Suddenly There! Thirty Years of Killing Time Around Southern Alberta, 1985-2018

HomeReviewsPhilosophy (Reviews)Suddenly There! Thirty Years of Killing Time Around Southern Alberta, 1985-2018

Suddenly There! Thirty Years of Killing Time Around Southern Alberta, 1985-2018. Barry Cooper and Ted Morton. Second Edition. Self-Published.

 

Plato, in his own voice, describes the genesis of political order:

“For I saw it was impossible to do anything without friends and loyal followers; and to find such men ready to hand would be a piece of sheer good luck, once our city was no longer guided by the customs and practices of our fathers, while to train up new ones was anything but easy.” (Plato, Epistle VII, 325d)

Plato’s Academy was the place of the sustained pursuit of wisdom he inaugurated after the death of Socrates, and it was the place as well of the regeneration of political order. Aristotle had his Lyceum. Later during the Roman empire, the Epicureans had their gardens. Augustine and his circle of friends had Cassiacum. Following this, the medieval monks had their monasteries. Hobbes and his friends had their Great Tew Circle. The Freemasons played a pivotal role in the American Revolution (as described most recently by historian Niall Ferguson). The pubs of England and the French cafes played a crucial role in creating the public square of modern liberal democracy. Eric Voegelin, Friedrich Hayek, and Alfred Schütz were part of the Geistkreis led by Hans Kelsen and Ludwig von Mises in Vienna. Churchill’s “Other Club” was the crucible of his wartime government and even Britain’s postwar government.

The genesis of politics is found not in the social contract but among friends regenerating political order along the lines Plato describes.

Suddenly There! Thirty Years of Killing Time Around Southern Alberta, 1985-2018 documents hunting trips (for deer, ducks, geese, pheasants, etc.) undertaken during that period by members of the “Calgary School” of political science.[1] Its authors call it the key to understanding the “Calgary School” of political science because it displays the creative friendships that inform their intellectual contribution to the study of Canadian politics and to broader fundamental questions of political order. If texts can be likened to a “death mask” that an author leaves behind after his creativity is complete, then the numerous books and articles by the “Calgary School” can be considered the death masks of these creative hunters, or perhaps those of the critters they have killed over the years in southern Alberta.[2]

Members of the “Calgary School” include the authors—Voegelin scholar Barry Cooper and constitutional law scholar F. L. (“Ted”) Morton—along with a core group of University of Calgary scholars whose work over the past forty years has challenged the central (“Laurentian”) Canadian consensus. Put in terms familiar to American readers, their work has challenged the consensus that Canada is best governed by an “administrative state” consisting of technocrats, educated mostly at central Canadian institutions like the University of Toronto and McGill University, applying social sciences to direct public policy for the benefit of said central “Laurentian” elites. Needless to say, that “consensus” is held only by “Laurentian” elites and too dim to know better.

Other “Calgary School” members include Rainer Knopff, who coauthored with Ted Morton The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, which challenged the Canadian legal establishment and the orthodoxies surrounding their guardianship of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; sometime Voegelinview contributor Tom Flanagan who is best known for his work challenging the “aboriginal orthodoxy” that dictates how the place of First Nations peoples in Canada gets discussed; and historian David Bercuson, who with Barry Cooper, authored Deconfederation: Canada Without Quebec, which argued for the province of Quebec to be ejected from Canada. Combined, their work has influenced a generation of Canadian academics, policy-makers, and politicians, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It is important to note that of the “Calgary School” members mentioned above, only Cooper, Morton, and Knopff took part in the hunting parties described in Suddenly There! Even so, their account of thirty years of “killing time” and killing critters illuminates the creative process that produced their work of the school.

The book documents hunting trips that took place between 1985-2018, and contains numerous photographs of hunters and their dogs, trucks, and prey. There are also some pictures of beautiful southern Alberta sunsets. Organized by date of hunting trip, the logs for each outing consist pertinent details such as how many deer or ducks were killed (and where, shown on maps), as well as descriptions of tactics for drawing prey out of coulees and stands of trees. Southern Alberta is mostly “bald ass” prairie, so there are no forests. The prose reads like military general’s field report. This is not a criticism because some great writers, including Ulysses S. Grant, learned their craft this way.

The reader is informed of numerous conversations during hunts, and afterwards at dinner, concerning “great matters” but the hunts’ details and anecdotes mask most of those conversations. The conversations are alluded to but not described. In the foreword, the authors explain the book consists mostly of anecdotes, which are “lighter than parables but heavier than jokes” and are “always about people and not, for example, about ducks or fish.”

The book contains numerous anecdotes about hunters, including those well-known to Voegelinview readers, including Ellis Sandoz, Jene Porter, and Amanda Achtman. The log entries contain numerous references to tactics and strategy for hunting, many invoking Moltke’s famous dictum that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is as true with ducks and deer as it is with battling the French.

