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.
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.