The following essay is part of Northern Dawn’s Symposium for Canada’s 150th anniversary. The theme is Canada: Who Are We? We hope these studies of Canada’s heritage will inspire readers to consider its future, and the broader civilization of which it is a part. Those who rule must know what they are ruling.
The following essay is by Cole Dutton. Cole blogs at The Dominion Standard about a variety of traditionalist and conservative themes.
The traditionalist Canadian often faces a certain type of assertion roughly analogous to ‘why is that the role of the government?’ Or ‘the government deserves no part in that.’ Now, aside from market considerations, it becomes very difficult to respond to such assertions in a succinct and cogent fashion. It is the aim then of this piece to take a glance backwards at Canada and its liberal political discourse and contrast it with the principal notion of intellectual and political conservatism: the assertion that government for conservatives has an end or purpose specific to it. This position enables one to see the importance of government in asking the critical question fielded by Northern Dawn in response to Canada 150. And that question is ‘who are we?’
From this observation, it behoves the conservative to counter that the government plays a larger role than the electoral apparatus, the law, or social services. In contrast to both the classically liberal perspective and the egalitarian doctrines, the conservative considers neither freedom nor equality substantive when comprehending the fullness of government. This position is one of government as a necessary and positive institution in society. The government, in this case, has drifted from its appropriate purpose and lost its orientation. This change has come at the expense of the well-being of society and the free individual.
The chief problem of Canadian politics is identical to the one that has infested and metastasized across the western world. Erik Kuenhelt-Leddihn termed it the choice between Calvin or Rousseau. The western world chose Rousseau and a vision of mankind’s goodness that led western man to see the state as a little more than an instrument. This modern western man perceives the state as something that is not its own organism, and intertwined with the soul of the civil society as Roger Scruton imagined it. Rather, his view of the state presupposes two particular principles: first, that mankind is by nature good; second, that even when it is self-evident that the individual is not by nature good, democratic elevation of the majority is a capable antidote to the ills of the individual.
The position then becomes one of man as corrupted creature. However, in response the modern mind imagines that the herd is wise; to the modern western man, good men will always outnumber the bad (as if the bad were not the same men as the good). The modern vision of man’s corruption is not corruption in the sense of the metaphysical. It is not the corruption of the mind referenced by Susan Schreiner in her masterful study of reformation intellectual history entitled Are You Alone Wise? Nor is it the corruption encapsulated in the story of Genesis. It is the corruption of man by inadequate political and social systems. These systems operate in a systematic fashion upon the individual character. This is the liberal and socialistic paradigm. A paradigm that consists of the argument that material and social conditions govern the quality of the individual and find expression in social pathology. This diagnostic view paves the way for immediate prognostication and remediation. The government then becomes the engine of reform and revolution. The state exists as merely a tool to remake the society. This liberal state stands independent of the institutions of government, in the name of the artificial and elevated virtues of equality and liberty.
This is problematic for a simple reason: upholding liberty and equality as the paramount virtues necessitates the obliteration of other virtues in kind. This elevation comes at the expense of justice, piety, obligation, and temperance in particular. For they demand the destruction of distinction and the levelling of value to embolden those who engage in vices condemned by historical and traditional norms. Given these basic claims, the liberal and egalitarian transformation of the social fabric of Canada makes sense. The extirpation of the history of Canada creates incredible problems. This arises because the system of authority embodied by the current state destroys the basis for civil society: tradition. In the same fashion, this movement also undermines the promogulated norms that legitimise the authority of the state.
Yet, this has not stopped the chattering classes of Canada, particularly the liberal party, from innumerable crimes against the nation. These acts consist of eliminating the Royal designation from numerous institutions. The list in no particular chronology and only in part reads as follows. The Liberal Party adopted a new flag, and the Alberta NDP attacked Catholic schools on the issue of LGBT rights. The Liberal Party weakened the already feeble Senate; it also established a vacuous national anthem in O’Canada; meanwhile, it aimed to destroy our first past the post system. Various groups have also agitated on behalf of a narrative of aboriginal genocide. The liberal party continues to claim Canada had a multicultural history of mass migration; Justin Trudeau asserted Canada is a post national state (itself a contradiction in terms); and lastly, Pierre Trudeau and his Liberal Party wrote a charter which undermines the principles of Parliamentary supremacy and the validity of the king in Parliament.
How then may conservatives challenge the position of the government as utility? How can they obstruct the tendency of the modern western mind to engage in instrumental thinking at the expense of the soul of civil society and the state? The answer demands a clear statement of what conservatives in Canada ought to imagine as an ideal understanding of the government. By understanding the purpose of government, Canadian conservatives can direct their policy proposals toward doing justice to who we are.
