Tag Archives: Toryism

To Be Re-Elected, Be Tories, Conservatives

Does that title surprise you? If you subsist on a diet of the media in Canada, it probably does. From headlines writers to pundits, the terms “Conservative” and “Tory” are used interchangeably. Yet they should not be. Indeed, if the Conservative Party in power does not (and soon) find its Tory roots and bring them to the fore, it will likely, at the next election, be replaced by the Liberals, to spend another long set of years in the wilderness.

I do not base this on any estimate of who might walk away with the prize (if that is what it is) of Liberal leader in the current race. Yes, the Liberal Party tends to focus on “who can beat our opponent” rather than “what should we stand for and why”. I base it, instead, on a different calculation: if the Conservatives insist on acting as though they are Liberals, then Canadians will choose to elect the real thing rather than a substitute.

So why would the Conservative Party act like Liberals? In large measure it is because Conservatives such as Stephen Harper are actually neo-Liberals. In other words, they, like classic liberals, eschew history and tradition in favour of using the levers of power to make — perhaps even force — change, with no real thought for the future even as the past is demolished to make way for “the new”. Pragmatic incrementalism, after all, may seem benign, but it says “the job isn’t worth doing” quite as much as anything else. Or, in the tenets of Liberals, “let’s try this, and then we’ll try something else” — or “throw a whole bunch of stuff out there and see what sticks”.

All of this is the stuff of process and power: it is not the stuff of reasoned reform or stewardship.

Toryism in Canada has long — since Baldwin and LaFontaine and the introduction of Responsible Government — been about a bond between the generations, respectful of the traditions received from the past and taking careful stewardship for the future. Tories are in favour of low taxes, so as to make it possible for private citizens to act freely, with as little distortion in their decision-making as possible, yet Tories also favour building a national infrastructure, to make action easier in the future. Tories despise deficits, as these burden future generations with the task of repaying the debts without benefit to themselves, yet will use debt prudently and in small amounts to achieve long-term goals. Whether provincially (education and health care come to mind) or federally (the national commonweal takes precedence), the notion of a people at peace with each other and defended from external injury, and with fairness in space and time, is the essence of a society of liberty, well governed, balancing the needs of the many with the needs of the one.

Our Tory roots, philosophically, go back to Aristotle, Aquinas, Hooker and the like, and differ from Tories of old in that we shed the notion of an élite (by birth, money or merit) with a claim on our governance. Liberals, paradoxically, believe that one’s “betters” ought to be in charge: it is the essence of managerial thinking.

If the Harper Government were a Tory Government, we would not bail out old industries: this penalizes everyone today and (if done by deficit spending) tomorrow and limits the opportunity to build new work in their place. (Gordon Campbell, Premier of BC and a definite neo-Liberal, nevertheless told the Legislature and the province last week these Tory truths: living proof that you can get to the right place even on the wrong road, but just not consistently.)

A Tory Government, faced with the current economic situation, would be pruning unnecessary programs — even whole departments — to focus resources on a few initiatives that would build for the future, not just prop up today.

A Tory Government, faced with the slowdown the globe is experiencing, would be putting citizens’ resources back under their control, through reduced taxation. It is through innovation and new initiatives that we will pull ourselves up and prosper, not by sucking the country dry for old, stale ideas and industries.

Do you think I am an idealist? It has been years since “Conservatives” swamped “Tories” in this country: Tories were an endangered species even when Bob Stanfield led the Progressive Conservatives. Still, Toryism in Canada offers hope on firm foundations, a hope that would see the Government likely to be returned when this Parliament draws to an end.

Conservatism — whether the arch “red meat” type favoured in some parts of this country, or the pragmatic “better quality of Liberal” type favoured in other parts (and on offer from the Prime Minister) — will fail. Gresham’s Law will hold: just as bad money drives out good, so, too, real Liberals will drive out ersatz ones.

I shall not be surprised to be disappointed as the next few weeks unfold. Still, one can hope.

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Acquiring a Sense of History

We don’t go out of our way to teach history. Such “history” as is taught today is really social studies: forcing the peoples of other times and places into a convenient matrix that reinforces current social norms. We’re neither interested in truly exploring other times, nor do we encourage the notion that maybe, in difference, there is something to be learned, nor the idea that perhaps to take this step forward, society also took a different step backward.

Know Where You Come From …

Western society today is anything but monolithic when it comes to religious belief — the Protestant revolution, scientism in the nineteenth century and a feeling of guilt surrounding autochthonous and immigrant communities saw to that — but the reality is that if you look back to 1000 CE you find, in the West, a compact, unified, Latin Catholic society. These are our ancestors: projects such as the combined National Geographic/IBM genographic project are demonstrating the concentration of genetic paths in Western society, not just in Europe but in the settler communities of the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. We — mostly — remain within our compact society to this day.

