U of R Book Series

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Dr. Jim Farney talks Social Conservatism

Author: ravinesh sakaran – contributor

Damnit Jim! I'm a photographe, not a Social Conservative! / Ravinesh Sakaran

Damnit Jim! I’m a photographe, not a Social Conservative! / Ravinesh Sakaran

At first glance, Dr. James Farney doesn’t look like your average college professor. He cycles to college during the summer, dresses sharply for every lecture, and always has a flask of black coffee in hand. At best, he looks like a sleep deprived graduate student, but looks are almost certainly deceiving.

Dr. Farney is an associate professor in the department of political science and international studies, and the author of Social Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States.

The idea for this book stems from Dr. Farney’s graduate work at the University of Toronto. He initially planned to write his dissertation on multiculturalism, but then took an unexpected turn when he encountered literature from the 60’s concerning the differences between conservatism in Canada and in the United States. Having been raised in rural Alberta and being a keen observer of the social and political landscape at the time, the intersection between religion and politics spiked the interest of the younger Dr.Farney to refine his dissertation topic to the Social Conservatives.

The book begins with Dr. Farney breaking down the conservative ideology into 3 major factions: the Traditionalists, Laissez –Faire Conservatives, and Social

Dr. Farney emphasizes in the introduction that, “This book’s starting point is the observation that social conservatives have found different places in Canadian and American party politics.” Dr. Farney goes on to give a detailed historical account of the case of Social Conservatives throughout the course of the book, by answering two important questions, “how the definition of conservatism has changed since the 1960’s and how the different histories of Canada and American conservatism framed the relationship between social conservatives and other conservatives as this shift took place.”

Dr. Farney states, “Traditionalists are like Robert Stanfield; there are gentlemanly conservatives. Those are the ones who believe that there is a natural elite in society and that elite has a duty to do for the less fortunate. They are a little uncommon, now.”

Dr. Farney outlines in the introduction of the book that Social Conservatives are conservatives whose political activities focus on topics like abortion and gay and lesbian rights. Dr. Farney illustrates further that akin to their progressive counterparts, social conservatives accept that the ‘personal is political’ and advocate the use of state power to advance their beliefs about the proper ordering of society.

Dr. Farney also points out that, “there is a tendency that people emphasize in laissez-faire conservatives and social conservatives that are populists, people who believe that the ordinary guy on the street has the answer, if only we listen to him. I have never figured out how to count them fairly, but there is no such thing as a traditionalist populist but you can be a populist laissez faire conservative or a populist social conservative.”

The book has been characterized by Senator Hugh Segal as a “compelling analysis of the different paths of Canadian and American Social Conservatism that evokes a more profound understanding of our two distinct democracies. It is a must read for students of conservative politics on both sides of the border.”

Dr. Farney is always happy to talk about Canadian party politics with students. Visit him during his office hours and get your copy signed.

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