“Toryism is the political expression of a religious view of life. Conservatism is an attempt to maintain Toryism after you have lost your faith. Progressive Conservatism is an attempt to maintain conservatism after you have lost your memory too.” – David Warren
The year is 1813. A young Church of England priest named John Strachan is on the frontlines of a military conflict, determined to stand by King and Country in the face of invasion. The city of York is fallen as the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and his outnumbered force of regulars retreat to the strategically more important city of Kingston. Strachan must play a leading role in negotiating with the American forces. This test paves a road which will make him the spiritual leader of Upper Canada’s Anglo-colonial elite: the Family Compact. As a Bishop, his firm stance in favour of Loyalism and the Established Church – for throne and altar – will serve as a defence of the values which unite the great families of Upper Canada in the early 19th century. It is a total rejection of the values of the Revolution and the oligarchic Whigs who were behind it.
The year is 1965. The city of York has a new name: Toronto. The city’s academic and philosophic elite are in uproar regarding book recently published by a certain George Grant. Grant is a professor of religion at Ontario’s McMaster University. His new work has levelled an attack against what he perceives to be the total subversion of Canada’s ruling class by the liberal and progressive ideology of the United States. He champions Canada as the political embodiment of an ordered and hierarchical society whose view of human nature derives from the Classical-Christian tradition. The work will secure Grant’s legacy as the staunch defender of a tradition which has disappeared from the consciousness of Canada’s elite. It has been replaced by the project of a liberal internationalist political order.
What changed in the years and decades between 1813 and 1965? Who stood up to defend the High Tory faith which forged a Dominion and took up arms to resist the republican vision to the south? Professor Ron Dart’s 2016 publication, The North American High Tory Tradition, explores these themes through the life and work of its staunchest Canadian defenders.
Dart, who teaches in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at British Columbia’s University of the Fraser Valley, is perhaps one of the best equipped Canadians to explore these connections. His work has explored the High Tory tradition as it developed in Canadian thought: a necessarily nationalist tradition (opposing American encroachment) which respects a dynamic and active state and is strongly tied to the traditional faith of the Church of England. His other works include The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes (1999), The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable (2004), and Keepers of the Flame: Canadian Red Toryism (2012), amongst many others. The current work is published by American Anglican Press.
The North American High Tory Tradition is not written as a chronological history. Instead, each chapter focuses on a particular relationship, either between individuals or between various currents of thought. These extend beyond Canadian borders, testifying to the fact that the High Tory heritage is shared by the Anglosphere as a whole. This common spirit can be seen animating the positive feedback given by T. S. Eliot to the great Canadian author Stephen Leacock, or the formative years which George Grant and his wife spent attending meetings of Oxford’s Socratic Club with C. S. Lewis. The format allows readers to explore both the intellectual content of the High Tory worldview and the power dynamics at play in its decline.
A vital aspect of Dart’s thesis is that the High Tory worldview is the political expression of a broader ethos founded upon the English Christian tradition. The quote above by Canadian columnist David Warren sums up the lens rather well. Referenced several times is the pithy saying that Anglicans are “Tories at prayer”. Dart views this saying as containing a large degree of truth, provided both terms are understood correctly. He sees the Anglican tradition as being the historic ethos of English Christian civilization. Importantly, his Anglicanism embraces the whole Christian history in the British Isles, stretching back to the first missions by St. Augustine of Canterbury and others. Dart’s Anglican tradition does not begin with King Henry VIII.
It is this ethos within which the political institutions of English civilization were formed, as exemplified in the Christian oaths taken by British monarchs. Dart makes clear throughout his work that the expression of statecraft and politics of that civilization – the High Tory worldview – is therefore inseparable from this ethos. In 1813, Anglo-Canadian elite values and social mores were still informed by the Anglican and High Tory ethos. By 1965, George Grant is writing in a society where elites have ceded High Tory principles for liberal ones, in a country more familiar with the language of Social Progress than that of Christendom. The North American High Tory Tradition reveals the steps in between through the life and work of those who sought to defend the cause of Loyalism to throne and altar.
Chronologically, the shift begins with the waning of the Family Compact – the social elite which Bishop Strachan served. Strachan was born in Scotland to a Presbyterian family. He embraced the Anglican worldview during his years as a tutor to the children of Loyalist families of Kingston, in what was then Upper Canada and is now Ontario. The American invasion saw him confront Liberalism as it was embodied by the foreign power; in 1837, he opposed it in a different and domestic form: the Rebellions which broke out in both Canadas, led in Upper Canada by a certain William Lyon Mackenzie.
