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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.3 (Summer 2017)
The Polis vs. Progress
On the 150th Anniversary (Sesquicentennial) of Canadian Confederation: The Decline of the Tory Tradition in Canada Since the 1980s
The decline of the Tory tradition in Canada in many ways parallels the degeneration of Western society generally. Small windows of hope and opportunity may also suggest broader scenarios for renewal.
The federal Progressive Conservative party of Brian Mulroney, although it won huge Parliamentary majorities in 1984 and 1988, was a very pale, thin shadow of what the Conservative Party had represented in Canada from Confederation in 1867, to 1896. Indeed, the Conservative Party had dominated Canada in the nineteenth century (1) almost as thoroughly as the Liberal Party would rule the country in the twentieth century. Brian Mulroney did not prove to be another John A. Macdonald. The federal PCs of the 1980s indeed in no way resembled the powerful conservative alliance of Upper Canada and Maritime Tories, and Catholic Quebec Bleus, who had originally been the pre-eminent elements in the creation of the Dominion of Canada. The situation was such in the nineteenth century, that Sir Etienne-Paschal Taché had said, in reference to his own people, the French-Canadians: “We are, in our habits, by our laws, and by our religion, monarchists and conservatives.”
It should also be remembered that, until 1963, the Liberal Party – especially under the very long-serving Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mackenzie King—on most issues solidly embraced the “traditionalist-centrist” consensus. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the pre-1960s precursor to the New Democratic Party (NDP) (Canada’s social democratic “third party”) while emphatically social-democratic in economics was, to a large extent, socially conservative, mostly upholding traditional notions of nation, family, and religion. Thus, it could be argued that the absolutely critical Canadian elections – when it really mattered whether Liberals or Conservatives prevailed – occurred in 1963 to 1980.
One must again return to the vital role that Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the emphatically Liberal Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984 (except for nine months in 1979-1980) played in establishing a “new consensus” in a society which had until the 1960s been considered to be at least somewhat tending towards traditionalism and conservatism. Indeed, even Stephen Harper, to a large extent, had not dared to break out of the “Trudeau consensus reality” on Canada (a construct which some have termed “Trudeaupia”). It is difficult to find any society in history, where there has been seen the degree of impact by one individual, as is the case with Canada and Trudeau. Indeed, the imprint of Trudeau has been so massive, that the system appears virtually incapable of being tempered or moderated. Despite his massive majority in 1984, Mulroney’s mind was to a large extent enthralled by the Trudeau vision of Canada, and he could not bring himself to challenge any significant aspect of the Trudeaupia. Thus, it could be argued, there has been, even until today, no major countervailing efforts by a sitting federal government against the ever-accelerating entrenchment of the system.
Lester B. Pearson, the Liberal Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968, to a large extent had paved the way for Trudeau, especially in regard to the change of the flag in 1965 – which many political theorists would consider a major symbol of “regime-change”. The very traditional-looking Red Ensign – with a Union Jack in the upper-left corner, and the shield of the coat-of-arms of Canada on a field of royal scarlet – was replaced by the rather abstract-looking Maple Leaf in a rather plastic shade of red. At the time of its adoption, the flag was criticized by some people as being to a considerable degree, a Liberal Party banner.
Nevertheless, Pearson to some extent justified various changes such as the new flag, using somewhat traditionalist language. Such policies as incipient multiculturalism were at that time seen as simply being a call for decency and politeness in ethnic relations, certainly not a challenge to more traditional notions of Canadian nationhood. It may also be remembered that multiculturalism in its original definition was perforce focussed on such groups as Ukrainian- and Italian-Canadians, as there were comparatively few “visible minorities” (2) in Canada at that time. And the polymorphous socio-sexual agenda of social liberalism as it has flowered in Canada today would likely have repelled Pearson.
Trudeau took these various tendencies and drove them very far, indeed – speaking, for example, about how Canada was going to become a veritable laboratory of cultural mixture for the world to admire and emulate. There was also the concerted Liberal strategy to destroy “Tory Toronto”. The city had received that nickname decades earlier because it was considered so conservative and British-oriented. Today, it is still snidely said by some people that in the 1950s, you could fire a cannon down Toronto’s main street on Sunday, and not hit anyone (because they were at all at church!).
The excesses of the system were, ironically, exacerbated even further by Mulroney, who raised immigration levels to about a quarter-million persons a year (from the approximately 54,000 persons to which they had fallen in Trudeau’s last year in office in 1983-1984). At the same time, official multiculturalism policies became even more deeply entrenched. All the various panoply of the Trudeaupia acquired an ever-accelerating dynamic of their own—that certainly did not brook any tempering or moderation—driving Canada into what at least some traditionalists and conservatives would see – at least in some aspects—as a near-dystopic, quasi-apocalyptic condition.
Indeed, by the 1980s, the PC party had lost any sense of even slightly traditionalist and conservative principles and beliefs. Such principles and beliefs—however antiquated sounding—might have given it a better chance in 1993 (3) and later, to capture the imagination of the voters, and would have clearly delineated it from its two main ideological rivals, the Liberals and the NDP. At the same time, had the federal PCs remained – to some extent at least—a “small-c conservative” (i.e., substantively conservative) party, there would have been no need for the arising of Preston Manning’s Reform Party. In fact, however, the Progressive Conservative party of Brian Mulroney frequently and actively fought and opposed “small-c conservatism”.
By the early 1990s, the federal PC party had conclusively proved to most people that it did not really embody the traditions and principles of Canadian conservatism. The three largest groupings in the federal PCs were mostly anti-conservative.
