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.