WHAT LED TO CANADA’S CRISIS
Last week, the Canadian government invoked the Emergencies Act to break up the Freedom Convoy protests. Officials had accused the protesters—long-haul truckers and citizens gathered in Ottawa to peacefully oppose vaccine mandates—of being Nazis. The Emergencies Act gave the government cover to act without court approval and in defiance of constitutional rights. During the past week, the government used illegally obtained data and a media doxxing campaign to hunt down those who joined or supported the protests, and freeze their assets. The government planned the institutional unpersoning of civil dissidents, their supporters, and their families. International media and leftist civil liberty organizations sympathetic to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were skeptical. The situation did not meet the threshold needed to justify invoking the Act. On Wednesday, the government abruptly changed course and ended the state of emergency.
Nevertheless, a swathe of Canadians supported all this, and more. According to one poll taken last week, two-thirds of Canadians wanted the Freedom Convoy cleared out of Ottawa, even if it meant that the protesters “may get hurt, or worse.” How did the Canadian public not only accept, but broadly endorse, such a disproportionate legal and rhetorical response to a nonviolent protest?
The crisis had its origins in material conditions unique to Canada. A combination of elite overproduction and Canada’s position in the shadow of the United States has produced an ideologically supercharged managerial class that has accelerated the adoption of a new kind of emergency politics.
In Ages of Discord, Peter Turchin describes the consequences of elite overproduction. Middle-class youths strive for a college degree to ascend the social ladder. But because the true elites are always a small group, an excess of college graduates saturates the job market with mid-level managers. As these managers fight for scarce spots at the top, intra-elite jockeying becomes more fierce. Tests of ideological purity become a way of winnowing the competition. Those most insecure in their elite status do the most virtue signaling, and punch down on the “unenlightened” lower white classes as a way of confirming their rank. Ultimately, these people end up filling the ever-increasing number of mid-level positions in government, media, and universities.
The managerial class in Canada is much more powerful than that in the U.S., for several reasons. First, the managerial class makes up a much larger share of Canada’s population, because far more Canadians go to college. Whereas 51.9 percent of Americans between the ages of 25–34 have tertiary education, in Canada it is almost 65 percent. While America’s elites are decentralized (Wall Street and Silicon Valley are very different), Canada’s elites are concentrated in the Laurentian corridor of Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal. And there is a revolving door between the managerial institutions. Since Lester Pearson, prime minister from 1963 to 1968, every leader of the Liberal party has begun his career as either a civil servant, academic, professional party hack, Bay Street lawyer, or leader of one of Canada’s Laurentian “continental corporations”—or as the son of one of these. These institutions receive generous federal funding. So does the Canadian media, which is now financially dependent on the federal government. Because these institutions are regionally concentrated and rely on symbiotic relationships with one another, Canada’s managerial classes hold hegemonic political power.
Canada’s vassalage to the U.S. intensifies the harmful effects of this situation. Once Canada surrendered its British character and integrated itself into the American empire, it became part of the continental system of elite overproduction. Ambitious Canadians seeking the top-tier education that will gain them elite status quickly discover that Canada’s universities are, as one professor once told me, “frustratingly above-average.” The most talented young Canadians therefore tend to jump ship and move to the U.S. The sine qua non for their success is mastering the American empire’s language, which is the language of liberalism. Every ambitious Canadian learns that to ascend, you must talk like American liberal elites. The Canadians who become fluent succeed: They get a top-tier U.S. degree and join the prestigious American networks. By and large, these people do not then want to move back to the imperial backwater. The few who do—such as former Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff, who taught at Harvard, and the current Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who studied at Harvard and married a New York Times reporter—return home confident that they will be the big fish in the small pond. Hence Canada suffers a protracted brain drain to the U.S.
The most pernicious consequence for Canada is the influence of the large number of would-be elites who don’t quite make it. They are a case study in the “Janissary” phenomenon. In the Ottoman Empire, Janissaries were trained to be fanatically loyal to the sultan, and served as imperial shock troops. But they could never rule the empire and were condemned to be second-tier elites. Eventually, when they became too restless, the sultan imprisoned and executed them. Hoping to join the imperial elites, Canadian Janissaries demonstrate their unflinching loyalty to the imperial mission. They are good enough to advance, but not all the way. Their passion for the imperial mission persists even though, excluded from the highest elite circles, they know far less about that mission than they realize. Canada also attracts second-tier American elites. While they cannot ascend into the top-tier elite at home, they do in Canada. They bring their devotion to the liberal mission with them, skewing the institutions they run. Draft-dodgers and their children have been particularly influential.
