‘Responsible conviction’ – Dion announces new foreign affairs doctrine

Trudeau government moves to criminalize the right to conscience

040320-TorontoAntiWar-001(April 9) – Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion spoke at an international conference at the University of Ottawa on March 29, entitled “Canada in Global Affairs, New Challenges, New Ways.”[1] Dion continued the practice of prior governments of making important announcements about Canada’s foreign policy in an offhand manner. Dion used a speech to a university audience to announce a new foreign affairs doctrine for Canada he calls “responsible conviction.” Dion says “responsible conviction” will be the “guiding principle” the government will follow in implementing foreign policy.

“It is an immense honour to have been appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Dion said. “To accomplish the ambitious mandate that he has given me, my guiding principle will be responsible conviction. One of the convictions that drives me is the sense of responsibility. I will make my decisions by taking into account their foreseeable impact on others. This is what the Prime Minister asked of me and I am working on it with my officials. That is what responsible conviction demands.”

This new doctrine follows on the heels of prior Canadian doctrines called “Human Security” and “Responsibility to Protect,” announced in a similar fashion by the Chretien Liberal government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy, who also spoke at the conference. Axworthy did not bother to note that the doctrines promoted by Canada under his watch have given rise to disasters and that they have never been accepted by the people of Canada or any other country.

The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) denounces the “responsible conviction” doctrine as pragmatic, immoral and irresponsible. Canadians have not been consulted on this doctrine despite the serious ramifications. However, they can expect it to be used to justify the criminalization of the resistance struggles being waged by the oppressed peoples and nations, especially those living under the occupation of foreign powers, those opposing “regime change,” and the Palestinian resistance and its supporters whose actions in defence of their right to be are termed anti-Semitism and “hate crimes.” Canadians can also expect the same logic to be used to criminalize their own struggles for their rights here at home.

Dion asserts that the right to conscience belongs to those who exercise it “responsibly,” those who temper their convictions according to what he calls “the real world.” Acting in this way, he says, is the proper way to act not only for a statesperson but for all Canadians and individuals.

Dion constantly refers to himself in the first person when talking about the “principles” he follows. He derides those he calls “pacifists,” who he suggests have “conviction” but lack “responsibility in the face of the enemy.” He states that his foreign policy mandate “reflects the values and convictions of a Liberal Canadian” but its objectives are “also shared by a number of my fellow citizens whose political affiliations differ from my own.” According to this “new doctrine,” the “responsibility” is to what he calls “Canada’s interests.” “Conviction” cannot exist without the “sense of responsibility” to these interests, Dion asserts.

For CPC(M-L), this view of Dion is a real step backwards. Having a conscience is the fundamental quality that makes us human. The quality is the capacity to abstract absence. This quality includes the capacity to think, to distinguish right from wrong, to differentiate what is just from what is unjust, and to define the principles we stand for. It includes the ability to form judgments based on principles, to engage in a decision-making process and organize to provide the problems society faces with solutions. These are all part of the essence of what defines us as human beings of having a conscience. These human qualities distinguish us from all other animal species, which also have varying degrees of intelligence in the form of memory imparted as instinct. But it is the affirmation of our conscience that makes us human. The right to conscience of human beings thus refers to their right to be.

The liberal conception of rights on the contrary upholds the right to belief, which it calls conscience, so long as the belief accords with the beliefs promoted by the ruling class, which Dion defines as “the values and convictions of a Liberal Canadian.” Only those who agree to espouse those beliefs are allowed to practice them and advance their careers; others must forsake their beliefs to get ahead. Meanwhile, more often than not, the beliefs of Nazis and racists are given free rein in the name of freedom of speech, while the beliefs that do not suit the rulers are called extremist or anti-Semitic, or declared harmful to the national interests.

In an attempt to provide the criminalization of dissent with some intellectual clout, Dion resorts to quoting the sociologist of the late 19th century Max Weber. Weber’s theory of the rationalisation of society pushes a pragmatic approach in the name of modernization. He refers to “the replacement of traditions, values and emotions as motivators for behaviour in society with rational, calculated ones.” Dion points to the “traditional distinction that Max Weber made between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility.”

