September 6 is Red Ensign Day — The Flag of the Real Canada
Just a reminder that September 5 is coming up next week, which is Canadian Red Ensign Day. Let’s get as many flying across the country as we can.
In my country, Canada, conservatism was originally about much more than this. Canada is a country that was founded within the British Empire in the Victorian era and which developed her national sovereignty within the British family of nations without severing ties to the Crown and Britain, the way our republican neighbour to the south had, and as such inherited from the older country, the older kind of conservatism known as Toryism. Toryism was about monarchy, the institutional church, and government for the common good of a national society envisioned as an organic whole that includes past and future generations, not merely those present among us today. I have been a conservative of this older type, a Tory, my entire life.
There has been much talk in recent years of “neo-conservatism”. What is meant by this term is somewhat different in Canada and the United States, although in both countries it refers to either the espousing as conservative of ideas that were once considered liberal, the profession of conservatism by former liberals, or both.
In the United States, the term refers to a very specific group of people and a set of ideas with which they were associated. The original neoconservatives had been members of the group known as the “New York Intellectuals”, which consisted mainly of second generation, Jewish Americans who studied educated either at City College of New York, Columbia University, or both in the period between the World Wars and who in that same period espoused politics that ranged from New Deal liberalism to far-left Trotskyism. After the Second World War many of these became Cold War liberals, i.e., liberals who strongly supported the West in the fight against Soviet Communism, and of these many realigned with the right in the 1960s and 1970s, to become the “neo-conservatives”. The best known among these were Norman Podhoretz, who edited the journal Commentary for decades, his wife Midge Decter, Irving Kristol, also a journalist, and his wife, historian, Gertrude Himmelfarb. It was Kristol who famously defined a neoconservative as a “liberal who has been mugged by reality.” As “neoconservatives” these continued to look upon the New Deal welfare state, the Civil Rights Movement, the early stages of second wave feminism, and other such causes they had espoused as liberals favourably, but it is their outlook on geopolitics that is their most notable distinctive.
The American neoconservatives believe that American style liberal democracy is the birthright of everyone on the planet and that the United States has a duty to guarantee that birthright, by offering military assistance and protection to countries that have liberal democracy, fighting against and toppling the enemies of liberal democracy, and bringing liberal democracy to countries that do not yet enjoy it. For this reason, the neoconservatives believe, the United States must continue to maintain a military presence throughout the world, as the world’s policeman. This vision of a Pax Americana is rooted in liberalism, having antecedents in the war aims of both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Its most utopian articulation, that of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Manenvisions all of human history as having lead up to universal capitalism and democracy and is simply the latest manifestation of the Whig theory of history.
The American kind of neo-conservatism has come under much heavy criticism during the last thirteen years for its influential role, during the presidential administration of George W. Bush, in leading the United States into the disastrous War in Iraq. While most of this criticism is well-deserved, those making the criticism seldom understand the nature of the problem with the neoconservative view of geopolitics. Critics on the left, inevitably maintain that all the neoconservative talk about spreading democracy, protecting the rights of women, and such claptrap, is just a thin veil masking the lust to grab power and resources for the United States, or the large corporations that to people of this mindset are the real powers behind the American government, from which it is assumed on the left that the neoconservative enthusiasm for war arises. In reality, however, it is precisely because the neoconservatives are true believers, in Eric Hoffer’s meaning of that expression, in democracy, human rights, liberalism, and basically all the same ideals that their critics on the left hold dear, that they feel that it is imperative that these American liberal values be exported universally.
