I prefer the word “Tory” to the word “conservative” as a description of my political worldview, despite the potential for confusion caused by the fact that this term is widely used as a nickname for members and supporters of the Conservative Party. The Tory worldview is built upon the timeless principle that royal authority and ecclesiastical authority share a divine vocation to co-operate for the common good, which principle can be seen as the basis of both Dr. Johnson’s definition of a Tory in the eighteenth century (1) and T. S. Eliot’s description of himself as “an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics”.
Conservative, on the other hand, is generally defined in opposition to liberalism. Liberalism is a progressive ideology, that is to say, it is built upon a linear view of history that sees humanity as constantly moving towards a better world. Thus, its content is perpetually changing, if not its basic secular, rationalistic, presuppositions. This means that the meaning of conservatism is perpetually changing as well, usually to incorporate a defence of last year’s discarded liberalism against that of the present day.
It has become customary to identify the set of terms liberal and conservative with that of left and right. When the latter set of terms entered the discussion of politics each had a clear, well-defined, meaning and it made sense to regard the right as being essentially synonymous with the Tories. The political usage of left and right began in 1789 with the French Revolution. Supporters of the House of Bourbon, the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, the nobility, and the Ancien Régime gathered on the right side of the chairman of the National Assembly whereas the supporters of the Revolution amassed on the left side. By the twentieth century, the terms left and right had come to be seen as the two poles defining the entire spectrum of political thought, but it was no longer clear what constituted each of the poles. There were several attempts to define left and right. One of these, which attained a certain degree of influence, especially in North America, saw the spectrum in terms of individualism versus collectivism, defining the right as the individualist position and the left as the collectivist position.
Any attempt to reduce the political spectrum to something that simplistic is bound to generate confusion. In this case, the right-individualist versus left-collectivist spectrum was thought up by men who were liberals in the nineteenth century sense of the word and therefore individualists, after liberalism, at least in North America, had moved away from individualism and towards a form of collectivism. The new collectivist liberalism was equated with the left, by the older kind of liberals who equated their own position with the right and conservatism.
So where does the Tory fit on the individualist-collectivist spectrum?
It is not easy to answer this question because the Tory is both an individualist and a collectivist. He is not, however, an individualist in the same sense that a nineteenth century liberal was, nor is he a collectivist in the way a twentieth century left-liberal is. In a future essay I intend to explain the difference between Tory collectivism and left-liberal collectivism. For the remainder of this essay we will look at the difference between Tory individualism and classical liberal individualism.
In the classical liberalism of John Locke and J. S. Mill, the individual is prior to society. To be an individual, in this view, is the natural state of man, whereas society is an artificial construction, created by the mutual voluntary assent of individuals, in order to better secure their rights and liberties.
Now a moment’s reflection is all it takes to realize that this is utter poppycock. What classical liberalism asserts of the individual, cannot be said to be true of any actual individual. I live in the Dominion of Canada, a country that just celebrated its 148th birthday. I am not over 148 years old, nor do I know of any other Canadian who is that old. Canada is older than any individual who lives in it. Her existence is clearly prior to that of any individual who lives within her borders. Even if this were a much younger country, however, it would still not be true that our individual existence predates our social existence, because each of us is born into a family, which is a unit of social organization, albeit on a much smaller scale than that of a country. We do not choose the family we are born into, nor do we choose the country we are born into, although people, as they grow older, affiliate themselves with other families through marriage and may choose another country in which to live.
Since what classical liberalism asserts about the individual is observably not true about any actual person, the individual of whom liberalism predicates priority before society, must be a generic figure who exists only in the abstract. Indeed, everything that liberalism asserts about the individual, such as his possession of certain inalienable natural rights and his sovereign ownership of his self, is asserted of the individual in such a way as, if true, to be true, not just of specific individuals, but of every individual equally. What this tells us is that in classical liberalism, individuality is defined by what makes us all alike. (2)
This, however, is a serious flaw in liberal thought. For in normal conversation, when we speak of actual individuals, of Bob, Walter, June and Sally, their individuality, that which makes them individuals, is not that which makes them alike but that which makes them stand out from others. In liberal theory individuals are equal, but it is uniqueness rather than equality that is the mark of true individuality.
That which makes a person unique, which sets him apart from others, may be good or it may be bad. That which sets Louis Pasteur apart from others, makes him stand out and be memorable, are the ways in which he benefitted mankind through his discoveries. Pol Pot was also a very distinct individual, but it is his evil for which he will be remembered.
The Tory is an individualist, but his individualism concerns actual individuals, and not the abstract, generic, concept of the individual. These are real men and women, embodied souls, created in the image of God but marred by sin, thus possessing much potential for both good and evil. Their individuality is not a shared trait, but is different for each person, because it is the nature of individuality to make a person stand out as distinct and unique, whether for better or for worse. The Tory does not see individuals as being prior to their families, communities, and societies, but rather sees their families, communities, and societies as providing the necessary pre-existing context within which their individuality develops. The Tory believes in both the common good and freedom for individuals, but neither at the expense of the other. Whereas the classical liberal believes the individual to have possessed absolute freedom in a fictitious, pre-society, “state of nature”, the Tory recognizes that society is the state of nature for human individuals and that it is only in the context of a stable, societal, order that they can have and experience any real freedom.
