Doorways to Restoration: A Reflection on Canada

August 6, 2017 Symposium 2017 Comments (0) 283

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.

In this last essay, Mark Christensen gives final thoughts on the Symposium and reflects on the value Northern Dawn sees in the traditions of Canada.

When we decided to hold the first Northern Dawn symposium, we were shooting in the dark. After all, we’d just begun to set out some topics of investigation for Canadians who have apostatized from our world’s current orthodoxies. Would we be able to provide work of substance?

We are glad to say that the Symposium has surpassed our expectations. Our contributors have provided research and reflection on a variety of themes, from literature to the CBC. These essays will remain up under a segment of the site, and we want to thank everyone who participated. We also encourage readers to engage these themes further and take the leap if they want to contribute further thoughts on anything that has been discussed.

When Northern Dawn first launched, we did not label ourselves as conservative, or nationalist, or even alt-right. Although these labels aren’t entirely inaccurate, we called it a project of Restoration. It’s time to delve into the full extent of what that means.

First, we are not conservative for one very simple reason. There is nothing left to conserve. Not in a large scale political sense, at any rate. Liberalism is the geopolitical order, the state ideology, and a good deal of the culture. Even so-called Rightist movements like the Counter-jihad claim to oppose Islam because it is not progressive enough. Our forebears in ancient Europe, Christendom, and the imperial era passed down much. But the flame must be rekindled.

So why not nationalist? Of course, there is a sense in which Northern Dawn is a nationalist project. We want to preserve sovereignty, our cultural and ethnic heritage, and so on. But Canadian nationalism as it appears in the popular imagination is a warped concept. At its most basic level, it is bound up in vague ideas of tolerance and hockey. This is undesirable because Canada is not a normal nation-state. It is an echo of imperial power, built on the English Crown but encompassing several historic ethnocultures. Some Canadian nationalists focus on cultural issues such as Islam or immigration, which is good. But as George Grant and others show us, to be a nationalist in Canada means to be part of a broader civilization. The High Tories, in their day, did not conceive of Canada outside of the British Empire. The peoples of Europe, when they are healthy, are not merely concerned with sovereignty. We grow, explore, and expand. We carve out the Northwest Passage. We land on the moon. A healthy civilization has the imperial mindset.

Is Northern Dawn an ethnic project, qua the alt-right? Of course, any culture or civilization is built on an ethnic foundation. We reject the notion that peoples are interchangeable. Likewise, we reject the idea that culture and social institutions should be overlooked in order to “avoid division” and focus on ethnic preservation. On a purely practical level, no people has ever preserved itself on an ethnic foundation alone. A people is united by symbols, culture, religion, and sovereign power exercised by its elites. Without these elements, there is no continuity.

Northern Dawn takes Canada as its starting point. The Dominion is built on both English and French continental foundations, with ties across European civilization stretching back far before the era of liberalism. It binds us to the Anglo and European diasporas around the world. Most closely, we are part of the European inheritance on the North American continent, shared with those to our south. Though 1776 saw the important royal center of English unity cast aside, the rhetoric invoked to justify this was itself built on the “rights of Englishmen.” Edmund Burke, who supported their cause, reflected the same:

…the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen…They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles…My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron…

Of course, these facts have long since been disguised, rejected, slandered, and locked away in favour of the ideology of liberal universalism. Since at least WWI, a world order has been built on this ideology. It swept away the remaining political holdouts in the West, and then turned to do the same globally. In our day, Russia and China remain the only power centers with a significant degree of sovereignty from that world order. Saudi Arabia, though illiberal, exists due to its relationship with this system. For those of us whose roots lie in the West, generations now have faced the crises of atomization, cultural breakdown, and alienation.

Our generation is at a unique juncture; for the first time, the dire state of things has become completely apparent. Demographic breakdown leaves the elderly dying alone and the young without any kind of family structure. Mass migration has made ethnic and religious conflict a daily fact in many cities. Ideological factions gain power in our institutions with the explicit aim of destroying what remains of our heritage and social technology. Even the center of power itself – the political and military networks built by the United States and its allies – seems to be crumbling into competing factions. Contradictions and tensions abound in everything from ideology to foreign policy.

