No yen for Yann

May 24th, 2007
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Not long after Mr.K’s discourse on Yann Martell and his, let’s say cheeky, publicity grabbing at PM Harper’s expense I heard a full-length radio interview with none other than…Yann Martell. It was on Radio Canada (in French) and dealt mainly with Martell’s new “political” engagement – sending books to Mr. Harper and smirking at the responses from the Prime Minister’s office.


Little did I know when reading Mr.K’s opus that Mr. Martell actually has a website devoted to this. The accompanying text and photos will give the reader a quick – and accurate – idea of Martell’s attitude, and “humble” would not be an adjective that readily comes to mind.

Martell’s contention appears to be that, if the Prime Minister read certain books provided by him, his intellectual horizons would be broadened and he would advocate greater state spending on the arts; presumably including more money to writers like Mr. Martell. Ironically, I would support anyone reading classic literature and I’m fairly sure the PM wouldn’t discourage anyone from doing so. As Mr.K suggested, Harper read his share of challenging works back in the day, so this is not the issue.

Problem is Martell’s second point doesn’t follow. Reading the classics will not cause one to necessarily adopt a certain politics or policy. In the lengthy radio interview, Martell said of himself “of course I am a Progressive” (of course!) and that he would typically vote NDP, but has a soft spot for Stephane Dion. Well, there’s a surprise.

Now I could also call Mr.K a “progressive”, he’s just “progressing” in a different direction than Mr. Martell. But that’s an argument for another day.

What is more mystifying is that Martell could have read books like Animal Farm and still hold the political views he does. In fact, that tends to prove my point about not correlating reading certain literature with certain political views.

It would make more sense perhaps for the PM to send a selection of books he has read – sorry, but some will actually be non-fiction – to Mr. Martell. They might, I say might, actually expand the author’s intellectual boundaries.

Keeping with Martell’s goal of choosing short(ish), manageable books, this might be a start:

Bureaucracy (von Mises; 130 pages) may help re-form his view of the internal workings of the state; The Road to Serfdom (Hayek, 266 pages) might make him think about what threatens individual liberty; Out of my Life and Thought (Albert Schweitzer, 296 pages) a deeper look by one of the last century’s great humanitarians; God and Man at Yale (Buckley, 240 pages) would inform on an academic world he may not be familiar with; The Communist Manifesto (you know who, 80 pages) might surprise him to know how two dead sausage-eaters still affect tax and social policy in Canada; and even Homage to Catalonia (Orwell, 264 pages) showing the experience of a former “progressive”.

A wag who-shall-remain-nameless suggested the PM should send Martell his old Hardy Boys. But let’s start with the list above – I’m guessing he’s read at least one of them anyway – and go from there. Based on his Radio Canada interview however, my suspicion is the reading of those works will likely not move M. Martell very much or very far. The fact that he can set up the website, etc., etc., and engage in other grandstanding suggests he has more time to read books than the PM. My guess is he wouldn’t rise to the challenge.

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