The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This and That No.19: Merry Christmas Edition

Lemire Appeal Update

The notorious Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has finally come under review by a federal court with the authority to strike it down. Mr. Justice Richard Mosley heard the arguments of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its sycophants and the arguments by Marc Lemire and other supporters of freedom last Wednesday. No decision has been passed as of yet but we have reason to be hopeful that one way or the other – either through judicial review or through the passing of Bill C-304 introduced by Brian Storseth – the tyrannical dragon which is Section 13, will finally be slain.

Connie Fournier on The Arena

Connie Fournier, who with her husband Mark co-founded the conservative internet message board Free Dominion, appeared on Michael Coren’s show “The Arena” last week to talk about the way Free Dominion was harassed by the CHRC and continues to be harassed by SLAPP suits. Blazing Cat Fur has put the video of the interview up on Youtube where it can be viewed here:

Moral Clarity and Free/Hate Speech

Section 13, and similar laws at the provincial level and in other countries, do not prohibit behaviour which is inherently harmful to others, like shooting them with a gun, stabbing them with a knife, or stealing their possessions. These laws prohibit words. Advocates of such laws argue that words can lead to actual violence. This is true but it is not an adequate justification for laws like Section 13. The words prohibited by such laws are not words inciting others to violence against a particular person or group of persons. Laws against incitement existed long before someone thought up the idea of “hate speech” laws. The kind of speech prohibited by Section 13 takes the form of “Members of X group are Y”. X stands for any group protected against discrimination by the Canadian Human Rights Act. Y stands for a predicate which casts group X in a negative light. Words of this kind, supporters of Section 13 believe, deserve fines in the tens of thousands, life-time gag orders.

The laws are not consistently applied. The Canadian Human Rights Act lists “race” as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. The way it is worded would suggest that members of any particular race are prohibited from discriminating against all other races. In practice, however, laws against discrimination are treated as a one way street. White people are prohibited from discriminating against members of other races, but members of other races are free to discriminate against white people. This is especially true when it comes to “hate speech”. From certain ethnic groups, one frequently hears language about white people that is extremely derogatory and which blames all evils suffered by the group on white people, similar to the way in which Hitler blamed all of Germany’s woes on the Jews. This, however, is not regarded by the Canadian Human Rights Commission as “hate speech”, even though it is more hateful, more extreme, and more likely to result in violence than the kind of language that is considered “hate speech” by the CHRC.

The justification given for all of this is that it is needed to combat the ever present danger of a widespread neo-Nazi movement arising in Canada to threaten the rights, liberties, lives, and security of ethnic minorities and other groups protected by the CHRA. That threat is laughable, however, and this response to it is like going after a mosquito with a tank.

Supporters of Section 13 try to muddy the waters by pointing to how unacceptable the views of the people who have been charged under Section 13 are to the majority of Canadians. They use the tactic of guilt-by-association to smear those who have opposed this persecution. Progressives would find it completely unacceptable if we were to start passing the guilt of murder, rape, or robbery onto lawyers who defend people accused of these crimes. They would see this as a tactic to scare lawyers away from defending people accused of murder, rape, or robbery, leaving people accused of those crimes without the legal right of defense, and would be morally outraged. This, however, is exactly what they themselves have done in the case of lawyers like Doug Christie and Barbara Kulaszka who have fought for the defence in “hate speech” cases. The views of their clients are attributed to them and they are themselves demonized by progressive journalists and bloggers.

“Hate speech laws” are about inflicting heavy penalties on people for nothing more than words. They, like the SLAPP lawsuits which Section 13 supporters like to make against its critics, are nothing more than a form of bullying.

Merry Christmas

This will be my last post to Throne, Altar, Liberty before Christmas. My next post will be either at the very end of the year or in the first few days of the New Year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Beauty of Nature, Man’s Dominion, and the Environmentalist Movement

Beauty is that quality of certain sights and sounds which appeals to us and draws us back to look or listen again in appreciative contemplation. There are many different kinds of beauty. There is the human beauty which plays a large role in sexual attraction, the beauty which men see in women, and women in men. Then there is the kind of beauty which human beings create in art. The arrangement of words in a poem and of notes in a symphony are examples of this kind of beauty as are the amphitheatres and temples of ancient Greece, the cathedrals of medieval Europe, the porcelain of the Song and Ming Dynasties in China, and the sculptures and paintings of the Renaissance masters.