Probably the largest of these groupings were the “situationists” (4) — persons such as Brian Mulroney, who could be considered “conservative” only in the sense of wanting to maintain the status-quo, and keep themselves in so-called “power”, without any reference to conservative principles. In the run-up to the 1983 Party convention, and to the 1984 federal election, Mulroney had, by a few partisan-sounding statements, allowed the mantle of being a “right-winger” to fall on him. He probably did so because he believed that it would be to his advantage in the upcoming election. The mood of the electorate was unusually tending towards a sense of revulsion against what were becoming perceived among considerable numbers of people (outside of the media and intellectual elites) as the excesses of the radical Trudeau social experiments. One especially remembers Mulroney’s statement that he would try to appoint every “living, breathing Tory” to government positions ahead of Liberals. But his behaviour upon attaining office was completely different. Mulroney governed with a timidity that suggested that he had won a minority, not a majority government. The ferocious, round-the-clock media attacks against the allegedly “hard-right Mulroney regime”, in a period when the conservative media presence in Canada was virtually non-existent, did not increase his confidence.
The “situationists” or upholders of the status-quo were the ones who aspired to be superficial administrators or managers, rather than trend-setting political leaders of the country. The support of the status-quo, no matter what it is, is obviously not the key tenet of conservatism—by that calculus, the geriatric Soviet Politburo members (with their official atheism and Marxism-Leninism) could have been seen as the greatest “conservatives” in the world! To be a “situationist” is to sacrifice principles for the sake of a blind support of the status-quo, and one’s place in it. It is the very opposite of what has been called “governing strategically”.
The second major grouping were persons who could be called the “social democrats”, such as Joe Clark (Canada’s Prime Minister for nine months in 1979-1980, and leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party from 1976-1983, and 1998-2003) and Flora Macdonald. They were, in their arguments, very similar to the situationists, but as “Red Tories” they also made the claim of representing “the real tradition” of the Tory party, which they defined as an extensive welfare-state and intense government interventionism.
They appeared to forget that the core of a real “National Policy” could only be an authentic Canadian nationalism. It could be argued that their support of the excesses of multiculturalism, of virtually the entire social agenda of left-liberalism, of special benefits for “recognized minorities”, and so forth, contradicted the notion of a more traditionally-based “Tory welfare-state”, which was, historically-speaking, grounded on the social unity and cohesion generated though such immemorial institutions as family and church.
Indeed, the term “Red Toryism” may be seen as a misnomer. Rather than representing a more positive synthesis of toryism and social democracy (as typified by George Parkin Grant, Eugene Forsey, and certain elements of the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation – CCF) — such persons typically combine the less salubrious aspects of both liberalism and socialism, i.e., socially-anarchic liberalism without individual enterprise, and collectivistic socialism without any genuine social sense. Most of the so-called “Red Tories” have only a superficial and tenuous resemblance to the real Tory tradition.
Thirdly, there were the so-called “libertarians”, persons like Sinclair Stevens, who looked to America for inspiration and were, above all else, gung-ho free-marketeers and capitalists.
It is a fundamental mistake to automatically and totally equate conservatism and capitalism. How can the strong traditional ethos of conservatism endure within a system that places its highest values on hyper-consumption, the unrestricted inflaming of the lower human desires, and the promotion of a soulless and rootless “market-ethic”? As the preeminent Canadian political philosopher, George Parkin Grant, once remarked, it is liberalism, not conservatism, that is “the perfect ideology for capitalism”.
The “Red Tories” are right insofar that Sir John A. Macdonald was no fan of either America or materialistic capitalism. Canadians should remember that the United Empire Loyalists came here precisely because they did not want to be Americans. They chose loyalty to their Sovereign, and a higher order, to the freewheeling liberal republicanism of America.
Canada was itself created as an act of national and political will in direct contradiction to “basic economic realities” (which dictated north-south trading patterns). To a large extent, Canada attempted to maintain its independence in contradiction to the notion that economic forces are the overwhelming factor in history.
The defining moment of the Dominion of Canada, the British North America Act (1867), established “peace, order, and good government” as Canada’s founding principle, not the ultimately liberal “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. For most of Canada’s history, “Free Trade” was fiercely opposed by the Conservative Party, as a fundamental threat to Canada’s once considerably tory identity.
The fourth group within the Progressive Conservative party of the 1980s, were those who could be broadly defined as “small-c conservatives” of various stripes, or, more specifically, Tories concerned with community and nation, who truly represented the tory tradition of Canada. Patrick Boyer (the M.P. who from 1984 to1993 represented the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding in Toronto), was probably the most prominent representative of this tradition in the PC party. Patrick Boyer has also been a university professor and has authored several books about politics and constitutional law, especially focussing on his favourite topic of direct referenda. From the late-1980s to late-1990s, many of these persons had moved to support the Reform Party of Canada, which eventually became the Canadian Alliance (officially called the Canadian Reform-Conservative Alliance).
One should also mention John Gamble, who unfortunately became increasingly embittered at his treatment by the PC party in the 1980s, and eventually drifted into unqualified extremism. Brian Mulroney owed a huge political debt to Gamble for keeping the anti-Clark forces alive – thus contributing to Joe Clark’s weak showing in the leadership review and Mulroney’s subsequent win in the leadership convention of 1983. Despite the fact that Gamble was the PC party’s official candidate in the riding, the collusion of the PC and Liberal Parties led to his defeat in 1984 by the setting up of a supposedly “independent” candidate who “unexpectedly” won the riding. Another example of disdain for a more substantively conservative candidate was the way Peter Worthington (a co-founder and former editor of The Toronto Sun) was maneuvered out of the PC candidacy in the Toronto riding of Broadview-Greenwood in 1984, thus being forced into a difficult run as an independent. So what were at that time two of Canada’s more substantive conservatives were shut out of the huge, 211-seat, Mulroney landslide victory of 1984.
