Peterpatch. Affectionately known as Home of the Middle Class. It’s where marketers would find the ideal Canadian cross section, to test out products. I grew up in Peterborough as part of democracy’s great experiment. My dad worked, my mom stayed at home, and we were middle class. What do those words mean? They mean that the citizen is entrusted to decide and act on things that will make him more prosperous, and the government will not overly interfere. The net result is a very healthy society. We did not lock our doors at night then and we did not lack anything materially.
Despite that our parents were factory workers and academics, firemen and store owners, there was also a remarkable lack of class consciousness. Such vocations were merely what your parents DID for money. There was not much jockeying for social position because everybody had enough that it didn’t much matter. I also recall that the Canadian dollar in 1967 was worth $1.10 US. Since then I have seen all this unravel in the space of a lifetime (mine), dating from the election of the first Trudeau. Then Canada dramatically started to change. By now with Trudeau version 2.0 we are positively crying Uncle.
I have witnessed this decline of the middle class as if in slow motion. Sandwiched between the upper and lower class, the middle class finds itself in a tug of war. Our current situation bears a stunning resemblance to medieval feudal society where a powerful class of the connected plied government according to whim. Beneath them was a mendicant class who needed the elite to do them favours because they were poor and powerless. When you pledged your fealty to your liege Lord, things got a little easier. You just had to give up any big expectations, along with your personal agency. It’s a kiss up/kick down scenario, which erodes anything in the middle. Your power as a vassal is merely borrowed on the say-so of the Lord.
It’s what Victor Davis Hanson pinpoints as the death of the citizen. A citizen is a group of individuals banded together in a jurisdiction that presupposes common values and traditions, and with defined borders to safeguard all that. You must have a large enabled middle class to make civil society go. That’s what a citizen is, part of something bigger and empowered to make basic decisions about life. It’s how I remember things growing up, pretty free, pretty safe, pretty and mostly harmonious. A competent citizen needs no Lord of the Manor to make things happen, and that is what has changed. We don’t have that same power anymore. The government has stolen it.
How might you ask? There are factions who fight over that pool of cash you donate via your taxes. Governments get elected based on whom they favour for largesse. This game is called identity politics, when your category as a group supersedes your individuality. Politicians loves groups because they come as a bulk buy for votes. They can bag an entire group in one go. It might explain how Justin Trudeau managed a third term. It might also explain why the government increasingly acts in a top down manner that treats citizens like dirt. They don’t care about your individuality unless they can buy your entire group by tossing a few baubles your way. Divide and conquer. The government gets more power this way and you become poorer.
Well, here we are, living in an odd part of history. Not only have our freedoms been evaporating, we have also been told to shut up. Keep your opinions to yourself, unless they are the official government position - similar to what people living under communism experience. We are fed a cookie cutter version of what “freedom” means when we are told by Trudeau what “Canadian values” entail - the man born to privilege who could not identify the middle class if he found it in his soup. It’s the old joke about progressives. They think everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as it’s their opinion, ie: approved by those who get to decide.
Francis Fukiyama saw liberal democracy as the logical end of history. It would be the tide that raised all boats and erased all boundaries. Nothing further to be accomplished. Sadly, he got it wrong. The locus of the cure was not economics, but in how the society viewed the individual. We got it backwards. Liberal “democracy” with all its assumptions has now become a policy club that reduces the idea of a citizen to that of a consumer and a serf whose morality is dictated by the state.
It seems we have forgotten the one thing that really makes the world go… the individual. A lone soul before God with power and moral agency to decide his own affairs without interference from the state. It’s becoming less possible by the day.