Tom Flanagan

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Tom Flanagan has taught political science at the University of Calgary, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, since 1968. [1] He is a leading figure in what has been labelled the Calgary School of conservative thought at the university.

Flanagan's Political Influence

Flanagan’s influence in Canadian politics should not be underestimated. He is a fellow of the free-market, right-wing think tank, the Fraser Institute. The Fraser Institute notes that he is "perhaps the only person ever to have lived in both Ottawa, Ontario, and Ottawa, Illinois", where he was born and raised.Ibid He launched, and is president of the low profile but influential Canadian conservative group called Civitas Society.

He was the director of research for the right-wing Reform Party of Canada in 1991–1992. [2]

He has taught many influential figures in the new Conservative political landscape in Canada, not least of whom, current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He managed Mr. Harper’s campaign for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2002, and was instrumental in developing the “three sisters” strategy to unite the right in Canada, bringing together the populist western Canadians, the traditional Tory (Progressive Conservative) vote and the francophone nationalists in Quebec. Flanagan bragged about the success of the "three sisters" strategy in a column that appeared on 31 May 2006 in Canada's centre-right national Globe and Mail newspaper.

Flanagan's successful "three sisters" strategy led to the merging of the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, to produce the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, with Stephen Harper as its leader. Tom Flanagan then managed the Conservative Party’s unsuccessful national election campaign in 2004, and he worked as Senior Communications Adviser in the Conservative war room during the party’s successful 2005-06 election campaign that brought the Conservative Party to power. Flanagan has been described as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “closest advisor”. [3]

He also taught Ezra Levant, who is now the publisher of the right-wing Western Standard, which resembles in tone and mindset the arch-conservative Weekly Standard published by William Kristol in the United States.


Tom Flanagan was born and raised in Ottawa, Illinois, USA. His father "had a white-collar job, managing the outlet of an auto-parts chain, that put the family a notch up the local social ladder. The defining influences on the household were the Roman Catholic Church and the Republican Party, two forces that did not always mix." [4]

Although his father wanted him to attend Harvard, Tom Flanagan chose Indiana’s Notre dame, a Catholic bastion, where "political science meant Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas". [Ibid]. He met his first wife at Notre Dame and there found philosophical comfort in the school of German-born Eric Voegelin, who had fled Hitler. [5]

"In Voegelin's complex Weltanschauung," writes Marci MacDonald in Walrus Magazine, "Flanagan found a philosophical framework that reconciled his Roman Catholic faith with his family's conservative politics. He confided later that he felt he'd been drifting leftward. Suddenly, Voegelin pulled him back from that perilous course." [6]

At Duke University, Tom Flanagan shared a study carrel with fellow graduate student, the Canadian Barry Cooper, and they forged a friendship that has lasted four decades. [Ibid] Tom Flanagan moved to Canada in the early 1960s, where he reportedly found it amusing that one could still vote for socialists. Since then, he seems to have concentrated on combating anything he sees as liberal or socialistic in his adopted country; the public broadcaster, CBC; universal public health care; multiculturalism; and also the special rights afforded to First Nations people.

"In 1996, at the height of Flanagan's notoriety for Riel-bashing, Cooper thumbed his nose at his pal's critics by nominating him to the Royal Society of Canada," says MacDOnald in The Walrus Magazine article, who then goes on to quote Barry Cooper: "I don't think I disagree with Tom on anything, political or intellectual." [7]

In 2000, after he made a presentation on public policy in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he was interviewed by the free-market Frontier Institute for Policy Research about his book First Nations, Second Thoughts. [8]

Flanagan was asked what he thought were the most important steps that governments could take to bring positive change to the native community, and how quickly he thought these could be implemented. He replied, "The first step I would take would be to stop funding the Association of First Nations - if they want to have a political organization, let them pay for it with their own money - as other groups do. The second step I would take would be to cap the growth of expenditure on aboriginal people in the federal budget. It has been growing very, very rapidly for years and didn't experience the same discipline that other line items in the budget did in the 1990's. I think that we are spending too much money on a government-to-government basis and it's actually making the lives of people worse rather than better. The third thing I would do would be to try and introduce some of the modest reforms I have mentioned - the introduction of taxation on reserves, reform of governing institutions and the introduction of some degree of private property rights. For example, the private ownership of housing." [9]

Tom Flanagan declined to be interviewed for Marci MacDonald’s article for Walrus Magazine and by CBC journalists wishing to discuss his influence on Stephen Harper and on the new conservatism in Canada, which closely resembles the neo-conservatism of the so-called Straussians in the United States.

In October 2005, Lorne Gunter, a columnist at the conservative National Post newspaper in Canada and editorial director for the Canadian Centre for Libertairan Studies, profiled Tom Flanagan as part of a search by his paper to find "Canada’s most important 'public intellectual'." [[10]] Gunter’s unquestioning admiration for Tom Flanagan as “one of the smartest men in the country” is hardly surprising; Gunter is a president of the conservative Civitas Society that Flanagan founded. [11]

On Tom Flanagan’s University of Calgary web pages, he describes his areas of specialization as Political theory, especially liberalism and conservatism; millenarian movements; aboriginal land claims; game theory and rational choice, biopolitics. [12]


  • Metis Lands in Manitoba (1991)
  • The Collected Writings of Louis Riel (1985)
  • Riel and the Rebellion: 1885 Reconsidered (2nd ed., 2000);
  • Louis "David" Riel:'Prophet of the New World' (2nd ed., 1996)
  • Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party and Preston Manning (1995);
  • Game Theory and Canadian Politics (1998);
  • First Nations? Second Thoughts (2000).
  • Tom Flanagan and Mark O. Dickerson, Introduction to Government and Politics, with ;
  • Tom Flanagan, Mark O. Dickerson and Neil Nevitte, Introductory Readings in Government and Politics.

Contact Details

Tom Flanagan,
University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta
Office: Social Sciences 706
Email: tflanaga AT
Phone: (403) 220-8225

External links