For the benefit of readers, it is worth going into the background of these events, although they are not discussed in depth by Dart. Mackenzie was a fellow Scot, and began his political career in Upper Canada as a journalist, advocating liberal reformer positions. He despised the Family Compact for their staunch Loyalism, being personally highly sympathetic to the United States against Britain. Despite their opposition, he was elected to both the Upper Canadian Parliament and became the first mayor of the newly incorporated Toronto. However, his devout practice of spoils politics – the purging of political opponents – to the exclusion of effectively implementing much-needed public works and debt reduction lost him these seats.
His radicalization culminated in 1837. Mackenzie began calling for a “constitutional convention” and publishing the subversive work Common Sense, written by Thomas Paine. He declared in favour of independence from Britain, a position which would have likely seen Upper Canada annexed by the United States. Taking advantage of unrest in Lower Canada, Mackenzie rallied sympathizers to his side. They were not as radical as he; when the government responded with military suppression, most of Mackenzie’s men deserted him. If any doubt remained of Mackenzie’s sympathies, he then fled to New York and attempted to organize a volunteer force to achieve independence for Canada. The U.S. government opposed this, however, and Mackenzie would ultimately be imprisoned.
But Mackenzie was not the only force of opposition. The last decades of Bishop Strachan’s life would see the Family Compact’s influence severely limited. Following the 1837 rebellions, the British government would launch an investigation of the Canadas led by the Whig politician John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham. Lord Durham’s own nickname among his compatriots was “Radical Jack”. Among his recommendations were a unification of the two Canadas, the strengthening of parliamentary democracy (called “responsible government”), and the assimilation of the French. The report had its impact: the united Province of Canada was created in 1840 and an independent legislature for the whole was established in 1848. Its administration consisted of so-called “moderate reformers” who had opposed the 1837 rebellions but supported many of their aims.
Mackenzie himself was allowed to return to Canada. He was even re-elected to the new Parliament, where his agitation promptly forced the resignation of one of the Co-Premiers of the Province. He would go on to openly advocate annexation by the United States in his final years, frustrated by the “sham reform” of the united Province.
With this diversion having provided some context to the political landscape of Canada, we return to The North American High Tory Tradition. Dart emphasizes that Bishop Strachan’s commitment to the monarchic and Loyalist values of the High Tory position were inseparable from his religious foundations. He defended the Church of England’s rights against the Papacy, and supported the catholic party within it against the evangelical and low-church factions. Strachan believed in and defended the political privileges of the Church of England, such as its sole right to over 2 million acres of “clergy reserve” Crown land (formally set aside for “protestant” clergy). He also opposed Presbyterian and Methodist attempts to divide or limit the position of the Established Church.
This and similar positions reveal a core aspect of the High Tory view of the state. First, the High Tory recognizes that the sovereign power can and must actively pursue a particular vision of the common good – an ethos which directs the values, goals, and life of the state and political community. Second, High Tories were committed to a particular ethos informed by the Anglican faith. For the High Tory, the conception of a sovereign individual human existing outside of the shaping forces of the community was a foreign one. So too was the idea that human society could be separated from the spiritual order of which it was a party.
Yet despite Mackenzie’s pessimism, the fact remained: the High Tory and Loyalist elite which Bishop Strachan had served would no longer guide the direction of Canada. The Compact had fallen victim to a high-low alliance, opposed via insurgency by radical reformers from below and sympathetic Whig elites from above. Bishop Strachan continued his mission through his last years to defend the High Tory tradition and inculcate it in a new generation, founding Trinity College in 1852. But the power of the United States meant that High Tories had to distinguish their own commitment to “peace, order, and good government” more explicitly. In other words, the defenders of the High Tory faith had to become nationalists.
Dart devotes several chapters of The North American High Tory Tradition to one of the most famous Canadians to take up a nationalist expression of the Tory faith: Stephen Leacock. Leacock was born in 1869: two years after Confederation and seventeen years after Bishop Strachan founded Trinity College. He became internationally known due to his more than thirty humour novels between 1910 and 1945. Particularly well-known was Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, centered around the fictional town of Mariposa. Mariposa was based on the town in which Leacock had a summer residence – and more than a few families did not express much amusement when they recognized themselves. For those entirely unfamiliar with Leacock, Dart provides an intimate look at how his High Tory formation became integral to the fictional work which made him world-renowned.
