valuable resource for understanding a political movement so often misunderstood. Perhaps the most praiseworthy aspect of the book is its even temper: one could hardly imagine a more fair-minded and disinterested account. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand North American social conservatism in historical context.

Sirens and prizes

June 24, 2013

Last year my dear friend David Elliot wrote an essay for Touchstone entitled “Passing Through the Sirens: The Trials of the Christian Wayfarer in the World”. It is a splendid essay, and I am not the only one to say so: I am delighted today to learn that it has been awarded an essay prize from The Character Project, an initiative funded by the Templeton Foundation.

The essay was previously accessible only to subscribers, but it seems that now it is available in full to one and all. It would be well worth your time.

When I consider the heavens…

May 2, 2012

Our good friend, Adam Hincks, S.J., has an article in the Jesuit weekly America in which he reflects on the relationship between contemporary cosmology and Christian faith:

Through much of Western history, it was thought that the motions of the heavens were regular and unchanging. The Christian notion that the cosmos had a beginning in time had to be accepted as an article of faith. With the advent of the Big Bang theory, it might seem that science corroborates revelation, but it is not that simple.

The article is temporarily available to non-subscribers. Read the whole thing.

(Hat-tip: Ibo et Non Redibo)


April 20, 2012

A couple of friends have web sites which they feel could use a little more exposure. These links are my meager offering:

  • My good friend Daniel Bader runs an informative site about bipolar disorder called Bipolar Today, including a very active and characteristically fascinating blog.
  • Another friend, Daniel Santoro, is a lawyer, and a good one.

The three prayers

March 12, 2012

Good news! Our friend Janet Cupo — known hereabouts as simply “Janet” — has gone and started her own new blog: The Three Prayers. Janet has been reading and commenting here for a long time, and I, for one, am looking forward to returning the favour. I will add her blog to my blogroll just as soon as I get a chance.

House of Words

October 19, 2010

Friend-of-this-blog Jonathan Potter, who blogs (under a cunning pseudonym) at Korrektiv, has just had a volume of poetry published, entitled House of Words.

We all know that getting a book published is a major accomplishment.  I extend my sincere congratulations to Mr. Potter. Here’s hoping the book is as successful as those other Potter books.


Meanwhile, the public relations manager at the Korrektiv Public Library, who bears my initials, shares my interests, and is pretty much exactly like me in every respect, is taking his job too seriously. That man needs a vacation.


August 14, 2008

My friend Daniel Bader, whose excellent blog The Lyceum has fallen dormant of late, has recently launched a new blog dedicated to a long-standing passion of his: comic books.  He calls it Miscontinuity, and he posts comic book reviews regularly.  I know him to be an astute judge and a fine writer, so if you’ve an interest in such things I encourage you to take a look.  I’ve added a link from my blogroll.