The leaders' three wise men: Frenchman's ideas 'a bit Trudeauesque'
Byline: Joanne Laucius, Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Page: A10, Edition: Final
We dissect our political leaders' sartorial selections, their colour preferences and what they like to eat. But one thing we usually fail to ask is who their favourite philosophers are. To wade too deeply into philosophy is to plumb essential and vexing questions, but one thing is clear: A candidate's favourite philosopher can reveal some of his ideas about us and our society. Here, in very simplified terms, Joanne Laucius looks at the philosophers who have shaped the candidates.
- - -Paul Martin's favourite philosopher began his intellectual journey as a typical quest for a young man -- the French academic wanted to find the meaning of life. But this quest had an unusual twist. Jacques Maritain, the son of a Protestant family, and his wife, Raissa Oumansouff-Maritain, a Russian Jewish poet, made a suicide pact. If they didn't understand the meaning of life after a year, they would kill themselves. After a year, the unlikely pair came to an equally unlikely conclusion -- instead of suicide, they both converted to Catholicism. "There were no more questions, no more anguish, no more trials -- there was only the infinite answer of God," Ms. Oumansouff-Maritain would later write.
Mr. Maritain was part of a movement that
began in the late 19th century that revitalized interest in the 13th-century
theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been called a
"20th-century Thomist." Like Thomas
Aquinas, Mr. Maritain believed that that there was no conflict between faith
and reason, and that the existence of God could be philosophically demonstrated.Religion, according to Mr. Maritain, was not a
matter of opinion or preferences, but a matter of truth. Mr. Maritain would
become one of the most influential Catholic thinkers of the 20th century.
Starting in 1932, he gave a series of lectures at the
In the 1930s, Mr. Maritain was attacked
for being "communistic" said William Sweet, a professor of philosophy
Mr. Martin has also acknowledged the
influence Mr. Maritain has in his life. Mr. Maritain, like Aquinas, believed in
the "first mover." "
Mr. Maritain and his wife returned to
One of Stephen Harper's favourite philosophers is Adam Smith, an 18th-century Scot known as the patron saint of economics and the free market. Mr. Harper is an economist by training, and, as he noted in one interview in 2002, he has been influenced by the classical economists.
Smith wrote the influential Wealth of Nations, a 1776 book whose ideas about the free enterprise still resonate today. His central idea? Unbridled market forces do a better job of promoting social good than the efforts of the state.
Smith was born in Kirkcaldy,
In 1751, Smith was appointed professor of
The success of the book attracted a
wealthy patron, and Smith took up a lucrative post as the tutor to the young
Duke of Buccleuch, which allowed him to travel in
Some have suggested that modern corporate libertarians have "betrayed" Smith. "For example, corporate libertarians fervently oppose any restraint on corporate size or power," wrote David C. Korten in When Corporations Rule the World, arguing Smith was writing about small farmers and artisans trying to get the best price for their products, and not giant corporations.
It appears that Smith himself was not gung-ho on greed. He lived his last years in semi-retirement and acquired another lucrative post, this time as commissioner of customs and salt duties. When he informed the Duke of Buccleuch that he no longer needed his pension, the duke replied that his sense of humour would not allow him to stop paying it. Perhaps Smith allowed his "invisible hand" to guide his financial affairs.
When he died in 1790, it appeared he had given away money "on a scale much beyond what would have been expected from his fortune."
leader Jack Layton's favourite philosopher was also
his mentor as a student at
Mr. Taylor, 72, may not have won at the
polls, but he knows how to wow them in academia. He is an internationally
respected and multifaceted thinker who has been been
a professor of moral philosophy at
Mr. Taylor's work covers topics ranging
from individual rights and collective responsibilities to language and
multiculturalism and the meaning of the secular state. He is also an expert on
the 19th-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm
Friedrich Hegel, a point Mr.
When Mr. Taylor approaches a problem, he thinks of it as a dialectic, Mr. Layton told the students. (Dialectic is the practice of weighing and reconciling contradictory points of view).The idea he was bringing out of the discussion is that resolutions to conflicts come out of dialectic, said Antonia Maioni, the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. "We don't have to be satisfied with the status quo," said Ms. Maioni."You can challenge assumptions in society."
But Hegel is only a small part of Mr. Taylor's work. He is often classified as a communitarian, a philosophy that places a high value on the good of the collective as opposed to the individual. Focus on the self, he says, "both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society."He has also taken on a large number of the big issues in western society. In his 1989 book, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Mr. Taylor, a devout Catholic, suggested that secular sources of inspiration may not be able to sustain important values over time, and suggested a return to Judeo-Christian spirituality. In a preface to a 1998 series of lectures on living in the secular age, he said he wanted to "get at the condition of belief/unbelief today." Why, he asked, was it difficult not to believe in God in 1500, while today it is faith that is hard?
His most recent works have focused on the idea of the western sense of self. Morality, Mr. Taylor explained in his 2002 book Sources of the Self, is the way we live, not just arguments about how we should behave. Morality is also about visions of the good that are unique to each individual's environment and culture, and not about universal visions that are imposed on us. He argues that individuals find visions of the good in our cultures, the groups we join and we define them for ourselves.