In Canada, the word neo-conservatism is often used interchangeably with conservatism, in reference to the conservatism described in the first paragraph. This intent of this usage is to contrast what has been called conservatism for the last forty years or so, with the older Toryism. Red Tories in particular like to use the word in this way. Red Tories are people who, like myself, are High Tories of the older royalist, institutional church, and common good-of-the-organic-whole variety, but who, unlike myself, have avowed sympathies with socialism, feminism, pacifism, and other left-of-centre causes for which I have nothing but disdain and contempt. The Red Tories are quite right in saying that much of what is called conservatism today is what was called liberalism a hundred years ago, but I cannot help but observe the irony of the fact that this offered as criticism by those whose Toryism is modified by an adjective that alludes to their espousal of ideals that have also sprung from the modern well of liberalism and much more recently than the capitalism of the neoconservatives. Liberalism is not like a fine wine that has improved with age – it is more like milk that has long passed its expiry date, and been left out in the sun.
At times these attempts to distinguish Canadian neo-conservatism from the older tradition can be exaggerated in a way that can be quite misleading and which distorts the nature of the older Toryism. It is not uncommon, for example, to hear Red Tories say that the older Toryism was the opposite of what is called conservatism today. Think about what that suggests regarding the first items mentioned in the description of conservatism in the first paragraph – small government, low taxes, free markets, and free trade. (1) There is a grain of truth in this when it comes to free trade – the older Toryism espoused protectionism – but if we were to accept the assertion that the older conservatism was the opposite of today’s conservatism, we would have to conclude that it was opposed to freedom and stood for big government, high taxes, and a centrally planned and bureaucratically administered economy. This, however, is laughable nonsense. Indeed, as I have frequently pointed out, the older “throne and altar” Toryism, ought to be regarded as being more favourable to small government and low taxes than contemporary North American conservatism. Toryism was born out of the defence of royal sovereign authority against those who wished to wrest it away from the Crown and to vest all power in elected legislative assemblies. The opponents of the original Tories declared themselves to be on the side of “liberty” against tyranny, but the history of the last four centuries tells us another story. What that history tells us is that the more the Crown’s authority was limited and the power of the elected assembly augmented, the larger and more intrusive government became, while taxes grew both exponentially and astronomically. (2)
With regards to freedom, the difference between the older Toryism and the classical liberalism that much of modern conservatism resembles was not that the latter supported freedom while the former opposed and feared it. It was rather a disagreement about the nature of freedom. The classical liberals equated liberty with the sovereignty of the individual, argued that the function of government was to protect liberty so defined, and declared that only democratic governments, in which each individual participates at least through his elected representative, can so protect the liberty that is individual sovereignty. By contrast, the Tory view of freedom, grounded in the thought of classical antiquity, was explained by the martyred King Charles I, in his final speech before his execution, when he declared that the liberty and freedom of the people consist in their having from their government “those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own” rather than “having share in government”.
Anyone who happens to think that the liberal doctrine is more conducive to personal freedom than that of the Tory it is invited to look around him today. The idea of freedom as individual sovereignty is now being taken to the nth degree, with even such constraints on that sovereignty as those of nature and reality itself no longer recognized as valid. Thus, for example, gender is now being declared to be something that the individual decides for himself – or herself – or itself – or whatever! By consequence, liberalism is now declaring such self-determination of gender to be a right of the individual, which is to say something that belongs to the essence of the individual’s sovereignty. Since in liberal theory, the rights of the individual are what law and government exist to protect, the consequence of this will inevitably be that the legislatures and courts, will impose legal restrictions on what we can think, say or do, in order to protect such a “right”. The more the individual is declared to be sovereign, the more new “rights” are discovered, the more laws restricting our thoughts, speech, and actions are passed, so that what is called “freedom” today, often resembles a soft form of totalitarian tyranny. (3)
Contemporary conservatism, or what is called in Canada neo-conservatism, ought not to be faulted by Tories of the older tradition merely for being in favour of small government, low taxes, and freedom. It merits criticism for defining conservatism by such things, rather than by monarchy, institutional religion, the common good of the organic whole, and by such things as continuity, tradition, and established order for which the older Toryism stood, and which, as Roger Scruton argued in The Meaning of Conservatism, provide the necessary context for any real freedom to exist and flourish in a civilized society. There was nothing wrong with Canadian neo-conservatism’s opposition to Canadians being taxed to death, overregulated, and treated as wards of a nanny state and it was for these things that this High Tory voted for and even took out membership in the neoconservative Reform Party in the 1990s. Where Canadian neo-conservatism did deserve censure was over the anti-patriotic contempt for Canada and wish that she was “more like the United States” that could far too often be found in its ranks, as well as the liberal equation of democracy with freedom and legitimate and accountable government evident in its wish to turn the Senate into an elected body which was such a marked contrast with the way the older Canadian Toryism defended our Westminster parliamentary monarchy, including the Senate, correctly perceiving that it and our traditional rights and freedoms, stood and fell together. (4) It was over these things that I walked away from the Canadian Alliance prior to the completion of its merger with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003.