From this position, the argument is that government exists as the proper and capable trustee of the soul of civil society. The distinct communities, institutions, families, faith, and modes of living which allow the emergence of the fully distinct and free individual compose the soul of civil society. Philosopher John Kekes terms the same soul the pluralism of tradition. This pluralism of traditions provides a framework, unconscious to most and embodied in natural prejudice, that enables individuals to interact with each other in a coherent and predictable fashion. This predictable engagement is necessary for the exercise freedom without sin both against the future and the past. Kekes states, ‘when individuals form their conceptions of a good life, what they are to a very large extent doing is deciding which traditions they should participate in. The decisions may reflect thoughtful choices, thoughtless conformity to familiar patterns, or something in between.’ This same pluralism of traditions allows numerous historically couched visions of the constitution of good government to attempt to address the demands of human nature in varying ways while adhering to the same objective realities of the human condition.
Working from Edmund Burke’s fundamental political axiom: mere ‘renters’ cannot fulfil true government. Instead, the government must be a compact between ‘not only . . . those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’ Government, given that it cannot exist solely for those interests currently embodied in the present generation, is not an instrument of the political class or of the demos; it is a being itself with a life of its own and duties appropriate to it. In fact, it is the only body in existence that can take the soul of the people and instantiate it beyond the limits of generation and time. To abrogate this principle is to not only attack our ancestry, but to attack future generations who may have no trust that their land, people, institutions, and faith will be safeguarded in the future. It is to put ourselves and the present in the position of supremacy and shackle those to come. Tradition defines the framework for social relations and answers to the questions of how best to live. In this way, it becomes imperative for the conservative theory of government to steward custom and history both so that the present may benefit from them as well as the future. This is the first principle of conservative government, but not the last.
The final and most important principle in a conservative theory of government is its stance against evil. Of course, asserting the existence of evil, especially for the modern mind, is begging the question. When we cannot agree on the basic constitution of evil in the world, we do not have a failure of philosophy or theology, but a reflection of the moral vacuity of our present condition. Regardless, for my purposes here it is enough to concede the existence of evil, and leave the definitions to the philosophers and theologians.
It’s important to recognise that evil did not play a minor role in constitutional theorising in the past. Even in the humanist epoch of the Renaissance the force that is evil was acknowledged. Recognition of evil had a strong theological founding located in the scepticism of medieval theorists. Renaissance thinkers recognised the instability and frailty in mankind. Dante Alighieri noted in his De Monarchia ‘higher natur[ed]’ men must leave behind a legacy to posterity. However, if there is a higher nature there must be a lower something not admitted in our modern discourse. Marsilius of Padua spoke likewise in his support for a plurality of governing institutions; he states that he is dealing with a fallen man, when he argues “and [if Adam] had remained in this state [of innocence], the institution or differentiation of civil functions would not have been necessary.’ Modern man does not make the same theological claims, but he need not abandon the assumption of evil and the need to respond to it. For the government, itself stands ready as an arbitrator to do justice between victim and perpetrator.
This is where government’s moral role enters the political calculus. Liberals, secularists, and socialists think that the purview of the state should be limited to ambivalence regarding right conduct. The state instead should direct its sympathy toward the individual. This individual himself is a product of conditions, not natural frailty. This position is evident in the abject surrender in the Omar Khadr settlement. There is no judgment of evil in this instance. The rights of the individual, in this case, Khadr came without duties. For Khadr being born on Canadian soil entitled him to all the rights and protections of the liberal state without any necessary obligations in return. Meanwhile, the state itself could not condemn such an individual if he was by nature good. Likewise, the state abandoned its moral imperative or more likely lost confidence in it. A conservative state then is one that is sure of its moral position, recognises the evil in man, and buttresses itself and the society against such evils. It is a state that demands of its participants something in return beyond taxes and offers more than freedom. David Lowenthal speaks to the need of free societies to affect the morality of their civil life, and though his examples pertain to America they are apt here as well:
…for men to live together as a civilised nation devoted to their common freedom rather than as a loose collection of individuals devoted to their own pleasures, moral virtues are necessary. . . . Only in free societies does what pleases most individuals—whether it is consistent with sustaining the regime or inconsistent with it—make a crucial difference to their destinies. Only free societies require of all their members the moral dispositions and capacities that make cooperation in self-government possible.
Freedom is empty without good people. In turn, the state in its active prevention of evil brings about the condition for good lives while not permitting evil to flourish in its name.
To pull the threads together, it is worth examining another claim from Kekes that necessarily arouses the consternation of the liberal modern man. To Kekes, autonomy is an inadequate political end in part because by loosening the fetters on the good, we likewise loosen the fetters on the evil. It is only possible to admit absolutes of liberty when we surrender the moral imperative to prevent evil. This is not the only problem the liberal or egalitarian mind faces because the conservative vision of government, in its stewardship of history and tradition, limits the potential of government to act as an emancipatory engine. A vision of Canada as a specific state, character, and history is a necessary leash on the attack dog of liberalism. Therefore, to the modern mind, virtue and the past must both kneel before the modern man. The modern mind does not care to answer the question ‘who are we?’ because the answer is always ‘I am only who I am and who I am is my present consciousness and no more.’ They reject the a priori concepts and the antecedent reality in which they emerged because to be beholden to the past is limiting to the autonomous individual and the levelling projects of the egalitarians.
