David's politics blog

The hazards of studying conservatism

28 June 2020

The Harper paradox: my master's thesis

by David

My thesis chases around ex-Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper trying to figure out where he got the idea for making tough-on-crime policies the center of his 10 years in power, considering:

A lot of academics and others thought Harper’s policies were some kind of electoral ploy, and there’s a bit of truth to that, but I never found that argument very convincing, and neither did the professors on my committee.

Then another twist I didn’t expect: turns out Harper had passed 100 new laws, 60 of them new mandatory minimum sentences, and at least 98% of all this activity did either diddley, squat, or both.

For instance, for all Harper’s efforts, the incarceration rate hadn’t changed at all.

The Harper paradox is essentially that:

Strange, n’est-ce pas?

So the rest of the thesis, I try to understand why he pretended to get tough on crime (my answer: anchor Canada in its values), his larger vision (nation-building), whose interests this serves (folks who think they’ll benefit from more of what Harper calls ‘nationalist solidarity’, you know, factories not moving to Asia for profit, that kind of thing), what all this says about conservatism (it’s a kind of Romanticism, with serious qualms about Enlightenment rationalization and desacralization of everything). Then I concluded with some thoughts on how to outmaneuver tough-on-crime politics.

I don’t know if you can tell: it was one hell of a thesis, very ambitious for 120 pages, operating on a lot of levels. Not something that’s easy to summarize either. And a lot of my friends, thank God, are simple-pleasures kind of people who frankly have very limited interest in this kind of stuff.

tags: UQAM, masters, thesis, conservatism