There had been in the large PC caucus of 1984 and 1988, an attempt to form a “small-c conservative” ginger-group, snidely characterized by the media as “the Dinosaur Club”. Given Mulroney’s contempt for “small-c conservatism”, the climate at the ginger-group meetings was likely to have been without much cheer.
The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper had carried the hopes of a large, centre-right and centre coalition. Its more salient (5) supporters included: social conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, purely fiscal conservatives, as well as some federalists and “soft sovereigntists” in Quebec, some disaffected right-wing Liberals and perhaps some socially conservative former NDP supporters. However, it would be of considerable importance to the future of Canada, if the voice of what could be called “true toryism” could somehow be heard within the diverse medley of the Conservative Party.
The notion of Canada ever being a more conservative society than America has largely disappeared from the perception of both the general public and the media and intellectual elites of Canada. Yet, until the 1960s, it could be argued that Canada was indeed a more substantively conservative society. In contrast to the United States, however, Canada was almost always in its history characterized by a far greater degree of “niceness” and politeness than America, mostly avoiding such aspects of American society as racism and excessive commercialism. It is not too popular today to say that the roots of Canadian politeness may actually lie in an earlier social conservatism. The attempts by the current-day “politically correct” to “demonize” Canada’s past and even some current-day realities would be outrightly ridiculous if they were not so deeply entrenched now among the Canadian intellectual and media elites. One would want to laugh at “politically correct” persons who claim to be Canadian nationalists, while characterizing Canada historically, and to some extent even today, as a presumed nexus of “white evil.” Nothing confident, socially healthy, or truly tolerant can be built on the ground of ever more pronounced self-hatred.
It should also be considered that Canadians have been typified as being deferential to authority. In the pre-1960s, when the “traditionalist-centrist consensus” was in place, this contributed to making Canada more socially-conservative. However, once the ruling paradigm was changed from the top, this has meant that many Canadians have become among the most ardent exponents of “political-correctness” in the world. (6)
It should be remembered that, insofar as America remained more liberal than Canada, the Liberal Party pushed for “Free Trade”, increased contacts with the United States, and advocated continentalism (typified by Frank Underhill and, to some extent, Mackenzie King). Now, when America appears to be more conservative than Canada (owing to a variety of reasons), the Liberal Party has suddenly discovered what it calls Canadian nationalism (what is called “the unique socially-compassionate political culture of Canada”).
What is also somewhat ironic is that there has apparently occurred a similar dialectical “flip” between the United States and Europe, as the United States and Canada. It has been argued that America today (frequently characterized by its willingness to exercise power) is a considerably more conservative society than those seen in Europe, and especially in the Western European countries (characterized as a so-called “postmodern paradise”). (7)
However, it could be argued that Canada, America, and the European Union are today, to a large extent, just three “super-states” of somewhat different forms of the “managerial-therapeutic regime.” What appears to have occurred is the near-total reconstruction of what it means to be a “European”, an “American”, and a “Canadian” today.
It is an interesting question which of those societies is best equipped to weather the coming storm of the conflict with Islam, the challenge of such powers as China and India, and the burgeoning rise of what was during the Cold War named the Third World. It’s possible to argue that what remains of Western civilization will mostly become localized in Eastern Europe (8) and Russia. Considering that possible context, the reconciliation of the Western, Eastern, and Southern Slavic nations may become a matter of world-historical importance.
Canadian nationalism has historically manifested itself though two main communal identities, the British and the French. It could be argued that what is found today in the Liberal and New Democratic Parties is an advanced and elaborate form of “doublethink”—simultaneously embracing Canadian “nationalism” (defined in an almost entirely liberal and left-wing way), and the excesses of multiculturalism, which tend to vitiate any sense of real Canadian identity.
What is nationalism? One of the more usual definitions of the goals of nationalism is in terms of an effective foreign policy; a large and well-equipped military; and evocative traditional state-symbols and institutions, which strongly bind the nation together. One might well ask what sort of nationalism have the Liberals given Canada since the 1960s? It could be seen as gutless neutralism, practical disarmament, and the undermining of almost all traditional symbols and institutions.
It may not be a good sign for the condition of Canada or Quebec that considerable numbers of Quebecois nationalists think they can separate from Canada – and leave the military under Canadian jurisdiction! It is one of most elementary concepts in politics that an independent state must maintain the monopoly on the use of force within its boundaries. If that degree of “postmodern” ambiguity is possible today on the part of some Quebecois nationalists, surely there can be prospects for various other, far less drastic, conditions of ambiguity that will allow Quebec to remain part of Canada. This seemed to be what Mario Dumont and the ADQ had been working towards.
A corollary of a more robust nationalism is what has been mentioned in an earlier article: cultural sovereignty. The absurdity of those who typically call themselves Canadian nationalists today, is highlighted by their definition of the term “cultural sovereignty” — which they still sometimes use. They mean to refer to almost anything produced by what have been called Canada’s “cultural industries.” Yet the arbiters of current-day Canadian culture have almost entirely cut themselves off from Canada’s more authentic roots. It could be argued that the current-day Canadian so-called “high culture” – as far as its natively English-speaking Canadian component—has virtually no authentic existence outside of a few, narrow, mostly Toronto- and Vancouver-based “arts cliques.” Precisely because it has cut itself off from its roots, this inauthentic culture simply has to be heavily subsidized by all levels of government.