In response, Canadians can answer the question ‘who are we’ by building a government that lets those answers emerge through the civil society of which it is the transgenerational expression. By acting as custodians of our inheritance while building and enforcing a moral framework accommodating the reality of evil, conservative government can protect the social fabric. This social fabric enables the soul of civil society to respond to the question proposed.
 Erik Von Ritter Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” Modern Age, Winter 1971, 45-46, 48.  Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 3rd ed. (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine Press, 2014), 40.  Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” 52.  John Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” The Good Society 8, no. 2 (1998): 5.  Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” 6.  Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: and on the proceedings in certain societies in London relative to that event, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (London: Penguin Books, 2004), 194.  Dante Alighieri, De Monarchia, Trans. Prue Shaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3.  Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, trans. Annabel Brett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 31.  David Lowenthal, No Liberty for License: the forgotten logic of the first amendment (Dallas, Tex: Spence Publishing Company, 1997), 91, 102.  John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 81, 86-88.
The following essay is part of Northern Dawn’s Symposium for Canada’s 150th anniversary. The theme is Canada: Who Are We? We hope these studies of Canada’s heritage will inspire readers to consider its future, and the broader civilization of which it is a part. Those who rule must know what they are ruling.
The following essay is by Gerry T. Neal. A self described royalist with a libertarian streak, he writes at Throne, Altar, Liberty.
A country is more than just the territory that falls within its recognized boundaries. It is that territory, but it is also the people who live there, the customs and traditions that shape their way of life, and their social, cultural, religious, and political institutions. Yet if one was to go by the English lyrics of the song that has served as Canada’s official national anthem for thirty-seven years one could be forgiven for thinking that the only thing denoted by the name “Canada” was the large chunk of territory to the north of the United States.
In the first stanza of “O Canada”, which is the only part of the song that most Canadians are familiar with, Canada is identified as “our home and native land” and “the true North, strong and free.” We assert our patriotic love for her and declare that we stand on guard for her, but no further information about her is provided and the only additional information in the subsequent, seldom sung, stanzas, is geographic in nature, such as “Where pines and maples grow; Great prairies spread, and lordly rivers flow.”
John Farthing, in his Freedom Wears a Crown, published posthumously in 1957, made the following appropriate comments:
I sometimes wonder if any other people has ever taken seriously a national song or anthem which says so little as O Canada, and that little all but completely amoral. While thousands of young Canadians were giving their lives in a war to save us and the world from a philosophy of ‘blood and soil’, those Canadians who remained at home were solemnly singing in honour and well-nigh worship of the Canadian soil – without the humanity of any blood. (1)
When Farthing wrote these words, “O Canada” was not yet the official national anthem. It was about ten years later that a Royal Commission appointed by Lester Pearson recommended that “O Canada” be officially declared our national anthem with the status of royal anthem to be given to “God Save the Queen.” At the time “God Save the Queen” was the closest thing to an official anthem we had, with “O Canada” and “The Maple Leaf Forever” in informal competition as our unofficial national anthems.
“The Maple Leaf Forever” was written in 1867 – the year of Confederation – by Alexander Muir and for decades served alongside “God Save the Queen” as Canada’s unofficial national anthem. It was only on the eve of World War II that the English version of “O Canada” became a serious competitor for this status. “The Maple Leaf Forever” was everything that a patriot of the Dominion founded in 1867 could possibly hope for in a national anthem. It speaks, not just of a geographical location, but of Canada’s history, heritage, and national symbols. The chorus asks God’s blessing both upon our Royal Sovereign – echoing the words of Britain’s national anthem – and upon the country itself through her national emblem of the maple leaf. The stanzas make reference to key events in Canada’s pre-Confederation history, from the triumph of General Wolfe at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham to the victories over American invaders at Queenston Heights and Lundy’s Lane in the War of 1812. It is, of course, the very aspects of this song that made it so appealing to the patriot of the old Dominion of Canada that made it unacceptable to the Liberals of the twentieth century.
The only way to make sense out of the actions of the Liberal Party of Canada, which governed Canada for most of the twentieth century, is to recognize that from its beginnings in the nineteenth century, it had set itself up as the opposition, not just to the Conservative Party that had governed Canada for twenty four of her first thirty years, but to the entire project of Confederation as well.
Confederation, beginning with the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 shortly before the end of the American War Between the States, was the process whereby the North American provinces and colonies of the British Empire came together in a federal union to form the new country that would be given the name Canada. Previously, that name had belonged to one or two of the provinces. (2) That Canada envisioned by the Fathers of Confederation, was to be a country that would grow up within the British Empire and attain full nationhood, without severing its ties to Britain or the rest of the Empire – the opposite, in other words, of the United States.
