On the Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary) of Canadian Confederation: The decline of the Tory tradition in Canada since the 1980s (Part III)

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.”

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.

Solzhenitsyn writes:

“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!

Mark Wegierski

(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.

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