These losers in the continental intra-elite competitive game are the people running the feebler Canadian counterparts of prestigious American institutions. Because the upper tiers of Canadian society have been saturated with them for several generations, standards have dropped. But Canadian elites have not noticed. Lacking self-awareness, they become more parochial than the unenlightened classes they scorn. As one would expect of Janissaries, Canadian elites are still determined to sound like their American counterparts. Consequently, they punch down with more zeal. Imagine a national elite composed of less successful versions of Sarah Jeong: They all mock the lower-class whites, but do not get jobs at the New York Times. That’s Canada’s ruling class.
This dynamic of surplus mid-level managers, with double the zealotry and mediocrity, has played out in the pandemic policy that provoked the protests, and set the tone for the government’s decision to enact a state of emergency. COVID restrictions are popular with the managerial classes because safetyist rhetoric is catnip to them. Sheltered from genuine hardship—job insecurity, physical danger, etc.—they live in fear of anything that threatens their comfort and sense of control. It is therefore unsurprising that Canada, dominated by managers, suffered the most draconian COVID restrictions in North America. And because the managerial class is huge and directs the media narrative, even the harshest restrictions have enjoyed a broad base of support. Canadian politicians often adopted harsher COVID restrictions than those recommended by their own scientific advisers. Whether it was mixing vaccine doses, distributing expired stockpiles, or attempting to steal from the global vaccine supply, Canada routinely defied the WHO. But national media directed Canadian attention elsewhere.
In the past year, Canada’s Janissaries attacked the unenlightened lower classes with more ferocity, and with cruder friend-enemy demarcations. Trudeau won the 2021 election in part by demonizing the unvaccinated. Consequently, thousands of unvaccinated Canadians cannot travel long distances, have been barred from participating in civil society, and have lost their jobs (in January alone, the province of Ontario lost 147,000 jobs due to “public health measures”; in the same month, the entire United States lost 301,000 jobs). The premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, vindicated the most alarmist conservative critiques of Canadian socialized medicine when he proposed a special healthcare tax on the unvaccinated. New Brunswick tried to ban unvaccinated residents from entering grocery stores. And cross-border truckers, despite being categorized as essential workers and praised since 2020 for keeping Canadians fed, were told they had to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. Trudeau connected the unvaccinated to the alleged vices of the lower white classes, stating, “They don’t believe in science. They are often misogynists, also often racists.”
The Ottawa protesters were rapidly branded insurrectionists and treated as enemies of the state. This made a state of emergency inevitable—no regime can with consistency tolerate those it labels enemies. And as expected, Canada’s Janissaries were eager to demonstrate their proficiency in the imperial language. Anxious to keep up with American liberals, they proclaimed that the Freedom Convoy was Canada’s January 6. My source within the Ontario government described his colleagues as “haunted” by the Capitol riots. As one Liberal MP said in the parliamentary debate on the Emergencies Act, the Canadian protesters are “donors from the US Capitol riots,” whose slogan “Honk Honk” is a coded “Heil Hitler.” In a country governed by mediocrities, the stupidity of this outburst is barely remarkable.
Finally, the proliferation of mid-level manager types has transformed state politics in much the way it transformed office politics. In the office, managers avoid direct conflict and naked displays of authority. They develop competitive strategies that enforce the illusion of equality among coworkers, and penalize those who breach egalitarian standards. Thanks to mid-level managers fixated on ideological purity, cancel culture is poised to become the normal technique of business. It is therefore unsurprising that Canada’s managerial classes, obsessed with ideological purity but blind to their own excesses, supported a state of emergency with “follow the money” rules that are going to affect thousands of people (the government has promised to enact legislation to make some of these measures permanent). Just as in office cancel culture, the protesters and their supporters will not lose their lives, but they will lose their livelihoods. And it is equally unsurprising that banks and investment firms are eager to help the state rather than their clients. They’ve been unpersoning their own workers and customers for years; whether it is the government, media, or HR encouraging them to do so makes no difference anymore.
Canada is to managerialism what the Soviet Union was to communism. The country sets precedents to be followed elsewhere. In this instance, to paraphrase Giorgio Agamben, the paradigm of cancel culture is poised to become the normal technique of governance.
Nathan Pinkoski is a research fellow and director of academic programs at the Zephyr Institute.
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Photo by GoToVan via Creative Commons. Image cropped.