Frye and the “Mature Society”


Stephen Harper yesterday announced he will only take four questions from the national news media per day — a national media he sequestered behind a fence forty feet away. He’s also backed off on his challenge to debate Michael Ignatieff one on one.

Frye’s comments on liberalism are very much in the social democratic vein of John Stuart Mill. I am reminded of another phrase Stephen Harper is throwing about: “real Canadians,” though I guess both words should be lit up with capitals as “Real Canadians,” he is so clearly hypostatizing the term in an insidious and McCarthyistic way. The next thing you know he’ll be using the phrase “anti-Canadian” (if he hasn’t already). As Frye makes clear in this excerpt, there are no real Canadians or Canadian identity in that sense: there are only individuals, and society, in its most genuine form, is an expression of the individuals in it, who in turn are what the society is for. In The Double Vision, Frye asks: “What is the difference between the spiritual aspect of primary concerns and the secondary or ideological concerns just mentioned?” He answers this way:

I think the difference is expressed in two types of society, one primitive and the other mature. A primitive or embryonic society is one in which the individual is thought of as primarily a function of the social group. In all such societies a hierarchical structure of authority has to be set up to ensure that the individual does not get too far out of line. A mature society, in contrast, understands that its primary aim is to develop a genuine individuality in its members. In a fully mature society the structure of authority becomes a function of the individuals within it, all of them, without distinctions of sex, class, or race, living, loving, thinking, and producing with a sense of space around them. Throughout history practically all societies have been primitive ones in our present sense: a greater maturity and a genuine concern for the individual peeps out occasionally, but is normally smothered as society collapses back again into its primitive form.

I think there is little doubt about what kind of society Stephen Harper has in store for us.

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