Emerging Scholars

Praxeology in Many Disciplines

Praxeology in Many Disciplines
Profile photo of Jordan Goldstein

canada_lacrosseA great strength of the Austrian School of Economics is the breadth of academic scholarship that it can enrich.  The philosophic underpinnings of the Austrian economists, and specifically of Ludwig von Mises, universalize the principles of economic activity to all of human action.  For a historian, praxeology offers a radically empirical and philosophically sound method to investigate past events:  examine the goals and beliefs of individual actors and the means by which that individual brings those beliefs into practicable action. Importantly, it does not absolve the historian of the responsibility to attempt objectivity in pursuit of historical explanations. One important aspect of my research is to understand the shift from classical liberalism to ‘new’ liberalism, collective liberalism, or Progressivism in the late 19th century.  A surprising example of this transformation is found in the historical development of ice hockey as the national sport of Canada. But what does this have to do with economics?  Praxeology teaches that the actions of individuals reflect their beliefs and goals. Over 120 years ago, those who advocated for a nationalized sport also advocated increased central economic planning and promoted the central government as both protector and promoter of nationalized culture.[1]

The fusion of sport and nationalism first emerged in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  The sport of cricket, through its promoters, grafted itself onto the elite conception of English national character.  Educator, minister, and political theorist Dr. Thomas Arnold combined the burgeoning social reform movement of the early nineteenth century with the concept of English nationalized sport.  He married the games ethic[2] with the social reform movement’s insistence on cultivating morality through action to produce the theory of athleticism.[3]  Furthermore, Arnold’s conception of athleticism buttressed the emergent social reform belief in the positive role of the State in addressing society’s ills and cultivating moral citizens. He particularly emphasized the role of the nation in moral and spiritual reform.  As a member of the Liberal Anglican movement, Arnold forwarded and promoted ‘the moral theory of the state’: “Our physical wants may have led to [the state’s] actual origin, but its proper objects is of a higher nature; – it is the intellectual and moral improvement of mankind, in order to their reaching their greatest perfection, and enjoying their highest happiness.  This is the object of civil society, or ‘the State’ in the abstract.”[4] Arnold’s beliefs motivated others to incorporate the development of nationalized sport into the pantheon of political beliefs concerning centralization through an expanded and energetic State.

Certain nation builders in Canada promoted Arnold’s conflation of sport, nationality, and the State. One was Montreal dentist and sport enthusiast William George Beers, who immediately attempted to forge a Canadian nationalized sport in the years directly following Confederation.  Although ice hockey came to represent nationalized sport in the late nineteenth century, Lacrosse was the first sport explicitly championed as Canada’s national sport. A staunch nationalist, Beers used his influential publication Lacrosse: Canada’s National Game (1869) to argue that, “It may seem frivolous, at first consideration, to associate this feeling of nationality with a field game, but history proves it to be a strong and important influence…Whatever tends to cultivate this nationality is no frivolous influence, even should it be a boyish sport.”[5]  After Confederation the Canadian State rested on political centralization, but not upon any unified national culture.  As a bi-lingual federation, Canada lacked the traditional elements of nineteenth century nationalism: a shared language, history, and culture.  Eighteenth century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau noted the necessity of national character to the authority of a State and argued that: “The First rule that we have to follow is national character: all people have, or should have, a national character; if it is lacking in this, it would be necessary to start by giving it one.”[6]  Rousseau’s proscription was relevant to the conundrum faced by the Canadian framers when they inaugurated their State without a traditional basis of nationality.  Thus, the development of nationalized sport in Canada occurred concurrently with the development of the State.

Beer’s promotion of Lacrosse represented an attempt to forge an element of national culture to bind the disparate Canadian population together.  It accompanied attempts by the Canadian framers, notably through Sir. John A. MacDonald’s Conservative Party, to nationalize the State politically and economically. Initially, MacDonald and his supporters pined for a Legislative Union between the British North American colonies. This would have cemented full political control in the hands of the Federal Government in Ottawa.  Defeated in this scheme, Confederation conferred a Federal as opposed to a Legislative design.  However, the Conservatives pressed for increased centralization in the economic realm.  MacDonald’s National Policy proscribed national protective tariffs and the establishment of a central bank to dispense credit for government sponsored infrastructure programs.  Beer’s promotion of a National Sport buttressed and reflected the State’s centralizing tendency.   Nationalizing efforts in Canada legitimized the State by justifying the ideal of the ‘national’, whether economic, political, or cultural.  Beers himself stated this important connection: “…our National game, while exercising the manly virtues, also trains the national and the moral.”[7]  His emphasis on the moral and national echoed Arnold’s proscriptions.  Thus conceived, sport acted as a national cultural signifier. It not only buttressed political centralizing tendencies, but developed alongside them as an important corollary to the overall philosophic shift towards State enlargement and intervention.

[1] The term nationalized sport refers to a particular sport that embodies and represents perceived national character traits and values important in the creation and maintenance of national identity.

[2] Historian J.A. Mangan described the games ethic as “the subscription to the belief that important expressive and instrumental qualities can be promoted through team games (in particular loyalty, self-control, perseverance, fairness and courage, both moral and physical).” J.A. Mangan, “Grammar Schools and the Games Ethic in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras,” Albion, A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, 15, no. 4, (1983): 314.

[3] Athleticism posited that physical exercise proved a highly effective means of inculcating physical and moral courage, loyalty, co-operation, fair play, humility in defeat, and the ability to both command and obey orders in an educational capacity. J.A. Mangan and C. Hickey, “Early Inspiration: Athleticism and Colleges,” Soccer and Society, 9, no. 5,                 (2008): 607.

[4] Thomas Arnold, “Principles of Church Reform; with Postscript,” (London, 1838),  reprinted in The Miscellaneous Works of Thomas Arnold, D.D. Late Headmaster of Rugby School, And Regius Professor of Modern History In The University of Oxford (London, UK: B. Fellowes, 1845) 331. Citations refer to 1845 edition.

[5] George Beers, Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada (Montreal, PQ: Dawson Brothers, 1869), 59.

[6] The original French quotations read “La première règle que nous avons à suivre, c’est le caractère national: tout perple a, ou doit avoir, un caractère national; s’il en manquait, il faudrait commencer par le lui donner.”  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Projet de Constitution pour la Corse: Première Partie,”(1765), in The Political Writings of Jean-Jacque Rousseau: Edited from the Original Manuscripts and Authentic Editions, Vol. II, ed. C.E. Vaughan, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1915), 319.  For the English translation see: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Projet de Constitution pour la Corse: Première Partie,” (1765), in Rousseau: Political Writings, trans. and ed. Frederick Watkins (Toronto, ON: Thomas Nelson and Sons LTD., 1953), 293.

[7] George Beers, Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada (Montreal, PQ: Dawson Brothers, 1869), xv-xvi.

Emerging Scholars
Profile photo of Jordan Goldstein

Jordan Goldstein is a PhD Student studying History at Western University in London, Ontario. He holds an MA in History from Western University. Jordan’s research focuses on the philosophic transformation from Classical Liberalism to Collective Liberalism, or Progressivism, in the late 19th century and its impact on the development of sport in a nationalist context. He applies the Praxeological method, specifically to historical study, to investigate the cultural by-products of Progressive economic philosophies.

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