Of Theresa & Teleology

Short term win for Oswald could be long term loss for provincial NDP

The weekend of Mar. 6-9, the Manitoba NDP will head to its annual provincial convention, mandated with a leadership election. Of three candidates running, many have singled out Theresa Oswald for her electoral pragmatism and winnability. This justification for support is worth reflecting upon: Should leaders be determined based solely on their ability to win?

Although there is a normative component at work here, in that NDP supporters clearly believe the NDP expresses values best suited to actualize the common good, my contention is that selecting someone for their ability to ethically compromise in order to win elections and achieve power is a step in the wrong direction; a direction in which morality, decency and solidarity are systematically made subservient to political ends.

 But, some contend, is this not merely the way things operate in liberal democracies?  Perhaps it is, but the NDP’s designation as a social democratic party is enough to urge its divorce from the Western liberal tradition and the values for which it stands. For the emphasis on political pragmatism rests upon the origins of liberalism: The fact-value distinction.  

History illustrates that modern liberal democracy is grounded in the insights of Max Weber and his “disenchantment of the world.” Drawing from Nietzsche’s pronouncement that “God is dead,” the disenchanted world is a universe devoid of meaning and value, a mere set of facts which can be collected and classified. Forming the basis for the scientific method, its predictive and technological success was enough for social-scientifically inclined types to import its basic assumptions into the realm of politics and the study of humanity.

 As the postmodern turn has made obvious, this was misguided. Foucault famously exposed the pretensions to objectivity of many of liberalism’s social-scientific institutions as merely the “will to power.” 

Unfortunately this discourse led to another dead end: all values had to be rejected as simply one group of people forcing their views onto others. This seems an undesirable edifice upon which to construct a new politics, and as many have argued elsewhere, history’s transcontinental intellectual traditions provide us with vast resources for a return to a normative and value-infused politics. 

 Some have urged the necessity of a faith-based politics which looks to the insights of spirituality and religiously-informed moralities as an escape from the value-free vacuum. On this front, Canadian scholar John Ralston Saul has produced pioneering work engaging indigenous ways-of-knowing as one ethical tradition Canada could make better use of in its decision-making processes, and many at the University of Winnipeg echo his sentiments.  

The new Indigenous Requirement proposed by the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Students’ Council is one concrete way we can infuse new, more progressive insights into our curriculum, while also affirming our heritage and the intellectual traditions of Canada’s first peoples.

 The ruthless subversion of ethical and spiritual considerations to political ends has proven to be a historical dead-end. Respect for instrumental rationality and utilitarianism above any teleological values has destroyed our planet, subjugated millions and produced an abysmal track-record. It is neither a new or progressive perspective. 

While all supporters of Theresa Oswald are members of a political party that has consistently (if not universally) placed its values above politics, her vision for the party is one that is neither desirable nor one whose values accords with those of Manitobans, or those of the world.

Barret Reiter is a student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 69, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 4, 2015)

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