At the same time, it could be argued that there is now virtually one unified “North American” (U.S. and Canada) pop-culture, driven mostly by Hollywood. The mavens of Canadian culture today usually think that “the response” to Hollywood – insofar as they feel the need to differentiate themselves from America—is to be even more antinomian, even more “edgy”, even more “politically-correct”, than Hollywood. Thus, today’s typical Canadian books, visual and plastic art, public architecture, plays, popular music, television shows, and news programs could be characterized as quite similar to America’s – only worse (from the standpoint of a more traditional view of Canadian culture).
The CBC has made a prominent television special celebrating Louis Riel (whom it is rather difficult to see as a real Canadian hero), yet there has never been a major epic movie or television special made about Sir Isaac Brock, who died saving this country from an American invasion. It is currently little known that the campaigns of Sir Isaac Brock and his Indian ally, Tecumseh (9) are studied to this day as examples of military achievement. (Ironically, it’s possible that those achievements are better known to Americans, especially those studying military history, than to Canadians.) And then they wonder at the CBC why Canadian culture is on the verge of disappearing.
Gad Horowitz, a well-known social democratic Canadian political philosopher, made (a considerable number of years ago) an absolutely amazing criticism of multiculturalism, and defence of English-Canadian nationalism.
…[O]ur national politicians are afraid to challenge the professional ethnics and the provincial empire builders who perversely demand for their groups a status similar to that of the French. The continuation of our strong emphasis on regional and ethnic differentiation perpetuates fragmentation, prevents the emergence of any clear Canadian or English Canadian identity, and leaves the door wide open for Americanization… Instead of giving the French alone a special status, we are disintegrating the country by giving all ethnic groups and provinces special status. Canada may never be a national community because of the French presence. English Canada can be a national community, but only if our image of Canada is transformed from a political union of provinces and tribes into a political union of two communities, one English and one French. We must have the courage to combine accommodation of the French particularism with resistance to intra-English particularisms…
Most mosaic celebrators take the line that the very nothingness of Canada is its most praiseworthy characteristic. “How wonderful to live in a country that has no flag.” How wonderful to live in a non-nationalistic nation, a nation that is not a nation, “a land of many cultures”…
When this way of talking is not fake, it is literally nihilistic…
The whole ideology of the mosaic came into being not so much to justify cultural diversity as to justify the absence of a national community embracing that diversity. We have only the pluribus, not the unum. The mosaic ideology is not needed to preserve the diversity; it is a weak and often insincere apology for the absence of unity. What differentiates us from the Americans is not our cultural diversity—they have it too—but our failure to develop a national community…
If an overarching English Canadian national community existed, the ethnic and regional particularisms would evaporate, with no regrets and little nostalgia… The mosaic preserves nothing of value. It is literally nothing. It is the absence of a sense of identity, the absence of a common life which can be shared by the English-speaking regions and tribes of Canada… If the situation can be saved…English Canadian intellectuals…must become self-conscious nation builders, as “survivance” conscious as the Québécois.”
[emphases in Gad Horowitz’s original text]
Canadian Political Thought, H.D. Forbes (ed.), (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 361-363.
The fact that a well-known left-wing thinker stands very “far to the right” of all of today’s major political parties, on the issue of Canadian nationalism, may show in what a dislocated direction Canada has evolved.
Following the trail of Horowitz’s argument, it could be argued that English-speaking Canada was, in its history and founding, a traditionally British, considerably tory-oriented society—both in the wider sense of having a British political culture, institutions, and general temperament, with a respect for traditional institutions and “peace, order, and good government”; and in the narrower sense of being predominantly founded by persons who (regardless of their points of origin—the Thirteen Colonies, England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland) identified themselves as British in both the general and ethnic sense.
It could be argued that the main roots of Canadian nationality lie in the United Empire Loyalists—the men and women who remained loyal to their Sovereign, and consequently rejected the American Revolution, preferring exile in comparative penury to life in a society which, as they saw it, placed a greater value on money, than on virtue, honour, and faith.
The toryism of the Loyalists was similar in some ways to the traditional Catholic conservatism of Quebec—a society suffused with the spirit of Catholic Christendom—of piety, charity, faith, and honour.
Together, the French and British communities hoped to persevere and preserve some measure of their noble traditions on the North American continent, a task which has proved largely impossible.
The conservative alliance of the British and the French in Canada persisted in its most pristine form until 1896. Subsequently, Canada became characterized by an ever more centrist consensus focussed on the Liberal Party of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and of Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Canadian Prime Minister). It has been argued in earlier articles, that the developments after 1963 have marked an overturning of the “traditionalist-centrist consensus” – indeed, the creation of a “New Canada” – which could be called “Canada Two.”
It could be argued that the two main, highly tragic mistakes of the British North Americans or British Canadians were as follows. Firstly, there was their inability to properly distinguish between the more general and the purely ethnic aspects of their identity, which has, it could be argued, allowed “the mosaic ideology” to eventually undermine most of the more authentic notions of Canada. Secondly, there was their inability to reach a proper constitutional accommodation with Quebec (which most likely would have been some form of “dualism”), in which a traditional Quebec would have usually acted in support of, and not mostly in opposition to, the interests of the general polity.