It was to be British in its political institutions – governed by a Parliament based on the Westminster model over which the monarch would reign as Royal Sovereign. It was to be designated a “Dominion”, which was at first a term chosen from the Bible (3) as a substitute for “Kingdom” that would be less offensive to our republican neighbours but which later, as proposals were made to reorganize the British Empire along federal lines, came to take on the meaning of a self-governing country within what would become the British Commonwealth. One of the principal reasons for undertaking this project at this time was the perceived threat of invasion from the United States. This was not an imaginary fear – the United States had invaded what would become Canada in a so-called attempt at “liberation” during the War of 1812 and subsequently, especially around the time of their war with Mexico, her editorialists and statesmen had spoken of their country’s “Manifest Destiny” to rule over all of North America.
The Confederation project was consistent with the history and heritage of both English and French Canadians. The first society to be called Canada was one of the colonies of New France. It was a seigneurial society, with an economy based on agriculture and trade, in which the most powerful institution was the Roman Catholic Church. It was ceded to Great Britain in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War and eleven years later, in the Quebec Act, King George III guaranteed its right to retain its French language, culture, and civil law and its established Roman Catholicism, in keeping with a promise he had made the French king. This outraged many of the leaders of the Thirteen Colonies, the ideological descendants of the Puritan fanatics who had driven King Charles I from his throne and beheaded him because he would not persecute the co-religionists of his Queen, the French Catholic Henrietta Maria, to the extent they desired. In their inflamed anti-papist fervour and zeal they rebelled against King and Parliament, drawing up an indictment of tyranny in language as lofty as its charges were spurious and its reasoning was fallacious, ensuring that it would live forever in the annals of demagogic propaganda.
Needless to say, a sizeable number of English colonists, saw no reason to go along with this revolting revolution and fought against the rebels on the side of their King. When the rebelling colonies won their independence there was an exodus of Loyalists out of the new republic to the northern territory that remained under British governance, including the Maritime provinces and French-speaking Canada which, understandably, had preferred to remain under the British Crown that protected their language and religion rather than join those who wished to extirpate both from North American soil. Out of these United Empire Loyalists, English Canada was born and in the century between the American Revolution and Confederation, French and English Canadians would fight, alongside the British army, to drive out American invaders bent on their “liberation” at Châteauguay and Crysler’s Farm, Stoney Creek and Beaverdams (4), Queenston Heights and Lundy’s Lane.
In this shared history, in which English-speaking Protestants and French-speaking Catholics remained loyal to the Crown and Empire that protected them both, against the common threat from the south, the foundations of Confederation were laid.
The Liberal Party’s agenda, from the beginning, was one of continentalism and free trade. The Liberals believed that Canada’s future lay in closer economic and political partnership with the United States and they sought to move Canada towards that future, even if doing so meant cutting her off from her past. Initially, they found that their agenda, so contrary to the goals of Confederation, was very difficult to sell to the Canadian electorate. It did not help their case that some of their intellectuals took their agenda to scandalous extremes in print. In 1891, for example, the year in which Sir John A. MacDonald, running on a patriotic platform that appealed to tradition and continuity with the past, won his last election – a landslide victory over Sir Wilfred Laurier’s Liberals who were campaigning for trade reciprocity with the United States – Liberal intellectual Goldwin Smith published his book Canada and the Canadian Question, which argued that there was no point to there being a Canada and that it ought to be annexed by the United States. (5)
Few Liberal intellectuals went as far as Smith, however, and by the early twentieth century the Liberals had become much more successful at winning elections. Although their policies were still such as would move Canada further and further into the orbit of the United States, they began to pitch them in the language of a new nationalism that was the opposite of that of the Fathers of Confederation. Whereas to the latter, Canada’s traditional British identity was indispensable to their project of building a nation and keeping it from being swallowed up by the United States, the Liberals, who saw that identity as the main roadblock standing in the way of their get rich quick scheme of technological progress, modernization, and Americanization, began to attack Canada’s Britishness as the mark of a colonialism that we would need to throw off to truly become a nation.
To promote the new nationalism, Liberal historians began propagating their own version of Canada’s national story. In this version Canada was portrayed as struggling against British imperial power in her efforts to emerge from colonialism and become a nation. This is an obvious substitution of the American national myth – watered down, with independence being achieved by diplomacy rather than revolution – for Canada’s own story. That the Liberal historians were rewriting Canada’s story to fit the American myth was blatantly acknowledged by one of their own, Dr. John Wesley Dafoe, who edited what is now the Winnipeg Free Press (6) for the first half of the twentieth century, in the title he gave his history of Canada: Canada: An American Nation. (7)
The Liberal version of Canada’s history, as its foremost critic Donald Creighton observed years ago, is in complete conflict with the facts – far from standing in the way of Canadian nationhood, Great Britain had supported the Confederation project from the beginning. The opposition to the project, and the only real threat to Canadian nationhood came from the United States – the country to which the Liberals wanted to bring Canada closer. Nevertheless, as the Liberal Party grew more successful in the polls and gained more and more control over Canada’s national agenda, their new interpretation – or, perhaps inversion would be the better word – of Canada’s story, was accepted as Gospel in the schools, the editorial pages, and everywhere else Liberal opinion predominated, so that it soon deserved the sobriquet with which Creighton mocked it “The Authorized Version.”
