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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29878

Title: The Diefenbaker Moment
Authors: Spittal, Cara
Advisor: Bothwell, Robert
Department: History
Keywords: Canadian History
Cultural History
Intellectual History
Gender History
Issue Date: 31-Aug-2011
Abstract: This thesis locates John G. Diefenbaker’s electoral triumphs in the general elections of 1957 and 1958 and his subsequent world tour within the context of the revival of Conservative nationalism in the postwar period. To make his case against a Liberal government that had been in power for twenty-two years, Diefenbaker had to engage the public in a response to political events based on an appreciation of an abstract and not quite palpable threat to democracy and a national way of life. He did so by harnessing the persuasive techniques of public relations and the new medium of television—a powerful combination that Diefenbaker knew could most effectively tell and sell a national narrative. The signature he settled on was the “New National Policy.” The choice harkened back to a discourse of Conservative nationalism that spoke of the antiquity of his party ideology and rediscovered the heroes who founded the nation. The “New National Policy” was a therapeutic ethos designed to assuage voters’ fears about mass consumption, continentalism, communism, and the end of empire: it ensured that the greatness of events and men of the past could guarantee the ideas and values of the present; it was gendered in its construction of patriotic manhood, exalted motherhood, and icons of nationalist ideology; it was transnational in scope; it told of a relation of cause-and-effect that resembled a theory of history more than a blueprint for public policy; it was fashioned to disarm critical analysis because it conformed to the structures and traditions of storytelling and the clichés of historical memory. This thesis makes three interrelated arguments. First, it argues that the systems of values and meanings on which Diefenbaker drew cannot be understood by analyzing his personal foibles or tracing his rise and fall through a series of events. Partisan narratives are built out of the dialectical interchange between warring political ideologies and are stories fitted to character, circumstance, and experience. Second, it suggests that Diefenbaker was a transitional figure whose vision, message, leadership style, and public relations campaign seemed to best fit the barely discernable dimensions of the political and cultural change of the immediate postwar decades. Finally, by examining resurgence of Conservative nationalism in the context of imperial decline, it seeks to show that partisan narratives in English Canada in the 1960s cannot be understood outside of the larger transnational contexts in which they emerged.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29878
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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