Misconceptions about Harper’s Hidden Agenda

In response to El-ahrairah Jones’s recent article regarding the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (The Voice v14i4). Many pundits, women on the street, and commentators look upon a Harper led Canada with fear. For example, my neighbour remarked “Harper really, really scares me.” “What in particular,” I asked her, “frightens you about him?” “All this conspiracy stuff,” she responded.

Fears about Harper are often seem to stem from suspicion about his education in the notorious “Calgary school”, rooted in the philosophies of Leo Strauss. Tom Flanagan of the “Calgary school” was, in the earlier days of Harper’s political forays, Harper’s advisor and mentor. Lawrence Martin, a columnist with the Globe and Mail, espoused the pre-election view that Harper was hiding his association with the “Calgary school” and Shadia Drury, a political scientist at the University of Regina was quoted in the Globe and Mail referring to the “Calgary school’s” members as having a “huge contempt for democracy.” The “Calgary school’s” members are Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Rainer Knopff, Ted Morton and David Bercuso and they are a group given to diverse views, but their main idea is keeping the “government out of people’s lives” (Ottawa Citizen, sidebar). Harper was allied with this group when he studied as a graduate student in the 1980s.

Editorialist Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen quotes from an article written by Marci McDonald, that Tom Flanagan ‘”the 60-year old professor’ was whispering in Harper’s ear” (The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. Robert Pippin, political theorist.) and suggesting that Flanagan and his conclave desired to establish a Canadian version of “American Straussians.” Some of Bush’s influential advisors, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz for example, were educated in the Leo Strauss philosophy by academics such as Harold Bloom and others who were students of Strauss and now teach the philosopher’s ideas.

Sibley’s article illuminates Strauss’s theories in a more favourable context than Drury’s attempt to debunk the philosopher. For example, Stanley Gibb, professor at the University of Missouri is quoted by Sibley from an article in the American Political Science Review describing Drury’s account of Strauss “as one of the more curious episodes in the history of western political science” and that Drury’s “citations and quotations are often misleading, tendentious, inaccurate, or taken out of context.” Leon Craig, of the University of Alberta, says that political science students should be concerned about Drury’s interpretation, because it “misinterprets and misrepresents Strauss’s thoughts” (quoted by Sibley).

So what is it that Strauss advocates? He believed that “hiding” the truth of a text forced his students to decipher the text for themselves. Instead of delivering his thoughts in lectures, students must interpret and think through the ideas presented to them. It is a way of “understanding philosophic” texts, of “reading intelligently”, says Sibley in his article. This pedagogical methodology is the root of the accusation that the Conservatives foster a “hidden agenda.” This is the conspiracy that my neighbour is “really, really” afraid of.

For further study:

Drury, Shadia. The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss. (1988)
Martin, Lawrence. Your attention, please: The East’s great power rip-off is over. Thursday, Jan 19, 2006
McDonald, Marci. “The Calgary school.” Walrus Magazine. 2004
Sibley, Robert. “The making of a negative image.” The Ottawa Citzen. 2006
Sidebar. Ottawa Citizen, B4, Sunday, Feb.5, 2005
Strauss, Leo. On Tyranny (1948); Natural Right and History (1953); Liberalsim Ancient and Modern. 2004

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