In a well-considered conceptualization to undercut the excesses of multiculturalism in Canada, Gad Horowitz has suggested that Britishness is a so-called “political nationality” – which can (one would guess if there are still assimilative pressures being exercised) – be adopted by persons of any ethnicity or religion. Thus, calling Canada a British-inspired society is not inherently a vehicle for unwarranted exclusion.
Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s leading historians, has said on television (TVO – The Agenda with Steve Paikin) that the real Canadian ideal is that Canada welcomes immigrants without prejudice but does require that they work at becoming successful here, and strive to become, in considerable measure, Canadians.
Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first and possibly greatest Prime Minister, had said, declaring his allegiances, “A British subject I was born, and a British subject I will die.”
Gad Horowitz, a very thoughtful social democrat, is remarkably daring in his description of what he sees as the main Canadian predicament since the 1960s. Nevertheless, the ideas he puts forward, and the suggestions he makes, do seem impossibly remote from current-day Canadian understandings.
What have been some of the greatest blows against British and British-Canadian identity? It could be argued in retrospect that the racialized self-definition of the British as “Anglo-Saxons” – especially in the late Nineteenth Century—has had a highly deleterious effect on English-speaking societies in the Twentieth Century and today. It undermined the notion of Britishness as a “political nationality” and thereby undermined British identity itself, once racialized identities (of the majority population) had become considered as thoroughly repellent. The term “Anglo-Saxon” in its racialized use gives unpleasant reminders of some of the worst aspects of English-speaking societies in the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth centuries.
Later, there appears to have occurred a dialectical “flip” among the stereotypical elite WASPs from racist blowhards – to the most ultra-politically-correct and self-alienated white grouping. It should nevertheless be remembered that they typically still enjoy living standards that are materially far, far more comfortable than both those of the “poor” whom they claim to champion, as well as of the “reactionary” lower-middle-classes whom they mostly despise. Many of them also continue to disdain Roman Catholics and “white ethnics” (the various Eastern- and Southern-European nationalities) – although ostensibly for “progressive” reasons.
The collapse of the British Empire in the 1950s has left a void in the Canadian social and cultural landscape that is difficult to replace. Ironically, Britishness is disappearing as an operative identity even in Britain. Indeed, there are books being written today about “the abolition of Britain.” A society once considerably characterized by politeness, commonsense, and a toleration of various personal and political eccentricity, has tended to become one of “yobs”, tawdry women, and police enforcement of “political correctness” – a milieu which, already in the early 1960s, had given the creative impetus to a novel like Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (later filmed audaciously by Stanley Kubrick).
It is an interesting question whether certain aspects of a more traditional English-Canadian character may contribute to Canada still being a “nicer” society than current-day Britain or the United States. Certainly, the archetypical Canadian politeness and the comparative livability of Canada’s large cities persist to some extent even today.
It could be argued that Canada, as “British North America”, may have synthesized the more salubrious aspects of both British and American societies, combining something like the orderliness and politeness of Britain with the material prosperity and more democratic attitudes of living in a huge, resource-rich North American country. Thus Canada may have removed “the nastier edge” of certain aspects of Britain (the excesses of the class-system of the nineteenth-century English haute-bourgeoisie (10)), as well as of the United States (an excessively commercial and materially-driven society).
Today, the obviously democratic, “progressive” strands in Canadian history are often seen as prefigurations of the “Trudeau consensus” that has taken hold since the late 1960s. However, it’s possible to argue that that is a fundamental misapprehension that does not take into account the highly radical nature of the Trudeau transformations – which have amounted to a “regime-change.” It has been argued earlier that, before the 1960s, virtually all of social, cultural, and political life in Canada existed within the “traditionalist-centrist consensus.”
Britishness has long ago been washed away by ever newer definitions of Canadian identity – and now, even some of those newer definitions of Canadian identity – once considered quite “progressive” – are being washed away by the roaring tide of ever more radically interpreted multiculturalism and “hyper-modernism”.
To paraphrase from T. S. Eliot – where, today, is “the British” that we have lost in “the Canadian”? – and where is “the Canadian” that we have lost in “the multicultural”?
Gad Horowitz also has the courage to make a frank admission about socialist (11) Canadian nationalism:
Socialism is internationalist…
If the United States were socialist, at this moment, we would be continentalists at this moment. If the possibilities of building a socialist society were brighter in the United States than in Canada, or as bright, we would not be terrified by the prospects of absorption. We are nationalists because, as socialists, we do not want our country to be utterly absorbed by the citadel of world capitalism.”
[emphasis in Gad Horowitz’s original text]
Canadian Political Thought, H.D. Forbes (ed.), (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 367.
It is of some interest that the tory Canadian nationalism endeavours to remain inherently faithful to Canada, even if today, it does appear that America is a more conservative society than Canada. In earlier articles, all the various reasons that America is apparently more conservative than Canada had been enumerated. Nevertheless, the Tory tradition in Canada does not wish to unqualifiedly embrace the United States today, even if it seems like a more conservative society than Canada.
It could be argued that one of the reasons for the comparative success of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, is that it has to some extent acknowledged, albeit in a skewed sense, some of the major social and national instincts of the country. It is probably the NDP’s occasional lip-service to community and nation that allows it to gain the support of far more “average people” than it would otherwise have.
