Newell: Canada's Principled Founding

April 18, 2018


As we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Canada’s founding, we need to resist the still prevalent notion that Confederation was nothing but a “deal” among power brokers and that, unlike the American founding, it had no philosophical principles. Because our founding took place in the Victorian age, as opposed to the Enlightenment era when the American founding took place, the principles behind our founders’ debate were not non- existent, merely different.To understand this, we have to see the Confederation debates as unfolding against the backdrop of a new way of looking at society that was spreading steadily in Great Britain and Europe, intellectual sources to which our founders always paid more attention than the views of the republic to the south. As explored in Karl Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation, the 19th century saw Britain’s and Europe’s retreat from the laissez- faire individualism and capitalism promoted by the Enlightenment, and the development of an organic view of society — in some ways a return to pre- modern tradition — in which each nation was seen as exploring its own historical pathway. Individual liberties were still important. But they were no longer seen as absolutes, as they had been by the American founders, steeped as they were in the classical liberalism of Locke.



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