However, Dart also explores a less well-known aspect of Leacock’s early career: his work as a political economist and staunch opposition to the free trade liberalism which was becoming a strong force in Canada and beyond. At the root of this attack lay his rejection of a reductionist economics divorced from the life of the state and community. For Leacock, this life was informed by his Anglican faith and by Canada’s British and Imperial heritage, of which he was a staunch defender. The common heritage was noted by none other than the great T. S. Eliot himself, who reviewed a work of Leacock’s in 1916. Eliot noted that “there are few writers in America who share Mr. Leacock’s views.”
Leacock’s academic formation began during his time at Upper Canada College (UCC). Dart notes that the college’s ethos was explicitly informed by the Anglo-Tory faith and intended to cultivate a leadership class on these lines. One of the men who would form Leacock was George Grant’s own grandfather, Sir George Robert Parkin – a staunch nationalist and member of the Imperial Federation League. The League promoted a federation of British colonies united by a single Parliament (opinions differed as to whether this included the white colonies or the Empire as a whole). This was justified on grounds that a federal order would be the best way to unify the widespread Empire under the sovereign leadership of the United Kingdom, and thus the Crown. This would ensure the continued geopolitical power of British civilization, which the League and its partner organizations saw as imperiled by the moves toward greater sovereignty for the colonies. Leacock saw the rising power of the American Republic as necessitating such a response.
Leacock went on to a PhD at the prestigious University of Chicago, at that time already a center of laissez-faire economics. At the same time, he was struck by the poverty of the city and its engendering of protest, violence, and social chaos. The experience formed his thesis – entitled The Doctrine of Laissez-Faire – and his first great exposure as an author and thinker: Elements of Political Science. The textbook was his best-published work, reprinted several times. It defended the idea of an active state whose vision of the common good was served rather than ignored by economic policy. The early 1900’s saw Leacock become an international speaker and defender of the Tory worldview and the Imperial tradition of government which it had formed. He saw himself as inheriting the thought of men such as Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, whose Conservative Party used the power of the state to secure the young Dominion’s southern border and connect its disparate towns and trading posts.
Leacock’s vision for the Conservative Party is entirely divergent from its modern incarnation, which under Stephen Harper focused almost entirely on free trade and economic management. Leacock worked with a broad coalition of Tory-Nationalist partisans and protectionist-supporting Canadian businesses to conduct speaking tours against the free trade ideology of the Liberals. In his 1907 work Greater Canada: An Appeal, Leacock declared against the integrationist position: “Nor does our future lie in Union to those that dwell to the Southward. The day of annexation to the United States is passed.”
However, it should be noted that Leacock was not a staunch defender of Mother Country supremacy. Like other League members, he saw a chance for the Dominion and other colonies to expand their power and voice within the Empire. This in fact put him in line with the original impetus behind the federal idea, which had been first proposed by British liberals such as John Stuart Mill, and it is worthwhile to diverge again and give some context to this fact. Dart notes that the League was associated also with the Canada First movement, which defended Canada’s Anglo-Protestant heritage while demanding greater autonomy in its government – ironically, the very thing driving the Imperial disintegration feared by the League.
It must be pointed out that among the supporters for Imperial Federation were members of the Milner Group, as well as liberals who saw the British Empire as a vehicle for their own ideological ends. Carroll Quigley notes in his work The Anglo-American Establishment that it was precisely the failure of the federal idea by the time of WWI that led Lionel Curtis, a secretary to the influential British imperialist Lord Milner, to advocate the dissolution of the Empire into a new world commonwealth. Curtis would go on to Chatham House, one of the most prominent think-tanks on the world today, and be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.
This may help us to understand the ultimate defeat of the tradition which Leacock represented. On the one hand, the growing autonomy of Canada from the Empire meant that increasing numbers of the business and political establishment saw integration with the United States as an opportunity. For men like future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King – a staunch Liberal and relative of William Lyon Mackenzie – this also aligned with their ideological commitments. In addition, the Right’s growing awareness of the Communist threat meant that grand civilizational questions would increasingly take a backseat to establishing Canada as a member of the Anglo-American world order. While that order opposed the Soviet Communist power, it was founded upon Curtis’ vision of a shared Liberalism rather than a shared Imperial heritage.
