“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.
This is the last of three essays in which I review Canadian author and thinker George Grant’s work Lament for a Nation, and consider its relevance for reactionary thought in Canada and the West today. In the above work, Benjamin West – an American colonial who left for England before the Revolution – depicts Britannia receiving the Loyalists, with Religion and Justice accompanying her. In reality, Parliament was stingy about rewarding Loyalist refugees, and it was in Canada that they would make their new homes.
In parts one and two of this series, we examined George Grant’s thesis that Canada has faced a long erasure of its distinctive political heritage, founded in the Tory and Loyalist worldview which it defended against the Republican vision to its south. Part 1 presented Grant’s thesis that it was the Canadian business and political elite itself which was instrumental in this erasure. Part 2 explored various facets of this tradition: valuing competent over “small” government, acknowledging distinctions between peoples and cultures, and the institution of the Crown itself. In this final essay, we will explore the fate of the Canadian tradition and what its ultimate destiny might be as Liberalism faces its crises.
Previously, we set the stage that George Grant laid out in Lament for a Nation: a Canada built on foundations older than those of liberalism, nonetheless being transformed by American power and an elite which rejected Canada’s roots. We will now examine several of the key institutions and traditions of Canadian life which exist in tension with the liberalism and which have engulfed much of Canadian society, because they are fundamentally incompatible with it. Grant’s own reflections will show how well these tensions were understood mere decades ago.
Conventional wisdom is as follows:
America is a conservative country. It has evangelicals, Republicans of both the Bush and Trump varieties, and promotes interventionism and die-hard capitalism. Canada is a liberal country. It has universal health care, multiculturalism, and Trudeau is presently leading a Liberal Restoration to recover from the dark old days of Stephen Harper.
Yet, this contradicts the facts of history. While the American mythos exalts the free and sovereign individual, the historic Canadian tradition sees people as born into distinct cultures and stations. It is in Canada, rather than America, where the dominant ethnocultural heritage is explicitly recognized as British. It is the Canadian constitution, and not the American, which references the “supremacy of God”. And where in America could you find a mainstream media personality discussing the ethnogenesis of a nation in political life?
Lament for a Nation is best known today as a repudiation of the common paradigm. For George Grant, the conventional wisdom depends on an ignorance of history. Specifically, it disguises America’s revolutionary founding as an embodiment of Whig Liberalism and Canada’s slow and purposeful development as a confrontation of nations eventually united under a single royal power.