“Weber contrasted behaviour that remains true to one’s convictions, regardless of what happens (ethics of conviction), and behaviour that takes the consequences of one’s actions into consideration (ethics of responsibility),” Dion says. He argues, “In isolation, the ethics of conviction of course lead to pure action, defending a principle or a cause, while ignoring the consequences. Pacifists who recommend unilateral disarmament in the face of the enemy are inspired by the ethics of conviction: they advocate non-violence at all times.”

Dion says he prefers to “go beyond this rigid distinction to create a more syncretic concept – the ethics of ‘responsible conviction.’ This formulation means that my values and convictions include the sense of responsibility. Not considering the consequences of my words and actions on others would be contrary to my convictions. I feel I am responsible for the consequences of my actions.”

Speaking in the first person Dion posits that he and “the world” are two separately existing entities.” His decisions will have some impact on “others” and as long as this is “foreseeable” he will take these impacts into account. He “feels” he is responsible for the consequences of his actions. His conviction includes his responsibility, while his responsibility is to be true to his convictions.

060812-TorontoGazaDemoWith such tautological and sophistic arguments Dion is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not surprisingly, he does not tell us who are the “others” who will be “impacted.” We are to believe in the goodness of his “responsible conviction” but why we should do so he does not say. His only argument, if one can call it an argument, is that he holds the portfolio of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada and he has the backing of his Prime Minister and that is all that matters. He can strut around to his heart’s content because nobody has the power to stop him or to even question his “responsible conviction” and ask what connection it has with the problems the world and Canada face. Or so he thinks, which is nothing more than the manifestation of his own narcissism. Does he think the political people such as those who are associated with CPC(M-L), the workers who take independent political stands, resistance fighters and others are going to abandon their right to conscience because Dion so sincerely follows his “responsible conviction”? Does he think anybody, anywhere in this vast world is going to give up their right to resist foreign intervention, oppression and occupation? Dion can dream on. His government’s attempts to criminalize the right to conscience and the resistance struggles will certainly not make them go away. On the contrary, it will intensify the struggles of peoples everywhere for their rights no matter what petty King Canute, such as the Foreign Affairs Minister and his Prime Minister may think of themselves and how earnestly they spout their “responsible conviction.”

To be a follower of Max Weber in the 21st century is hardly something to be proud of. Weber was a German sociologist associated with Neo-Kantianism and positivism. According to Weber the essence of any socio-economic phenomenon is determined not so much by its objective aspects as by the viewpoint of the investigator and the cultural significance attached to any given process. Proceeding from the assumption that the social sciences study only the individual aspects of various phenomena (instead of their whole and their connections and relations), Weber tried to substitute for scientific abstraction the arbitrary notion of an “ideal type.” This “ideal type,” he claimed, had no basis in reality, but was merely a device for systematizing and comprehending individual facts, a concept against which the investigator could measure reality. In opposition to a scientific analysis of the development of society, Weber posited the theory of “plurality” of historical factors.

Dion has cribbed his theory from scholars on Weber such as Christopher Adair-Toteff of the University of South Florida who points out:

“Whether it was because Weber believed that he lived in a post-Nietzschean world, or that he was ‘unmusical’ in matters of faith, or simply for some other reason, he insisted that one no longer had the luxury to act solely according to one’s conscience and to disregard the consequences. Instead, politics demands that one acts with regard to the foreseeable consequences of those actions; that is, politics demands that one act responsibly. […]

“In Weber’s opinion, only those who have strong nerves and will take responsibility for their political actions should be permitted ‘to stick their hands in the spokes of the wheel of history’,’ i.e., be permitted to exercise their right to conscience.[2]

Coming down to earth and off his trite philosophical perch, Dion gives an example of Canada’s “responsible conviction” in action and it is not pretty. He cites the government’s $15 billion contract to sell Canadian-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia that are used to suppress the Saudi population and in the Saudi war against Yemen. He states that the Liberals are honouring the contract, which has aroused the outrage of Canadians, because “breaking it would lead to damaging consequences.” He elaborates these “damaging consequences” saying it would “result in Canadian taxpayers having to pay costly penalties and damage the credibility of the Government of Canada’s signature. This would have a ripple effect in an industry on which 70,000 jobs in Canada directly depend, including many veterans. At least 2,000 workers, primarily in London, Ontario, would be out of a job.”