I bring up religion because of an experience I had in 1991. On the Côte d’Azur for the first time, my family and I made our way to a little Provençal hill village — Mougins — for a late lunch. After a fine meal on the square, we wandered across to the Church on the other side and pulled open the door. A millennium of must, dust, soot (from the candles) and the stink of people over the centuries rolled over us. (This is why I had come!)

The building was in the oldest style of Western architecture, when the West was first starting to set its own style. (This style — Romanesque — spread almost as wildfire across Europe in the space of a few decades.) This church betrayed both the recent occupation of the area by the forces of the Caliphate and the older Levantine Latin Orthodoxy that preceded the long transformation of the Western Church: it remained a “world cave” of the Levant, common to Orthodox, Monophysite and Nestorian Christians, Jews and the residual Samaritans, Muslims, Zoroastrians and Parsees, and the like, where the building is all interior (the outside merely creates the cave but is not really worthy of decoration, and windows are small, merely to allow a little light in, but not to illuminate the space). Yet the West can be seen: the ceiling was not rounded, to close the space in, but peaked and drew upward to the infinite; the interior designs drew the eye up; even in the stonework images of men, angels and the Lord appear, the graven images forbidden in the Levant and replaced by iconostases and geometric designs. This was a poor church, and had been from its creation — but it spoke to the birth of a new people. In only a century more, the foundations of generations-long projects to build soaring cathedrals would be laid.

Look how much is embedded in this simple description: comparative art and architecture, the sense of self of a people, theological history, style, substance and passion, comparisons to others who were not of this society, even though from one generation to the next, in this part of the world, Latin (as it evolved into Provençal, Savoyard and the language of the oc, then was taken over by the langue d’oil of French and the Italian dialect spoken there only 150 years ago was pushed out through centralized education) has never been lost: one generation has always understood the previous and the next. Yet the presumptions of Classical Rome in its Latin, of Levantine Orthodoxy in the Latin of, say, a St. Augustine or a St. Benedict, and of Western Mediaeval Latin are as different as night and day: each is part of a self-contained society.

For those of the Renaissance to throw away the learning of the High Mediaeval — that of our society — in favour of the works of Classical Rome simply because Cicero and his kin never said ego habeo factum and instead used feci was a ridiculous loss and rejection of self, especially since that assertion of the self and the worth of the person is part of what makes the West the West. But from then to now our society remains riven by currents of denying what it is, what makes it unique, valuable and (from time to time) great, and therefore why doing what is needful to preserve it rather than changing just anything and everything on a whim is wrong, and so the rear guard of those who would conserve the West — true Tories, one and all — against the leftward drift of liberalism continues.

… and Where You Are Going

So much political and economic writing — goodness knows, I’ve contributed my own share of it! — leaves the historical in the dust. Liberalism or leftism (at the time of the French Revolution the two would have been synonymous) is resolutely anti-historical: all that matters is the current situation, and there are no restraints other than the practical (not enough tolerance for debt “right now”, or too many other things pressing on us “right now”) placed on change.

Yet what that says is that we — and other peoples from other civilisations — are all fungible and malleable; that someone’s traditions are folklore and easily discarded. It is certainly true that individuals who emigrate and settle in the lands of a civilisation not their own by heritage can and do acculturate, often, after two or three generations, to the point where they have accepted their new home and its traditions not only as their own, but, in a peculiar sense, as their heritage. (It is what the French do with their process of educating future citizens, either in school or to prepare to take the citizenship test: one reaches a point where one can say, without irony, “Our ancestors, the Gauls”.)

Acculturation and blending in — the Diefenbakerian “unhyphenated Canadian” motif in our own national life — is one thing at an individual level. But, as George Grant, the Canadian Tory philosopher, noted, our love of the good, the true and the beautiful is rooted in love of self, of immediate family, of friends, of community, of nation … and thus of society. To reject the West and its traditions, then, is to demonstrate a lack of love for who you are. Philosophers have noted that you can have “love for the amorphous” (a “love of all humanity”, for instance), but only at the price of denying love for yourself as you are, love for friends and family, love for your community, etc.

To reach the amorphous, one must deny history. This is best done by removing it from serious study: burying it in scholastic detail where it is taught (universities), turning it into social studies (or removing it from the curriculum altogether) in the schools, treating questions of whether to preserve past buildings and existing inefficiencies in the urban fabric as an economic decision, etc. Thus we have our society as it exists today, with no concern for its past — or its future (witness that we have known since the 1970s [US President Carter was reviled for pointing it out!] that the days we are now coming into were inevitable, yet we continued to build as though tomorrow would not come).

Only through learning history fully will we find our way out and prosper again.

Unambiguous and Centred

My blogging friend Raphael Alexander, proprietor of the delightful Unambiguously Ambidextrous, has expressed the precise position I myself hold, and I’d like to start today by tipping my hat to him for it.

