Sunday, 23 March 2008

What is Conservatism?

This question is crucial to anyone who wishes his politics to have intellectual and moral content. Current political discourse is hopelessly incoherent: Conservatives are no longer conservative, and Liberals are not necessarily liberal. Canadian electoral participation rates are plummeting because our options consist not of living political philosophies but merely of competing political machines cynically striving to out-fundraise and out-spin the others.

Fundamentally, a party has the right to speak to Canadians authoritatively as a "conservative" party only when it establishes itself on the bedrock of what conservatism has always meant to Canadians: love of tradition, respect for the honour and sovereignty of the Crown, acknowledgment of our organic connection to Europe, and a desire to protect the uniqueness and indivisibility of British North America as a political and moral entity. This is Canadian conservatism. There is no other. That which fails to espouse those four principles may be part of legitimate political discourse in this country, but, in the guise of "conservatism", it is mere imposture. No amount of recycled Clear Grit and Social Credit populism or culturally illiterate Calgary School cant will ever change that.

Axiomatically, a conservative holds to the values of his nation's founders. For example, the views of American communists may deserve tolerance, even respect, but they are radically (and quite apart from their objective merit) "un-American". No sane person would describe as "conservative" notions which transgress those that served as the philosophical premises of his nation.

Similarly, no one is obliged to consider as "conservative" notions that are alien to the mission of our Founding Fathers. This truth must be our lodestar, as our media, political and corporate √©lites will not soon tire of perverting conservatism into its opposite. For two decades they have striven to "re-brand" conservatism, as if it were a kind of bargain-basement toothpaste. Consequently, it has been cheapened into just another mass-produced and shrink-wrapped trinket--perfectly designed to complement the callowness of our generation’s post-NAFTA, Wal-mart-centric soul.

The task of a real conservative is to keep alive the idea that conservatism can and must have a spirit, a mind, a memory, and deep roots in our living tradition, and, by so doing, reveal the current “Conservative” Party of Canada as the soulless, corrupt, hack-led apparatus it is. Canadians respond passionately to sincerity and commitment and are desperate to elect people with core values. God willing, they will someday get that chance.

For "Red Tory" (aka Martin Rayner): Il miglior fabbro...


Red Tory said...

I haven't read the article yet, but I wanted to be the very first person to comment. By the way, I sent you a couple of e-mails a short while ago. I hope they might be of use to you.

Red Tory said...

Indeed. What passes for “conservatism” these days has little connection with the Canadian tradition. If anything, much of what is peddled in the op-ed pages of the mainstream press and on innumerable right-wing blogs proudly touting themselves as being “Tories” (*cough*) owe their inspiration more to Ronald Reagan than to John Diefenbaker, to Rush Limbaugh rather than George Grant. In general, the opinions of our so-called “conservatives” these days are indistinguishable from those one might find on leading right-wing websites in the USA and the orbit of their narrow ideology is firmly bound by the gravity of the Republican Party’s talking points.

p.s. Thanks for the nod via Eliot.

Sir Francis said...


I think I've made a Faustian pact here: your header elevates the aesthetic appeal of my blog immeasurably but will doubtless outshine most of my posts. Ultimately, I couldn't resist.

As you can see, I've conceded to DBT (or "Trusty Tory"[?]) the right to the "Sir Isaac" moniker--not that he has ever really used it, but his avatar does lead to confusion. Moreover, I'm not comfortable with a name that hovers so close to that of "Mike Brock", who appears to be a rather odious Blogging Tory. Alas, I will miss being SIB (R.I.P.).

I thought of taking on the Bonnie Prince as a persona but decided that a "loser" might not provide the right kind of omen. I settled upon Sir Francis Bond Head--a bohemian, an unreconstructed Upper Canada Tory, a "winner" and one of my heroes. So I guess I've managed a resurrection after all... :)

Aeneas the Younger said...

Bond Head is perfect. One of my heroes as well.

Well, we are now three. I would suggest that Red is not as fundamentally "tory" as the two of us, but I have been a loyal follower of his these many years as he is closer to a tory than people like DBT can ever hope to be.

What now? Our own aggregator?

Aeneas the Younger said...

You know, the Baby Boom was highly responsible for the Americanisation of Canadian conservatism. I came to believe this in watching the life of my elder brother. He was 12 years older than I and grew-up at the height of the 1960's.