Let us reject certain solutions from the outset. The solution is not to reconstruct “true liberalism”, as the libertarians and “alt-lite” would do. The solution is also not to reconstruct dead traditions, which have completed their organic life-cycles. The British Empire has completed its time on this earth. Northern Dawn is an attempt to go deeper than this. Within the annals of Christendom, the writings of the High Tories, and the political philosophy of the old order, are a number of principles about the world, humanity, and civilization. Among these are: the view that order pervades the universe rather than nihilistic chaos; that civilization depends on the maintenance of certain fundamental institutions like state and family; that there are natural hierarchies in society and within the person; that social institutions are no substitute for rulers of virtue and ability. These principles have been rediscovered time and again across numerous societies. By their nature, they can be taken up at any time. Therefore, societies can be born and reborn when those who govern choose to do so.

Northern Dawn invokes the tradition of Canada because it contains these principles. These contradictions become most apparent at the very end of the High Tory line. While men like Leacock or Strachan saw liberal modernity in its young forms, George Grant saw its fully grown and most powerful form: the American post-war international order. While Strachan intellectually faces off with Jefferson or Hamilton, Grant deals with Nietzsche and Heidegger. But unlike Grant, many of us have not even grown up in the remnants of Christendom (the final stages of which arguably were destroyed after the Great War, but which took until the 1960’s to fully lose their hold).

If we accept that the loss of these principles leads to disintegration, then regaining these needs to happen before new forms or great political programs can even be discussed. The election of Trump in the United States has become a stark reminder of this, with the lack of fundamental unity between the coalitions of GOP, red-state populists, and alt-right leading to infighting and chaos. Northern Dawn engages what has been handed down in order to regain an intuitive knowledge of these truths. What we do in Canada must be done in throughout the Anglosphere, America, and Europe, which were once united in their fundamental guiding worldview.

So how do we carry out this engagement? First, we should remember the wealth of testimony and recollection that has been handed down to us from earlier stages of history: classical, medieval, European colonial, and otherwise. In engaging with these texts, it is vital to approach them as more than collections of facts. We want to be able to take a problem and contemplate how Sir John A. Macdonald, King Alfred the Great, or Augustus may have tackled it. We want to be able to think like those who have come before, on the basis of shared principles. Second, we want to engage with the tradition where it remains alive and practiced: the Royal family, the remnant scholars, the Roman and High Anglican patrimonies, and so on. Northern Dawn is intended to serve as an online schelling point for collection, presentation, and investigation.

The key mission is to unlearn the assumptions and biases ingrained by a failing liberal order, and absorb what was handed down on a deep internal level. This changes the way one approaches the world and the values one holds. It is also vital to band together with others who share this personal mission. This guards against personal alienation and the nihilism which can follow. Maennerbund is the force which patrols the bordering frontiers, and is a foundation for personal and social order.

What is built must be shared and handed down, so that it can have a future. For this reason amongst others, we seek out spouses and form families. The maennerbund and the families which are bonded to it make up a community together. Historically, these communities are united by a common altar which orients them upward, and a sovereign power which creates order here below. When this scales upward to a large enough extent, we have the entities we call civilizations.

These are the necessary foundations. Let the building go on.

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More Than A Tory Touch: A Survey of Canadian Writing

July 31, 2017 Symposium 2017 Comments (1) 246

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 Ron Dart. In addition to regular contributions to the journal Clarion, he has written and taught widely about the High Tory tradition, its religious and cultural heritage, and its impact on Canadian life. His most recent book is The North American High Tory Tradition, reviewed here.

1

The publication of Gad Horowitz’s “Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation” in 1966 created an immense flurry and stir amongst political theorists and activists. Most had assumed that Canadian conservatism was just a variant of American conservatism and, in the USA at the time, the Goldwater-Kirk combination of conservatism would be much the same in Canada. However, the publication of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism in 1965 made it abundantly clear, that Canadian Toryism could not be equated with American conservatism. Horowitz had argued in his lengthy article, later published as the lead article in Canadian Labour in Politics in 1968 that there was a Tory touch in Anglo-Canadian political thought and action that would and could not be absorbed into the Anglo-American conservative matrix. Horowitz tracked and traced this Tory touch in his article, and many were the positive and negative reactions to it. It should be noted that Grant factored large in clarifying the Tory touch.

Horowitz replied to many a critic of his plough to soil article, and, in 1970, his article, “Red Tory”, in William Kilbourn’s A Guide to the Peaceable: An Anthology, linked the Tory touch to Red Toryism (the connection had been made earlier, though). Can the Tory touch be equated with Red Toryism? Horowitz thought it could, Grant did not. Additionally, what did Horowitz miss in his main thesis? It is significant that Kilbourn’s article in A Guide to the Peaceable Kingdom was “Tory Ontario”. There are differences to note between Horowitz and Kilbourn in their read of Toryism and Grant. It is significant that Horowitz never dealt with Stephen Leacock and, more to the poignant point, the High Toryism of religious-political thought in 19th century Canada, in any depth or detail. Such was the needful task of a meticulous historian that grounded his thinking as much in theory as in historic fact.

