Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Some Thoughts on Canadian Conservatism

The Canadian conservative labours under an additional burden to his American cousin. It was long ago established that liberalism in its modern form holds a patent monopoly on compassion and justice, the Canadian liberal is as much an heir to the privilege as any American of the Left. Patriotism, which Dr. Johnson, a Tory no less, said was the last refuge of scoundrels is no safe harbour for Canadian Conservatives. To speak kind words of the conservative creed is to render oneself suspect of treason here. If you think Canada is so bad, says the liberal prosecution, why don't you move to America? Because we can't, is the answer. A nation maybe an economic proposition to the economic modernist and a rationalization for the welfare state to the liberal, it is something else to the conservative. That something else seems as good a place to begin as any.

The nation state is a conservative institution, because it is historical. Before we get there, to history, we should stop at economics. Too often conservatism is sold as an economic proposition. It seems the strongest suit to play in modern political argument. Socialism, the 20th century God that failed, was a travesty of economics. Even those who could not impeach the ideals of the socialist brotherhood cannot now doubt its economic short-comings. The conservative need only intone the wisdom of von Mises and von Hayek to win. He may wish to go all the way back to Smith and Ricardo but before then redundancy has set in. We have won the economic argument, so why not keep talking economics? Because economics doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to conservatism, Canadian or British or Bulgarian (if there are true conservatives in Bulgaria). It certainly doesn't matter to Canada. Put away your equations, your algebra and those many splendored things that speak of that contradiction in terms, the social sciences. Man is not a scientific thing in the narrow sense so often implied by the word science. You cannot control group away free will. Bio-chemistry explains much, perhaps even the image of God himself, but it does not explain free will. The genetic determinists of our age will fail as surely as the economic determinists of the last three generations. What does matter? History and God.

Neither faith nor nostalgia are the issues here. Whether God exists is irrelevant, conservatism is a political proposition with moral roots, it is silent on theological matters. It is the idea of God that matters, the idea of a soul and free will. Man is more than the sum of his parts, whether or not he was made in His image. This must be the basic argument of conservatism, we believe in a soul. The modern liberal, or progressive, will object to this, if only as a matter of form. Is not compassion the highest expression of the soul? Is not love for your fellow man the noblest of sentiments? No. Not by a long shot. Man cannot live by bread alone and by altruism not at all. Being compassionate does not make the Man and often hides many vices under the guise of nobility. This is not a call to be uncompassionate, it is a reminder that a human is more than a function of his usefulness to others.

The Marxists dictum, itself a mangling of the New Testament, "From Each According to His Ability to Each According to His Needs," is the cornerstone of modern Western public policy. It is also the creed of slaves. If the goal of the liberal / progressives is social justice then who pays for that justice and why? Pointing out the inefficiencies and injustices of the welfare state will lead nowhere toward its reform or dismantling so long as it is considered a moral project. The conservative says no to the welfare state because the welfare state says no to the individual soul. The welfare state inverts morality by proclaiming the individuals exists as a means to others' ends. We object to the theory that the individual's free will doesn't matter so long as the collective will - in practice the state - deems otherwise.

If conservatism is only about politics then the Lockean social contract is appropriate as it recognizes the right to life and liberty for the individual and the need for a state to uphold those rights. But the conservative project is wider. Some conservatives speak of the state as needing to go beyond a defense of individual rights, beyond a "negative" role, so as to uphold the "public interest" or encourage "human flourishing." The error here is that the state is, at best, poorly equipped to pursue positive ends. Because it is an institution whose essential modus operandi is force it cannot pursue positive ends. You cannot encourage human flourishing by force. Force can only achieve the destruction or confinement of a negative. This does not mean that society should not encourage "human flourishing," that is indeed the whole purpose of society, but society's modus operandi is voluntary co-operation. The development of a society that encourage human flourishing is very much part of the conservative project.

These two approaches, of a minimal and reactive state and an expansive and interventionist society, will seem at cross purposes. Take an example where they seem very much to be so: the illicit drug trade. The minimalist state would have no place in limiting or controlling the trade of cocaine or heroin, beyond restraining or punishing force and its sister fraud. Society on the other hand cannot take such a view. While some currently illegal drugs are relatively harmless, even if indulged in over many years, some, such as cocaine, are not. Because such products are destructive to human life and well being their use is immoral. While the state may have no say if one individual or several millions choose to destroy their lives by such means, society cannot be so indifferent. The principle here maybe considered utilitarian by some but it also has a spiritual component as well: all human beings are potential benefits to each other, benefit here interpreted as widely as possible. To allow or tolerate human waste, when a positive alternative is reasonably possible, must be accounted an immorality.

This does not imply that we should all be our brothers keepers, such a moral policy is inherently contradictory and unfair. Why should the life of someone else be more valuable that yours? Or vice versa? Can you keep the life of someone uninterested in keeping it himself or herself? The parents reading this will probably be aghast at the idea that their lives are more important those of their children. Please note, however, that this "self sacrificial instinct" extends to your own children, not someone else's children. Still it is hard for most feeling and thinking men and women to not at least extend pity to the human waste and suffering of complete strangers. Human life is our primary value and its undermining seems to undermine something within us.