Then there is what is often called natural beauty – the beauty of the world around us. This is the beauty that we will be considering in this essay and we will start by noting that there are different meanings attached to the word “natural” which correspond to the radically different ways of thinking about natural beauty which exist today.

The different meanings of the word “natural” are actually different meanings of the word “nature”, for natural is an adjective that derives its meaning from a source noun by attributing the qualities of that source noun to that which it is modifying. When we say that something is “natural” we mean that in some sense it is by, of, or from nature.

The word nature is derived from the Latin word for “give birth” and its earliest English usage reflects an important concept in classical philosophy. It was originally used to refer to something’s essence, to the qualities and traits which make that something what it is and not something else. We still use the word nature in this sense today. If we say that something is a certain way “by nature” then we mean that it could not be different and still be itself.

It is from this meaning of nature that the concept of the “natural sciences” was originally derived. Today we often use the word science to refer to the natural sciences but originally the term science was used to refer to organized knowledge of all sorts. When qualified by the adjective natural, it referred to the pursuit of knowledge of how everything in the physical world works. This was because people who pursued this kind of science were trying to discover the nature of everything they observed in the world around them.

This usage, however, led to a change in the meaning of the word nature. It came to mean “that which natural scientists study”, i.e., the physical world. From this it developed a narrower sense of “living organisms in the physical world”. Very recently it took on the meaning of “everything in the physical world, especially the living organisms, except mankind”.

The difference between the oldest meaning of nature as something’s “essential qualities” and the most recent meaning of nature as “everything except mankind” is reflected in the different ways in which people think of natural beauty today. This becomes clear when we ask the question: Does beauty have to be untouched by the hand of man in order to be natural?

Those who answer this question with a “yes” are using the word “natural” in accordance with the more recent meaning of “nature”. Those who answer the question with “no” are using the word “natural” in its classical sense.

Now let me state out front that I am one of those who would answer the question “no”. To that I would add that it is this understanding of “nature” and “natural” as excluding mankind and his influence that is precisely what is wrong with the environmentalist or “Green” movement at its worst.

In saying that I do not mean to suggest that humans are incapable of acting in ways which can have a negative effect upon their world and its beauty. Of course we are, we do it all the time. Human activity can mar natural beauty severely. Human activity can also enhance that beauty, however, and the idea that we have a responsibility, in choosing our behavior, to take our impact upon the appearance of our world into consideration and select behavior that enhances rather than mars that appearance, is environmentalism at its best.

We will return to that momentarily. Before doing so, I should note that natural beauty is a fairly recent subject of serious thought. The Athenian philosophers talked and wrote about beauty but they did not have the beauty of streams and fields, forests and meadows, in mind when they did so. They wrote about the beauty of human beings, the erotic love it inspires, and the higher ideal Beauty which it is an earthly image of.

The 19th Century German historian Jacob Burckhardt describes how the natural world came to be considered an object of beauty in the Italian Renaissance:

The Italians are the first among modern peoples by whom the outward world was seen and felt as something beautiful. (1)

Burckhardt believed that the ability to see the beauty in the world around us is “always the result of a long and complicated development”. He went on to summarize the history of the way people thought about the natural world – its beauty entered into the arts and poetry of the ancient world only after they had covered everything else, the Germanic peoples had a reverence for nature which they abandoned when they accepted the Christian faith, until finally around 1200 “at the height of the Middle Ages, a genuine hearty enjoyment of the external world was again in existence…which gives evidence of the sympathy felt with all the simple phenomena of nature—spring with its flowers, the green fields and the woods”. (2)

All of that, however, Burckhardt maintained, was “foreground without perspective”. It was in the writings of Dante and Petrarch that he saw the birth of modern serious contemplation of natural beauty. Of Dante he wrote:

