Last year at this time Discourse happily published senior contributor Neil Cameron’s annual Christmas doggerel, a piece he thoroughly enjoyed preparing over the years for the amusement of friends and colleagues around the St. Lawrence Institute in Montreal.
Sadly, after prolonged health problems, Neil passed away this year before he could produce a final contribution. His lively wit and prolific command of history will be sorely missed. He was an irreplaceable fixture in our city’s small but feisty network of conservative intellectuals.
Neil was held in high esteem by many of his former students at John Abbott College. Among them was, Andrew Swidzinski, who penned the following piece about his life and times for The Montreal Suburban.
Remembering Neil Cameron
By Andrew Swidzinski
Former Equality Party MNA, History Professor and Suburban columnist Neil Cameron died Wednesday December 18th 2019 at age 81 from complications resulting from kidney failure. He will be long remembered and sorely missed not only for his brief but eventful political career but as an exceptional teacher and mentor to generations of students who, like myself, had the privilege of learning from him.
Neil Cameron was born in 1938 in Weyburn Saskatchewan, but grew up mostly in Calgary, Alberta. His father, a surgeon who had served as a field medic in World War I, died when he was an infant, leaving his mother to raise him alone. From an early age he was a voracious reader and excellent student. His childhood heroes were the great scientists and philosophers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a rare young admirer of the Continue reading →
soapbox atheism of Bertrand Russell in the heart of the Bible Belt, he would sometimes attend evangelical revival meetings so that, when asked for his name and number for further contact, he could cheerfully provide that of a neighbor or acquaintance instead. He earned a degree in Mathematics from Queens University in 1964, travelled Europe, and moved to Montreal where he studied at McGill, earning an M.A. in History and working towards a PhD for which he moved to Britain to research and interview leading British scientists on their involvement in the Allied war effort in WWII.
In the months prior to our 2019 election, among the usual third of Canadians who look less favourably on permanent surrender to socialist ideologues and post-modern dialecticians, there was a perception that the winds of change might be blowing across the Canadian political landscape.
In the Canadian west Justin Trudeau’s trendy opposition to the fossil fuel industry was wearing thin. The national debt level was troubling and several unforced errors had tarnished the brand of the most photogenic and“woke” Prime Minister in the history of the Dominion.
South of our border the much maligned, American capitalist, Donald Trump was presiding over one of the most dramatic economic turnarounds in American history. Many ordinary Canadians were making common sense comparisons between the two leaders and Justin Trudeau’s priorities were raising serious questions.
In addition, some very skeptical antennas went up when the Prime Minister attempted to gain political advantage by interfering with the justice system and was censured by the Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner for improperly trying to influence the course of justice in an ongoing criminal case against the Quebec-based engineering firm, SNC Lavalin. All of this, along with a rather embarrassing trip to India which looked more like a costume party than a state visit, had damaged the Liberal brand and left the PM with a much diminished 32% approval rating by July 2019.Continue reading →
During the 20th century era of national socialist and communist dictatorships, the deplatforming of political opponents was a straightforward process. It usually took the form of prolonged torture, a bullet to the back of the head or long incarceration in a concentratio
Today, in the West, deplatforming is a much more sanitary process. State executions or long incarcerations are frowned on, even for convicted felons. In the present era deplatforming has increasingly come to be understood as a therapeutic intervention into the body politic.
Generally speaking, the technique worked effectively for the commanding elites of totalitarian regimes. That’s why there are relatively few writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Vladimir Bukovsky on 21st century bookshelves. This vicious approach toward political adversaries permitted leftist establishments to silence some of the most brilliant and accomplished voices of reason in our times. It still does in countries like China and North Korea.Continue reading →
Over the last 100 years America’s progressive elites have made their home in the Democratic Party. Progressive leaders like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, along with legions of supporters in academia, journalism, public service, education, entertainment and the arts have been moving that country’s vital centre further and further away from its early origins in classical liberalism, constitutional government and moral custom.
From time to time the international left’s will to dominance has been slowed down by the appearance of countervailing conservative intellectual movements and larger-than-life figures like John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Donald J. Trump; but as the free world prepares to enter the third decade of the 21st century; the USA, once Canada’s strongest and most reliable ally in defence of liberty, may be on the way to becoming a shadow of its former self.
Suicide of the West
In his recent book, Suicide of the West:How the Rebirth of Tribalism. Populism and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, Senior National Review Editor, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that the development of constitutional democracy and the “Miracle” of democratic capitalism had an enormously positive effect on the West which eventually spread throughout the world. “The results” he said, “were inescapable: nearly everywhere on the planet men and women lived longer, ate better, enjoyed more leisure, and had access to resources and delights that previously had been reserved for the very rich and powerful, or more commonly, had been utterly unknown.” Along similar lines, British historian, Andrew Roberts, in A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900, has argued that the “Miracle” described by Goldberg had important beginnings in Anglo-Saxon England.
