Friday, September 11, 2009

On nationalism and federalism

Via Matt Yglesias, I see that Lawrence Martin is in the Globe and Mail making the following interesting point.

Since its debut election campaign in 1993, the Bloc has never been beaten by a federalist party. Not in six elections. The demise of the Bloquistes is often predicted. It never happens. They are entrenched. In the next campaign, they are on course to rout the Liberals and Conservatives in Quebec again. [...]

The coddling of the BQ sees Canadian taxpayers subsidize the separatist party to the tune of millions of dollars to run its election campaigns. In that they have to campaign in only one province, the system absurdly favours it over federalist parties. The Bloc is allowed to participate in the English-language debates while running no candidates outside Quebec. Again, nothing is done. We wouldn't want to risk offending their delicate sensibilities.

But, for all its inroads, the Bloc has no reason to celebrate.

There's a great paradox at work here, a rollout of unintended consequences. The Bloc successes have bred failure. The better the BQ does, the further it gets from its goal of sovereignty. The separatists were closest to realizing that ambition in the early-to-mid-nineties, shortly after the Bloc arrived on the scene. Since that time, support for the sovereignty option, despite all the Bloc victories, has consistently been in decline.

The Bloc, it can be mischievously argued, has served the cause of a united Canada. Rarely over the past half-century has Canadian unity been as solid as it is today. It may well be that the Bloc, with its imposing fed-baiting presence in Ottawa, suffices for many Quebeckers as their instrument of sovereignty. It gives vent to pride, to autonomist passions. It wins concessions for the franchise.

If we were to take away the Bloc, if only Canada-minded federalist parties represented Quebeckers in Ottawa, a different scenario is easily imaginable. Conditions could well exist for a more spirited and fractious separatist movement.

Benefiting from the shrewd leadership of Gilles Duceppe and a smart, disciplined caucus, the Bloc has been able to address many of Quebec's grievances. But its steady progress now sees it scraping the barrel in search of meaningful injustices to fortify its underlying pathology (witness its current election advertising planning).

The idea that secessionist politics could be a stabilizing force in a multinational federation figures prominently in Wayne Norman's Negotiating Nationalism (see especially ch. 6) as well as in my own "Federalism, Liberalism, and the Separation of Loyalties," which adds to Norman's arguments an account of how the federal structure of the rest of constitution affects the outcomes of secessionist politics in one culturally distinct province. Three years after his book and two years after my article, I still think we're right, but it's a claim that makes Canadian audiences look at me funny. Interesting to see it start to go mainstream.
Sunstein confirmed

I haven't yet seen this mentioned on the scholar-blogs that had covered the nomination up until now: my former colleague Cass Sunstein was confirmed by the Senate yesterday in a 57-40 vote, to serve as White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. According to Politico, the vote was mostly party-line, with just five Republicans voting yes and four Democrats voting no.

The Chronicle notes the following:
Among them, Ilya Somin, an assistant professor of law at George Mason University and a prominent libertarian, wrote on the blog the Volokh Conspiracy that Mr. Sunstein was "well-qualified for the job and is better from a libertarian perspective than most others whom the administration could have appointed." Glenn H. Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Tennessee who often takes libertarian positions on his blog,, praised Mr. Sunstein as an "open-minded" liberal whose views have at times been misrepresented by his opponents.

In an interview just before Thursday's Senate vote, Mr. Reynolds said the debate over Mr. Sunstein illustrates why it is difficult for many scholars to make the transition from academe to government.

"When you are an academic, you are rewarded for saying interesting things and thought-provoking things, and that is what we do," Mr. Reynolds said. "The reason politicians seldom say interesting or thought-provoking things is because in their business they are punished for it."
It tells you something of significance about the current makeup of the Senate Republican caucus that, when faced with a highly qualified appointee to a very technical post who is supported by many of the intellectual lights of the academic right and opposed by Glenn Beck, they vote no en masse.

Monday, September 07, 2009

McGill's Brenda Milner awarded Balzan Prize

From the Gazette:
A Montreal neuropsychologist is among four winners of the 2009 Balzan Prize that were announced Monday.

Brenda Milner, professor of psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute and professor in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University, received the prize for cognitive neurosciences.

"Her pioneering work has greatly influenced the field of cognitive neurosciences for more than half a century," said a statement from Balzan judges. It added that the 2009 award was “for her pioneering studies of the role of the hippocampus in the formation of memory and her identification of different kinds of memory systems.”

The studies will further scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is just the latest award for Milner, who has been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada.

In 2005, she received the Gairdner Award for medical science, and the previous year was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada.

Other Balzan winners this year are Briton Terence Cave in the field of literature, Italian Paolo Rossi for history of science, and Swiss-German Michael Gretzel for the science of new materials.

Balzan prizes are awarded annually in a rotating fields of research, with two in the humanities and two in the sciences.

Winners are awarded one million Swiss francs ($1,016,000), half of which must be dedicated to research.