The essence of conservatism should be a belief in a soul (whether or not it is supernatural in origin), in a total rejection of mechanistic materialism, an acceptance of free will and a belief that behind all our political and moral endeavors is the goal of encouraging human life and well being. From this we argue that the state should defend only individual rights to life, liberty and property and that society should be the primary engine of individual betterment. This, however, is of course a broad stroke and does not by any means determine a specific course of action. The anti-abortionist and the pro-abortionist may both claim they are motivated by human life as their primary goal. They debate over when life begins. That a fetus is a child to one, and bits of protoplasm to another, seems obvious to each, but both may rightly claim to be both conservative and "pro-lifers." This example, though extreme, highlights that any broad philosophical movement will disagree on points of application.

Society for the conservative is centered around history, tradition and its intermediating institutions These three function as a skeletal structure of habit, belief and relationship ordering human experience, understanding and behaviour. History here is taken both as scholarly analysis of the past as well as popular myth. Scholarly analysis is essential as the study not only of human behaviour through out time, but also the specific events and people who have created the modern nation state. Myth differs from scholarship because myth is necessarily narrative, whereas scholarship seeks hypothesis and theory. Famously the American Myth is that the United States is a nation of freedom whose history is a series of heroic battles to establish and expand freedom. To describe this as a myth is not to question its accuracy but to be mindful that this description of American history is highly essentialized and stylized. Much of American history is contradictory toward this narrative. From slavery to the New Deal to the half-hearted responses to the current Islamist threat, the American leadership and the American people have betrayed their own ideals frequently, yet the overall theme is still valid: the steady, if halting, advance of freedom within America and beyond its borders through the agency of the Republic.

Tradition and institutions are mutually reinforcing pillars of society. They are contained within a national myth and history but are its living embodiments today, as well as evolved products of the past. Tradition is essential to a society because human beings are creatures of habit. The famous book title Seven Habits of Highly Successful People captures this essential truth on an individual level. While habits are often seen, and often are, empty ritual or absent-minded mannerism, at their best they are the consistent implementation of values. Tradition is a network of social habits engaged in by a whole society. While, as with the individual, many of these habits are accidental in origin and have little value, somewhat akin to "junk DNA," many more are vital to the functioning of a society. Institutions act as nodes within this network of habits, sustaining and being sustained. These institutions range from the basic building blocks of any society, the family, to universities, charitable associations, chambers of commerce and publicly traded companies.

We began with the nation and the assertion that it is a conservative institution, and that as Canadian conservatives we cannot "go to where we belong," because this is our country A nation is a conservative institution because it brings together state and society under one roof, because it is the end product of tradition and history. It is not an economic convenience, though some other institutions, such as corporations, are. It is also not an institution whose ultimate aim is the provision of social services. The argument that Canada's great value as a nation is that it is more socialistic than the United States, is not abhorrent simply because of the dubious value of socialist policies, but more importantly because the purpose of the nation state, as the unifier of society and state is broader than any particular set of government policies.

Canada is a conservative nation because truly no other nation is possible except a conservative one. There was a time when what I have outline and described as conservative values would have crossed party and philosophical lines, Left, Right and Center would have subscribed to these "conservative" values. What has taken place in the West since the end of the last great war is a repudiation of these values. We have seen in Europe than the replacement of the nation as an institution binding state and society, within the context of tradition, with the concept of a nation as a state which delivers social services. At one level this has resulted in the conflation of the state with society, to the detriment of liberty and well being. At another level it has destroyed the nation state as a point of loyalty. We have seen a retreat among parts of the European populations to tribalism on one hand while at the same time a growth in continentalism in the form of the EU. If all you want is free health care who delivers it is beside the point. For those seeking something else, a different sense of community, what is left but tribalism?

The nation at its best was unity without collectivism, an ideal it perhaps never completely achieved, but still an noble ideal and an improvement over tribalism. The nation state was born in Europe as the product of language and history. From this was born the possibility, achieved to a large extent in Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand, if far less so in Europe, of unity based on belief rather than the accidents of birth. In forsaking the nation we forsake the possibility of that ideal, being left with the alternatives of wards of a paternalistic state or minions of tribal chiefs. Canada, if it is to survive as a nation, must do so on conservative terms.

Kipling (Publius)

Originally Posted at The Gods of the Copybook Headings. The above is an abbreviation of the original post.


Theodore Harvey said...

I would think that the obvious answer of Canadian conservatives to the question of why they don't move to the United States would involve the monarchy.

Scott said...

And also because, unlike Britain, Canada is a country with a possible future and a present not so messed up as much of Europe: it is worth staying and fighting for.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

I would, however, raise the issue of Dr Johnson and his quote about Patriotism and Scoundrels. Nobody gets this right. Those words came out of a specific historical context in which 'patriotism' had a specific contextual meaning, i.e., American and Irish agitation against imperial integration. The 'Patriots' were those who were loyal to the particular part of the British world where they lived, and rejected loyalty to the wider institutions of Crown and Empire.

A Patriot, in the context of this quote, merely means the opposite of 'Loyalist' or 'Tory', as the Yankee jargon of the 1770s had it. Given that Canada was founded by Loyalists and not Patriots, in the sense that Dr Johnson intended, I would tend to eschew its use as a synonym for 'love of country'. Clearly, both the American Rebels of 1776 and United Empire Loyalists who founded Upper Canada in 1784 were actuated by love of country - they just defined that country differently.

Poor Johnson would, I think, be rather cross to know that everyone now assumes that his words, like those of the modern Left, mean that he was against love of country as a kind of fraud dreamed up by politicians to dupe the People. He knew better.


Unrepentant Jacobite said...

Well, this is one man sympathetic to the Right who rejects Smith and Ricardo, Locke, von Hayek and von Mises as traitors to a market economy and all that is good in the West.

Viva il Papa!
Long live Belloc and Chesterton!
Long live Distributism!