- Mike's World: Lester B. Pearson and Canadian External Affairs ed. by Asa McKercher and Galen Roger Perras
Lester Pearson stepped down as prime minister fifty years ago, but his legacy resonates among enthusiasts and critics alike. His supporters point to Canada's reputation in peacekeeping and international mediation as justification of a successful political career, an argument still served by the shining glimmer of a Nobel Peace Prize. His detractors, on the other hand, are quick to recall an apathetic record toward French Canada and a soft foreign policy abhorred as conciliatory to American pressure. What accounts for Pearson's enigmatic and increasingly polarising reputation? Have historians misunderstood, or worse, mispresented 'Pearsonian' politics? What lessons can we derive from a concerted engagement with the history and scholarship of Pearson's approach to postwar foreign policy and global affairs?
Mike's World is a collection of historical essays about the diplomatic and political career of Canada's fourteenth prime minister. The perplexing persona of Lester 'Mike' Pearson drives the debate at the core of this volume, but so too do ideas and questions about how Canadians viewed their country and its international role in the 1960s. Editors Asa McKercher and Galen Roger Perras amassed an impressive group of emerging and seasoned scholars, too many for any review to credit fully. The key here is balance. The collection includes three sections which devote fair and equal attention to 1) Pearson's world and his confusing prepotency for 2) pragmatism and 3) idealism. Chapters cover such diverse topics as peacekeeping, human rights policy, Arctic sovereignty, and environmental diplomacy. Contributors also contextualise and examine Pearson's diplomatic and political encounters with foreign affairs concerning Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Americas.
The editors argue that a paradoxical clash of idealism and pragmatism underscored Pearson's unique approach to diplomacy and politics (p. 14). In turn, the chapters deconstruct the many myths of Pearsonianism. Timothy Andrews Sayle considers Pearson's shifting Cold War policies toward the Soviet Bloc, as does Isabel Campbell toward nuclear weapons and NATO. Others prod the prime minister's inner circle. Greg Donaghy provides an amusing overview of the bitter personal relationship between Pearson and Paul Martin, a quarrel that divided Canada's leadership but had little impact on Canadian foreign policy. Perhaps indicative of Pearson's enduring complexity, the volume lacks a concluding chapter or statement about the paradox so effectively introduced by the editors. Pearson was both pragmatic and idealist, as the depth and quality of the [End Page 227] scholarship makes clear. But the richness of the collection leaves the paradox unresolved, as if Pearson's legacy drips with a slight and curious ambiguity.
This volume holds tremendous value for students and senior scholars, nonetheless. Readers interested in Canadian history, political science, and international relations in the postwar period will find much to contemplate. General audiences might find the analysis overwhelming, but the organised manner with which the collection charts Pearson's pragmatic and idealist tendencies is both commendable and instructive. The contributors should be very pleased. All good works of history attempt to answer old questions while raising new ones, not all succeed. Complex, engaging, and fresh, Mike's World is one of the exceptions.