(1) It is even less accurate to say that the older Toryism was the opposite of the other items mentioned in the first paragraph, although here too there are important distinctions to be drawn. The family that the older Toryism defended, for example, was not just the nuclear unit, but a larger, multigenerational, kinship group, headed by a patriarch. Also, the older Toryism tended to look to the organized Church for what “a traditional Christian morality and way of life” meant, while contemporary conservatism is more likely to be influenced by personal interpretations of the Scriptures.
(2) It was not uncommon in the last century for such High Tories as Anthony Burgess, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Robertson Davies (as Samuel Marchbanks) to avow both a feudal, medieval royalism and an attitude of anarchistic contempt for the gargantuan, overregulating body that is the modern bureaucratic state in the same breathe, a sentiment which I heartily share.
(3) That liberalism was a doctrine that loudly proclaimed its faith in freedom while containing within itself the seeds of totalitarian tyranny was not something that was only evident after it had been brought to its apex in the 20th and 21st centuries. In the sixteenth century, the Puritan progenitors of the first liberals, the Whigs, denounced the “tyranny” of the House of Stuart and proclaimed themselves to be on the side of liberty, but when they had seized power for themselves, made it illegal to participate in sports, games, and other amusements on Sundays after church, closed inns, alehouses and theatres, and banned the celebration of Christmas and Easter. In the century prior to that, the first Puritans, in the name of defending Christian liberty against “popish tyranny”, demanded that all practices that were part of the pre-Reformation tradition but which could not be shown to be explicitly authorized in Scripture should be forbidden, while Richard Hooker, in his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, argued on the contrary, that Christians ought to be free to observe, whatever practices of the pre-Reformation tradition could not be shown to be explicitly condemned in Scriptures. Hooker’s thinking, which helped lay a foundation for both a distinctive Anglican theology and Toryism, to any rational person, allowed a greater amount of freedom than that of the Puritans which eventually gave birth to liberalism.
(4) See, for example, John Farthing’s Freedom Wears a Crown(Toronto: Kingswood House, 1957) and John G. Diefenbaker’s Those Things We Treasure (Toronto: Macmillan, 1972).
For as long as I can remember I have heard Alberta described as Canada’s “most conservative province” but I have long questioned the accuracy of this designation. It might have been true at one time. In the fall of 1936, Stephen Leacock, the famous Canadian professor, economist, social commentator, and humorist began a lecture tour of the Western provinces and he described his experiences in My Discovery of the West: A Discussion of East and West In Canada, which was published by Thomas Allen in Toronto in 1937. In his ninth chapter, “Monarchy in the West”, Leacock wrote that:
People who know nothing about it always imagine that the West of Canada is far less British than the East. Apart from the Maritime Provinces this is not so. It is even the reverse of truth.
From this he went on to argue that the large number of Americans who had moved up to the Canadian West between 1905 and 1914 made “no great difference as to the British connection and British institutions” because Americans had been British originally, and were reverting to their roots. He put it in these memorable words:
It used to be said that the last shot fired in defence of British institutions in America would be fired by a French-Canadian. It looks now as if there would be one more shot after his. It will be from the gun of an American whose name will be something like John Bull McGregor. His people will have been among the McGregors of Mississippi and the Bulls of the New York police: so he won’t miss what he shoots at.