(1) “One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.” (Whig was defined as “The name of a faction”).
(2) By making “individual” into a generic, defined by that which can be said about each “individual” equally, liberalism has created a false universal. Universals are general concepts of which we encounter particular examples. For example, the idea “tree” is a universal, of which the elms, oaks, maples, and poplars we see in our neighborhood are particulars. “Man” is a universal, as is “woman”, but “individual” is a designation of particular men and women. Liberalism’s individual, ascribes to a term of particularity, the characteristics of a universal. That liberalism would blur the distinction between particular and universal is unsurprising in light of the fact that liberalism is the philosophical great- great-great-grandchild of nominalism, the fourteenth century movement that rejected the classical concept of universals, whether as Plato’s Forms existing in another realm of which this world is a copy, or Aristotle’s Ideas found embodied in their particulars in this realm, and asserted that universals are merely projections of our own mind and will upon the reality around us, that help us to make sense of it.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Sex Trouble: Essays on Radical Feminism and the War Against Human Nature, by Robert Stacy McCain, Createspace, 2015, pp. 118, $16.37 CDN
Sexual Utopia In Power, by F. Roger Devlin, San Francisco, Counter-Currents Publishing Ltd., 2015, pp. 176, $25.32 CDN
Almost a decade ago I realized that if I wished to effectively and intelligently oppose feminism that I would need to read what the leading feminists had to say for themselves, their ideology, and their movement. I therefore devoted several months to reading the texts of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolfe, Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller, and several other feminist luminaries. It was an enlightening experience, in one sense of the word, but also a dark and disturbing one, and one that I would not wish upon anyone else. I therefore see a great need for good books, written by those who have done this kind of research, so that others can be spared that sort of agony.
Robert Stacy McCain’s Sex Trouble is one such book. In his introduction he tells us that he has not yet completed the research project that produced this book and that it is therefore a preview of a larger book yet to come. I look forward to the final product but in the meantime what he has published is a penetrating look at the ideology beneath radical feminism and how completely out of sync with human nature it really is despite the astonishing amount of influence and power this totalitarian movement holds, especially on college and university campuses.
There are many women who consider themselves to be feminists, who identify feminism with the idea that women should be treated fairly, and who reason that because they are not angry lesbians who hate all men that those who are belong to a radical fringe and are not representative of the feminist movement. Addressing this naivety, McCain demonstrates that the kind of feminists he is talking about are the ones who created and shaped the movement, whose books are the texts taught in “Women’s Studies” courses in universities, and the sources cited in feminist journals. These feminists consider heterosexuality itself to be a form of oppression imposed upon women by the evil male power structure they call the patriarchy. Having so politicized their personal problems with men as to be able to hold such a ridiculous belief, they seem oblivious to the fact that it conflicts with the reality that our species relies upon heterosexuality to survive. From this starting point, these feminists interpret expressions of male heterosexuality as sexual harassment at best and rape at worst, and see lesbianism as the true expression of female sexuality.
One of the chapters in this book, apart from an introductory and concluding paragraph, consists entirely of quotes from major feminist leaders such as Kate Millett, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Frye, Monique Wittig, and Judith Butler as to how the family is an institution of patriarchal oppression, rape is an instrument whereby men collectively wage terrorism against women, and heterosexuality is an oppressive system into which women are coerced. To be able to accept such ideas, of course, one’s mind must be seriously damaged or diseased, and we are given details in several places throughout Sex Trouble about Kate Millett’s public breakdown and her family’s attempts to have her committed, Shulamith Firestone’s schizophrenia, and the similar psychological problems of several other feminist leaders.
The fruit of these ideas can be very creepy. In one essay McCain discusses feminists who wish to introduce gender studies classes into public high schools, quoting one who tweeted her enthusiasm for a study encouraging early sex education while elsewhere testifying as to how Women’s Studies recruited her into lesbianism. In a kind of twisted irony, in the next essay he tells us about a paper by Karin Martin and Emily Kazyak condemning G-rated children’s movies for instilling heterosexuality in children.
McCain does an excellent job of informing us about the lunacy of the Rita Mae Brown style lesbian feminism that reigns supreme in academia today. F. Roger Devlin’s Sexual Utopia in Power is more about the Helen Gurley Brown type of feminism which may very well be the more dangerous type. In this collection of essays that had previously been published in such venues as The Occidental Quarterly, The Last Ditch, and American Renaissance, Devlin starts from the basic biological premise that because the female is the sex that produces larger gametes in smaller numbers and the male is the sex that produces smaller gametes in larger numbers and more frequently, “women are the limiting factor in human reproduction”, which means that they have more natural power in the mating process. “The universal law of nature is that males display and females choose”. From this he introduces the concept of the sexual utopia, the hypothetical ideal fantasy for either sex. For a man this involves being able to have any woman he wants with ease rather than having to put so much effort into impressing the girl enough to be chosen. For a woman, however, her sexual utopia is to find the perfect man and have him exclusively to herself.