The book’s title refers to Morton’s description of the primary experience of hunting: “Suddenly There! That’s what all hunting is about. Geese or deer, ducks or pheasant. There is nothing and then: suddenly there.” That Suddenly There! is also the title of Morton’s unwritten autobiography also indicates its importance.

In describing the origin of the title, the authors indicate that Morton articulated his insight while the authors were driving to the killing fields: “we had been talking of important matters, no doubt.” Reflection about hunting precedes and follows the act of hunting. Morton’s insight concerning the nature of hunting shows it to be a revelation of sorts. The book documents the revelation, or the appearance, of the prey. It is no wonder the authors regard this to be the key to the Calgary School because thinkers share this experience of hunting, which is why, for instance, Plato compared dialectics to hunting. Walking around for hours, driving on stubble, sitting in a duck blind for hours, and especially tracking, go with the effortful act of thinking (dianoesis). But listening, waiting, and taking in, receiving the flash of illumination that is “suddenly there!” – that is insight (noesis).

Suddenly There! is divided into two parts. Part One covers 1985 to 2007, and Part Two covers 2008 to 2018. But the significance of this division consists less in the difference in the years and more in the nature of what is recorded. Part Two contains more reflections on the nature of hunting than Part One, and includes more reflections on how hunting is part of the good life. Whereas Moltke and military metaphors oversee Part One, Part Two acknowledges that their activities were centered not in the hunting fields but in the convivium enjoyed at dinner afterward. This shift helps us understand why Suddenly There! is the key to understanding the Calgary School.

The book is dedicated to Frankie and Howard Kaupp of New Dayton, Alberta. They are the hosts of the weekend outings because their farmhouse is headquarters of this group’s hunting expeditions. The authors refer to Howard as the best hunting guide in southern Alberta; he is the “Feldmarshall” of their Moltkian strategems. Frankie is their hostess and sommelier, two skills requiring knowledge of cosmic harmonia.

However, the authors at some point came to realize that Howard is more than “Feldmarshall” of the hunt. In the entry for November 20-22, 2013, the authors note: “At TABLE! I read out the entry of a couple of years ago about the joy of Howard and Frankie’s dinner and lunch and breakfast table. It really is the centre of the weekend. The killing is important. The hunting is even more important, with or without the killing. But dinner, especially is the centre.” Farmers Howard and Frankie seem to have taught the authors—two “barbarians with PhDs”— that old Aristotelian lesson that peace is the purpose of war. It is a lesson very few politicians, statesmen, or even philosophers understand. In addition to that, one cannot enjoy peace unless one first understands what peace is, that is, unless one knows what to do with oneself after the shooting has stopped. Suddenly There! documents how members of the Calgary School learned the nature of the good life when they went down to the Kaupp farm.

The political lesson is actually quite simple and even simplistic. Politics is about friends doing stuff together. After friends do stuff together, they gather around “at TABLE” to dine, sing, and talk about their adventures.[3] The authors came to realize that Howard is not only Feldmarshall of the hunt, he is also Symposiarch of the Good Life. He is one of the few statesmen capable of winning both the war and the peace.

As an epigraph for the book, the authors cite a 2018 study of Winston Churchill who by his own admission failed to win his war (the Soviets took Poland), though he understood better than most how to enjoy the peace. That study quotes a comment by Leon Kass on the essence of dining, and thus of friendship. I conclude by replicating part of the epigraph of Suddenly There!:

“So too with friendship, whose beginnings are made possible by dinner, the shared meal itself grounds our being together. Amiability and friendliness are required and shared around the table. But it is the community of stories and conversation that is true communion. Fellow diners get to know each other’s minds and hearts, even though no one is explicitly baring his soul or trafficking in personal matters. We are drawn to those whose tastes and tales we find admirable and charming. We arrange to dine with them again on another occasion.”

 

Notes

[1] The best account of the “Calgary School” is Tom Flanagan, “Legends of the Calgary School: Their Guns, Their Dogs, and the Women Who Love Them,” in Hunting and Weaving, Empiricism and Political Philosophy, edited by Thomas Heilke and John von Heyking, (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013), 21-40. The volume is a Festschrift for Suddenly There! coauthor, Barry Cooper.

[2] I borrow the notion of text as “death mask” from Voegelinview contributor, Tilo Schabert, “Eric Voegelin’s Workshop: A Study in Confirmation of Barry Cooper’s Genetic Paradigm,” in Hunting and Weaving, Empiricism and Political Philosophy, 232-33.

[3] I explain this point in more sophisticated and scholarly fashion in The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship, (Montréal-Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2016) as well as Comprehensive Judgment and Absolute Selflessness: Winston Churchill on Friendship as Politics, (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2018).

John von Heyking

Written by

John von Heyking is a Board Member and Book Review Editor of Voegelinview as well as a Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. He is author and editor of several books, including The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship (McGill-Queen's, 2016) and Comprehensive Judgment and Absolute Selflessness: Winston Churchill on Politics as Friendship (St. Augustine’s, 2018).