Not for him the staid old tory traditions of Upper Canada. Everything American HAD to be better - they had the best TV shows don't you know?!

He was not alone. When they were old enough they took the Tory Pary and moved it toward neo-liberalism.

Another theory advocated by liberal political scientists for this shift was the hypothesis that the many years as HML Opposition forced all those who opposed the LPC into the PC Party. As the LPC turned interventionist (ever so briefly ...)the "free-marketeers" or "business liberals" had only one home if they wanted to organise politically: The PC Party. This, they claim, moved the PCP towards neo-liberalism.

At the end of the day, I blame demographics, the crisis of stagflation, and the US-media take-over of Canada (which the LPC largely let happen ...) - which killed-off a Canadian perspective TV, Radio, and Print.

Once Canadians could not read, view, or hear about the essence of Canada, they ceased to be Canadian. This is why I continue to support my beloved CBC ...

Aeneas the Younger said...

By-the-way, you are now linked to ATY ...

Sorry about that!

Sir Francis said...


Thanks for linking to me. I've left a comment on the Kosovo fiasco.

The Baby Boom was certainly heavily indoctrinated, and, naturally, U.S. monopoly of our media had much to do with that. The Massey Report recommendations, if taken fully seriously, might have averted that tragedy. Who knows?

As for the inner philosophical rot within the P.C. Party during its long exile in Opposition, it might have had to do with the perceived need to oppose everything about the Liberals, including their interventionism (which, as you suggest, was rarely profound or "nationalist" in any meaningful way). Eventually, after Stanfield was disposed of, the PCPC came to frown on interventionism as such and thus began to betray a key feature of its heritage.

Before this catastrophe, though, someone like Walter Gordon would have been perfectly at home in the party. Gordon joined the Liberals only because Pearson, with whom he had a long-standing friendship, had promised him a free hand in his Finance portfolio and protection from the powerful caucus continentalists. In the end, Gordon was betrayed and destroyed. His failure to work for the right party--choosing instead to presume upon "friendship" in a realm as ruthless and unforgiving as politics--is one of the tragic stories of modern Canadian history.

Red Tory said...

ATY — My lack of faith puts me at odds with some of the more archaic tenets of “toryism” but I’m largely sympathetic to most of its prevalent sentiments which, perversely, are now often branded as being “liberal” in some circles. Of course, such labels are all fairly anachronistic these days and the language of our political discourse so badly corrupted that such discussions are largely meaningless when people cannot agree on the basic ground rules of the terminology being employed.

ottlib said...

Sir Francis:

I found this blog through Red Tory. I found this first post very interesting and I happen to agree with you regarding the idea the current Conservative Party of Canada is not a Tory Party in the traditional Canadian sense.

However, to answer the question of your headline I would suggest there is no real conservative ideology and there never was. Instead conservatism is an offshoot of liberalism. (Note the small 'c' and small 'l'.)

The genesis of liberalism was the result of Adam Smith. We still live, to some extent, by his ideas, although if he were alive today he would be very displeased with the power of corporations in our society.

Liberalism split as a result of the European revolutions of 1848 and the rise of the ideas of Karl Marx. After the mid 1800s liberalism split into two camps, classical liberalism and neo-liberalism.

I believe it was at this point when we saw the beginning of the dynamic most of us would recognise as the discourse between conservatism and liberalism. Of course that is just my opinion based on my reading of history and political philosophy over the years and I am probably not stating anything you already do not know.

Those two main branches of liberalism plus socialism have been constants in political discourse since the mid 19th century. We did see the rise of a few "missionary ideologies" in the earlier part of the 20th century but they all died under the weight of their own inconsistencies or in fire.

Unfortunately, the slow death of communism gave rise to an ideology that likes to brand itself as "conservative" but is really a combination of religious fundamentalism and the strategic manipulation of the capitalist system to benefit the adherence of this new "conservatism". This ideology was pretty much kept in check as long as communism continued to limp along but once it finally died the adherents to this new ideology leapt up and claimed credit for defeating communism and began to feel they could come out of the shadows.

It has been since then that we have seen the hijacking of traditional conservatism in North America accelerating. For me I do not see us going back anytime soon. Even with the likely defeat of them in the US this year and the eventual defeat of them in Canada this new ideology has dug its roots too deep into the traditional conservative parties to be easily extricated.

So it is very possible that we could be seeing an extended period where classical liberal thought will be usurped by this new ideology. Whether is comes back or not remains to be seen.

