Barry Cooper

Barry Cooper

Thomas Heilke’s and John von Heyking’s edited volume, Hunting and Weaving: Empiricism and Political Philosophy, is a festschrift to Barry Cooper, a political scientist at the University of Calgary. The themes of hunting and weaving are ones illuminated in Cooper’s own career as he brings together political philosophy and empiricism in his works on political thought and Canadian politics. Cooper himself characterizes this relationship between the study of political philosophy and Canadian politics as dialectical in nature: one informs the other, since the search for philosophical order is conducted by a particular individual in a particular community. For Cooper this particular place is western Canada, specifically Alberta, with its own particular myths of community as one finds in the works of Plato, Vico, and Eric Voegelin.

The volume itself is divided into two parts, with the first focusing on contemporary Canadian politics and modern terrorism and the second devoted to political philosophy on Plato, Voegelin, Strauss, and others. Each of the essays focuses on key concepts that Cooper has developed in own work in political philosophy and empirical politics. All the essays are uniformly interesting, with each not only discussing Canadian politics or political philosophy but also revealing something about Cooper’s own ideas on these subject themselves.

The first four essays are centered around Canadian politics: Tom Flanagan’s account of “The Calgary School” that rose to prominence in the 1980s in Canadian national politics; Richard Avramenko’s and Rainer’s Knopff’s accounts of the marginalization of western Canada from central Canada; and Janet Ajzenstat’s focus on Canadian protection of civil rights that come from the courts rather than from parliament. The common thread to these essays is the rediscovery and re-assertion of a western Canadian identity that is apart and separate from central Canada whether in academic and political discourse, mythological accounts of national communities, or the constitutional founding of the regime. As both as a scholar and public intellectual, Cooper has contributed to this rediscovery and reassertion of western Canadian identity.

The next set of essays looks at a variety of themes in political philosophy that Cooper has explored. Leah Bradshaw compares Cooper’s approach with Arendt’s in our understanding of thinking in an age of science and technology; Peter Emberley explores religious and secular symbolization in ordinary life, a theme common to Cooper’s works; Zdravko Planinc interprets Plato’s allegorical passages in The Republic, as influenced by Cooper’s own scholarship; Jürgen Gebhardt revisit the comparison between Voegelin and Strauss that Cooper had conducted; Jene Porter investigates Voegelin’s theory of consciousness, which has served as a model for Cooper’s political thought; Tilo Schabert continues the focus on Voegelin’s scholarship as a creative act; and David Walsh concludes the collection with a meditation on hope as the basis of a moral, economic, and political order.

The one essay that challenges Cooper’s work is Michael Franz’s assessment of Cooper’s New Political Religions, or An Analysis of Modern Terrorism. Franz compares Cooper’s concepts to understand terrorism with Michael Burleigh’s ideas in Blood and Rage where Burleigh argues that terrorists are driven more by worldly concerns rather than spiritual ones, which Cooper contends. Although Burleigh’s analysis may be too empirical for some, i.e., not open to political philosophy, his work does illustrate the difficulty in achieving the balance between political philosophy and empiricism in political analysis.

This volume is not only a tribute to Barry Cooper and his work but also to the themes that preoccupied his professional career: the blending of empiricism and political philosophy, academia and public intellectual, Albertan and Canadian. It is these paradoxes in our lives that has shaped and defined who we are and what our understanding of the world is and should be. By reading Hunting and Weaving, we are shown such a model for us to emulate and learn from for ourselves.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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