Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Chill from the North

As intimated in a previous post, the A.P.S.A. will be asked to consider whether the siting of next year's conference in Toronto, Canada - in light of Canada's restrictions on free speech - should be reconsidered or at least cause for "engagement" with the host city/nation. A story about the petition appears in today's National Post. Details of the petition, as well as pointed questions, are provided by "The Marquette Warrior." I am among a number of the signatories of the petition.

What's further of interest to me is that the A.P.S.A.'s official response to the efforts by some activists to move the 2012 annual meeting from New Orleans included the stated intention to pursue "enhanced engagement with host cities on state and local issues of importance to the APSA." There was no mention here of "Provincial" or "National" issues, revealing that even the Association's efforts to pretend that the word "American" in its title can include all of North America - and perhaps South America as well - in an undifferentiated fashion, could only have been a wishful thought posing as a fait accompli. While the absence of any discussion whatsoever about siting the annual conference outside America (yes, America) appears to be a wish for a future in which nations cease to matter, in such details the Association cannot help but acknowledge the persistence of nations and differences between them. One would think an association devoted to the study of politics would not find such persistence embarrassing or regrettable. Or perhaps the ultimate ambition is to rename itself "The Global Post-Political Science Association." It's not clear what would be left to study.

UPDATE: More links on the petition are Here.


Anonymous said...

You write:

"While the absence of any discussion whatsoever about siting the annual conference outside America (yes, America) appears to be a wish for a future in which nations cease to matter", thereby pointing towards something called "The Global Post-Political Science Association."

However, you don't say anything to establish a necessary logical connection between holding an APSA meeting outside of the U.S. and post-nationalism. For instance, the National Football League recently held a football game in London, England, yet I heard no suggestion that it was thereby covertly expressing a wish for a "future in which nations cease to matter". And although the Toronto Blue Jays have existed for some time now, I have heard no suggestion that the American League be re-named the "Global Post-Political League". The "National Hockey League" has included American and Canadian teams since before you, and probably your parents, were born. So what exactly is the connection between holding a meeting outside of the U.S. and the demise of the nation-state?

Patrick Deneen said...

Like the economy in which they function (and are deeply a part), such leagues have become ever-more expansionist in keeping with the globalizing imperative of the modern growth economy. I don't think it's any secret that these institutions have aimed to be multi-national, any less than GE or GM.

However, it's worth at least noting that most of these sports sprung up in regional areas and usually had some relationship to season and weather. Hockey was once a consummate regional sport, played in the winter because frozen water was a key element. What is offensive about its expansion is not that it has moved beyond national borders, but that it has moved outside its natural region, specifically to places where water rarely freezes. The same could be said about baseball in air-conditioned baseball parks in the swamps of Florida.

What I mean to question is why the "American Political Science Association" - explicitly a nation-based Association, as the name in the title indicates, claims to including North and South America notwithstanding - should feel the need to hold its signature event abroad (would Canadians find it uncurious if the Canadian Political Science Association held its annual meeting in Los Angeles? If the New England Political Science Association held its annual meeting in Tallahassee?). In this case I don't think it's driven most fundamentally by the imperative of market expansion (obviously not, since we speak of a non-profit), but rather an intellectual agenda that has grown alongside the market expansion mentality (and is deeply dependent upon it), namely post-national cosmopolitanism. Less controversial than recent discussions about whether to site the conference in New Orleans, it draws from the same leveling impulse to demolish all distinctions. Because it is less controversial, it is more insidious, and for that reason deserves more attention than in general it has received.

Anonymous said...

In fact, I do resent the expansion of hockey throughout the United States (although not in those areas were the game has been played historically).

However, it seems to me that your response raises a problem for your position insomuch as you originally posed this stark formulation:

"the Association cannot help but acknowledge the persistence of nations and differences between them. One would think an association devoted to the study of politics would not find such persistence embarrassing or regrettable"

However, your response acknowledges:

"the globalizing imperative of the modern growth economy"

In other words, its not strictly accurate to oppose "politics" and "post-nationalism" at this moment in history. The simple fact is that politics is becoming increasingly post-national (even if that means less political in a certain specific sense), so much so that such an unusually American product as American football is now played in England (even if only for one day a year).

So I think that it is in fact natural for any "political science association" in the modern world to take account of the post-national element.