Not only does he awaken in us by a few vigorous lines the sense of the morning air and the trembling light on the distant ocean, or of the grandeur of the storm-beaten forest, but he makes the ascent of lofty peaks, with the only possible object of enjoying the view—the first man, perhaps, since the days of antiquity who did so. (3)

Dante and Petrarch were poets, of course, writing at the dawn of an era in which the systematic pursuit of knowledge would be divided up into numerous specialized fields. It was much later that Alexander Baumgarten took the Greek word for “feeling” or “sensitivity” and from it coined the term aesthetics to refer to the philosophy of beauty, art, and taste. It was in the 18th Century that Baumgarten coined this term and Roger Scruton – himself a philosopher who specialized in the field of aesthetics – tells us that:

When, during the course of the eighteenth century, philosophers and writers began to turn their attention to the subject of beauty, it was not art or people but nature and landscape that dominated their thinking. (4)

This did not last long. Two chapters later Scruton begins his discussion of artistic beauty by telling us how in the 19th Century “the topic of art came to replace that of natural beauty as the core subject-matter of aesthetics”. (5) If natural beauty was bumped by art from the centre to the periphery of aesthetics in the 19th Century, however, it also came to be included within the context of an entirely different discussion, that of environmentalism.

Environmentalism is neither a science nor a branch of philosophy. It is an ideology and the political movement that speaks for that ideology. It purports to be based upon and informed by science, particularly the science of ecology (6), but as with all movements that make this claim it is questionable to what extent it allows scientific findings to influence its ideology rather than bending the science to fit its ideology.

Environmentalism started as a reaction against industrialization. Industrialization began a couple of centuries ago when modern science was applied to methods of producing material goods, and ways of producing goods in large quantities in short periods of time were developed. Industrialization brought many blessings to mankind – material goods became plentiful and more affordable, items previously considered to be luxury goods became more widely available, work hours were decreased and leisure time increased.

These blessings did not come without a price, however. There was a negative side to the industrialization process. The large scale production of material goods meant that the raw materials from which these goods were produced were being used up on a larger, faster scale as well. The production of usable goods from raw materials also results in byproducts which are often unusable and discarded as waste. The enhanced production of goods meant that waste was produced on a larger scale as well. Industrialized production required machinery which consumed energy resources on a larger scale than ever before and which produced smoke on a much larger scale than ever before as well.

The increase in the speed and scale with which we consume resources was a potential problem because of the danger that we would use up those resources faster than we could replace them, or, in the case of resources that cannot be renewed, that we would use them up altogether and be stuck without an alternative. The increase in the production of waste was a more concrete problem because that waste needed to go somewhere and many methods of disposing of it resulted in pollution of streams, ditches, fields, oceans, the underground water supply, and the atmosphere.

It was in order to address these problems that environmentalism was born. Originally, environmentalism had the good of human beings at heart. The concern that resources were being used up too fast was a concern that a tremendous amount of human misery would be produced when the resources are no longer sufficient to sustain the human population. The concern that the large scale production of industrial waste was creating pollution was a concern that human beings would be drinking tainted water, breathing polluted air, and would be living in an environment contaminated by pollutants.

One thing that stands out about these concerns is that they are intrinsically conservative in nature. This is even reflected in the name for the branch of environmentalism that addresses the question of resources. That branch is called conservationism a term derived from the same root as the word conservative. Those who dismiss these concerns, on the other hand, by affirming their faith that science and technology will always find an answer, are affirming a belief in progress. (7)

In North America, however, opposition to environmentalism is mostly found among those who identify themselves as conservatives and support of environmentalism is mostly found among those who identify themselves as progressives. This can partly be explained by the fact that many North American conservatives are really liberals. There is more to it than that however. (8) Environmentalism has changed from being a concern for the environment for the sake of mankind which needs that environment to being a concern for the environment for its own sake in which mankind is regarded as an enemy.

This brings us back to the meaning of nature and the question of whether natural beauty must be beauty that is untouched by man.