Devlin is a traditionalist who believes in monogamous marriage and the patriarchal family. He takes issue, however, with many – perhaps most – traditionalists, who would place the blame for the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the traditional family solely upon men and their attempt to fulfil the male sexual utopia. This, he argues, ironically draws these traditionalists into affinity with the feminists who, of course, always blame men for everything. He argues that in actuality, it is the women, who hold the power when it comes to mating, and their attempt to achieve the female sexual utopia, who are the most guilty. Indeed, against the widely held idea that marriage exists to keep men in line and protect women from the predatory aspects of male nature, he argues that marriage exists at least as much to protect men from the negative side of female nature.
If it is nature's way that women do the choosing, they will seek to choose the best mate possible. Monogamy helps to ensure that mates will be available to most men by preventing women from congregating in harems around the few men at the top of the hierarchy of sexual desirability. When monogamy breaks down, Devlin argues, the latter happens, and the so-called "sexual harassment" that feminists complain about, usually consists of nothing more than normal expressions of sexual interest on the part of lower status men. Furthermore, since no real man can live up to the ideal of the perfect man that women concoct for themselves, they are easily disillusioned and dissatisfied. They translate their disillusionment into accusations of heinous wrongdoing against their men when they want out of a relationship, which judging from the statistics Devlin points to as to the extremely high percentage of divorces initiated by women, is quite often, giving the lie to the commonly held notion that women are naturally faithful and monogamous. They are aided and abetted by a legal system that is slanted in their favour, which evicts men from their homes and the lives of their children without a hearing upon the mere say-so of a woman. Since it is hardwired into female nature to be attracted to men with more wealth, power, and status than themselves, the fact that women have property and careers of their own only makes the problem worse because it raises the bar for men who are treated with scorn and contempt if they fail to make the grade.
In reading Devlin’s book I was constantly reminded of Dr. Johnson’s remark that “nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little” and Stephen Leacock’s “women need not more freedom but less.”
The feminism that is at work in all of this is not so much the recruiting lesbianism of university campuses that McCain discusses, but the heterosexual feminism of Cosmopolitan. This feminism promises women “you can have it all”, i.e., a glamorous career, the man of your dreams, whatever you want, encouraging them to dream impossible dreams and to dump men the moment they fail to make these dreams come true. It is only aided, in its work of divorcing women from reality and responsibility, Devlin tells us, by that expression of the male protective instinct in which men shoulder all the blame for female wrongdoing themselves, while placing woman up on a pedestal as a model of virtue, seemingly untouched by Original Sin.
If you are seeking eye-opening information about the powerful phenomenon of our times that is feminism but do not wish to open your soul to the spiritual darkness found on every page of feminist writings, then these two books will be of benefit to you.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Like many people of my generation the first time I remember seeing the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly, if somewhat inaccurately, known as the Confederate flag or the rebel flag, was on television. It was painted on the roof of a 1969 Dodge Charger known as the General Lee that was arguably the real star of the show The Dukes of Hazzard in which it was driven by cousins Bo and Luke Duke as they foiled the schemes of Hazzard County’s Boss Hogg and easily evaded capture by Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.
This show aired when I was very young and at the time I had no clue that the car’s roof, name, and distinctive horn tune were all allusions to the bloody war the American states fought between themselves from 1861 to 1865. When I later learned about this war my sympathies were immediately and instinctively drawn to the side of the South. Where did that instinct come from? From watching The Dukes of Hazzard? From growing up listening to country and western music, including such songs as Johnny Horton’s “Johnny Reb”, Hank Williams Jr.’s “If the South Woulda Won (We’d Have Had It Made)”, Alabama’s “Song of the South”, and Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”?
I ask this question, not out of some sort of naval-gazing, introspective, obsession, but because I have frequently had it asked of me by Americans when I have ventured to express an opinion about the war. It always seems to strike the Yanks as strange that a Canadian would sympathize with old Dixie. The follow-up question when I am talking to an American who is informed about Canada is usually about whether I think Quebec should be allowed to separate from Canada. The assumption behind this question is that it is hypocritical to support the right of secession for one group of people in one time and place and not for another group of people in another time and place. This, however, elevates the question of the right of secession to the level of a universal moral principle which it is not.
I am a Canadian Tory who believes firmly in the Loyalist tradition and heritage of my country. It would be remarkably inconsistent with that viewpoint to accept that the Thirteen Colonies had the right to secede from the British Empire in 1776. Needless to say, I accept no such thing. King George III was a good king and not the tyrant of Yankee propaganda. The Colonies, despite the lofty classical liberal language in which they worded it, declared their independence for reasons that were petty at best. They objected to the Tea Act of 1773 – which actually lowered taxes and the colonial price of tea – and the Quebec Act of 1774 guaranteeing the French Canadians their right to freely practice Roman Catholicism, which, in Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s words “by a curious twist of reasoning was considered a major menace to freedom” (1).
