Tolerance for Diversity Breaks Out at McGill

It’s a “man decides not to bite dog” story. The Montreal Gazette reports this week that the judicial board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) came to the “inescapable conclusion” that “any motion that specifically targets one nation and compels SSMU to actively campaign against that country, such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] motion, is unconstitutional.”

Thus McGill’s student council refused to choose sides in the politics of Israel and Palestine. It thus refused to divide the community of scholars on its campus, and instead let this important and complex debate roll on.

Story after story in the North American media have highlighted campuses exploding in rage over political differences. Professors have been vilified, student groups disqualified, lectures and ceremonies disrupted, and administrations roundly criticized for making things worse or not nearly enough better, according to some value upon which this or that militant individual or group insists on imposing on everyone else.

I’ve been proud that one of my “alma maters,” the University of Chicago, has set a fine example of protecting free expression on its campus and among its constituents in its “Statement on Principles of Free Expression,” composed by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone in 2012. Among its bracing paragraphs is this superbly balanced and forthright directive:

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The Conservative Party Moves On–and So Should Everyone Else

The Conservative Party of Canada just voted to remove the traditional definition of marriage (one man + one woman) from its platform and replace it with…nothing in particular.

Supporters of this change were quoted over and over as saying the same things: The legality of same-sex marriage in Canada was decided a decade ago and the party needs to recognize that fact, move on, and embrace a wider constituency.

Regardless of one’s opinion about same-sex marriage, at least three troubling issues emerge from this easy assurance.

First, the argument that an issue has been decided and must now simply be accepted is anti-democratic—and in two key respects.

The model of democratic deliberation properly includes the idea that any matter can be revisited at a later date. No decision taken today is eternally binding. Indeed, should the will of the house change—particularly through the reconfiguration of the house via an election—any decision can be reconsidered.

To say, therefore, that because one parliament at one time declared X means that X is settled for all time is factually untrue.

Worse, however, is that if it were true, then every debate would become a pitched battle without compromise, since the outcome would be carved in stone.

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“Love Your Enemies”: The 24-Karat Golden Rule for Politicians

[The following is an edited version of the address I delivered at the Prayer Breakfast of the Conservative Party of Canada in Vancouver on 27 May 2016.]

Politics is a tough business. So when it comes to discussing rules to guide political behaviour, somehow metallic rules seem appropriate. Here are four.

The Steel Rule we can attribute to the likes of Machiavelli: Do unto others before they do it unto you.

The Silver Rule shows up in philosophies around the world, such as that of Master Kong, whom we westerners know as Confucius: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.

Various versions of the Golden Rule occur around the globe as well. In Judaism, for instance, it is put this way: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, advised us to “treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you.”

Jesus of Nazareth extended this rule, as he extended and deepened so much of his Jewish heritage, into what we might call the 24-Karat Golden Rule: “Love your enemies.”

Here is what the Gospel according to Matthew records Jesus saying in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect [or “complete”], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Luke summarizes Jesus’s teaching this way, in the so-called Sermon on the Plain:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from her. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus’s realism is refreshing here. He does not advise, as so many of his followers do, that we try to see everyone else in friendly terms. No, as Jesus well knew, we have enemies, and he counsels us in regard to them without a trace of Hallmark-card sentimentality.

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