The topic of natural beauty inevitably became part of the environmentalist discussion because it is by definition the beauty of man’s environment. When we talk about pollution’s harmful effects upon the environment we usually think first about how waste products released into water or the air can make sick or kill the people and other animals who drink the water and breathe the air. Pollution can also harm the environment by marring its beauty and producing ugliness.

We recognize this immediately when we think about the kind of pollution we call littering. A lawn, garden, public park, or even a ditch beside a road, looks terrible when it is covered by empty potato chip bags, cigarette packages, and beer and soda pop cans.

Some people might be inclined to think that this is the most trivial of environmentalist concerns. The depletion of resources and the poisoning of others are matters which pose direct threats to human beings. It might annoy us if the appearance of our surroundings is marred by pollution but this does not threaten our existence. Are we not constantly told that outward appearances are superficial, trivial matters that only shallow people concern themselves with?

Cultural warnings against judging by outward appearances, however, pertain to how we regard other people not how we think about our environment. The idea behind them is that we should not allow a person’s appearance to overrule his character. And while it is true that other concerns might be of greater importance this does not make concern for the appearance of the world around us a trivial matter. Try and imagine living in a world where everything we regard as beautiful has disappeared and been replaced by something ugly. The thought of living in such a world should be sufficient to convince us that environmental beauty is anything but trivial.

We are able to appreciate beauty in ourselves, in art, and in the world around us because this ability is part of our nature as human beings. Our human nature also manifests itself in the universal human activity of attempting to make our personal appearances, the appearance of our homes, and the appearance of our arts and crafts, as pleasing to the eye as possible. In both of these aspects of human nature can be seen a tremendous human need for beauty. (9)

It is this human need for beauty which makes natural or environmental beauty something which we should try to conserve along with natural resources. To conserve something is to preserve it for the future by being careful not to waste it in the present. To conserve things we have inherited from past generations – our civilization, our culture, our laws and rights, our art, our resources, our environment – for future generations is to behave responsibly by taking a long view of things in which we rank our long term good higher than our immediate short term good. To take this view, requires that we think of ourselves primarily as communities or societies and only secondarily as individuals, for individuals have only brief lifespans in comparison with the multigenerational life of a community or society. It also requires that we cultivate and practice the virtue of temperance or self-control, of keeping our desires and passions subject to our reason, itself subject to the good of the community reflected in its laws.

These attitudes and behaviors are consistent with pre-modern classical and Christian thought. They are at odds with modern thought, however. Liberalism, the predominant ideology of the modern age, consists of unfettered individualism which insists upon the primacy of the individual over the community. The classical idea of governing our passions is the polar opposite of the message of “indulge yourself”, “express yourself”, and “if it feels good do it” that is found everywhere today. It should come as no surprise to us, then, that the idea of conserving our natural resources and the beauty of our environment finds itself at odds with modern utilitarianism and pragmatism.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that the movement which has concerned itself with the conservation of environmental beauty and natural resources, has aligned itself, not with the classical and Christian pre-modern traditions of Western civilization, but with the radical forces dedicated to their destruction. The result of this mismatched alliance has been that the environmentalist cause has been twisted and its very understanding of nature and natural beauty has been warped.

At some point the environmentalist movement began to lay the blame for the problems created by industrialization at the feet of Christianity. In Genesis 1:26-29, God creates man and gives him dominion over the earth and all living things therein. Environmentalists pointed to this passage and identified it as the source of industrialism’s use of science and technology to exert man’s will over the natural world, and therefore of industrial depletion of resources and massive production of waste and pollution.

Having placed the blame on Christianity for the industrial threat to our ecosystem, environmentalism then adopted a worldview in which nature was elevated to the level of the divine. In some cases this was very literal as some environmentalists turned to a naturalistic, neopagan religion, in which nature or the earth was worshipped as a goddess. These were the radical fringe of the movement – most environmentalists did not go this far but they insisted that we adopt an attitude of reverence towards nature of the kind that the Abrahamic faiths teach should be reserved for God

This was a reversal of the positions held by man and the rest of the physical world in the hierarchy of Creation in Christianity. One of its effects was to remove mankind from “nature” in the thinking of the environmentalists. In Christian doctrine, God created man in His own image, gave man dominion over the natural world within which He placed man. Man’s vice-regal dominion over Creation was to be exercised from within Creation. To elevate nature above man the environmentalists had to separate nature from man.