The result is that the Tory-Nationalist partisan was increasingly forced to become a fellow traveller of other movements rather than an intellectually sovereign force, as Bishop Strachan had been. Just as George Grant would one day be framed as a heterodox New Left figure, Leacock was increasingly viewed as seeking a “third way” from capitalism and communism. That the whole idea of merely economic value systems was absurd to Leacock’s tradition was not something that the reigning paradigm of thought could easily understand.
Of course, Leacock himself cannot be excluded from this critique. This becomes apparent in the way he applied his critique of atomistic capitalism, laid out in works such as The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. While in principle he may have rejected the reductionist economism of the day, in practice he appeared to see allies in the socialist movement. Dart refers to a defence made by Leacock of Eugene Forsey and J. King Gordon, two prominent socialists who for a time even defended the Soviet Union. They would go on to trade their communist sympathies for loyalty to the project of global Liberalism. Forsey joined Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party and Gordon worked for the United Nations. This ceding of intellectual sovereignty meant that defenses of High Tory thought were ultimately expressed in the language of Liberalism, leading to notions like the “Red Toryism” applied to George Grant.
It was George Grant to whom making the final autopsy of Canada’s High Tory foundation would be left. Dart presents a detailed analysis and recounting of the relationships and mentors which led Grant to become the 20th century’s greatest defender of the Tory-Nationalist position. Lament for a Nation would be his most famous work, and a detailed expose of the who and why behind the death of Canadian sovereignty – both in intellect and politics. However, Grant’s very separation from the age of a High Tory social elite meant that he would understand its distinctions and heritage better than any other. While Leacock was concerned with the battles of political economy, Grant took the fight to the plane of philosophy, and ultimately theology.
One of the aspects of Grant’s life which Dart examines in detail is George and his wife Sheila’s relationship with C. S. Lewis and the Socratic Club at Oxford. Lewis’ rejection of scientism and “value-free” technological progress deeply influenced both the Grants and their future work. George Grant and Lewis both understood that without a conception of order and ethics to ground the mind, any discussion of freedom was meaningless and absurd. Furthermore, both took as their foundation the patristic Christian tradition. Lewis and Grant believed this tradition still existed in the Church of England , even if the modern Anglican was required to see past both the errors of the Reformation and Modernism to find it. However, Grant went further than Lewis in his embrace of a political expression of this ethos and its embodiment in the state. Dart points out that unlike Lewis, Grant’s political expression of his worldview could not be subsumed by the American republican tradition.
Grant’s less well-known work is Philosophy in the Mass Age. Published in 1959, the work grapples with the Hegelian liberalism which informed the Canadian philosophical establishment. Grant attacked the liberal rejection of a natural order and its focus on dialectic rather than the Good. Dart defines the work as a rejection of Hegel in favour of Plato – a rejection which sent waves of fury throughout the academic establishment, which Dart bitingly describes as Canada’s “philosophical Sanhedrin”.
This work, and the writing and teaching which followed, outline better than perhaps any modern Canadian author exactly how the High Tory view of man differs from the liberal one. The liberal sees man as sovereign rational agent; the High Tory, as inseparable from and contingent on the existence of a political community. The liberal rejects order for freedom; the High Tory holds that freedom is undefinable and absurd without a conception of order. The liberal sees religious faith as a private matter; the High Tory, as a defining ethos which privatization can only destroy.
Dart outlines the philosophical heritage of Grant’s criticism: “The Classical Anglo-Canadian tradition Grant draws from…includes, primarily, Plato in the Greek tradition, More, Hooker, Swift, Coleridge, Southey, and Disraeli in the English tradition, and Simcoe, Macdonald, Leacock, Bennett, Diefenbaker, and Creighton in the Canadian tradition.” The influence of Disraeli, Coleridge, and Southey is of interest. Dart clarifies that this refers primarily to the younger Disraeli and the older Coleridge and Southey; Grant sympathized with their criticisms and opposition to the increasing independence of industrialization from a unified and integrated vision of British society. He sees these figures and having been on the frontlines of opposition against a scientistic progressivism which he himself would consistently denounce.