In this version Confederation, its Fathers, and especially Sir John A. MacDonald were reduced to footnotes and the place of honour that ought to go to the founders of our country, was given instead to Liberal leaders such as William Lyon Mackenzie King and in later, revised, editions of the Authorized Version, to Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau – the men most responsible for distancing Canada from her British roots. Mackenzie King is portrayed as the champion of Canada’s domestic sovereignty – despite the fact that his 1926 general election claim of imperial interference from London was a complete fabrication. (8)
During the premierships of Pearson and Trudeau, much of Canada’s traditional national symbolism was revised to eliminate reference to our British heritage – the Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the canton which had served as Canada’s flag informally since Confederation and was awarded official status at the end of World War II, was replaced with the present flag, the designation “Royal” was dropped from the Post Office and several branches of the Armed Forces, and Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day. At the end of his premiership, Pierre Trudeau succeeded in having the power to amend the British North America Act – renamed “The Constitution Act, 1867” – from the British Parliament to Canada’s, and in the eyes of many Liberals this has superseded Confederation as the moment of our country’s birth. It ought to be noted that these men and events, the ones most celebrated in the Liberal account of our country’s story, are the ones who undermined our parliamentary government, concentrated near-dictatorial powers into the Prime Minister’s office, and greatly weakened our heritage of freedom. (9)
It was during and part of these changes that “O Canada” was declared to be our official national anthem in 1980. The English lyrics, written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908, speak not of Canada’s traditions, history, and heritage but only of her land and her location in the north. Which is fitting, perhaps, because in the Liberal perspective, which has dominated our country for so long, this is all that Canada is. Yet, as with everything else in the Liberal point of view, there is a contradiction here for apart from those aspects of Canadian history that they wish to forget, the land that we call Canada today, would never have been Canada. Apart from the Confederation project, of uniting the provinces of British North America, English Protestant and French Catholic, into a new nation under the Crown, and calling that country Canada, that name would never have been applied to anything but the stretch of land between the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. This tells us that Canada must be something more than a large, northern, chunk of land and to discover what that is, we must look beyond the Liberal Party’s revisions, back to Confederation, and the history leading up to it, and recover the vision of the Fathers.
(1) John Farthing, Judith Robinson ed., Freedom Wears a Crown (Toronto: Kingswood House, 1957) pp. 111-112. The chapter in which this is found is entitled “The Agronomic Anthem”
(2) This wording is not intended to express uncertainty as to the number but rather the fact that the provinces in question, known as Ontario and Quebec since Confederation, prior to 1867 had at times been united in a single province of Canada, at other times separated into Upper and Lower Canada.
(3) Psalm 72:8
(4) Now Thorold, Ontario.
(5) Goldwin Smith, Canada and the Canadian Question (Toronto: Hunter, Rose & Co., 1891)
(6) Then, as now, the newspaper was a mouthpiece for the Liberal party line.
(7) John Wesley Dafoe, Canada: An American Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935)
(8) In his election campaign in 1926, Mackenzie King told the Canadian electorate that the refusal of Lord Byng, the Governor General, to grant him a requested dissolution of Parliament earlier that year was a case of imperial interference in Canadian domestic affairs. This was a lie, as a simple perusal of the correspondence between the two during supposed crisis demonstrates. In his letter of resignation, Mackenzie King reminded the Governor General that he, Mackenzie King, had himself asked Byng to consult London and that he, Byng, had refused to do so. That Byng had acted properly, refusing to grant a dissolution to a government that faced a vote of censure in Parliament, was the argument of Eugene Forsey’s doctoral dissertation “The Royal Power of Dissolution of Parliament in the British Commonwealth” submitted to McGill University in 1941. When an abridged version of this was published as a book by Oxford University Press in 1943, it was denounced by J. W. Dafoe in the Winnipeg Free Press, leading to a war in print between Forsey and Dafoe in which the Liberal historian was soundly trounced. Accounts of this can be found in both Forsey’s memoirs A Life on the Fringe (Toronto: Oxford University Press,1990) pp. 106-108 and Charles Taylor’s Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada (Toronto: Anansi, 1982) pp. 107-108.
(9) That Mackenzie King’s victory in 1926, which more or less made it the rule that vice-regal authority must never be exercised except as the Prime Minister advises, essentially turned Crown and Parliament into rubber stamps of the Prime Minister’s office, was the thesis of Farthing’s book which drew upon Forsey’s arguments. John Diefenbaker, in the speeches collected into his book Those Things We Treasure, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1972) observed how the changes Pearson and Trudeau were making were moving Canada towards a republicanism foreign to her heritage which would jeopardize the rights and freedoms grounded in our own tradition of parliamentary monarchy. When Trudeau repatriated the British North America Act, he added the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which, despite its name, actually undermines our traditional Common Law rights and freedoms. See Kenneth McDonald Alexis in Charterland (Belleville: Epic Press: 2004) It also enhanced the powers of the Supreme Court of Canada, basically empowering it to act like the American
University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson recently made some interesting comments on the Alt Right. On the one hand, he refused to condemn its thrust to re-establish identity and roots, identifying this with the Father archetype. However, he also made several criticisms which bear some examination. Some aspects of the response here have been elaborated further elsewhere.