If Leacock’s assessment of 1936 Alberta was accurate, that those settling the province valued Canada’s British institutions, had not a trace of republicanism, and that the former Americans among them would be the ones to fire that last shot on behalf of the Crown, then it might have been true to say, at that time, that Alberta was the most conservative province in the Dominion. That was then. This is now.
In Canada, a conservative is someone who believes in and supports the traditional British institutions of this country. This was historically true even of conservative French Canadians – and until the 1960s French Canadians were very conservative indeed – for while their primary concern might have been the preservation of their language, Roman Catholicism, and their traditional way of life, they understood that these things had been guaranteed by the Crown since 1774 and that had all of British North America gone over to the American Republic in the Revolution their language, religion, and culture would not have survived. The two best articulations of the political meaning of conservatism in the Canadian context, John Farthing’s Freedom Wears a Crown and John G. Diefenbaker’s These Things We Treasure, the first by a central Canadian who grew up in Ontario and Quebec, the second by a Westerner, who grew up and practiced law in Saskatchewan before entering federal politics, both argued that Canada’s British institutions were the foundation and framework of our traditional rights and freedoms and that the latter stand and fall with the former.
If Alberta were the most conservative province in Canada that would mean that the ideas in the preceding paragraph would be more prevalent in Alberta than anywhere else in the country. Is this the case? Hardly. Indeed, one of the most curious things about many who identify as conservative in the province of Alberta is an inability to put two and two together and come up with four on this matter.
From 1963, when Lester Pearson became Prime Minister until 1984 when Pierre Trudeau stepped down as Prime Minister, the Liberal Party of Canada waged an aggressive war against Canada’s British institutions and traditions. They removed the designation “Royal” from many institutions including the post office and the navy. They insisted that we needed a new flag of our own, even though the Canadian Red Ensign had been declared our country’s flag by Order-In-Council in 1945, three days after the end of the war in which it had been baptized our national flag in the blood of the soldiers who fought under it in our country’s finest hour. It was the Union Jack in the canton that made the old flag objectionable to them. These are just two examples, many more could be provided. At the same time the Liberal Party was attacking Canada’s British heritage and institutions it was also attacking and undermining the basic traditional freedoms of Canadians.
Yet, many Albertan “small c conservatives” don’t seem to get this. To the last man they have an intense loathing for Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Yet, many of them show little interest in turning to Canada’s British institutions, traditions, and heritage. Indeed, I have known more than a few of them to approach our British heritage with an attitude of contempt scarcely distinguishable from Trudeau’s own. Royalism is the sine qua non of conservatism in Canada, a non-negotiable, and Pierre Trudeau was notorious for, among other things, his disrespect for Her Majesty, yet you will encounter in Alberta, far more than anywhere else in Canada, people who claim to be Trudeau-hating conservatives but who are republicans rather than royalists. Self-identified Albertan “conservatives” tend to be continentalists – sometimes to the point of being annexationists – and free traders, both of which, ironically, are positions that historically belonged to the Liberal Party. It is further ironic that free trade was only embraced by the Conservative Party in the 1980s under the leadership of Brian Mulroney, the Conservative leader most hated in Alberta, whose misgovernment drove traditional Conservative Party voters, not only in Alberta but throughout the West, into the Reform Party of Canada.
This does not sound like a conservative province – more like a belligerently regionalist province with a chip on its shoulder. Localism is an important element of conservative thought, but in a form similar to the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, never anti-patriotism.
Where then does Alberta’s “conservative” reputation come from?
Is it the most socially conservative province?
When one thinks of social conservatism – in the sense of opposition to the moral and social disintegration that has taken place in the United States, Canada and the rest of the Western world since World War as manifest in such things as the collapse of social authority, no-fault divorce, birth control, abortion, the sexual revolution, cohabitation without marriage, serial marriages, alternative sexualities, and the like – three voices come to mind as having spoken louder on behalf of social conservatism in Canada than any other – George Grant, William Gairdner, and Ted Byfield. All three were from central Canada.
