The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Toryism and Personal Liberty

There are many who would see a fundamental inconsistency in standing for "throne and altar" and "liberty" at the same time.  I see no such inconsistency.  In my essay "On Being A Tory in the Age of Whigs" I provided an argument for how and why one can uphold the authority of social institutions, including government, while simultaneously upholding personal liberty against intrusive government.  Both the authority of the institutions and our traditional liberties are rooted in societal prescription, in the ancient constitution of society.  To promote either at the expense of the other is to attack the foundation of both.

Many who call themselves "conservatives" today argue for limits on government out of reasons that are essentially liberal.  I will try to avoid such arguments at this blog.  This is not because classical liberalism never had any good arguments but because there is a solid Tory case for non-intrusive government that has never been linked to such erroneous concepts as progress, the inherent goodness of mankind, contractual society, or the universal brotherhood of man.

Evelyn Waugh, the 20th Century British satirist and novelist, was a convert to Roman Catholic Christianity and a High Tory.  In an appendix to his book Robbery Under Law, which arose out of his trip to Mexico in the 1930's, he gave a brief statement of his political beliefs.  Donat Gallagher, in his anthology of Waugh's prose entitled The Essays, Articles, and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, reprinted this statement under the title "A Conservative Manifesto".  In this Waugh states:

 I believe in government; that men cannot live together without rules but that these should be kept at the bare minimum of safety.

Here we find the Tory position on limited government in a nutshell - government is necessary and good, but the rules should be kept to what is necessary.  Government, in other words, should be non-intrusive.

This position has a long pedigree in Tory thought.

Robert Cecil, the Third Marquess of Salisbury, the 19th Century British peer and Prime Minister, is said by the conservative journal that bears his name to have declared that "good government consisted in doing as little as possible".

Samuel Johnson, who dominated 18th Century English literature, and was the quintessential Tory of that era, in verse he wrote for Oliver Goldsmith declared: How small, of all that human hearts endure,/ That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!

To the Tory, the true conservative, the truly important events in human life and human society, do not take place in the sphere of the political, or, for that matter, in the sphere of the economical.  What truly matters is not what occurs in the halls of Parliament or in the marketplace.  It is what happens in the home, in the church, and in your local neighborhood.  It is there that civilization stands or falls.  It is there that government should have the least amount of say - if any at all.

To the progressive, who believes in the inherent goodness of man and that a better world is possible through reason and science, the temptation has always existed to regard the government as an instrument for effecting whatever social change he regards as desirable at the particular moment (it changes from age to age).  This was true even in the days when classical liberalism and progressivism were more or less synonymous.  Consider the case of Jeremy Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, who had no patience for the prescriptive "Rights of Englishmen", i.e. to trial by jury, habeas corpus, etc., regarding these as a hindrance to government in the work of improving society.  It fell to Sir William Blackstone, the famous British jurist and commentator on the Common Law, to defend these basic rights.  Blackstone, a High Tory, believed in the ancient constitution, and the Divine Right of Kings.

As government has become more democratic, the temptation of the progressive has increased.  Modern democratic governments have asserted a larger, more intrusive role in the societies they govern.  The standard model of the modern democratic-administrative state, is of a strong central government, consisting of elected politicians, who appoint large departments of "experts" to write regulation after regulation covering every conceivable area of life, and then hire armies of inspectors to knock on the doors of your homes, churches, schools, and businesses to make sure you are complying.  It is the progressives' dream come true, but the Tory's nightmare.

As government has become more and more intrusive into our everyday lives it has become increasingly less effective at providing the basic protection of the rule of law to society that has been the basis of its existence for as long as there has been government.  The late and brilliant American conservative commentator, Dr. Samuel Francis, coined the term anarcho-tyranny to describe this situation.

Among North American "conservatives" the idea has become popular, as of late, that the democratic-administrative state can be "taken over" and turned into an instrument of a "conservative" agenda.  This is essentially the view of the "neo-conservatives" in the United States ('50's and '60's era Cold War liberals who supposedly moved to the Right in the '70's) and it appears to be the philosophy of Stephen Harper here in Canada as well.  It is a sad age we live in, when Tories have fallen prey, to the progressive temptation.

Government exists to enforce the law and keep the peace.  It does not exist to change society.  It does not exist to advance anyone's agenda.

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