In earlier articles, it had been discussed how the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) – the precursor to today’s “ultra-politically-correct” NDP – while ferociously fighting for the working majority – had indeed mostly upheld traditional notions of nation, family, and religion. Especially in those earlier decades, there were considerable numbers of so-called “social conservatives of the Left” – typified by such figures as John Ruskin (the nineteenth century cultural critic), William Morris (the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement of traditional aesthetic revival), Jack London, and George Orwell, among others. Christopher Lasch, one of the most prominent critics of late modernity, had identified himself as a “social democrat.” The most politically prominent representative of this tradition in Canada was probably Eugene A. Forsey, a labour union adviser and constitutional scholar. In the age of a pre-totalitarian and pre-politically-correct Left, John Ruskin could say with some confidence – “I am a Tory of the sternest sort, a socialist, a communist.”
The more intellectually and culturally robust social democratic thinkers (as we have seen in the example of Gad Horowitz), were greatly aware of the real lineaments of what has been termed “the crisis of late modernity” and were to some extent willing to work alongside what remained of the conservative traditions of their respective countries (such as, for example, the Tory tradition in Canada).
It could be argued that most of modern socialism is but a pale and weak reflection (in a rather skewed and secularized form) of the great philosophico-religious systems that have constituted virtually every society in existence before the arising of the so-called Enlightenment. Nevertheless, socialism may contain certain restorative possibilities.
Despite the rapid advance of Enlightenment concepts among various philosophes and savants, it should be noted that the truly catastrophic social and cultural consequences of late modernity for most Western societies had only been concretely instantiated in the aftermath of the 1960s revolutions. It may be noted that until that period most belief-systems – regardless of where they were on the political spectrum – were, to a large extent, socially-conservative.
Although it is accusatorily said today that a tendency like Nazism had also supported so-called “family values”—the Nazi regime was clearly so extreme, so vicious, so violent that it certainly cannot be considered as symptomatic of any kind of “conservatism”. Nor is its ostensible championing of the (German) working classes to be taken as indicative of representing “socialism”. Like Soviet Communism—but unlike most forms of social democracy—Nazism existed outside Western traditions of ordered liberty.
Today, it can be seen that some of the Sixties’ ideas have been carried so radically forward in a relentless dynamic, that some politicians and intellectuals considered as “highly progressive” during the Sixties’ period itself, might now have some qualms about them, or even find them rather repugnant.
Such reflective traditionalists as J.R.R. Tolkien had also realized that the motivations of many of the young people in the Sixties were considerably idealistic. It could be argued that the young people were usually twisted in bad directions by a combination of opportunistic corporations that promoted antinomianism and consumptionism, and professional left-wing agitators that pushed what later became called “political correctness”.
Most of modern socialism could be seen to have arisen in a desperate attempt to re-assert that spirit of community and the collective which liberal capitalism has so thoroughly eroded through the political and industrial revolutions of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and their subsequently unfolding social, political, cultural, and technological consequences.
Socialism, however, is also typically a system based on the view of the human person as an entirely material being, a collection of molecules and energies that are somehow intrinsically imbued with a teleology. (The so-called “inevitability of progress”.) Insofar as socialism is a rigidly materialistic system (one thinks, for example, of the thinness of Lenin’s Dialectical Materialism or “DiaMat”), it fails to take into account an extremely important part of human nature and existence. That is why the Left is forced to fish around in Marx’s early writings, and to, after all, make the appeal to “feeling”, injecting some emotional content into what could be seen as a philosophical system that does not properly acknowledge the spiritual, religious, and deeply-psychological factors of human existence.
Leaving behind what could be seen as intensive but rather arid theorizing, left-liberalism has become today, for a considerable number of persons, virtually all “feeling” – consisting mostly of various kinds of ressentiment as well as (especially in the case of the white liberal elites) of overflowing “compassion” – though mostly only for so-called “recognized minorities”.
It is a matter of some irony that one frequently sees increasing unhappiness among people and criticism of the capitalist system precisely as living standards have vastly improved. In the nineteenth century, what would today be seen as the unbelievably harsh, grinding poverty among huge numbers of the population, existing even in such places as England, did not create revolutionary ferment, because the society was far more grounded in such traditional verities as nation, family, and religion. It could be argued that various premodern and early modern residues had not yet been thoroughly expunged.
As far as why the Bolsheviks were able to seize power in an apparently far more traditional Russia, it can be seen that that society had endured catastrophic defeat in war, and had been conditioned by centuries of despotic rule (firstly, under the Tartar yoke, and secondly, under a Tsarist autocracy virtually outside European traditions of ordered liberty). There were very little traditions of resilient intermediary institutions of civil society, and when the main power-centres of the country had been seized, and the “White” armies beaten back in a colossal, savage civil war, control of the country thereby ensued. It could be argued that, ironically, Soviet Communism had more in common with what Marx had disparagingly called “the Oriental mode of production” – than his “scientific socialism.”
Looking at the contemporary scene, it could be argued that it is only today, in the aftermath of the Sixties’ revolutions, that late capitalism has truly reached the stage suggested in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto – “all that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned”.
All that most people seem to be able to aspire to today is either wealth beyond the dreams of avarice or becoming acclaimed a world champion of “political correctness”. Indeed, it can be seen that such archetypical figures of our current day world, such as Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, “Bono”, Malcolm Gladwell, Madonna Ciccone, and Angelina Jolie, handily combine the two pursuits.
