Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Socialism with a Socialist Face in Ontario

October 1, 1990 -

Much to the surprise of nearly everyone, the Ontario New Democrats decisively won the September 6 provincial election (with 37.6 per cent of the popular vote).

On October 1, Premier Bob Rae and his cabinet colleagues were sworn in amidst a high level of euphoria. At the same time, the NDP victory has been tempered by the realization that we are facing tough economic times. The new premier has cautioned against harbouring unrealistic expectations and reminded his supporters that he is not only the premier of those who voted for him, but of all Ontarians. All new programs will have to be carefully balanced against existing possibilities.

No Socialism, No NDP

Nonetheless, Mr. Rae has insisted that the core program of the NDP, including such items as extending pay equity, providing public housing, and higher minimum wages, will receive priority attention. To do less would be to forsake what the NDP is all about and to lose its reasons for existence. As Rae once put it, the NDP without socialism would be like the Salvation Army without salvation: "No salvation, no army."

It is to be expected, however, that the word "socialism" will be used sparingly. Instead, policies will be couched in terms of democratization, building a more moral and caring society, and similar humanitarian sentiments. And who could be against that? Nevertheless, to understand the real significance of the NDP coming to power in Ontario, we need to probe beyond the high-sounding intentions and aspirations.

But what then can we realistically expect from the New Democratic government of Ontario that will be so different from past government policies? In one sense, the change will not be very dramatic, at least not initially—if only because of the present economic slowdown.

The previous Liberal government and the New Democratic Party are not fundamentally different. In fact, both parties had formed an alliance during the first Peterson government, which, among other things, resulted in the introduction of one of the most "progressive" pay equity programs in North America. The Liberal Party, like many modem parties, was simply following the drift in politics toward an increasingly interventionist state. One difference will be that the NDP will be openly flying the flag of socialism.

Whatever the specific policies the NDP government will adopt, it is safe to predict that, whether dramatically or gradually, it will move Ontario in a more statist direction. All it has to do is simply continue, and perhaps accelerate, the trend towards state intervention in nearly every area of society, including education, the economy, family policy, health, human rights, and welfare.

The real danger from the side of the new government in Ontario does not lie in the fact that it will introduce a radical socialist revolution. No, the fundamental problem is that more and more people are becoming accustomed to viewing the state as the ultimate source of security, community, and meaning. The reason is not obscure. Secularization, (the renunciation of belief in a sovereign and providential Creator-God) has led many people to seek the source of their ultimate trust or security within themselves or within the temporal world. Many people have given their allegiance to socialism because they believe that socialism is able to bring about the good society through political means. You might say that (Canadian) socialism is, therefore, a secularized version of the Christian belief in the kingdom of God. This is precisely what a previous generation of Canadian socialists with social gospel roots (for example, J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas) believed and preached with great fervor.

Socialist Blueprint

The modem state is increasingly playing the role that in previous generations was assigned to religion and private forms of associations. The corollary of this development is the weakening of the latter (the non-state structures). The high incidence of divorce and family breakdown is one of the most ominous and socially destructive results. Another culture-changing outcome is the increasing politicization of education.

What does all of this have to do with the coming to power of the NDP government in the province of Ontario? The Ontario government can be expected to vigorously pursue the idea and practice of an interventionist state. Jean Jacques Rousseau, who taught that individuals can only find their true freedom and meaning within the national community (the state), is alive and well in Ontario. At least his ideas are alive and well. In this context, Robert Nisbet's comments about the influence of the French revolution on the modern state are pertinent:

The State that would become powerful must become identified with the people; it must become absolutely identified. The State becomes powerful not by virtue of what it takes from the individual but by virtue of what it takes from the spiritual and social associations which compete with it for men's devotions. (R.A. Nisbet, The Quest for Community, p. 163) 

There are many indications that the drift to this kind of state is occurring in Canada, powerfully stimulated by the new political imperative of equality and by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A telling demonstration of this mindset is provided by Judge Rosalie Abella, author of the 1984 path-breaking Royal Commission report Equality in Employment.

This report, widely hailed in all "progressive" circles, is a blueprint for a collectivistic and politicized society that will be radically different from what many of us still consider to be a free and democratic society.

A New Jealous God

The late Roman Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, clearly saw the trend in modern politics directed as it was by the new secular faith in man's ability to create a new social order. Writing in 1936 in his Religion in the Modern State, Dawson predicted the increasing pressures on individual thought and behaviour as a result of the complete secularization of social life. Dawson foresaw that the state in such a society will not only be concerned with politics, but it will also seek to direct social conduct of any kind. Dawson wrote that such a state:

aspires more and more to govern the life of the individual, to mould his thought by education and propaganda, and to make him the obedient instrument of its will. The old individualist ideal of the State as a policeman whose business it is to clear the field for individual initiative is a thing of the past. The State of the future will be not a policeman, but a nurse, and a schoolmaster and an employer and an officer—in short an earthly providence, an all-powerful, omnipotent human god—and a very jealous god at that. We see one form of this ideal in Russia and another in Germany. It may be that we shall see yet a third in England and America. 

The eleven women in the new Ontario NDP government have let it be known that they're determined to push for their feminist agenda. They have called for a "radical overhaul of our society." Predictably, premier Rae will do his best to rein in the most radical spokespersons in his government. He is very well aware that it is one thing to spout socialist sentiments while in opposition but quite another to face the responsibilities of government. But whether the NDP government of Ontario will turn out to be moderate or not, its real significance lies in the fact that it confirms a powerful trend toward the further secularization and politicization of life.

At least, it can now be known by its real name. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, a journal founded by Harry Antonides. Find all of Harry’s pieces, and thousands more, at http://www.cardus.ca/comment