However petty their reasons for secession, that they had won their independence in war was acknowledged in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and having secured that independence they preceded to establish their federal union. The union they established was, like the Dominion of Canada that would be established in 1867, a confederation. The difference between the two, was not merely that the American confederation had a republican government and the Dominion of Canada a parliamentary monarchy. Canada was established as a confederation of provinces, the United States as exactly what its name suggests, a confederation of states. States, unlike provinces, are sovereign. The Thirteen Colonies, having secured in 1783 the independence they declared in 1776, became states, i.e., sovereign political entities, and while there was no point in history between their being colonies of the British empire and their being joined in union with the other states, by their constitutional theory their existence as sovereign states was logically prior, albeit not chronologically prior, to that of their union. In a confederation of sovereign states, the members generally have the right to secede, and the American constitution implicitly acknowledges this right in its Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Several of the American states explicitly reserved this right for themselves in their acts ratifying the American Constitution, the right was widely acknowledged by America’s Founding Fathers, and indeed in the disputes about slavery in the nineteenth century, the Northern states at one point threatened to secede. My point, in all of this, is that in 1860-1861, when the Southern states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, they were exercising a right that was established and acknowledged in the framework of the constitution from which they were seceding, which was not the case for the original colonies when they declared their independence in 1776.
In other words there is no hypocrisy or double standard on my part in saying that the secession of the Thirteen Colonies was an unjustified and illegal revolution on the one hand and saying that the South was within its constitutional rights in seceding on the other. The hypocrites are those who celebrate the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence but who deny that the Southern states had the right to secede.
There is, of course, a long tradition in my country of sympathy for the South. Our own Confederation – note the similarity in the term used for the union of the provinces of British North America into the Dominion of Canada to that chosen by the Southern states after secession – occurred in 1867, two years after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The triumph of the North in the American internecine war was the catalyst for the Confederation of Canada. Only five decades previously the United States had failed in an attempt to conquer British North America, they had declared their “Manifest Destiny” to rule all of North America, and now, the side that Britain and its North American provinces had openly sympathized with, had lost. Confederation was considered a prudent move to ward off another invasion by Yankees drunk with their own victory over their Southern brethren.
The widespread Canadian sympathy for the South in the 1860s is downplayed by the historians who like to play up our role as the destination point for the Underground Railroad but it was not just fleeing slaves who found refuge here – Jefferson Davis and his family fled to Montreal in 1865 and he found sanctuary in Canada until he received amnesty from the American government in 1868. Twelve years ago, Toronto Star editor Adam Mayers put out a historical monograph on the Confederate agents who had come to Canada in 1864 and in the last year of the war attempted raids and early forms of covert operations against the North from bases within Canadian territory, how they found the Canadian populace largely sympathetic to their side, and how all of this became the historical context in which Canada’s own Confederation was framed. (2)
As slavery and the slave trade had been abolished already in the British Empire by this time and Canada had been the destination point for the Underground Railroad, clearly the sympathy to the South on the part of British and British North American governments and the general Canadian populace could not have been due to sympathy to slavery. The reasons for that sympathy are suggested by Mazo de la Roche in her novel Morning at Jalna, which presents a fictional version of the events Mayers wrote about. Mazo de la Roche was an old-fashioned, “more British than the British”, Canadian Tory of Loyalist stock, whose “Whiteoaks of Jalna” series portrays a romanticized version of British Canada, in which the Whiteoak family represent British culture and society attempting to survive in North America in the face of modernizing forces coming from south of the border.
The author’s own sympathy for the Confederate cause is quite apparent and, indeed, can hardly be exaggerated when we consider the period in which the book was written. Morning at Jalna is the second in the series in terms of internal chronology, being set in 1863, but the last in the series to be written and published. It came out in 1960, a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln was elected and the Southern states began to secede, in the middle of the Second Reconstruction period, in which the Southern states were raising the rebel flag again in defiance of a hostile American government that was threatening to racially integrate the South by armed force if necessary, in the wake of the American Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. At this time, when the South was coming under attack in the media across North America and Europe, de la Roche wrote her novel in which ten years after Captain Philip and Adeline Whiteoak settled their estate in Ontario, they invite their friends Curtis and Lucy Sinclair to visit them at their manor Jalna. The Sinclairs are plantation owners from somewhere in the South, and they arrive with a full entourage of loyal and happy slaves. Curtis Sinclair turns out to be in the service of the Confederacy, and he obtains permission from Captain Whiteoak to meet with other Confederate agents at Jalna. While Captain Whiteoak is not fully informed about the agenda of these meetings he is nevertheless happy to assist the Confederate cause in some way and his wife, a younger version of the feisty grandmother who features in most of the series, is chomping at the bit to get revenge on the evil Lincoln and his gang. The Whiteoaks do not believe in slavery, but their sympathies lie entirely with the South both because it is being overrun by Yankee plunderers, rapists, and murderers and because they respect its hierarchical, chivalrous, and highly cultured and aristocratic civilization.