What position is that, you ask? Simply put, “this blog is politically ambiguous, but I consider myself a Conservative”. Actually, I don’t consider myself a Conservative; I consider myself a Tory, that indigenous, centrist, unreconstructed Canadian conservativism and not the neoliberal variety on offer from our current Conservative Party of Canada. On the other hand, far too often (and this is one of those times) one does not get to choose affirmatively; one must pick the least worst apple from a barrel of near-rotting fruit. It is in that sense that I would say “I am a Conservative”, not with enthusiasm (nor, after two years in Government, even hope and expectation) but simply because to choose the Greens, the New Democrats or the Liberals is to choose a worse alternative. Still, a national report card that has, as its leading grade, a D (and no shortage of students with Fs), is hardly a ringing endorsement, eh?

But why make the distinction between being a Tory and being a Conservative when there is no Tory party at all? To this, I say, first, a political philosophy is quite distinct from a political party; indeed, a philosophy may not (perhaps, in some cases, need not) have a party to institutionalise it. In many ways true Toryism and the sheer size of the Dominion are at odds: it is, in the form of practical politics, something far better suited to smaller scales. City-states, perhaps, or city-centred regions. Maritime provinces. Something you can consider walking through regularly, in other words, a place built to a human scale. As Joel Garreau noted in his The Nine Nations of North America, the differing geographic regions of this vast continent yield different ways of seeing the world: the brokerage involved in reconciling the resource-centred empty spaces with the industrial heartlands, the ecotopian rainforest and the rest act as a tension should there be a national Tory party. What it is to be a steward for the future in the empty quarters is vastly different to what it is in the breadbasket of the nation, to what it is in a francophone region where culture and language loom large, etc. It’s not that it shouldn’t be tried; it will just be rent by factions, inter-necine warfare and be in constant need of reform to bring it back to the tradition. Hypocrisy will need rooting out more frequently than in other parties. (Oh, wait, we did try this, didn’t we?)

So I lend support to the Harper Government, but expect to be thoroughly disappointed by it. I do so because out of all the parties currently on offer it, at least, ought to have some threads of fiscal rectitude, sunsetting of old programmes, devolution to the regions and provinces of that which does not belong in the centre (the principle of subsidiarity), a respect for the individual and a disdain for the group … well, I hope you get the idea. As I said, thoroughly disappointed for the most part.

But where else would I go with my vote, my financial support, my words and such limited influence as I might bring to public affairs in conversation and via blogging, other than home in silence to abandon the system? The Liberals stand for nothing other than redistribution, buying one group off against another, an endless game of tweak and squeak, supplicant and reward, courtiership in the finest traditions of pre-revolutionary France. The New Democrats have principles (although many of them are not mine) but are also frankly too opportunistic. The Bloc is irrelevant to a BCer. As for the Greens, they remain the logical alternative — but not with the current platform and current leadership. (The natural alternative to being “Blue” is to be “Green” — both ought to be in the inter-generational stewardship ranks — not “Red” (where past and future are abandoned for the moment only), and I say that as an old Red Tory from Ontario.)

If you’ve come here to find an ardent party supporter, in other words, look elsewhere. I am no Blogging Tory. But neither am I affiliated elsewhere. Here you get what you see, unlabelled. If I engage you, and perhaps give you something to think about, I am more than satisfied (since the writing itself satisfies me).

I was asked recently why I am not in politics. The simple fact is that I don’t fit well into parties. I am unlikely to subordinate my voice to the party’s; I would shrug off the whip on votes I disagreed with. As with Burke (in his Letter to the Electors of Bristol) I would be there to consider each issue on its merits, to apply my moral reasoning to it, and to vote my conscience regardless of the outcome. In other words, a natural Independent, who might often find himself voting with one stream of politics more than another, but not joining the caucus.

“But how could you get anything done like that?” Well, small bodies of electors — we call them municipal (or territorial) councils/assemblies — do manage to work in precisely this fashion. Indeed, municipal councils fail abysmally when party takes over — witness the ineptitude of the Vancouver City Council, where practically every vote has been on strict party lines rather than on what was good or bad for the city. This is why I suggested Toryism fit the small and not the large. It’s not that our Federal Parliament couldn’t be filled with 308 Independents, and a Government formed from that, subject to confidence just as today. It would just be hard to get the screaming egos to stop and consider who might actually have what it takes to lead — not to be elected leader, not to drag a majority of seats in his or her wake, but to, once governing is required rather than campaigning, step up to the task and persuade others to follow.

Wouldn’t a leader who convinced others to follow rather than forced them with a three-line whip on every issue be a leader in a way none of our party leaders is today?

In any event, Raphael’s blog title expresses the “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach to ambiguously sorting out whose lead to take, issue by issue. Hewing to a philosophy rather than a party requires that kind of ambidexterity: it is the philosophy that is unambiguous. I am envious of the title — and very glad he writes, even when I disagree with him. He practises what I do: clarity in the core, evaluate each issue on its merits, most of the time (we’re all human, after all, and only liberals believe in man’s perfectibility).