Now, your real complaint is then with the "intellectual agenda" which you take to be implicit in the choice. But if the goal is simply to host the meeting in a locale that reinforces, say, American nationalism over cosmopolitanism, why stop at having it held in America? I suppose the next logical move would be to petition to have it held in, say, Tulsa, rather than Boston or wherever. But to win any of those political proxy battles you'll have to start by changing the intellectual orientation of the political science profession, a cause which I doubt that these sorts of petitions do anything to advance.

Patrick Deneen said...

I think it's quite possible to acknowledge and study the phenomenon of globalization without seeking to advance it as an intellectual agenda of a national organization. Nor should we assume that it is inevitable, lest we fall into the same intellectual mistake as the previous generation who assumed the inevitability of secularization. Contrary your statement, there is a difference between acknowledging the existence of, even studying, this expansionist imperative and accepting it as a fait accompli, much less as desirable.

If the Association believes that we should embrace a post-national condition, then this belief should be part of a broader discussion, even one that considers whether the appellation "American" if its title is too antiquated. What I dislike is the unwillingness to acknowledge that the siting of the convention in Canada is an implicit nod in this direction in the absence of any significant conversation about this assumption.

I DO have a complaint about this intellectual agenda, and have been trying to make the case to whomever is interested in listening on this site and elsewhere in my writings. Perhaps I should not have discussed these concerns in post that drew attention to the petition. I did seek to draw a distinction between my specific set of concerns ("What's further of interest to me...") and the argument being made in the petition. I recognize they are two separate issues. Yet, in an interesting way they are actually deeply connected - as a matter of philosophy - since the grounds for prosecution and civil suits under the Canadian and various Provincial HRC's is driven by the same philosophical agenda as globalization (both seek to make us cosmopolitan democrats in which distinctions of culture, background and tradition cease to matter). So, while the issues should not be confused and should be addressed distinctly, it's worth noting that there is a deep confluence of philosophical assumptions underlying both issues.

I'm not sure why you think that Boston is not part of America and Tulsa is, but I wouldn't object to Tulsa as a conference site. I think the problem tends to be practical - which cities have enough conference and accomodation facilities to accomodate 7,000+ political scientists? I fear Tulsa may not.

Anonymous said...

Patrick Deneen said...

Here is Matthew Franck's response to Cliff Orwin's op-ed (link is in the previous comment). It's here:

"Loathed in Toronto [Matthew J. Franck]

Sunday evening I blogged here (and here and here) about a petition of political scientists concerned about the 2009 meeting of the American Political Science Association being located in Toronto, given the worrisome trend of assaults on free speech in Canada. The petition's signers include such eminent scholars as Hadley Arkes of Amherst, Walter Berns of AEI, James Ceaser of the University of Virginia, Robert George of Princeton, Charles Kesler of Claremont, Harvey Klehr of Emory, Harvey Mansfield of Harvard, and James Q. Wilson, a past president of the APSA.

On the other side, opposing the petition—indeed, ridiculing its signers—is the distinguished political theorist Clifford Orwin of the University of Toronto, who counterpunches in today's Globe and Mail. I know Orwin, though not extremely well, and I have long admired his writings both academic and popular. So his opposition is a disappointment. But still more disappointing is the poor quality of his arguments.

Orwin has two arguments, not entirely comfortable coexisting with each other—and neither one stands very steadily on its own. First, he challenges us to "adduce a single instance of the abridgment of academic freedom in Canada," and assures us that "Canada's record on academic freedom is exemplary." But the petition explicitly concedes that we know of no cases yet brought against academics by any Canadian human rights commissions (HRCs), federal or provincial. Our point, which Orwin does not trouble to attempt refuting, is that the HRCs have an untrammeled authority over what is said in Canada, that they are complaint-driven, and that they are procedurally lawless. We don't know when the first HRC proceeding will commence against a Canadian professor, or a visiting academic from elsewhere. Neither does Orwin. But when a man's barn is on fire, he doesn't wait until the blaze reaches the house before he calls the fire company. The day after tomorrow, "Canada's record on academic freedom" may be anything but "exemplary." If that happens, I trust Orwin will change his tune. If it happens to Orwin, a lot of us who signed the petition will be happy to rally to support him.