The reasons the Whiteoaks give for their sympathy with the South are undoubtedly de la Roche’s own reasons for such sentiments and they for the most part coincide with mine. I do not accept the idea that the question of slavery trumps all other considerations. The fact that this idea is so widespread in the present day shows just how ridiculous we have become. The United States invaded the Confederate States of America, overpowered that rural, agrarian, society with their modern, well-supplied and technologically advanced forces, and laid waste to their farms and towns with scorched earth tactics, and we are supposed to accept that they were in the right because they wanted to free the slaves who for the most part had been sold to the South by Northern slavetraders in the first place? Nonsense.
The Christianity that had formed and shaped the culture of the states below the Mason-Dixon line was a better form of Christianity than that which had formed the culture of the Northeast. Puritanism, a fanatical form of non-conformist, Calvinist, Protestantism that had banned Christmas and Easter, closed theatres, outlawed games and other amusements on Sunday afternoons, and otherwise tried to make life miserable for everyone, during the brief period in which they had been allowed to govern England, was the religion of the Yankee. Its adherence to the orthodox doctrines of Nicene Christianity had atrophied by the nineteenth century, but the ugly Pharisaic and Philistine spirit of Puritanism still lived on and can be detected in every word of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in which the Yankees announced the imminence of the pouring out of the grapes of God’s wrath on the slaveowning South by their own self-righteous hands. By contrast the South, whose Christianity was more traditional and orthodox, in “Dixie” sang of their love for the land that was their home, and that they were fighting to protect.
Today, the heirs of that ugly, Puritan, spirit have capitalized on the fact that Dylann Roof, the young lunatic who shot up a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, had posed with the Confederate flag, to demand that the flag be removed from Southern state capitols and from graveyards where men who fought under that flag are buried. They have demanded that retailers stop selling it and are harassing people who choose to display it on their vehicles. There have been demands that monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate leaders be pulled down and that streets and building named after them be renamed. There have even been calls to ban Gone With The Wind and reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard have been yanked off television.
Well this Canadian, like those of the 1860s, wishes the South well, and hopes that they will recover enough of the spirit of their ancestors to raise the rebel flag once more, and tell these self-righteous, sanctimonious, neo-Puritan, busybodies where they can shove it.
(1) Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot (Washington D. C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990), p. 51.
(2) Adam Mayers, Dixie & the Dominion: Canada, The Confederacy, and the War for the Union, (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003).
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
The modern era is the age of progress. “The doctrine of progress is…an open-ended progression in which men will be endlessly free to make the world as they want it”. “The United States is the spearhead of progress”. “The pinnacle of political striving”, in the modern age of progress, is “the universal and homogeneous state”. “This state will be achieved by means of modern science—a science that leads to the conquest of nature”.
These ideas and quotations are taken from George Grant’s Lament For a Nation, (1) which first saw print fifty years ago, but they could as easily have come from his earlier Philosophy in the Mass Age, his last book Technology and Justice, or any of his other writings in between, for this theme, that we live in an age in which man, rejecting the limits imposed upon him by tradition and the eternal unchanging order that men of previous eras believed in, is, through the new science of technology, asserting both his freedom and his rule over himself and nature, was never far from his thoughts. Nor was his scepticism towards the idea of progress.
That we are advancing towards the “universal and homogeneous state”, is a matter upon which both Karl Marx and American political scientist Francis Fukuyama would agree with Grant. Marx and Fukuyama would further agree, despite the radical difference in their visions of what that universal state will look like, that it will be something desirable, something good. Grant, however, sceptically reminds us that “the classical philosophers asserted that a universal and homogeneous state would be a tyranny”. While he does not authoritatively assert that this is so, by taking the position of Socrates and declaring “I do not know the truth about these ultimate matters”, he gives a clear indication of his preference for classical philosophy, the wisdom of the ancients, over modern thought. Modern, progressive, thought, whether that of Marx or that of Fukuyama, asserts that the universal, homogeneous state will be good, because it sees it as being inevitable and necessary, and to modern thought necessity and goodness are one and the same.
This identification of goodness and necessity is a basic assumption underlying the concept of progress. Grant begins the seventh and final chapter of Lament with a rejection of this assumption arising out of a philosophical conservatism rooted in classical philosophy and his Christian faith.
Grant’s conservatism was political as well as philosophical and Lament was the most political of his books. A Canadian patriot, he was a conservative in the classical tradition of Richard Hooker, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson and the mature Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This conservatism, predicated on the conviction that above all human arrangements there is an unchanging, transcendent, order established by the eternal God, is a belief in earthly order, grounded in tradition, and manifested in institutions, especially ones such as monarchy and the Church which predate the modern age. In the context of Canada this has historically meant an emphasis upon our country’s Britishness and our relationship to Great Britain, first in the empire then in the Commonwealth, and a resistance to Americanization. This was Grant’s conservatism, as it is mine.
