Some Thoughts on an Old Metaphor: From the Ship of State to The Armada of State

In Book VI of The Republic, Plato likened governing a polis to piloting a ship. Plato’s interlocutor, Socrates, invoked this ancient parable to explain why the ship’s unassuming star-gazing navigator represents the philosopher-king who possesses the best qualities — namely, the knowledge — to pilot the ship, despite his not vying for the role against the other squabbling sailors, who represent demagogues. Thence comes the age-old observation that those best suited to wield political power are normally those who do not seek it or actively avoid it.

This has since become known as the “Ship of State” metaphor. I suppose that the appellation of “State” in “The Ship of State” came later than Plato, because, as far as I understand, the meaning and use of “the State” as a word for a type of polity dates from Early Modern Europe — and perhaps even from Machiavelli himself, who popularized the term in The Prince (“estato” in Italian) — rather than from the Ancients and the third century BC when Plato and Aristotle wrote.

A thought occurred to me recently which seems worth sharing. I’m not invoking the Ship of State metaphor in the way that Plato did (as an allegory for the philosopher-king and good government); instead, I’m invoking the superficial use of the metaphor and looking at the State itself rather than at the qualities necessary for the captain who would pilot the ship most ably of all those who vie to steer it.

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A Review of the Play 1979 and Joe Clark’s Legacy

Structure and Overview of 1979

On 28 April 2017, I saw 1979, a play written by the capable Michael Healey about the events leading to the defeat of Joe Clark’s short-lived ministry. The play took place at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, in the heart of the Westboro neighbourhood in Ottawa, a bastion of upper-middle class geriatric Baby Boomers.

The play featured three actors; Sanjay Talwar played Joe Clark in 1979 and again in a 2008 epilogue scene. He neither really looked like Clark nor tried to imitate his croaking, monotonous voice, perhaps because it wouldn’t have engaged the audience effectively and might even have put them to sleep. The other two actors, Marion Day and Kelly Wong, played an assortment of figures, including John Crosbie, Pierre Trudeau, Flora MacDonald, Maureen McTeer, Brian Mulroney, Stephan Harper, and Jenni Byrne. The latter two alternately paraded out in different costumes in order to play the other supporting characters (often of the opposite sex), and complete with humorous entrances and exits on and off the stage.

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The Strange Americanism of Canadian Libertarians

flag of the “Republic of Canada”


Since 2011 when I attended one of the Institute for Liberal Studies’ Liberty Summer Seminars (LSS), I’ve noticed that Canadian libertarians often demonstrate a strange American streak, and that their understanding of constitutions and systems of government are steeped in quintessentially American attitudes. In my view, too many Canadian libertarians discount and dismiss the virtues of parliamentary government because of their anti-monarchism.

For instance, the libertarians at LSS kept banging on about William Lyon Mackenzie and the “Republic of Canada” which he proclaimed on Navy Island, Ontario in 1837; they held it up as some kind of ideal country and system of government and thereby failed to take into account the true achievement of the Rebellions of 1837, namely, convincing Lord Durham and the British government to implement Responsible Government in British North America in order to encourage harmony and prevent further civil strife. Mackenzie even created a new flag for his non-existent polity, “The Republic of Canada,” whose top half contained two American stars and whose bottom half bore the word “Liberty.” But they were merely upholding the idea of the Republic of Canada out of a reflexive anti-monarchism, ironically without at all considering how revolution most often destroys liberty and the rule of law. In reality, of course, this fake polity left behind no public records, and no written constitution that we could judge on its own merits.

As I concluded at the time, “Writing “Liberty” on the flag and advocating for the violent overthrow of the Crown through armed rebellion in favour of a republic do not automatically secure liberty.” I would add, it certainly also does not secure the rule of law.

Over the years, I encountered other bizarre arguments from self-described libertarians which seem to spring forth from a general disdain for parliamentary Responsible Government and constitutional monarchy. Some examples of this are Jesse Kline’s column in the National Post, “The Best Legislature Is A Prorogued Legislature,” and Anthony Furey’s “Canada Needs a Debt Ceiling” of the Fort Erie Times, along with an amusing conversation which I had with a prominent libertarian at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s annual February soiree in 2013. This is ironic because parliamentary government and constitutional monarchy better secure liberty than do presidential systems.

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Posted in Monarchism v Republicanism, Parliamentarism v Presidentialism, Responsible Government | 3 Comments

The Caretaker Convention in Action in British Columbia

The Caretaker Array in Star Trek: Voyager

Tomorrow, on 18 July 2017, Lieutenant Governor Guichon will swear in Premier-designate John Horgan as the next Premier of British Columbia, along with the rest of his cabinet.[1] The transition between the outgoing Clark ministry and the incoming Horgan ministry will therefore have taken place from 29 June to 18 July, which falls within the normal duration for transitions between ministries in Canada.

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Posted in Caretaker Convention, Constitution (Conventional) | 3 Comments

George Brown and Canada’s Manifest Destiny


The Globe and Mail prides itself as the paper of record in Canada, much like The Times of London for the United Kingdom, and it is not an undeserved appellation. The Globe and Mail’s and Globe’s archives provide an excellent historical resource for the daily goings on of the Province of Canada and Dominion of Canada from 1844 onward. Like almost all newspapers of the 19th century, George Brown founded The Globe in order to advance ideas and principles — in this case, Whiggish, or classical liberal, ideas like Responsible Government and Representation by Population. The paper supported the Clear Grits and, later, the Liberal Party, and indeed, George Brown was himself a Liberal MP.

On the sesquicentennial of Confederation, the Globe and Mail released for its subscribers the edition of The Globe which appeared on 1 July 1867. George Brown had written a 9,000-word essay on the history of British North America from 1791 to 1867 and what Confederation would achieve. Brown referred to 1 July 1867 — but not 1 July in general — as “Confederation Day.” Official recognition for our national day came later, in 1879, when Parliament first enacted “Dominion Day” into statute, after it had already gained popularity informally and by convention.

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Posted in Dominion Day, History of British North America | 2 Comments