Feb. 10, 2021
UCalgary Political Science interviews our own Dr. Barry Cooper
Dr. Barry Cooper is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary
As a political philosopher, you have done lots of work on Eric Voegelin, yet your work has also covered an enormous range of subject matter. Can you give a us quick rundown of your intellectual trajectory?
I first encountered Voegelin’s work and Voegelin himself in graduate school. It took me about 20 years to read his work and figure it out. The Collected Works make this easier today since all the material is in English. I started out, however, looking at postwar French philosophers, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and especially Kojève, who led me to Hegel. When I taught at McGill, I used to discuss Kojève with Chuck Taylor and later, in Toronto, with George Grant. Grant saw the connection between Hegel and technology, the most important of which, I think, are communications media. By now I was able to undertake a Voegelinian analysis of Canadian political symbols, which clarified the parochialism of my Laurentian students at York—I taught one of the first classes on Canadian political thought. Years later, Voegelin’s political science helped me make sense of the 9/11 attack. Apparently Osama bin Laden found my book on terrorism useful reading since a copy was found by Seal Team Six when they visited his compound in Abbottabad in 2011.
You’ve been very successful in winning big research grants. What are your thoughts on their importance?
Many of my friends in business think that research grants finance boondoggles. The fact is, if you need to spend time—weeks and sometimes months—in foreign archives, you need to develop grant-writing skills. I have been able to spend a fair bit of time in France, Germany, the US and the UK in order to examine material that later appeared in books and articles. To write my last big book, Paleolithic Politics, meant I had to spend a lot of time in Paris and the south of France looking at, among other things, paleolithic mobilary and parietal art. I will not pretend that these were not entirely agreeable research venues.
What’s the next big thing you hope to turn your attention to?
Marco Navarro-Génie and I published a little book, COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic, earlier this year. An expanded second edition is in the works. I am also working on a sequel to Paleolithic Politics, called Neolithic Political Symbols, that will deal with the megalithic monuments of the period: Stonehenge, Newgrange, Avebury, the Orkney sites, and so on. All I need is access to the British Isles!
Finally, people might not know, but you are a very experienced horseman, hunter, and outdoorsman. Tell us about that!
One of the little-known features of the notorious Calgary School is that the members—Ted Morton, Rainer Knopff, Tom Flanagan, David Bercuson, and I—shared experiences hunting and fishing here in southern Alberta, BC, and up north. No place in the world, except perhaps the Serengeti and Siberia, has a greater variety of game than right here. And those other places are too far away. When I was a kid, I used to chase cows on my uncles’ ranches. Many years later, one of my English friends invited me to ride with the Belvoir Hunt. That was a different and unforgettable kind of hunting.