Stephen Clarkson's Big Red Machine

Not sure I’ll ever get around to writing a full review of this book but, I thought I’d share these thoughts.

Stephen Clarkson’s writes from an old school left perspective. At its best, this perspective can have some significant benefits, as it teases out certain types of conflicts that can be profoundly important. However, in this regard it is also a fairly blunt instrument. By focusing on certain data points and trends it can be helpful in analysing the past, but it locks one into the prism that prevents you from seeing the opportunity of future change (the very problem with this book – as it seems to predict an endless future of liberal victories). At its worst however, it is barely even an instrument of analysis. For example, Uncle Sam and Us : Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State was very long on opinion and quite short on analysis. Moreover, data was carefully selected that would confirm his thesis, while contradictory data was summarily ignored.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But what interests me are perspectives that spark new insights and new debate. With Clarkson, one knows his conclusions before reading the book and as a result, I suspect the readership generally self-selects itself. Those who already agree with Clarkson pick up his books, those who don’t, don’t.

Big Red Machine is in keeping with this approach and so has its own hard to swallow statements, like this one of page 5:

“Surprisingly for a party that ultimately help build and manage the capitalist state, it (the Liberal Party) emerged to express the grievances and demands for social justice and economic freedom of those oppressed by the oligarchic power structure that prevailed in the British North American colonies drain the first half of the 19th century.”

Why are social justice and economic freedom incompatible with a capitalist state? From what I have seen social justice is no more at odds with capitalism then it is with every political economic system, be it authoritarian, communist, socialist, nationalist, etc… The real question is how do we manage our political economy to maximize its benefits and minimize social injustice. This was the goal of the progressive movement for much of the 20th century: applying the minimum rule set necessary to enable capitalism to sustain itself and ensure its compatibility with our democratic and social justice values.

In sum, Big Red Machine is an okay book (mind you, having never written a book myself I still have enourmous respect for those who’ve written one, not to mention five or more). But if you’ve must prioritize your time, I might skip it.

To be fair, I’m also bummed that this book displaced Free Culture on my “recently read” list. Now there’s a book that should be mandatory reading!

5 thoughts on “Stephen Clarkson's Big Red Machine

  1. Kevin

    Yeah that quote is definitely typical of Clarkson’s perspective; I think it also manifests itself in his adoration of Trudeau and that giant tome he wrote on him. Young Trudeau is a far more interesting read.

    Big Red Machine did have the unfortunate timing of being released right when the Paul Martin machine began to sputter. But I think the chapter on Turner’s 84 campaign and how the press turned on him is a fascinating read, particularly in light of current events.

    Reply
  2. Kevin

    Yeah that quote is definitely typical of Clarkson’s perspective; I think it also manifests itself in his adoration of Trudeau and that giant tome he wrote on him. Young Trudeau is a far more interesting read.Big Red Machine did have the unfortunate timing of being released right when the Paul Martin machine began to sputter. But I think the chapter on Turner’s 84 campaign and how the press turned on him is a fascinating read, particularly in light of current events.

    Reply

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