The subject and subtitle of Lament For a Nation is “The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism”. There has been more than one idea to go by the name of Canadian nationalism and it is important, if we wish to understand Grant’s book, that we do not mistake which of these he was talking about.
That a classical conservative at odds with the modern age would lament the defeat of a nationalism seems paradoxical. While Tories have always been patriots, as patriotism, the love of country, has been recognized as a virtue since ancient times, they have historically been suspicious of nationalism. Nationalism, after all, is a product of the modern age which was generally regarded, in the century of its birth, the nineteenth, as a liberal or radical phenomenon. The specific conservative objection to nationalism was that it demanded that loyalty to the nation-state take priority over all other loyalties, no matter how ancient, whether loyalty to the king and the church, the family and the community, or even, it seemed, to God Himself and was an instrument of demagogues for stirring up hostility towards other nations and therefore wars.
The Canadian nationalism of which Grant wrote, bore little resemblance to this kind of nationalism, otherwise it would have held little attraction to him, yet nationalism seems nonetheless, to be the appropriate word for it as it was more than just the heartfelt attachment to country that is patriotism. It was the effort to keep Canada, a country that shares the same continent as the United States, from being dominated culturally, politically, and economically, by the dynamic power to her south. Even by this definition, however, there was more than one “Canadian nationalism” and the failure to distinguish between these has led to many a misunderstanding of Grant.
Professor Ron Dart, in his recently published reflections upon Lament, (2) observes that “The New Left thought Grant’s form of nationalist Toryism had many an affinity with their agenda”. After a brief discussion of Gad Horowitz’s coining of the expression “Red Toryism”, Grant’s dialogue with Horowitz, suspicions of the label “Red Tory”, and doubts about the secular Left, Dart concludes that Grant “was, in most ways, a High Tory which most in the New Left lacked the historical depth to comprehend”. I agree and would add that they did not comprehend his nationalism either.
Fifty years ago, when Grant’s book was first published, the Liberal Party of Canada had draped itself in the banner of “Canadian nationalism”. This “Canadian nationalism”, however, was an effort to forge a new Canadian identity by throwing Canada’s British traditions and institutions overboard. In the fourth chapter of Lament, Grant considers the Liberals, the “political instrument” of the Canadian establishment, and concludes that it is “absurd to argue that the Liberals have been successful nationalists”. In his second chapter, speaking of an earlier manifestation of the kind of “Canadian nationalism” the Liberal establishment was espousing at the time he wrote Lament, Grant remarks “It is well to remember that the anti-British nationalists of English-speaking Canada in the 1930’s have nearly all shown the emptiness of their early protestations by becoming consistent continentalists later on”. The “Canadian nationalism” of the New Left has largely been of this anti-British type indicating that Grant’s New Left admirers could not have read him that closely.
The book Freedom Wears a Crown (3) had been published eight years previously to Lament. Edited posthumously from the manuscript prepared by its author, John Farthing, Freedom defends Canada’s British traditions, especially our parliamentary monarchy, and lambastes the new nationalism. He calls it “the usurping fallacy” and in the chapter by that title writes that “A very real distinction exists between our present pure-Canada nationalism and a true Canadian nationhood”, the distinction being that the former rejects Canada’s Britishness as being alien to the country, whereas the latter sees the British tradition as being essential to Canadian nationhood. It is significant, that Grant dedicated Lament to two patriots of British Canada, one of which, Toronto journalist Judith Robinson, was the editor of Freedom Wears a Crown.
In Grant’s Lament, the British tradition is as essential to true Canadian nationhood as it is in Farthing’s Freedom. Only by giving the book the most superficial of readings could someone fail to pick up on that. In explaining the defeat of Canadian nationalism Grant points to the facts that the liberalism upon which the American system was built also had its origins in the British tradition and that by middle of the twentieth century Britain herself had come into the orbit of the United States as reasons why that defeat was inevitable. One reading Grant superficially might interpret this as laying the blame for the defeat on Canada’s Britishness if one fails to note that Grant also gives that British tradition, which still retained pre-American Revolution and pre-modern elements, despite its permeation by modern liberalism, as the very reason the project of Canadian nationalism was worthwhile in the first place, and hence worthy of lamentation in its defeat.
There are two threads of thought regarding British Canada that are interwoven throughout the book. In one, the British tradition is a means to the end of Canadian independence from America, which independence stands in the way of the universal homogeneous state. In this thread, the goodness of Canadian independence rests upon the universal homogeneous state being tyrannical rather than good. This thread terminates in the uncertainty of the final chapter, in which, the distinction between goodness and necessity having been drawn, the question of the goodness of the coming universal homogenous state is left open. Grant is doubtful, and has good reasons to doubt that are founded upon the wisdom of the ancients, but since he cannot with certainty proclaim the universal homogeneous state to be bad, he writes:
My lament is not based upon philosophy but on tradition. If one cannot be sure about the answer to the most important question, then tradition is the best basis for the practical life. Those who loved the older traditions of Canada may be allowed to lament what has been lost, even though they do not know whether or not that loss will lead to some greater political good.