Yes, that’s right, all three. Ted Byfield, the founder of the Alberta Report which joined Christian social conservatism with a defiant Western and particularly Alberta populism, was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. That, in itself, does not perhaps say much, especially since moral and social decay, and worse, government brainwashing of the young against traditional norms, has gone further in Ontario, under the premierships of McGuinity and Wynne than anywhere else in the country. Nevertheless, it is in Alberta that the Rev. Stephen Boissoin was dragged before the Human Rights Tribunal – they have one of these odious kangaroo courts in Alberta too – for writing a letter to the editor, criticizing the actions of the politicized homosexual movement.
More substantially, Albertans more than any other Canadians, love American popular culture and oppose any attempt on the part of the national government to protect domestic Canadian culture. While our cultural protectionist policies have been a complete failure, and indeed have done harm rather than good, my point is that there is nothing that has done more to erode traditional social institutions, the authority of parents, teachers, and churches, and moral standards, than Hollywood films, pop and rock music, and television programming. A social conservatism that is wed to an objection, at the theoretical level, to cultural protectionism on the liberal grounds of market freedom, is a social conservatism that has laid down, raised the white flag, and given up.
The other grounds on which some have claimed that Alberta is the most conservative province are those of fiscal and economic conservatism. Fiscal conservatism is the idea that the state should live within its means and not export its costs into the future for posterity to pay. The economic ideas regarded as being conservative in Alberta are actually economic liberalism – free markets, free trade, and low taxes to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, promoting economic growth that creates jobs and generates wealth. These two ideas are not always compatible. The goal of economic liberalism is constant growth so it always calls for lower taxes, whereas fiscal conservatism recognizes that to meet its goal, of not creating burdens for future generations, taxes may sometimes need to be raised in the present. It has been my impression that for most Albertan conservatives when these two ideas and goals clash, it is economic liberalism that wins out over fiscal conservatism. At any rate, actual economic conservatism is a variation of economic liberalism called economic nationalism, in which the government passes laws and taxes that favour and protect domestic production, thus exporting its costs not to future generations but to foreign companies and countries, as an entrance fee for access to the national market. Needless to say this idea would go over like a ton of bricks in Alberta.
Which brings us back to what I said at the beginning about capitalism and socialism – they are not polar opposites, but two sides of the same coin. That Alberta, the bastion of economic liberalism in Canada, would flip the coin and a give a majority government to the socialist party of high taxes and even higher spending, the very opposite of fiscal conservatism, is less of a shock than it would have been had the province managed to put fiscally conservative economic patriots into power.
The NDP is about more than socialism, of course. It is also about feminism, abortion-on-demand, anti-white racism, climate change alarmism, the Orwellian thought control that is political correctness, and the triumph of the abnormal over the normal and the average over the exceptional. Albertans will find to their horror that it is these latter things, even more than socialism, that they have in store for them under an NDP government.
The NDP is also, however, the most anti-Canadian of parties, when Canada is rightfully understood as the British country, confederated under the Crown in Parliament in 1867, upon a foundation rooted in Loyalism. The NDP wish to complete what the Pearson-Trudeau Liberals started in the 1960s-1980s, and obliterate our British heritage completely, abolishing the upper chamber in Parliament, and severing the country’s ties to the monarchy. Had Alberta truly been the most conservative province in the country, the NDP’s contempt for Canada’s British traditions and institutions would have prevented them from ever giving the NDP a single seat. Many Albertans, however, chose to join what ideas they had that were fiscally or socially conservative, to a very unconservative anti-Canadian, anti-patriotism that is not that far removed from that of the NDP, making this election’s outcome much less of a surprise, although no less of a disaster.
(1) Section 33 effectively nullifies all the rights and freedoms listed in section 2, and sections 7 through 15.