Orwin's second argument is that the problem of the HRCs is "for Canadians to worry about. Americans should stick to their own worries." That's right. He admits that the HRCs are a problem—a tricky dance step, since he tells us we're cowards to worry about them. In fact, Orwin writes that he "loathe[s] human-rights commissions as much as anyone." (So far as I can tell, this is the first time the well-published Orwin has said so in print. So at least we accomplished that much!) Of course, Orwin writes frequently for the Canadian press on American politics, with the useful perspective of an American expat who has lived in Canada for many years. In fact, he is known up yonder as a fairly reliable defender of America. But if he were a native Canadian, and a consistent critic of America, I wouldn't tell him that American problems are none of his business. Yet evidently we Yankees should just zip it about Canada.

Even this rude rebuke would be easier to take if Orwin were telling us that Americans should stay away from Canada. But no, he wants the APSA to hold its meeting in Toronto, and, I can only conclude, for everyone in attendance to shut up about Canada's HRCs for the duration. Toronto is not Beijing, but would Orwin counsel us to go there and say nothing about the fate of freedom? One might keep quiet in a really dangerous place like Beijing on prudential grounds—but one's silence would not be mistaken for a principled stand.

Along his sneering way, Orwin suggests that "what's really going on" in the petition drive is that "the question of location [of APSA meetings] has become politicized, first by the left and now, in revenge, by the right." I will freely admit that the "boycott New Orleans" effort by gay-marriage advocates prompted us organizers of the Toronto petition to think about what to do about the APSA. But our aim is to get APSA to stop politicizing its choices as an organization, in ways that have nothing to do with its purposes as an association of scholars who study politics. Freedom of speech, unlike gay marriage, is at the center of APSA's purposes. And isn't it interesting that defense of free speech is regarded by Orwin as a project of "the right"? This will be news to those among our signers who don't think of themselves as right-wing.

And I have to correct the record on one point. Orwin, like some reporters and bloggers elsewhere, says that if APSA rebuffs our petition, the signers "will boycott next year's meeting," leaving him to enjoy the company only of those American political scientists unwilling to criticize his adopted country. I can't speak for them all, but some of our signers might stay away; some political scientists wouldn't sign the petition because under no circumstances will they set foot in Canada while it is afflicted with the HRCs. But most of us, and certainly we who organized the petition, plan to be there to speak out on all the matters that concern us—sexual morality, radical Islam, and the slow-motion collapse of Canadian freedom. We make no claim that our presence there will be particularly brave; we'll be in and out in a weekend. Real courage is what full-time Canadians need, however, if they wish to utter certain heterodox opinions.

Orwin concludes thus: "Surely I have as much right to defend Canada as you to traduce it." Yes, indeed. I hope he will improve his arguments and try again on a panel with us at next year's meeting. But first he will need to find someone among us who has traduced Canada. We think it is doing a fine job of that all by itself."

Anonymous said...

Franck's does not respond to any of Orwin's specific points. His response is all about "the day after tommorow". He provides no mechanism for assessing whether his "day after tommorow" scenario is anymore likely than, say, Jake Gyllenhaal's or Friedrich Nietzsche's.


Patrick Deneen said...

Actually, I think Franck answered Orwin's one relevant point well, namely, the uncertainty over the legitimacy of a third party using an HRC in order to file a complaint against an academic at a conference. No one - not Orwin nor Levy - really knows the limits of such a reach. What the petitioners are seeking is for the APSA to engage in discussions with the relevant Canadian authorities to seek assurances that there is no cause for concern (frankly, it's doubtful that Canadian authorities can give such assurances - but it would be good to have them beforehand in any event). This is well within the Association's stated commitments and obligations to academic freedom (see the relevant passage cited by Levy - one that presumably is supported by academics of any political leanings, Levy included), and has also been underscored in the APSA's response to the request to relocate the 2012 conference in an explicit commitment for "engagement" with host cities in the event of concerns with issues such as academic freedom. The petitioners are not seeking to have the conference moved or mounting a boycott - they are asking the APSA to "engage" with Canadian authorities to clarify whether HRC prosecutions could be used to extend to presentations in academic conferences. It's Orwin and Levy (and anyone else who says otherwise) who really aren't addressing the issue (I admire their patriotism, however, and their distaste for the chilling of speech north of the border. More of that, and the spirit of George Grant may still yet live).