This is the other thread, in which the older traditions of Canada, are loved because they are good in themselves, and the independence of Canada is good because it serves those traditions.
The early chapters of Lament explain why Grant felt that Canadian nationalism had been defeated. The Kennedy administration in the United States wanted the NORAD Bomarc missiles in Canada to be armed with nuclear warheads. The Conservative government of John Diefenbaker said no, on the grounds that Washington should not be allowed to dictate policy to Canada. The Diefenbaker government was then brought down when the Liberals and NDP united against the government in a confidence vote in the House. This demonstrated both that the Americans could bring down a Canadian government that opposed their wishes and that Canada’s elite classes had turned against the idea of a sovereign Canada and set their will towards continental unity.
Grant defends Diefenbaker as a man of patriotic principle against attacks on his character while criticizing what he saw as weaknesses in the Diefenbaker government that undermined their own position, foremost among these being their reliance upon the business class. These criticisms do not imply that had the Diefenbaker government not made these mistakes their defeat could have been avoided. The only alternative courses to becoming a client state of the United States, he argued, were Castroism, a left-wing nationalism that would “establish a rigorous socialist state that turns to the Communist empire for support”, and Gaullism, a right-wing nationalism that would “harness the nationalist spirit to technological planning” and “insist internationally that there are limits to the western ‘alliance’”. Although his preference is clearly for Gaullism, of which he says Sir John A. MacDonald’s “National Policy” was an early form, he argues that neither option was actually available to Canada in the 1960s.
He begins his fifth chapter, however, by asserting that the actions of politicians and businessmen “cannot alone account for Canada’s collapse” and that it “stems from the very character of the modern era”. This launches him into a discussion of the nature of the modern era of progress and the “universal and homogeneous state” the striving towards which “gives content to the rhetoric of both Communists and capitalists” in which he defends his assertion that the United States is “the heart of modernity” and “the spearhead of progress” against the denials of Marxists and American conservatives. Here his reasoning is at both its strongest and its weakest.
The Marxists maintain that the United States is a reactionary rather than a progressive force. This is the logical conclusion of their view of history. Their basic mistake, Grant argues, is to misunderstand the nature of progress. It is not, he says, “the perfectibility of man”, but “an open-ended progression in which men will be endlessly free to make the world as they want it”. Fifty years after Grant wrote this, in a day in which men declare themselves to be women and instead of considering them to be crazy we attempt to reshape reality to fit their delusion, it is apparent that Grant understood far better than Marx where the modern age was headed and what progress looks like in practice.
American conservatives, on the other hand, regard their country as “the chief guardian of Western values” because it retains “certain traditional values that have been lost in Communist societies”. Their argument is based on an interpretation of the history of modern political philosophy – an interpretation that Grant accepts, it should be noted - that separates it into two waves, the first including such thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, and Hume, and the second beginning with Rousseau and including Kant, Hegel, and, of course, Marx. The second wave was much more revolutionary than the first which still retained something of an understanding of human nature, so, the American conservative argument goes, the United States, which was founded on the thinking of the first wave, “should be called a conservative force” and “must be accepted as the guardian of Western values against the perversions of Western revolutionary thought as they have spread into the East”.
Grant’s answer to this is to acknowledge the truth in the argument since American “society does preserve constitutional government and respect for the legal rights of individuals in a way that the eastern tyrannies do not”, but to argue that these traditions are “no longer the heart of American civilization” and that they “become more residual every year.” Such “older aspects of the Western tradition” as “the Church, constitutional government, classical and philosophical studies” are becoming “more like museum pieces, mere survivals on the periphery”. This too, seems to be much more evident in our own day than it was fifty years ago.
Grant contrasts American conservatism with the conservatism of Britain and Canada, noting correctly that American conservatives are actually “old-fashioned liberals” and that the Tory Loyalists who founded English Canada “were Anglicans and knew well that in opposing the revolution they were opposing Locke” and who “appealed to the older political philosophy of Richard Hooker.” “Traditional conservatism”, he writes, “asserts the right of the community to restrain freedom in the name of the common good”. As true as this is, the greatest weakness that I see in Grant’s reasoning in this book, is that he can come across as reducing traditional conservatism to little more than this assertion, which does not exactly make it sound appealing. Traditional conservatism was not based upon the idea that freedom is something bad, dangerous, and scary, and Grant, who in his later book English Speaking Justice says that freedom is good and that anyone who thinks otherwise is a nut did not think that it was, but this is not as clear as it should be in Lament.
