Canada Kicks Ass
Obscure writings often have a much bigger impact later on


JaredMilne @ Sat Aug 21, 2021 11:07 am

Pierre Trudeau’s 1982 enshrining of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution is one of the most important events in Canadian history. Modern Canada is almost unthinkable without the Charter.

The roots of the Charter go much further back, to before Trudeau went into politics. In 1964, when he was still a university professor, Trudeau wrote an article for Maclean’s magazine advocating for a constitutional charter of rights as the best way to defeat Quebec separatism. It’s a defining element of modern Canada now, but it was obscure when Trudeau suggested it, one of countless articles people were writing.

Trudeau’s support for a charter of rights is an example of how ideas that were obscure when they were first published can go on to have incredible impacts on the world.

Intersectionality and critical-race theory are major parts of modern progressive politics and activism, but the concepts were first developed in the writings of American scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When they were first published, these scholars’ works didn’t attract much attention outside academia. Today, though, they form an important intellectual base for a lot of the political left.

This tendency exists on the political right, too, of course. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Western world’s economies were marked by higher taxes, government restrictions on business, and a generous social safety net. At the time, the writings of scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman advocating for more deregulation and less public taxation and spending weren’t popular outside their own circles. By the 1980s, those writings were the intellectual base for the neo-liberal reforms of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and continue to influence the political right.

This tendency also manifested in much viler ways, too. Adolf Hitler was a convicted felon when he wrote Mein Kampf in 1925, but it described the horrors he caused during the Second World War. Vladimir Lenin was an obscure expat living in Germany in 1902 when he wrote a ‘vanguard’ party leading a Communist revolution in Russia, an idea he put into practice during the Russian Revolution. Karl Marx was an obscure journalist and intellectual when he wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, but it became one of the most influential books in history.

One of the most extreme examples of writing having a bigger impact later would be Machiavelli’s The Prince, which he published in 1532. In it, Machiavelli argued that the Italians should unite their country militarily and free it from being controlled by other European powers. His pleas were eventually answered – more than 300 years later in the 19th-century Wars of Italian Unification.

All these examples have one thing in common: Ideas that didn’t attract much notice when they were first presented had massive impacts later on. Lots of different things made those impacts possible, but these ideas formed the intellectual bases for them.

With all the ideas available out there today, who knows which ones will shape the future?