Over the last half century, however, the allegedly “privileged history” of Anglo-Saxons has become the subject of fierce criticism by post modern historical revisionists who view the past behaviour of our English-speaking forefathers as inherently evil, entirely self-serving and oppressively patriarchal.
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When I started teaching in the late 1960s there were still unresolved issues between “traditional teachers” and “progressive educators”. Traditional teachers usually held academic degrees in particular disciplines; like history, literature, math or chemistry. Progressives typically held degrees in “education”.
With regard to the curriculum, the two camps differed over the relative importance of “what to teach” and “how to teach.” The traditionalists focused on the content of the lesson. Progressives professed to be interested in how students learn. Traditionalists commonly used direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressives sought to organize “cooperative learning experiences” that were to produce “critical thinking” skills.
Over the years, serious academics on both sides of the political spectrum, claimed that progressive teaching practices dumbed down the curriculum and emptied the content of the humanities. For whatever reason, academic standards over the last half century tumbled faster than a Soviet gymnast on steroids and the spirit of open-ended, rational inquiry sunk to an all time low. Over the same period political consciousness among students rose to 18th century revolutionary levels. Teachers’ unions became more radical and more partisan. We aligned with left-wing political parties from which we won higher salaries. We sought graduate degrees from progressive education faculties; which qualified us for even higher salaries and influential positions in the educational establishment. By the end of the 1970s we had transformed teaching from a low-paying, rather prestigious, “vocation” to a relatively well-paid, adversarial “mission”.
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On the eve of a House vote on the Trump Administration’s first major Bill, The American Health Care Act, it was business as usual for Washington Democrats and their fellow travelers.
Maxine Waters was still calling for impeachment, young anarchists were still beating up senior citizens at “March 4 Trump” rallies, Chuck Schumer was still blocking Trump appointments in the Senate and Adam Schiff was still hot on the trail of a phantasmagoric Trump plot to hand the USA over to the Russians. Liberal media outlets were still hammering home the President’s negatives and much of America’s top drawer meritocracy remained opposed to a man they regard as a populist buffoon who won the Presidency with voters from the bottom end of American society.
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Throughout recent election campaigns, from the articles, speeches, broadcasts and lectures of North America’s chattering class, the public has been hearing a lot of condescending reference to something the liberal left likes to call “trickle down” economics.
Progressive humourists, entertainers, politicians and academics generally use the term to disparage the merits of free-market capitalism. More specifically, they are referring to “supply side economics” which shaped the policies of the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions of the early 1980’s. It is something they say we should never return to.
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“That children from poor and illiterate homes tend to remain poor and illiterate is an unacceptable failure of our schools, one which has occurred not because our teachers are inept but chiefly because they are compelled to teach a fragmented curriculum based on faulty educational theories. Some say that our schools by themselves are powerless to change the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. I do not agree. They can break the cycle, but only if they themselves break fundamentally with some of the theories and practices that education professors and school administrators have followed over the past fifty years.” E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Cultural Literacy (1988)
In the late 1980’s E.D. Hirsch Jr’s poignant observations about the general decline of “cultural literacy” became part of an ongoing debate about the quality, methods and purposes of schools. Hirsch’s controversial book on the subject underscored the fact that generations of contending educational reformers have either looked backward to sounder practices from “the good old days” or forward to what many believed to be liberation from the “dead hand of tradition.”
Most of us who have spent time in the education business, have to acknowledge that so-called “new discoveries” by “best practitioners” in education have beaten back the defenders of form and content in the traditional classroom. For some time, almost every purveyor of one form of “social justice” after another have found willing allies among progressive school teachers. Today, the fragmented curriculum, referred to by Hirsch in the nineteen eighties, remains a collection of disconnected subjects and technocratic skill sets. Unfortunately, people tend to applaud a familiar tune and a persistent culture of approval among unquestioning stakeholders has been supporting educational practices whose value has long since passed. If Canadians are to have any chance of reestablishing schools as serious centers of teaching and learning parents and citizens must first endeavor to understand how schools came to be the way they are.
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More than ever it appears that Canadians out of step with our progressive-liberal establishment continue to be reminded that conservatism, in almost any form, is at best inappropriate and at worst an affliction.
In fact, those who voted for Stephen Harper in the last election are generally left to conclude that: for the foreseeable future they can expect to be marginalized by our established opinion-makers.
Sure, conservatives can find support for their convictions in The Rebel Media, The Prince Arthur Herald or the occasional opinion piece in the National Post; but with the collapse of Sun TV, almost all of Canada’s most accessible broadcasting and press outlets are, once again, in the hands of their opponents. In the mid-nineteen sixties, the late, Lionel Trilling described the Left as our “adversary culture.” In 2016 it’s the other way around.
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The audacity of Canadians who have elected Stephen Harper throughout the entire Obama era appears to be as troubling for east coast American liberals as it is for the overwhelming majority in Canada’s media and cultural establishment.
This became evident early in our current election campaign when the legendary New York Times, newspaper of record for the American left, enlisted a young Toronto journalist to pen a stern warning for Canadians who might consider re-electing a Conservative government.
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