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Brown-John: Don’t take Canadian freedom or democracy for granted

Brown-John: Don’t take Canadian freedom or democracy for granted

A Canadian flag flies near the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Oct. 23, 2019.
A Canadian flag flies near the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century English political philosopher, in his 1651 analysis of relationships of citizens to governments published as “Leviathan,” argued that effectively there was a type of social contract between those who govern and those who are governed.

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In some religious works Leviathan is a sea monster or, more prosaically as a metaphor for an enemy or, in Christian theology, the sin of envy.

For Hobbes his preferred form of government was a form of absolute sovereign ruler — none of that democracy stuff! The Ruler by Hobbes’s account would be bound by a social contract whereby citizens, in exchange for civil war, chaos — or what he termed a “warre of all against alle” — would permit their Sovereign ruler to govern.

Citizens would give to governments virtually unlimited power. Under some rare circumstances sovereigns could be replaced.

Hobbes was not a democratic political theorist but he did get one point correct and that was that governments exist to ensure that absolute freedom does not descend into “warre of all against alle.”

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So when extremists raging against government claim they are fighting for freedom theirs is but one perception framed within a circumstance we all have experienced.

Covid — that apparently never ending plague — has given extremists especially from the far right in politics, an opportunity to rally against governments which are perceived to be restricting freedom by requirements related to masks and vaccinations.

Of course were governments, for example, to permit freedom to drive on any side of the road would this enhance our collective freedom?

Political disorder seems to be a prevalent intent of many persons and groups preaching against governments. How can one explain a bizarre Alberta United Conservative Party candidate who seems to believe that her province should pick and choose what relationship it would have with the rest of Canada?

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In the USA large groups of extremists urged and encouraged by a former president are blossoming as militias self-identified as “Oath Keepers” or “Proud Boys” or “People’s Rights”. Some are prepared to engage in violence such as the January 6th, 2021, insurrection in Washington D.C.

In light of a recent speech by a former US president in Pennsylvania in which he referred to the incumbent president Biden as an “enemy of the state” it would seem that it is a form of incitement to “save America” by an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government.

The problem that so many of these anti-democracy types have with government is largely their lack of knowledge and/or experience with ruthless regimes. Hobbes argued for a strong leader — it took other philosophers over the next two centuries to drive home dangers inherent in a regime of unlimited or unrestrained government.

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Democracy is a fragile experiential opportunity. It should not be squandered following rhetorical outbursts. At the moment Canada has a healthier democracy than America in large measure because we have a rather more distinct culture.

Americans are burdened with two entrenched parties while we have several serious political parties. We have a caring culture premised in some measure upon development of a social welfare system. Many Americans obsessed with a fear of socialism and even worse tree-hugging environmentalists live in a world of paranoia.

Carrying of concealed weapons — now part of the rights package in several American states — is widely considered anathema in Canada.

Nevertheless, we still have some Canadians who have fully misunderstood the nature of our cherished freedoms and see in governments’ efforts to protect society in general as akin to eliminating rules about which sides of highways we may drive upon. Let chaos reign! A sentiment echoed by a Conservative Party leadership candidate.

Arguably, politicians who promote irresponsible behavior should themselves be viewed as “enemies of the state and of democracy.”

Freedom in Canadian democracy is much more than a grunted waving of our flag and screaming about freedoms of which many appear to know so very little.

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