Late capitalism entertains similarly materialistic views of human needs as the socialism it claims to be opposing. Indeed, the slogan of many liberals today might well be Jeremy Bentham’s, “push-pin is as good as poetry”. While the masses are continually told and flattered that they are in charge of the system, the stupefying ideology of consumptionist pop-culture serves a crucial role in upholding the managerial-therapeutic regime. Most people are bereft of any true knowledge of history or culture, leaving such matters to the academic mandarinate, among whom – it should be well noted—“political correctness” and some especially peculiar views of society, culture, and history—rule. Thus, stridently acclaiming virtually all human inclinations and levels of knowledge, as equally worthy, contributes to the “dumbing down” of what was once a fairly respectable, authentically popular culture, where people could still reach reasoned judgements about important matters. It discourages the so-called average person from trying to look beyond today’s usual cultural diet of mostly antinomian and “politically-correct” films and television programs, and celebrity gossip websites. It serves the further entrenchment of the regime.
It could be argued that the purely material and materialistic definition of humanity ultimately reduces the human being to a meaningless lump of matter, to be shaped, manipulated, coerced, and destroyed at will. It could be argued that the societal “solutions” of both socialism and liberalism are reductive or incomplete, incapable of truly satisfying the human being’s deepest longing and needs. Finally, it could be argued that the perennial philosophy of conservatism is more likely to move societies towards the so-called “higher synthesis”—combining the premodern sense of genuine spirit, “meaningfulness”, and real community, with the benefits of modern technology used for human ends, not against them.
Is there a future for conservatism in Canada – or elsewhere?
One might well ask today what the future role of “true toryism”—as a grouping within the broader Conservative Party, or simply as a residual tendency among considerable numbers of the Canadian population—is to be? Perhaps it can function as a helpful signpost. Looking at it just from the standpoint of party strategy, it could perhaps help the Conservative Party avoid the many mistakes of Brian Mulroney, of imitating the worst tendencies of the current-day Liberal and New Democratic parties.
It can also endeavour to point out more generally to Canadian society, the perils attending the creation of a late capitalist economy driven by consumption and “irrational exuberance”—rather than hard work, honesty, thrift and sobriety (12). The late capitalist economy is like that frequently seen in big-city America, with all of its attendant social disintegration and decay. Do Canadians really want Toronto to fully become “New York North”? Indeed, how long can the multidimensional undermining of “peace, order, and good government” go on in Canada, before our big cities become “just like those in America.” (13)
In a more hopeful mode, the future role of genuine conservatism in Canada could be seen as nothing less than a restoration of a truly meaningful social and cultural existence to Canada. When one is confronted today by the sometimes hysterical left-liberal and left-wing responses to the slightest, supposed “move to the right”, one would do well to remember what conservatism at its best really stands for and believes—what might be called conservatism properly understood.
As one contemplates the spiralling crime-rates in the cities; the enormous plague of illicit drugs; the attenuation of real family life; the rape of the environment for the sake of ever more superfluous material luxuries; the near-destruction of all real religion and culture; and the high degree of anomie and meaninglessness of most people’s existence in much of both Canada and America—as well as the million or so unsolved world problems, each of which could be potentially disastrous to humankind as a whole—one should try to keep in mind the real message and hope of genuine conservatism, of the wasteland redeemed.
It may be that the entire modern age is a huge trial for all humanity, a descent into a vast abyss, yet another form of the primordial battle between Order and Chaos, which we can emerge out of only after utmost struggle, but on a higher and better plane, in which Humanity and Technology, as well as the Individual and Society, will be in balanced harmony.
If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.
The ascension is similar to climbing onto the next anthropological stage. No one on Earth has any other way left but—upward.”
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered at Harvard University, June 8, 1978, (New York: Harper & Row), p. 61.
Canada’s preeminent traditionalist thinker, George Parkin Grant, echoes Solzhenitsyn:
What I am saying is that the great job in Canada does not lie in further economic expansion and economic progress, but in trying to bring quality and beauty of existence into that technological world—to try and make it a place where richness of life may be discovered.”
Canadian Political Thought, H.D. Forbes (ed.); George Parkin Grant, “The Minds of Men in the Atomic Age.” (Address to Couchiching Conference, 1955), p. 289.
It remains to be seen whether these noble ideals could serve as the core of a social and political movement that would fight for the national, cultural, and social survival of Canada, in the context of a broader political coalition, in an increasingly dystopic climate.
As patriotic Canadians and simply as human beings, such persons would hope to lead the way into a better world than that predicted in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ridley Scott’s haunting dark-future movie, Blade Runner (loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (filmed audaciously by Stanley Kubrick), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints.
Canada, which could be seen as a “tory-touched fragment” trapped in the late-modern world, could perhaps play some role in the evolution to the saving, truly “post-modern”—rather than merely “hyper-modern” – path of world-historical development.
It should be well noted that the distinction between “post-modern” and “hyper-modern” used here is a highly eclectic terminology. The term “post-modern” or “postmodern” today usually signifies the piling onto Western societies of ever more extreme forms of social liberalism and the exaltation of the allegedly unlimited plasticity of human life, society, and existence. One would like to nevertheless note the book, provocatively titled, The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk, by Gerald J. Russello (University of Missouri Press, 2007) – Russell Kirk being one of the leading American traditionalist thinkers. So there are clearly various interpretations of the term possible. The use of the term “hyper-modern” is meant to accentuate the notion that most of the social, cultural, and intellectual excesses of the post-Sixties’ period are largely a continuation of what could be seen as the worst tendencies of modernity itself. Traditionalist conservatism has identified this as the unceasing, unrelenting urge to tear down, to destroy, to deconstruct, to smash to bits any notions of what conservatism considers as the normative, the decent, and the natural. The idea of the “post-modern”—as specifically deployed here—recognizes that there are of course better aspects of modernity such as the obvious benefits of science and technology, and the classical liberal freedoms, that cannot be discarded on the path to the hoped-for social and cultural renewal. The idea of the “post-modern” – as specifically deployed here—acknowledges that society is continuing to evolve, but must eventually begin to move to the new synthesis so eloquently suggested by Solzhenitsyn. The dangers of slipping into various apocalyptic-dystopic situations – whether under the impact of increasing “soft totalitarianism” combined with “the new illiteracy” – or because of the possible collapse of most Western societies as a result of various challenges from outside the West – are very great. It shall indeed be a very perilous passageway to a better world – if it can at all be made.
