Weird column in today’s Leader-Post by Andrew Coyne (pictured). It’s about federal NDP leadership hopeful Thomas Mulcair and the fact that, in addition to being a Canadian citizen by birth, he also holds French citizenship through his marriage to a French-born woman.
In the first part of the column, Coyne lists a number of countries like Australia, Demark, Norway, Germany and Japan that require anyone who becomes a citizen of a foreign country to forfeit their citizenship in their home country.
No problem there. But after musing about the balance Canada has struck between being open to people from other lands and the fealty we expect from them, Coyne veers into looney-land and starts waxing poetically about the glories of Canadian citizenship and the demands it places on us. This sentence in particular jumped out at me:
And these in turn depend upon an expectation that we are, in some more fundamental sense, committed to each other: that we are pledged, not merely to live with each other, but to be bound by and to each other, and to that enterprise in which we are all engaged, the construction of a society based on justice.
I’m not sure where Coyne has been for the last 30 years, but doesn’t he realize that his concept of citizenship is decidedly old-school and idealistic in the extreme? I believe former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it best in 1987:
I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.
The technical term for that philosophical take on humanity is Homo Economicus. It’s the basis of most neo-liberal political and economic thought, and assumes that human beings are rational creatures whose actions are motivated exclusively by their desire to maximize their “utility” — be it through monetary or non-monetary means. In plain language, we look out for #1. We don’t concern ourselves with justice and other airy-fairy ideas like equality, fairness, community, environmental sustainability and anything else that doesn’t enhance our material well-being.
Usually, I enjoy Coyne’s insights into Canadian politics. But in this instance he really missed the boat.