2016.03.19.Montreal-Yemen-Guerre-14crCompounding his degenerate logic according to which war production should be supported because it creates jobs, Dion adds that the Saudis would “almost certainly” buy similar weaponry from another country, and do not care if it comes from “a factory in Lima, Ohio or Sterling Heights, Michigan, rather than one in London, Ontario.”

This trite talk is given as examples of taking responsibility for consequences. It boggles the mind. Only those who have compromised their conscience can say that as long as Saudi Arabia is looking for weapons with which to commit crimes against the people, it is “responsible decision-making” for Canada and its monopolies to be the beneficiary. It is good for jobs and is needed by Canadian companies and workers and, in any case, Canada does not control trade between Saudi Arabia and other countries and does not control what Saudi Arabia does with the weaponry it buys from Canada.

This logic can be likened to the statement attributed to Ramón Fonseca of the now infamous “Panama Papers.” In an interview he denies all responsibility for money laundering and fraud on the part of the companies his firm, Mossack Fonseca, set up. He says blaming his company is like blaming an automaker “if the car was used in a robbery.” So too the President of the Royal Bank of Canada whose name comes up related to the Panama Papers some 400 times, asserts that the Bank was just involved in “tax planning, not tax evasion”!

The underlying logic to all this is that Canada behaves responsibly in what the Liberal government does and is deeply convinced that what it does is responsible, which makes it so without further to do or analysis. To prove it to be the case, the government presents the doctrine “responsible conviction,” which makes its behaviour “responsible” because the “convictions that drive [the government] is the sense of responsibility,” and besides, this simple-minded tautology provides grounds to criminalize the conscience of opponents in the name of the greater good and to justify taking action against them.

Dion concludes his speech by saying that Canadian foreign policy “must be principled, but less dogmatic and more focused on delivering results.” To further muddy the murky waters and pretend that he is upholding some sort of principle, Dion says, “responsible conviction must not be confused with some sort of moral relativism.” He says, “Since the classic concept of the honest broker is now too often confused with moral relativism or the lack of strong convictions, I prefer to say that Canada must be a fair-minded and determined peace builder.”

These are indeed the perverse dreams of those grasping at straws, those who no longer have a clear conscience and are haunted by a morbid preoccupation with defeat.[3]


1.“Canada in Global Affairs, New Challenges, New Ways” was organized by The Hague Institute for Global Justice, a think-tank based in The Hague, Netherlands, and co-sponsored by the University of Ottawa and the Centre for International Policy Studies (which also sponsored the Canada 2020 Ottawa Forum 2016 where Dion was the keynote speaker). Others speakers at the conference were former Supreme Court Justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy; Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova; United Nations Under Secretary-General Adama Dieng; former Canadian International Development Agency President Huguette Labelle; The Hague Institute President Abiodun Williams; former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke at a dinner for conference attendants at the Chateau Laurier.

The Hague Institute President Abiodun Williams, also an academic and former senior UN official, appeared on CTV’s Power Play on March 28 to discuss Canadian peacekeeping. He said that it is encouraging that the Liberal government has said engaging with peacekeeping will be a priority. Williams said it would be important to set up a new peacekeeping centre in Canada to train both military and police and civilians who are part of peacekeeping missions. He added that an important contribution by Canada would be a “stabilization doctrine” for peacekeeping missions in countries in which this is a component of the mission. The Hague Institute describes its work as “Informing Policy,” “Convening Power” and “Training Practitioners and Future Leaders.”

The Hague Institute’s Advisory Council is chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Other Advisory Council members include former foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Russia and Jordan, a former minister of state from India, and a judge at the International Court of Justice. It is funded by a variety of embassies, governments and non-governmental organizations.

2.Adair-Toteff, Christopher. “Protestant ethics and the spirit of politics: Weber on conscience, conviction and conflict” (2011), History of the Human Sciences, 24 (1), pp. 19-35.

3.Perverse (of a person or their actions): showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences. Contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice. (Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English)

Source: “‘Responsible conviction’ – Another criminal doctrine of Canada’s foreign affairs to justify aggression and war,” TML Weekly, April 9, 2016 – No. 15

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