(Originally published in October 2015)
Picture a first-class leftist self-promoter: riding an incoherent wave of anti-establishment fever to the highest seat in the land through sheer chutzpah and “newness”; easily exposed as a Marxist-influenced, neo-Maoist rabble-rouser, but somehow able to persuade the general populace that he is a pragmatic uniter; sweeping the media and the academics off their feet with his wordy arrogance, his smug, savior-like pronouncements, and the charismatic attraction of the seeming “man of destiny.”
I know what you’re picturing. Now imagine this man actually being almost as smart as his enthralled supporters think he is. No puppet of the ruling elite, or spiritually disfigured product of a series of exploitive “mentors,” he actually knows who and what he is, frames his own agenda, and thrusts himself upon his nation and the world with the flair and insouciance of a debonair hero. He was a progressive authoritarian’s dream come true, a conservative republican’s worst nightmare, and probably the single most divisive figure in his country’s history.
This was Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada’s third-longest serving prime minister (almost 16 years in total). After an academic career honing Marxist ideas, and many years as a socialist intellectual-at-large, during which he wrote “honest observer” whitewashes of international communism that would have made John Dewey proud, he finally made a pragmatic turn toward the “center,” abandoning the CCF party—the hardline socialist precursor to today’s New Democrats—to join the more electable Liberal Party. Maneuvering through the staid Liberal ranks by cleverly surfing the late ‘60s youth wave of peace, love, and good vibes, he was elected Prime Flower Child in 1968, in a national fit of what came to be called “Trudeaumania.”
During his first years in office, his girlfriend was Barbara Streisand. At the end of his final term, it was Margot Kidder. In between it was several other lefty women, some of them famous, in addition to the emotionally unstable wife who bore his sons, and reportedly also a couple of black eyes during the years of their marital breakdown. He likewise wielded his political power with little regard for moderation, tradition, norms, or principled commitment. Indeed, his great dream, and proudest accomplishment, was a document rechristening Canada—a member of the British Commonwealth—as, in effect, Trudeauland. The Constitution Act of 1982, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and other American leftists love to cite as exemplary of the modern social democrat philosophy they wish could replace the antiquated U.S. Constitution, was primarily Trudeau’s achievement.
He admired Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba, fostered anti-Americanism in Canada like no previous prime minister, but in the end was as devoted to his legacy and his messiah fantasies as to his socialism. He established a model of iconoclastic lone avenger leadership that has infected Canada’s politics ever since, with even so-called conservative Stephen Harper succumbing to this “I make the rules around here” ethic throughout his years as prime minister. The most accurate name for his style of governance was “Trudeaucracy”—analogous to “Maoism”—a term coined in 1972 by journalist Lubor Zink, an escapee of communist Czechoslovakia who saw something familiar in his adopted home’s new leader.
During Trudeau’s nationally televised funeral in the fall of 2000, the older but more boyishly handsome of his sons, Justin, took full advantage of his first opportunity in the limelight to flaunt his devotion to his father’s spirit for all to admire. His flamboyant, self-important eulogy ended with a prolonged pose—er, I mean pause—with head pressed in grief against Dad’s casket, a moment which became the single most representative image of the funeral.
Watching this reality TV show at the time, I distinctly remember that my wife—the best judge of character I know—was repulsed by a 28-year old son’s willingness to superimpose his own image upon his father’s last day in the national spotlight. And I also remember thinking, “This guy is going to be Prime Minister someday, and his campaign began today.”
Justin Trudeau’s quick political rise, culminating in his Liberal Party’s election with a majority government on October 19, was a series of “Oh, yes!” moments for those who pine for the good old days of Trudeaucracy: an empowered Quebec separatist movement; “language rights” forced down everyone’s throat; the country balkanized along East-West and English-French lines as never before; leftist social engineering; Keynesian economics; a vanguard position in the global entrenchment of relativist “multiculturalism”; the nationalization of the energy industry; the decimation of a once proud military; support for communist expansionism around the world; and a leader who says things like, “Viva el Primer Ministro Comandante Fidel Castro!” and praises Mao Zedong for eradicating hunger in China (presumably by letting all the starving people die off).
For those not so sanguine about the memory of Trudeaucracy, Justin’s ascent, though seemingly as pre-ordained and unstoppable as male pattern baldness, was a series of “Oh, no!” moments, as a once plucky little population spread sparsely over a vast, noble land looked at itself in the mirror each day and thought, “Is this really all we have left?”
Yes, sadly, it is. Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister-Designate of Canada. Within days of the election, he had signalled the change by promising a major Canadian role in next month’s UN climate fascism summit in Paris. Canada has officially had its Obama Moment. After barely clinging to her sanity with years of the ineptly almost-conservative Harper government, she has finally revived the era of Trudeaucracy. This round, however, promises to be Trudeaucracy revisited as farce, the New Left lobotomized—Obama North.
The distinctions between Trudeau the father and Trudeau the son—charismatic intellectualism vs. the cult of celebrity, politics as a clash of ideologies vs. politics as pop showmanship, pragmatic socialist gradualism vs. knee-jerk sloganeering, communist fellow-traveling vs. Islamo-pandering—are a microcosm of late modernity’s final stage of degeneration into nothingness. Fighting against the shapeshifting, duplicitous creature that was twentieth century progressivism was a difficult battle, unsuccessfully waged. But at least its opponents, the last-gasp defenders of political freedom, knew there was a monster under all those masks, and understood its danger and its foreignness. Today, civilization having sunk, its great battle lost (to update Yeats), we fight only the masks, and make our desperate lunges against a shadow. Progressivism, fulfilling its natural development, has abandoned us to leaders and leading intellectuals who barely even pretend to have ideas or ideals. We are ruled by slogans and ciphers, oppressed by an anti-human will-o’-the-wisp that has insinuated itself into our bloodstreams and neurons. In other words, we effectively enslave ourselves—too weary to fight, too sated with gratifications to think, too timidly dependent even to object very strongly—which has been the great project and purpose of real progressivism since its first seeds germinated in Germany two centuries ago.
Progressivism’s practical actors and beneficiaries remain among us, of course: the thugs and greedy backroom manipulators of the so-called left and right factions of the ruling establishment. But the intellectual superstructure of the movement, the men who made the theoretical case for collectivist authoritarianism in the name of the historical advancement of mankind—totalitarianism’s brilliant liars and self-deluders—are mostly a thing of the past. Their arguments, no longer needed, have withered away, as the State was supposed to have done in Marx’s theory. Today, rather than being prodded and cajoled toward the abyss with labyrinthine philosophical polemics and utopian rhetoric, we hurtle into disaster on greased wheels of sheer stupidity. In Canada’s instantiation of this final descent, the neo-Rousseauan idealism and distorted quest for “justice” that engendered the old Trudeaumania have been superseded by a simple, empty-headed mania, an enthusiastic longing for nothing. In other words, nihilism at last.
The very first episode of the old Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series was, for no particular reason, assigned the nonsense title “Whither Canada?” Good question. We now have the answer.