The core of Peterson’s criticism lay in the charge that the Alt Right is incomplete. “The purpose of identification with the Father is to become the Son…and the problem with Nationalism is that it forgets that, it forgets that the purpose of the nation is to give rise to the individual.”
Peterson believes that the Alt Right misses that the state is a “pathological monster”. He also believes that a contradiction exists in the Alt Right: on the one hand, it has criticized the Left for expanding and using the power of the state to achieve its ends; on the other hand, it sees the answer in nationalism.
Both of these criticisms which reveal the extent to which the assumptions and frame of liberalism (in the historic sense of the word from 1776 and 1789 onward) influences not only Peterson, but also many critics of the social justice Left who continue to identify as libertarians, “classical liberals”, or even “conservatives”. This is the grouping often called the “Alt Lite” by nationalist opponents, because it bases its opposition on libertarian arguments about individualism and free speech rather than civilizational or racial vision.
First, we must address the quite teleological claim that the nation exists to create the individual. Now in a certain sense, this is true. A nation exists in its individuals, the same way a body exists in its cells. However, Peterson’s comments imply a certain moral individualism: the nation’s moral foundation is in the individuals it creates. In other words, we can identify a sort of moral foundation built on the individual from which the state derives legitimacy.
It is difficult to go further than this without questioning what sort of individual is desired by the person using this definition, and Peterson is certainly no orthodox liberal in how he sees individuals. However, we can speak more toward the general view of individuals championed by the libertarian and “classical liberal”, categories with which many of Peterson’s followers identify. This tradition envisions the individual as a sovereign, rights-bearing entity which by its own reason and will chooses how it interacts with others, what its moral vision is, and what truth is. Therefore, any entry into collective identity or action is only morally permissible by the consent of the individual.
Once admitted, much theorizing is done as to why therefore concepts like the state and law are valid, often entering into Lockean, Hobbesian, or similar ideas about social contract. The most consistent application of this principle leads one inescapably to anarchism. In the words of the American anarchist Lysander Spooner, “[the secessionist] had the same natural right to take up arms alone to defend his own property against a single tax-gatherer, that he had to take up arms in company with three millions of others, to defend the property of all against an army of tax-gatherers.”
However, this attempt at creating a moral axiom inescapably finds itself at war with the telos of Man’s social nature, which not only tends to but relies on hierarchy. Universally, any human who takes part in even the human society of a family has been brought into the world by parents and has his beliefs and concepts shaped by his family. His raising is dependent on the authority his parents hold over him, which they hold because he is dependent on them, and they are older and wiser than he. This is the principle of protego ergo obligo: I protect, therefore I obligate. This protection, and the resulting obedience, is the principle which creates the authoritative structures of the family and the state alike. Sovereign authority precedes the individual, be it in the family or in the state.
Unlike the Hobbesian and Lockean thought experiments about the state of nature which characterize Enlightenment thought, the truth is that such authority is inherent to all human society. The “state of nature” never existed. As Sir Robert Filmer demonstrates in Patriarcha, this same principle of the family expands without obstacle to the extended family, the clan, and ultimately to that Power on which is built the sovereign corporative structure we call the state. As the German political and legal philosopher Carl Schmitt states in his foundational work The Concept of the Political: “protego ergo obligo is the cogito ergo sum of the state”. Liberalism historically rejected this idea; of course, as it gained ascendency it took a more realistic view, to the extent that modern “liberals” approve of social engineering programs which go far beyond anything the “tyrants” of old ever dreamed.
This conception preserves the notion and place of the individual, but does not accept that the morality of the individual exists as separate from the collectives which form him. It restores to the individual a political nature, in Schmitt’s meaning of that word. Schmitt saw liberalism as not so much a political theory, but an anti-politics. It is a pure critique, which attempts to sever any claim of state, church, or nation to the individual. While this sounds desirable in some ways (after all, claims imply possible limitations), it is also what ultimately leads to the collapses of meaning which the Alt Right has arisen in response to. Liberalism, to use Peterson’s language, seeks to end the claims of the Father.
Is there a contradiction in the Alt Right on this topic? It would be more accurate to say that this topic is a dividing line between factions. The “Alt Lite” certainly does hold that the state is pathological and makes arguments based on free speech or individualist grounds. Although they may often signal nationalist, this is often framed as a nationalism which is needed to protect classical liberal norms. The identitarian faction rejects the libertarian frame and does not make arguments based on those grounds, but rather in terms of group dynamics and collective security.
The identitarian arguments implicitly have a better understanding of the nature of political conflict. The fatal error of the liberal “anti-SJW” frame is that its logical conclusion offers rights which depend on good faith behaviour to groups which will not act in good faith. In the heyday of the 60’s and 70’s, the New Left advocated free speech in campuses in order to get their voices heard and take control of the institutions. Once this was achieved, they burned the free speech bridge. Those who defended the New Left based on free speech failed both in their own political agenda and in the protection of campus free speech.
