Anton Jäger On Bowling Alone

  • Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert Putnam should be seen in context with the “civic crisis literature” of the 1990’s.
  • What Putnam predicted about the internet has held up well.
  • Social capital is a measure/concept responding to “the demands of quantification”. Social capital is a purely individualistic and instrumental view of social ties.
  • There is no mention of the Volcker shock or union density in Bowling Alone.
  • Party political life in the mid-20th century (example of french communists) was not merely instrumental but wholly social, sacrificial. Church and party had an active stake in personal life.
  • The internet should be considered as a social form itself. Online has neutralized and sanitized risk.
  • The British Tories were the first mass party.
  • Assumption: right-wing associations have survived so that’s why they are stronger. Actually it’s even worse, the right has the advantage of operating in capitalism and increases in asset prices sustain homeowners associations.
  • The decline in social capital drives social inequality. Middle class associational life has weathered the storm as simple economic power floats middle class ties.
  • Police unions are very strong. All this said, some right-wingers perceive that the crisis is even worse on the right.
  • Neo-feudal notion that “we’ve all become peasants” is false. Peasants were self-sufficient and Marx said that they don’t have the experience of social labour. Now the work we do on a laptop is extremely social.

John Duffy studies #1: Justin Trudeau and Canadian federal elections

Post-war elections in Canada and the UK

  • What’s the criteria for a significant election? Great fight, a big national policy question and evolution in the structure of how politics works
  • What is the 2021 44th election about? Trudeau compared it to the 1945 election.
  • King presented Canada with the foundations of a social welfare state pre-WW2 and then post-war asked “are we really going to do this stuff now?” This followed on from the social impacts of the Great Depression.
  • King’s Liberal govt. was returned and they implemented the social agenda (King and Louis St. Laurent).
  • In Britain Winston Churchill lost at the polls to Clement Atlee because voters didn’t believe Churchill would deliver social programs despite his claiming otherwise.
  • Britons had come to believe they were fighting for these social supports.

Election 44

  • Trudeau is claiming the policy subject of this election is social programs like childcare within a wider package responding to inequality.
  • The Conservative platform platform asserts that they don’t want to have institutions deliver childcare but rather give families cash and let them shop.
  • It is a significant election.
  • The Liberals are framing a “stay the course” ballot question and have been good at cementing this perception.
  • Liberals went from 3rd to 1st saying “Canada’s changed and the Conservatives have not changed with it.” (ie. Canada is socially liberal, progressive, values equity, action on climate change etc.) In response Canadians said “yeah that’s my Canada”.
  • Liberals have been running “choose your Canada” campaigns in recent years implying the modern Conservative party is alien to Canada (it’s more American).
  • In this election the Liberals are going to add vaccination as something “Canadians do” the (Liberals will do this fairly aggressively).
  • The Conservatives want to frame the election as an economic choice ie. the Liberals are incompetent and profligate and don’t really care for the sources of prosperity.
  • The NDP will be asking “Is Trudeau actually sincere, can you trust him?”

Federal elections in Canada

  • Geography is so key to Canada: historically the most typical governing coalition (by region) is Quebec and the Prairies with bits and pieces of elsewhere (extra context: Quebec and the Prairies vote more cohesively).
  • This coalition is defeated when it doesn’t vote cohesively and an alternative is put together with a more solid B.C., Ontario and Maritime vote.
  • The emergence of the Bloc since 1992 has taken Quebec mostly out the equation.
  • The second thing is urban growth. Canada used to be rural but now has very large cities and that’s where people are (“very large urban blobs”).
  • Urban places have voting patterns that are more like each other than traditional divides like language and region (downtown Calgary is more like downtown MTL than rural Alberta).
  • The battleground now is the suburbs (esp. far/new suburbs like Abbotsford, Milton and east of MTL).
  • Strong indicator: are Liberals winning urban seats in unfavourable regions? Calgary, Edmonton.
  • For Liberals it’s no longer a matter of regional pieces but playing the politics of urban denisty, “bringing together a national majority of urban and suburban dwellers”.
  • For the Conservatives in this election the effort is to hold back the Liberals in Ontario and B.C.
  • In 2006 Harper beat Martin on childcare. But Trudeau can say “did anything actually come of Harper’s childcare?” In this case Trudeau has deals with the provinces.
  • The vaccine wedge is very effective for Trudeau as Conservative insiders themselves say.


  • Vaccination and Covid-19 stupidity played into Trump’s defeat.
  • Canadian elections are decided on what happens domestically but you can get caught flat footed.
  • A big risk is appearing to be tone deaf, anyone can say “you’re being inappropriate”.
  • Debates can still be critical even given the social media equalizer.
  • Trudeau gave a bravura performance in the Munk debate. He won over the immediate and television audience (put Mulcair in the background and made Harper try a father knows best routine).
  • Horwath mailed in second 2018 debate performance and the NDP upward trajectory went flat (interviewer: Ford was able to say Horwath and Wynne are the same).
  • Strategists think about turnout more and more as the years go by because as the boomers retire and elder members die the notable propensity of older voters to vote Conservative gets leavened.
  • In 2015 boomers got balanced out as youth and First Nations actually turned out and voted in big numbers.
  • In this country everyone makes it easy to vote unlike the USA (voting is above politics, a matter of technocratic and bureaucratic management).
  • This election may well go down at policy-pivotal.
  • Climate change is an all-encompassing challenge and issue.

Simone Weil in On the Abolition of All Political Parties

“Everywhere, without exception, all the things that are generally considered ends are in fact, by nature, by essence, and in a most obvious way, mere means. One could cite countless examples of this from every area of life: money, power, the state, national pride, economic production, universities, etc., etc.

Goodness alone is an end. Whatever belongs to the domain of facts pertains to the category of means. Collective thinking, however, cannot rise above the factual realm. It is an animal form of thinking. Its dim perception of goodness merely enables it to mistake this or that means for an absolute good.”

“…no finite amount of power will ever be deemed sufficient. The absence of thought creates for the party a permanent state of impotence, which, in turn, is attributed to the insufficient amount of power already obtained. Should the party ever become the absolute ruler of its own country, international contingencies will soon impose new limitations.

Therefore the essential tendency of all political parties is towards totalitarianism, first on the national scale and then on the global scale, And it is precisely because the notion of the public interest which each party invokes is itself a fiction, an empty shell devoid of all reality, that the quest for total power becomes an absolute need. Every reality necessarily implies a limit – but what is utterly devoid of existence cannot possibly encounter any form of limitation. It is for this reason that there is a natural affinity between totalitarianism and mendacity.”

“If a man, member of a party, is absolutely deter mined to follow, in all his thinking, nothing but the inner light, to the exclusion of everything else, he can not make known to the party such a resolution. To that extent, he is deceiving the party. He thus finds himself in a state of mendacity; the only reason why he tolerates such a situation is that he needs to join a party in order to play an effective part in public affairs. But then this need is evil, and one must put an end to it by abolishing political parties.

A man who has not taken the decision to remain exclusively faithful to the inner light establishes mendacity at the very centre of his soul. For this, his punishment is inner darkness.”