If it is true, as Robertson Davies has said, that “the numinous has gone out of Canada”—that Canada really is only a country of petty bureaucrats, whining social workers, and branch-plant managers—then it is up to serious, committed traditionalists to fight for at least one chance to restore and revive the once-great Dominion of Canada — from sea even unto sea—the true North, strong and free!
(1) Strictly speaking, the Conservative Party was known in the earlier part of this period as the Liberal-Conservative party. Their opponents were the so-called Clear Grits in Upper Canada (Ontario), and the Rouges in Quebec. The term suggests that a “traditionalist-centrist” consensus existed in the nineteenth century as well. There has clearly occurred a radical overturning of the traditional Canada in the post-Sixties period, the creation of the so-called “Trudeau consensus.” In an earlier article, I had called this “Canada Two.”
(2) A term officially used by governments in Canada. However, the use of the term “minority” (without the adjective) in Canada today, also almost invariably suggests a person of colour.
(3) It may be recalled that the Progressive Conservatives won a total of two seats in the federal election of 1993.
(4) The author is aware that there is a “big-S” philosophy of Situationism, which originates in the radical thought of media critic Guy Debord. The terms are obviously unrelated. The author uses the term “situationist” to suggest “in situ” – sitting in one place – and also because a locution like “status-quo-ist” sounds too awkward.
(5) This term means here persons who believe in some kind of more-or-less coherent principles and are willing to carry out considerable endeavours on behalf of the Party that are not necessarily driven just by prospects of personal gain.
(6) A similar point has been made in a recent column of Ted Byfield in Western Standard (“A Society of Yes Men.” June 4, 2007, p.14). He also makes the point that the current-day elites in Canada are still mostly WASPs. Presumably the WASP elites still remain prominent because they are the most ultra-politically-correct grouping.
(7) This argument was probably most prominently made by Robert Kagan, in his book Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
(8) The term “Eastern Europe”, although disliked by considerable numbers of people living in those countries, continues to persist to a large extent. The dividing line between Western and Eastern Europe is said, according to some historians, to run roughly from Szczecin on the Baltic Sea to Trieste on the Adriatic Sea. It can be seen that many of the Eastern European countries are resisting the trends to de-nationalization today. Thus, what is considered the supposed “backwardness” and “parochialism” of those countries (from the standpoint of “politically correct” left-liberalism) may indeed be their greatest strength for the future. Why should they adopt the worst aspects of such Western European societies as Holland?
(9) The extent to which many of the Aboriginal peoples were once friendly to the British Crown has now been almost entirely forgotten.
(10) It is highly inaccurate to characterize the landed aristocracy as allegedly the most oppressive and the most predominant structures of the British class system.
(11) Gad Horowitz typically uses the word “socialism” to mean what is more commonly called “social democracy” not a Soviet-style regime.
(12) Habits of diligence and good work can be applied—with positive results accruing to the society and the individual—to any honest occupation or activity. For the average person today, the main punishment for the lack of thrift is the quick falling into unmanageable debt, especially credit card debt – when one simply cannot resist all those consumerist satisfactions. It should also be added that, with all due respect to the dignity of hard physical labour, seriously and conscientiously undertaken art and writing endeavours, for example, also impose high demands on their practitioners. Even in earlier times, it can be seen that many aristocrats in Europe did not typically abandon themselves over to complete ease, self-indulgence, and decadence. It’s also obvious that the real entrepreneur does do serious, demanding work. (The aristocratic man of commerce is frequently seen in Ayn Rand’s writing.) But one must still wonder about the origins of some of today’s truly vast business fortunes that appear as being utterly beyond any human being’s capability to achieve without previously having very high-level contacts, or possibly trampling over a long series of colleagues, competitors, subordinates, and workers, or possibly requiring some activities of considerably to very highly questionable honesty and legality. It can also be seen that the financial rewards of many celebrity figures (which are frequently far greater than those of the more average corporate CEO) appear wildly incommensurate to the frequently deconstructive social impact and frequently hyper-decadent lifestyles of typical celebrities.
(13) Ironically, it is claimed by some observers that there has in recent years been a considerable “renaissance” in certain American cities, especially New York – but many large Canadian cities today appear to be moving along a seemingly ineluctable trajectory that may combine multifarious aspects of some of the very worst features of various American cities. Despite its vast hinterland regions, Canada is more comparatively urbanized than the United States – and has basically three huge megalopolises – Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. So the texture of social and cultural life in those cities can have considerably more impact on the country as a whole. To make the argument in its most drastic form, it could be said that the values and lifestyles of a few hyper-trendy and/or “grungy” neighbourhoods in Toronto are imposed on the country as a whole. As had been noted earlier, the destruction of the so-called “Tory Toronto” was one of the foremost goals of the post-Sixties’ Liberal Party.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based freelance journalist. His articles about popular culture as well as (more recently) specifically Canadian issues have appeared in this space for years.