2

S.F. Wise is, without much doubt, one of the finest historians in Canada; the publication of God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Canada grounds, in many ways, the thesis of Horowitz and Kilbourn in much firmer and more solid soil. This is not theory cut loose from historic events or historic facts bogged down in micro details delinked from larger political philosophy. And, to the telling point, Wise was keen to illuminate how the Tory touch has substantive historic reality in Canada, in opposition to Canadian historians and political theorists who only see Canada as a smaller version of the American liberal fragment. There was, as Wise articulates in his multilayered essay tome, a distinctive Toryism in Canada with predictable religious grounding. Wise is acutely aware that to do political theory from a purely secular perspective does a serious in injustice in interpreting 19th century Toryism in Canada.

God’s Peculiar Peoples places arrow in bow and hits the bull’s eye again and again in his twelve chapters: 1) “Sermon Literature and Canadian Intellectual History” (most Canadian historians simply ignore this genre), 2) “God’s Peculiar People”, 3) “Canadians View the United States: Colonial Attitudes from the Era of the War of 1812 to the Rebellions of 1837” (a chapter not to miss in which the Tory touch emerges in its fullness), 4) “The Rise of Christopher Hagerman” (oft neglected yet needful to know about), 5) “John Macaulay: Tory for All Seasons” (again, much to ponder in Macaulay that Horowitz ignores), 6) “Tory Factionalism: Kingston Elections and Upper Canadian Politics, 1820-1836” (which makes it clear Toryism was not a homogenous tribe), 7) “Canadians View the United States: The Annexation Movement and Its Effect on Canadian Opinion, 1837-1867” (a superb companion article to chapter 8) “The War of 1812 in Popular History” (not to be missed for a read of Toryism), 9) “Upper Canada and the Conservative Tradition”, 10) “Conservatism and Political Development: The Canadian Case”, 11) “Liberal Consensus or Ideological Battleground: Some Reflections on the Hartz Thesis” (quite pertinent for the Horowitz argument and those who oppose him) and 12) “The Ontario Political Culture: A Study in Complexities”.

Each of the chapters in God’s Peculiar Peoples goes to historic places Horowitz did not go; Wise, unveils and reveals, in a multidimensional and step-by-step way, the layered nature of Toryism (not necessarily “red”). He focuses on 19th century central Canada and, to the foremost point, the close connections between religion and politics at the time. This is an area Horowitz had little or no background in, given his more secular approach to political thought. Wise rightly realized that 19th century life in Canada emerged from a religious vision; such a vision had political consequences, and 19th century Toryism was deeply suspicious of the liberal American experiment to the south. In short, God’s Peculiar People had more than just a Tory touch, but such a Tory touch could not be reduced to a homogenous notion of what Toryism is in the 19th century. There is a tendency to equate conservatism and Toryism in Wise’s tome (and many do the same), but the distinction, when rightly understood, does make a difference.

It would have been of much use and value if Wise had probed more deeply and further the Anglican Toryism of Bishops John Strachan (Ontario) and Jacob-George Mountain (Quebec) to get a fuller sense of Anglican catholic High Toryism in the 19th century. Many of the Maritime bishops and priests were considerably impacted by the Oxford movement in England in the 19th century, and they shaped much of Anglican political life in the Maritimes at the time. The much respected catholic Anglican poet, F.G. Scott, stands very much within a long line and lineage of 19th century High Tory Anglicans. It is somewhat remiss of Wise and Kilbourn to miss and ignore such significant High Tory Anglicans in 19th century Canada. It is quite understandable, though, why Horowitz would be blind to such realities given his more secular approach and ideological leftist tendencies when interpreting Toryism. George Grant held Bishop John Strachan high in his roll call of 19th century Anglican leaders in a book review of Saint James’ parish (where he attended in the 1960s-1970s when teaching at McMaster University).

I might also add that Thomas Haliburton (1796-1865) has often been omitted from the list of important Canadian High Tories. Haliburton is a legend of sorts in Canada and he is often viewed as the first Canadian novelist who did well in the larger literary ethos of the time. Haliburton was much remembered for his Clockworker series that elevated the American entrepreneur, Sam Slick, to an ambiguous level. Sam Slick took to front stage in a variety of Haliburton’s novels published in 1836, 1838, 1840, 1843, 1844 and 1853. Haliburton playfully sports with the American Sam Slick, at times nodding towards his aggressive sale gimmicks and skills, at other times seeing such an approach to life as seriously problematic and demeaning. But there can be no doubt that Haliburton, the Nova Scotia High Tory, via his many portrayals of Sam Slick, built into the Canadian psyche a certain notion of Americans as slick entrepreneurs and a distinctive Canadian attitude to the “Sam Slick’s” across the border. Stephen Leacock would, a few decades later, draw much from Haliburton and the Sam Slick tendencies that Canadians should be wary of.