Today, the political forces which act to eliminate any chance of restoring our civilization have moved on from free speech. Trump proves an interesting case study. While the libertarian wastes money and resources on merely winning the possibility of argument, the Trump campaign ignored this and went right to the issues at hand: immigration, family, work, and security. The President reaped the results. While the Left must of course be endlessly hammered on its hypocrisy on the speech issue, the Right must focus on those battles which will actually decide the course of history. The family must be made secure and re-normalized. Migration policy must restore demographic integrity. The power of media and academia must be harnessed. The state – which is a necessary and emergent phenomenon in all large human societies – will either act for these ends, or against them. There is no “neutral” option. If it is to work for them, it will be because those who hold sovereign power decide to work for them.
To conclude, Peterson is absolutely correct that we must restore the Father and become sons. However, achieving this on a cultural and civilizational level is inseparable from achieving this as a vision of the state. If the state is pathological, it is because the people who make it up are pathological.
In that case, the only option is for the state to sort itself out. But then, it will also have to deal with the errors of liberalism, rather than basing its response on those same deceptions.
This post originally appeared on Gerry T. Neal’s blog thronealtarliberty.blogspot.ca on April 23, 2015.
A figure who had a brief starring role on the stage of Canadian history in the early 1990s has re-emerged from the obscurity into which she subsequently receded to make an interesting observation about how an idea she holds dear and believes other Canadians do as well is faring in certain segments of the immigrant community. That figure is the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who entered Parliament as a Progressive Conservative representing Vancouver Centre in 1988 and held a number of cabinet positions in the Mulroney government before taking over the leadership of the party and the Premiership of the country for the Parliamentary recess between Mulroney’s resignation and the general election in which the Conservatives were decimated and Jean Chretien’s Liberals came to power. The National Post, on Thursday April the 16th, reported on a panel discussion at the University of Alberta the previous day that was hosted by the Peter Lougheed Leadership College of which the former Prime Minister is the Founding Principal. She was also one of the panel speakers and the newspaper focused on her remarks.
According to the National Post she told her audience that immigration has brought individuals into our society who “come from cultures that don’t believe in gender equality” and that we have not been doing a good job at selling this “Canadian value” to them. She expressed specific concerns about cultures like that of Islam which require women to wear concealing garments. She objected both to the suggestion “that women bear responsibility for the sexual behaviour of men” and to the fact that wearing a face-concealing veil in a citizenship ceremony runs contrary to the ideal of an open society.
Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is a good sign, an indicator that some members of Canada’s political class are finally waking up to the many ways in which the open immigration policy imposed upon us by the Liberals in the 1960s has been harmful to our country and our society, note how the National Post informs us that:
She said one of Canada’s challenges is to guide the integration of cultures that don’t share this value. Better education of Canadian residents is the key, she said, adding if Canadians don’t understand their own history and values, people new to the country will find them difficult to learn.
In other words, to this past Premier, if some immigrants do not believe in or accept what she regards as an essential Canadian “value”, the problem is not with our open immigration system that lets anyone in whether they accept our “values” or not or even with our complete lack of a system for assimilating newcomers and integrating them into Canadian culture but rather with those of us who already live here and we need to be re-educated so as to exude those “values” in such a way that the new immigrants will absorb them into themselves through some kind of cultural osmosis process.
This astonishing conclusion could only be arrived at by a mind so indoctrinated in the idea of Canadian “values” that it cannot accept that one of these values, open immigration, might be incompatible with another of these values, sexual equality, (1) despite the glaring evidence that such is in fact the case.
Now both of these supposed Canadian “values” are stupid ideas in my opinion, and I could make a separate case against both open immigration and sexual egalitarianism, but having done so already several times in the past (2) and being likely to do so again, I think that it is the very idea of values that warrants further examination here.
A number of years ago, John Casey, writing in the Spectator, told of an exchange that had taken place during a Conservative Philosophy Group meeting in the early 1980s in which Enoch Powell made an important point about values to then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
Edward Norman (then Dean of Peterhouse) had attempted to mount a Christian argument for nuclear weapons. The discussion moved on to ‘Western values’. Mrs Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’ Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’ ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’ Mrs Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.
Powell’s point, apparently beyond Mrs. Thatcher’s grasp, was that values, whatever they may be, are not worth fighting, killing, and dying for, that you only do that for something solid and tangible, your country, consisting of real people, in a real territory, with real institutions and a real way of life.
This is one point about values that I think well worth re-iterating but there is another that I wish to focus on. Interestingly, the year before Kim Campbell was elected to Parliament a book that made this point, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (3) became a best-seller in the United States, while the following year, in one of Nabokov’s “dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love”, the man who had for years been making the same point up here in Canada, died, George Parkin Grant (4). The point in question is that it while everybody speaks of values today this is a recent innovation and not one for the better. (5) Whereas we used to speak of good and evil, which were what they were in themselves and were out there for us to discover, and of virtues which were habits of behaviour or character traits that we were to cultivate because of their goodness, now we speak instead of values, which are substitutes for goodness and virtue that we create and choose for ourselves. Since different people may create and choose different values for themselves, and who is to say, now that values have replaced good and evil, that one set of values is better or worse than any other, the language of values is the language of moral and cultural relativism. (6)
Apart from the relativism of the language of values, it is also worth noting that traditional religion uses a different, much less attractive word, for those things we create for ourselves and substitute for God and the higher things. That word, of course, is idols.
