Parliament and the intellectuals

“Dispelling ignorance should be the first duty of the intellectual.”

That’s the opening line to Adrienne Clarkson’s introduction to Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, edited by Peter Russell and Lorne Sossin, reprinted in today’s Post.

I couldn’t agree more, which is why the fourteen essays in the book are in many ways so disappointing. There are some highlights (especially Ned Franks vs Andrew Heard on whether the GG made the right decision in granting Harper’s request to prorogue), but for the most part the book is beset by a problem that is basically a corollary of Coyne’s third rule, to wit:

In any sufficiently large group of academics, the more complete the agreement the more complete the error.

And so you have the essays in Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, a dozen or so academics in total agreement that there were two central problems during the Madness of last fall: Harper’s perfidy, and the public’s ignorance. One after the other, the essays take turns berating Harper for his behaviour and condescending to Canadians about their constitutional befuddlement. The possibility that there was something else at work, or at least, another side to the matter, is considered only to be dismissed.

The upshot, as I argue at some length in a forthcoming issue of the LRC, is that far from dispelling ignorance, this book only creates more of it.

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