And as someone who appreciated the thoughtful discourse between the two branches of liberalism over the years I am very disappointed by that.

I am sad to see Sir Isaac Brock had to leave us but I am happy he was reincarnated as Sir Francis.

As well, sorry for the long comment but I could not get all my points into a shorter one.

The Trusty Tory said...

"As you can see, I've conceded to DBT (or "Trusty Tory"[?]) the right to the "Sir Isaac" moniker--not that he has ever really used it, but his avatar does lead to confusion."

I do appreciate that. I picked the avatar after I made a very interesting post about how the War of 1812 was the true "Forgotten War" and that many Canadians have forgotten how close the United States was to realizing "manifest destiny".

Sir Francis said...


Thanks for that excellent and insightful response. I'm rather sad to leave SIB behind as well: he was a happy warrior; but so is Sir Francis!

You seem to contend that conservatism began as the "traditional" component of the bifurcated liberalism of the early to mid-1800's--the "anti-socialist" liberalism, as it were.

I cannot agree. Burke predates this in England, as do De Maistre, Lamennais and Bonald in France. The Royalist Cavaliers predate Burke, and the thinkers of the Counter-Reformation and of Baroque Catholicity are even earlier. Socrates, sworn foe of Athenian democrats (and of democracy in general), predates them all.

I think you'll find, too, that early to mid-19th-century European socialism had stronger developmental ties to a Romantic subset of conservatism than it did to classical liberalism. An excellent English exemplar of this fact is John Ruskin, who arrived at socialism only after his deep initial conservatism was made to feel the full pressure of the late stages of Romanticism.

Aeneas the Younger said...


You're quite wrong, as SFBH has pointed out. Burke voiced a modern opposition to revolutionary liberalism (he was a Whig after-all ...), but never prounounced anything like an ideology. In fact, if one reads Burke at all, you see that he is in fact, opposed to ideology. He stands for principles, a philosophy perhaps, but NOT an ideology.

Liberalism and Socialism are ideologies. They have clear goals and programmes to attain those goals. Liberals seen to maximise individual liberty - either positively or negatively.

Conservatives (real ones that is ...) seek to maintain and govern over a civil society. We seek a balance between Government, Business, Unions, Individuals, and Communities. Only the Crown is paramount. Industry and the Environment must be balanced for the good of all - the common good as it were.

This is clear and different thing from liberalism.

You will also note that most tories are devotees of Plato, just not the Straussian interpretation of the Great Thinker.

George Grant hated the Liberal Party of Canada, because he saw them as they really were and are: Technocratic modernisers with no love or respect for the particular.

Liberals and Socialists are UNIVERSALISTS.

Conservatives are PARTICULARISTS.

These are very fundamental distinctions. A Liberal will have more in common with the CPC than he/she will ever have with a Tory.

I, in fact, have voted for practically every party over the last 15 years - EXCEPT the Liberal Party. I have never cast a vote for one of their candidates in my life. And I never will.

Orchard lost me when he cast his lot with the Great Satan.

Sir Francis said...

Orchard lost me when he cast his lot with the Great Satan.

I was saddened to see him take that step. I assume he felt he had no choice, and that this was the only viable way to continue the political phase of what had been, until 1998, a career of pure public-policy advocacy.

He asked me what I thought of his plan last time he visited Ottawa (early 2005); even though I knew what he wanted to hear, I said the Liberal Party would find a way to destroy him. I told him he would do better to write another book or establish a foundation that could compete with the Fraser and C.D. Howe institutes using his thick network of scholarly contacts (Dart, Matthews, Drury, Christian, etc.). He wasn't keen. He's caught the political bug, and I'm afraid he's hurtling down a road to oblivion.

Canada, much like colonial Ireland, seems to devour its best sons and exalt its worst. That's what self-loathing does to a people...

Aeneas the Younger said...


With all due respect, the idea that the LPC would use, abuse, and disabuse themeselves of David Orchard was, and is, of no surprise to me. It is what they do. They are a Corporate entity - and like any corporation are devoid of a soul.

That was the problem with the old PC Party (before 1983 ...): too much soul.

I like your idea of a counter to the Right-Wing think tanks. I have corresponded with Dart in the past, and I link to his blog, but he seems to have abandoned it. I should e-mail him to see where his head is at these days.

You analogy to Colonial Ireland is sadly, apt.