Grant’s Platonic philosophical mission brought him to firmly embrace the Anglican tradition and the patristic heritage which it still had access to. He would explain that “…the Anglican Church…has in it some of the ancient truth and therefore I will live in it.” However, he also foresaw the growing power of the liberal faction. Grant and his wife would oppose this faction while also strengthening ties with those in the more traditional communions, both Roman and Eastern. In the 1960’s, he became influenced by his reading of Dostoyevsky and other writers who examined the traditions of Western and Eastern Christendom. Dart describes the Anglican High Tory view that life must be an icon of faith; continuing this logic, the liberal privatization of faith might perhaps be thought of as political iconoclasm.
Strachan, Leacock, and Grant are only three major figures from Dart’s wide-ranging work. However, they illustrate well why deeper investigation of the native thought of English Christian civilization is well worth the effort on the part of neoreactionary thinkers and other critics of liberalism. The analysis of Mencius Moldbug rests on both a particular view of power and one of intellectual history. In The North American High Tory Tradition, we see the interplay of thought and power laid out. Strachan’s ardent defense was ultimately undermined when the governing powers of Britain were revealed to be in no small degree of sympathy with the rebellions below. By Leacock’s time, the might of the United States was becoming apparent; the efforts by him and others to preserve the distinct Tory worldview of the Imperial world order were not able to stand in the face of it. The fall of bishop and scholar leave it to Grant, the lone and lamenting Prophet, to devise a full and total understanding of the ethos which Strachan, Leacock, and others were often informed by only implicitly.
Half a century after Grant, the Anglo-American world order finds itself at the hour of decision. It faces alienation, atomization, demographic collapse, and class strife within. It faces civilizational challenges and migratory pressure from without. This is made all the more difficult by an elite which refuses to recognize a “within” and “without”, claiming that they are merely defending the values which all people enlightened to Social Progress hold. If they admit a leading role for the United States, it is in the context of an “international community” of supposedly sovereign states who merely defend universal human values. The idea that this ideology serves geopolitical and economic ends is ignored. So too is the fact that Social Progress falls in the same category as any other religious mythos and not in that of “objective” physical science.
Dart devotes a full chapter in the book to describing what he calls the Matrix of Liberalism. He traces its intellectual and political development through seven major “acts”. Nominalism’s shift from overarching order to observed particulars; the Reformation’s elevation of individual liberty in determining truth; its entrenchment following the English civil war; the merger of liberalism with American radical Protestant reformers in the 18th century; the ultimate breaking of religious authority by political and romantic individualism in the 19th; the domination of political individualism in the liberal order of the 20th; finally, the postmodern 21st’s total rejection that desires should conform to any order beyond the individual. In this era, liberalism varies only in whether it should actively constrain ideological competitors (French secularism) or whether such suppression would undermine its own moral basis (Canadian liberalism).
Dissidents from liberalism in the Anglosphere have often recognized that the continent has always maintained its older traditions far better. De Maistre and Maurras in France; Schmitt and Heidegger in Germany; Donoso Cortes in Spain. The Anglosphere, being the geopolitical foundation of the liberal order, has more actively suppressed it. The Canadian student learns in school about Mackenzie and Trudeau, but not about Strachan or Grant. University students learn about T. S. Eliot’s criticisms of modernity, but not about his intellectual and personal ties to a more ancient ethos of English civilization. The Anglosphere has long experienced a condition of civilizational amnesia. The North American High Tory Tradition is a contribution to the cure. This cure is not only of historical interest. As Strachan, Leacock, and Grant realized, the destruction of the Anglo-Tory ethos was not carried out by dialectic and historical inevitability, but by men. The cure and redemption of the Anglo-American order will also come only from men.
Likewise, the growth of the global liberal anti-order has come from America, a child of the English civilization. If broader Western civilization can hope to achieve its Restoration without dividing against itself, then it is to the heart of America itself that the Restoration must reach. And for this it is necessary that we remember the Anglo-Tory faith. If a Restoration in the Anglosphere is possible, then it will be by tapping into currents of thought which preserved and guided us before the rise and reign of liberalism.
Just as English Christian civilization inherited currents of the Classical-Roman ethos, so too will a reborn Anglo-American order to come inherit currents of the Anglo-Tory ethos. The North American High Tory Tradition is a valuable introduction to this ethos and the men who fought for it, and an important guide to areas of further thought and study.
[Editor’s note: cross-posted from Social Matter]
“Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.” – Virgil