There can be no doubt that the United Empire Loyalists cannot be merely equated with High Tory Anglicanism, as Norman Knowles has rightly noted in Inventing the Loyalists: The Ontario Loyalist Tradition & and the Creation of Usable Pasts (1997). But there is, nonetheless, a distinctive High Tory Anglican heritage that needs attention beyond the liberal caricatures of it. Donald Creighton, probably, the finest High Tory Canadian Anglican of the 20th century, argued that the liberal “authorized read” of Canadian history tends to distort and demean the High Tory heritage for substantive ideological reasons. Such an approach by the liberal mandarin and family compact class in Canada has, for the most part, clear cut and levelled the Tory tradition by describing such a way in mostly negative terms. This pro-liberal and anti-Tory approach in Canadian history has served the liberal ruling class well, but has produced a dishonest Orwellian rewrite of Canadian history. Hopefully, in this the formal 150th year since Confederation, wiser and more balanced reads of Canadian history will emerge. A turn to the historic insights of both Wise and Creighton would illuminate much and go beyond Horowitz’s rather reductionistic approach to defining Canadian Toryism.

It is somewhat irritating that the most recent history of Anglicanism in Canada, Seeds Scattered and Sown: Studies in the History of Canadian Anglicanism (2008), never really probes or substantively discusses High Tory Anglicanism in any depth or detail—such again is the impact of liberal ideology both within the Anglican Church of Canada and the broader Canadian historic community. It is therefore to Wise’s credit that he, more than most, has walked the extra mile to bring the Toryism of the 19th century to light in a thoughtful and far reaching manner. Indeed, there is more than a Tory touch that needs to be covered and such High Toryism cannot be equated with blue conservatism or the later concept of “red toryism”.

3

There has been an unfortunate tendency to assume that the gender hierarchy of High Toryism historically relegated women to a merely docile role. An attentive reading and interpretation of 19th century Toryism in Canada contradicts such a notion. Two of the most significant women of the 19th century were Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill. Both women played a significant role in pioneering 19th century literature in Canada and demonstrated great competence within the social order they inhabited. Gentle Pioneers: Five Nineteenth-Century Canadians, although dated in some ways, tells the uncanny tales of Susanna-John Moodie, Catharine-Thomas Parr Traill and Samuel Strickland. The women in this timeless work of 19th century pioneer history emerge as creative and engaged leaders in the far-from-cultured setting they were raised and bred in.

I was fortunate, when younger in the 1950s, to spend summers in Stephen Leacock country. Leacock, as a young man, lived in the Lake Simcoe area. A leading lady of the time, and a dear friend of Leacock’s mother, was Susan Sibbald. The Sibbald home, Eildon Manor, was a centre of much High Tory life in 19th century in Ontario. Bishop John Strachan would often make trips to Eildon Manor to visit the Sibbalds and Susan Sibblad’s Memoirs tell a graphic and poignant tale of Tory Anglican life at such a period of time. Georgina: A Type Study of Early Settlement and Church Building in Upper Canada illuminates much about the historic and extended Sibbald family and their Tory leaders (and opposition to the rebellion). Eildon Manor was a centre, salon and fount of Anglo-Canadian Toryism. Susan Sibbald, like Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were at the forefront of leadership in such a Tory ethos and setting.

Mazo de la Roche is buried close to Stephen Leacock at St. George’s parish in the Sutton area by Lake Simcoe. The parish was built by and supported by the Sibbald family. Mazo de la Roche was a 20th century woman, but her sixteen novels on the Whiteoaks of Jalna (the finest epic series in Canadian literature) deals, for the most part, with 19th century Ontario. The final novel in the series, Breakfast at Jalna, was set in the 1860s, when the American Civil War was at its most intense and heated. The American Civil War that raged from 1861-1865 in which an estimated 620,000-750,000 were killed (and many others seriously injured or refugees to the north) had an impact on De la Roche’s literary imagination. The North and South were violently destroying one another and the Tory Whiteoaks were in the thick of the fray. It is pertinent to note that Adeline Whiteoak (the matriarch of the family) both brooded over the family and set the agenda. Adeline was certainly no passive observer, compliantly taking a backseat to the leadership of others. Mazo de la Roche, like Susan Sibbald and Catherine Parr Traill, was a literary leader in Canada, and many of the women in her chronicles of the Whiteoaks give the lie to the notion that women lacked influence in the Tory social order.