Conservatism and liberalism have different understandings of the nature of freedom as a good. It is not enough to point out the flaws in liberalism’s understanding of freedom, the conservative needs to explain his own. King Charles I in his final speech before his martyrdom did just this when he said: “for the people and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and their freedom consists in having of Government; those laws, by which their life and their goods may be most of their own.” Roger Scruton, in his The Meaning of Conservatism, written on the eve of the Thatcher/Reagan era, explained that conservatism was not about freedom itself but about the order, traditions, and institutions that generate the context in which freedom is possible. George Grant tells us in Lament that liberalism sees freedom as being the essence of man and the emancipation of his passions but he does not tell us where the good that is freedom fits into the conservative order. Indeed, at times he seems to go out of his way to avoid doing so, such as when in discussing the possibility that the universal state will be a tyranny, as the ancients thought, he defines tyranny as “a society destructive of human excellence”, which is not a wrong definition, per se, but one that noticeably avoids the concepts of usurped power and stolen liberty that ordinarily define the term.
This is not the only noticably singular definition to appear in the book. “Yet what is socialism”, Grant asks, “if it is not the use of the government to restrain greed in the name of social good?” That is a question that would have sounded very strange to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the nineteenth century socialist who is credited as being the father of anarchism, i.e., the rejection of the legitimate authority of government. Ordinarily socialism is defined as the idea that the means of production should be collectively owned by the public rather than privately owned. Grant, however, is making an argument that socialism is “appealing to the conservative idea of social order against the liberal idea of freedom” and the rejection of private ownership, while it might appeal to some idea of social order, certainly does not appeal to a conservative one. Just as there is a conservative idea of freedom as well as a liberal one so there are ideas of social order that are not conservative.
Grant’s determination to present a conservative side to socialism, even though Marxists and socialists regard themselves as progressive, would seem to be behind his reluctance to acknowledge a conservative idea of freedom and non-conservative concepts of order. The evils in capitalism were clear to Grant. The pursuit of the economic integration of the North American continent on the part of corporate capitalists was the biggest threat to Canadian cultural and political independence. Capitalism was the instrument of progress, the system that most effectively accomplished technological change, obliterating traditions and what was left of the classical concepts of social order and the common good, in the process. Grant’s indictment of corporate capitalism rings true, for the most part, especially today, fifty years later where in virtually every cultural battle the large corporations can be found lined up against tradition, religion, and morality.
The evils of capitalism do not prove socialism to be good, however, nor does showing capitalism to be progressive thereby prove socialism to be conservative. The idea that rejecting capitalism means embracing socialism to some degree or another reflects the assumptions that capitalism and socialism are the only possibilities and that they are polar opposites of each other. These assumptions were widely held in the Cold War era in which Lament was written but have since been discredited by history. With the end of the arms race, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the break-up of the Soviet Union, American capitalism was triumphant and socialist parties around the world from Tony Blair’s New Labour to the Communist Party of Red China began to accept neo-liberal market economics. If socialists were now adopting the market policies of their conqueror, capitalism, that capitalism had already adopted most of the policies of socialism. It has been noted that the ten measures advocated by Marx and Engels in the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto, such as “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax” and the “centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly” have almost all been implemented in the United States and the other Western democracies. Dr. Tomislav Sunic has remarked that “Some European authors observed that communism died in the East because it had already been implemented in the West” (4) Capitalism and socialism have clearly converged and, I would argue, that this indicates they were never truly polar opposites to begin with, but two sides to the same coin.
Grant was not oblivious to the fact of this convergence. Note that he rests his case that the United Sates is “a dynamic empire spearheading the age of progress” on the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential election. Goldwater, who stood for the older small town, small business version of American liberal capitalism, with the backing of the besieged regional culture in the South, was defeated, Grant argued, by the same forces that defeated Diefenbaker in 1963, the capitalist corporations behind the new liberalism of Kennedy and Johnson. The newer liberalism of Kennedy and Johnson, incorporated a much greater degree of socialism into its capitalism than the older classical liberalism of Goldwater, and it was this newer liberalism that had the corporate power behind it.
Today, this corporate-backed synthesis of capitalism and socialism is, even more so than it was fifty years ago, the dominant power in the world, and the extent to which it has rolled over local cultures, ancient traditions, and venerable institutions in Canada and the United States alike is much more advanced than it was then. Some might say that this makes Grant’s book irrelevant and out-of-date. I would suggest, however, that it is even more reason for us to contemplate the distinction he makes between what is necessary in the sense of being unavoidable due to the forces of history and what is good, to question the assumed goodness of the dynamic changes going on all around us, and to look back to the classical pre-modern, ideas that Grant loved and which were embodied in the older traditions of our country, to find a truer vision of goodness.
Happy Dominion Day!
God save the Queen!
(1) George Parkin Grant, Lament For a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, (Toronto: Carleton University Press, 1965, 1978, 1989).
(2) Ron Dart, Lament For a Nation: Then and Now, (New York: American Anglican Press, 2015).
(3) John C. Farthing, Judith Robinson (ed), Freedom Wears a Crown, (Toronto: Kingswood House, 1957).
(4) Tomislav Sunic, Homo Americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age, (Book Surge Publishing, 2007), p. 34.