The expression “Canadian values” has a particularly odious set of connotations because it is generally used to refer to those values created for Canadians by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s as a substitute for Canadian tradition. These included such things as open immigration, multiculturalism, bilingualism (at least for English-speaking Canada), feminism, and the like. These, the Trudeau Liberals decided, were to be Canada’s new values and were to be shoved down Canadians throats whether they liked them or not, and if they didn’t like them they would be called “racists” and “sexists” and other ugly names. As it turned out, apart from the intellectual elite who are guaranteed to be the least intelligent segment of any society and who in Canada adored Trudeau, these values were not to Canadians liking and so, when they had had quite enough of Trudeau’s arrogance, they gave a landslide victory to the party whose historic role it had long been to safeguard the Canadian tradition, including such things as our British parliamentary monarchy and our Common Law heritage. That party was the old Conservative Party, then led by Brian Mulroney. Unfortunately the Mulroney Conservatives seemed little interested in performing their historic role and rescuing Canadian tradition from Trudeau’s values. Thus much of their support evaporated and the party, now under Kim Campbell’s leadership, collapsed.
Our concern ought to be that newcomers to Canada accept Canada’s tradition, not a set of absurd idolatrous values created for the country by a contemptible sleazebag who adored Mao Tse-Tung. Who will speak for that tradition? Historically that was the role of the old Conservative Party but they laid down on the job and their party died because of it. The present Conservative Party gives lip service to Canada’s tradition but it began life as the Reform Party, a Western populist party whose profession of small-c conservatism proved to be false because they could not grasp that there can be no conservatism without patriotic attachment to your own country, its traditions and institutions. (7) The other parties – Liberal, NDP, and Green – are all committed to Trudeau’s values rather than Canada’s tradition. So the question remains open – who will speak for that tradition?
(1) The former Prime Minister spoke of “gender equality”. Human beings have sexes, words have genders. The substitution of gender for sex in reference to human beings is akin to the substitution of “values” for goodness and virtue.
(2) See, for example, “The Progressives’ Penance” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2010/09/progressives-penance.html) on immigration and “The Folly of Feminism” (http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2012/02/folly-of-feminism.html) on sexual egalitarianism.
(3) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).
(4) While it comes up repeatedly in his writings see especially Grant’s Technology and Justice, (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1986), in particular the essay on Nietzsche, and the essays in section five of William Christian and Sheila Grant, eds, The George Grant Reader, (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1998), in particular the first essay in the section “The Good or Values: Value and Technology?”.
(5) Both Grant and Bloom were influenced in this by Leo Strauss who had been a correspondent of Grant’s and a professor of Bloom’s.
(6) Grant, Bloom, and Strauss trace the language of values and the relativism it represents back through Max Weber to Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that modern rationalism had made the religious beliefs of the past untenable, but, an atheist of the right, he condemned the rationalistic, liberal, egalitarian, democracy that he saw modern man to be constructing as condemning men to lives of mediocrity as “the last men”. He believed that man’s heroic spirit must be fed by myths (akin to Plato’s “noble lies”) and hoped that men would exercise their “will to power” to avoid the fate of the “last men”, rise to that of the “supermen”, and create appropriate new myths. He condemned Christian morality for exalting weakness, comparing this unfavourably to the old Greek and Jewish moralities which identified virtue with strength, but hoped that men would go “beyond good and evil” and embrace values, as expressions of their own will and creativity.
(7) Reform’s leaders far too often seemed to want to replace Canada’s tradition with that of the United States.
The topic of “Canadian values” has begun seeping once again into our political life. This comes thanks to statements made by Kellie Leitch, Conservative leadership candidate, whose campaign asked if immigrants should be screened for “Canadian values”. Of course, this development is nothing but positive. Strangely though, our governing classes seem to think otherwise.
We are faced with an immediate question. What are Canadian values? Leitch’s site lists the following:
- Equal opportunity – We must strive to ensure that everyone has as much of an equal opportunity to succeed as possible, especially our youth
- Hard work – Everyone must work hard and provide for themselves and their families
- Helping others – Once people become prosperous, we all are expected to give back to our communities to help others
- Generosity – Canada is a place that shows what is possible when hard work and generosity come together
- Freedom and tolerance – A Canadian identity that is based on freedom and tolerance to allow each of us the chance to pursue our best lives and to become our best selves
Nice thoughts, all around.
Just one thing: if the term “Canadian values” has any meaning, then it surely includes the values which were defended by the Loyalists in 1776, by British and allied indigenous forces in 1812, and by Sir John A. Macdonald in those first years when Canada was a united Dominion.
Let’s check out what values those generations were defending.