4

The American War of Independence in 1776 forced many a British subject to make difficult decisions. Would the break from England and the forming of a new country be a way forward or would such a severing wrench too much from the mother country? There were those, obviously, for a variety of reasons, who were convinced the umbilical cord had to be broken. There were others who thought such a decision unthinkable. The latter group, the United Empire Loyalists, came to Canada in droves. Education was, as many soon settled in their new home, central to their growing national and cultural lives. Bishop Charles Inglis was one of the leaders of the northwards trek (his biography, The First Bishop: A Biography of Charles Inglis, tells his journey well and wisely) and he played a pivotal role in establishing, what has become, the oldest chartered university in Canada and the first English-speaking university in the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom.

The University of King’s College was founded in 1789 by both Loyalists and Tory refugees of sorts that sought a more ordered and peaceful life north of the 49th, and education was foundational to their forward looking pathway. It is significant to note that University of King’s College, to this day, has one of the finest programs in Canada in grounding students in classical texts that have shaped western culture and civilization. The Foundation Year Programme (FYP) grounds students in the time tried wisdom that has been thought, said and done. The catholic and Tory Anglican ethos that pervades such a learning context has done much to preserve the ancient insights that are, again and again, being eroded by modern and postmodern education. The University of King’s College (initially in Windsor, Nova Scotia and now in Halifax, Nova Scotia) continues to incarnate some of the best of Tory Anglican education.

Likewise, Trinity College in Toronto has a history of catholic Tory Anglicanism at its root and source. I have mentioned above the pivotal work of Bishop John Strachan. Strachan, with other Anglican Tories, hard on the heels of the Oxford Movement on 1832 in England and the Rebellion of 1837, started Trinity College in 1852. The aim of Trinity was to raise up a generation of leaders in Canada through an educational setting in which theology, philosophy, ecclesial, literary and High Tory culture would be maintained and carried into the future. Needless to say, there was many a challenge to such an educational vision, but for many a decade Strachan’s vision persisted.

The fate and history of King’s and Trinity have gone in somewhat different directions since then, but when probed further and deeper, there still lingers an older vision of faith and education (and its perennial relevance to our time) at King’s and Trinity. The Tory touch, indeed, was and still is more than merely a touch.

5

I have, in this short essay, highlighted the fact there is much more to Canadian Toryism than either “Red Toryism” or merely a “Tory touch”. The role of educational institutions such as Kings and Trinity, leadership by women such as Mazo de la Roche (Chronicles of Whiteoaks), Susanna Moody and Catharine Parr Traill, Susan Sibbald, C.F. Wise’s God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Ninteenth Century Canada (and Donald Creighton), and Thomas Haliburton’s Sam Slick portrayals, all reveal areas of Toryism in the 19th century that few have integrated or synthesized. Such a tradition cannot be merely dismissed as pettily reactionary or quaintly dated.

There is much to this way of being that lingers deep in souls longing for depth, wisdom and insight in an age in which most landmarks have been destroyed, history clear cut and the foundations undermined. The Hegelian form of progressive liberalism that has so come to dominate most areas of Canadian culture, education and religion has serious blind spots and weaknesses. Many of the most insightful in our time are searching for a centre that will hold and the classical Canadian Anglican Tory way has still much to offer for those who have grown weary of the tepid and vapid waters of ideological liberalism.

 

Referenced edition: God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Canada Edited by A.B. McKillop and Paul Romney S. F. Wise Carleton University Press, Ottawa Canada: 1993

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Canada, Tradition, and Government

July 22, 2017 Symposium 2017 Comments (0) 449

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.’[5] 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.’[6] 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.[7] 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.’[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.

 

[1] Erik Von Ritter Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” Modern Age, Winter 1971, 45-46, 48.

[2] Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 3rd ed. (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine Press, 2014), 40.

[3] Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” 52.

[4] John Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” The Good Society 8, no. 2 (1998): 5.

[5] Kekes, “A Case for Conservatism,” 6.

[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.

[7] Dante Alighieri, De Monarchia, Trans. Prue Shaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3.

[8] Marsilius Of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, trans. Annabel Brett (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 31.

[9] David Lowenthal, No Liberty for License: the forgotten logic of the first amendment (Dallas, Tex: Spence Publishing Company, 1997), 91, 102.

[10] John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 81, 86-88.

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