The concept of a nature which is separate from and does not include man is a false concept, a distorted concept and this has in turn distorted the way those who hold this concept view mankind. (10) Wendell Berry comments on the unnaturalness of this dichotomous view of man and nature:

The defenders of nature and wilderness – like their enemies the defenders of the industrial economy – sometimes sound as if the natural and the human were two separate estates, radically different and radically divided. The defenders of nature and wilderness sometimes seem to feel that they must oppose any human encroachment whatsoever, just as the industrialists often apparently feel that they must make the human encroachment absolute or, as they say, “complete the conquest of nature.” But there is danger in this opposition, and it can be best dealt with by realizing that these pure and separate categories are pure ideas and do not otherwise exist. (11)

Berry goes on to say that it is not good for human beings to live for very long in either “pure nature”, i.e., wilderness unshaped by man, or in “a condition that is purely human”, i.e., completely artificial or man-made. (12) He then explains that:

People cannot live apart from nature, that is the first principle of the conservationists. And yet, people cannot live in nature without changing it. But this is true of all creatures; they depend upon nature, and they change it. What we call nature is, in a sense, the sum of the changes made by all the various creatures and natural forces in their intricate actions and influences upon each other and upon their places. (13)

This is not an endorsement of industrialism, of which the agrarian Berry is a fierce critic, but it displays an understanding of the relationship between man and nature which is sorely lacking among most contemporary environmentalist critics of industrial activity.

If it is a mistake to divide “man” and “nature” into separate categories then the answer to our question about natural beauty must be no, that the condition of being unshaped or untouched by the hand of man cannot be the sine qua non of natural beauty.

Common sense would tell us this as well. A world in which cities of concrete and steel, roads of asphalt, advertising billboards, and landfills have completely hidden from view any trace of what it looked like prior to these things would be a world suffering from a beauty deficiency. But so would be a world consisting entirely of wilderness. It is no insult to creation or to its Creator to say that human activity can enhance a landscape and make it more pleasing to the eye than it was before. Since God placed man in this world, and gave him the ability to affect its appearance, it was clearly part of His intention that human activity would have just this effect.

We see this in the way in which well maintained lawns have a more refined beauty than wild grass that grows long and goes to seed, and in the way hedges which are trimmed and trees which are pruned of their dead branches have an elegant beauty that has been enhanced beyond that of the raw forest.

This is not to say that all parts of nature can be improved by mankind in this way. The world is a vast place with a wide variety of different views which respond to the influence of man in different ways. Some are best left as close to the way we found them as possible, others would seem incomplete without evidence of the presence and activity of mankind.

If God’s creation of man in His own image and placing him in the world with dominion over it included the intention that human activity which alters the appearance of creation would enhance and improve its beauty, then the free will that He gave to man, which created the potential for man to abuse his gifts and sin against his Creator, included the potential of man to mar and ruin the beauty of creation as well. Man, as the Scriptures tell and as can be seen everywhere we look, fell into sin and evidence that his sin has included the abuse of his creative abilities to distort and mar the beauty of creation is abundant.

This has been especially true in modern times. Large highways, paved with asphalt, do not complement their surroundings the way older country roads do. Large cities, in which urban dwellers can live their entire lives without seeing the beauty of the countryside, or even the beauty of a star filled heaven at night, do not blend into the country which surrounds them in the way smaller towns and villages do. The vast landfills needed to accommodate the waste of modern, industrial, urban living, are among the many eyesores which scar the beauty of the land as a result of modernization.

The modernization which produced these things does not flow out of the belief that God gave man dominion over creation. It comes rather from the belief that man must seize dominion over creation for himself by forcing creation to bend to his will rather than receive dominion over creation as a gift from the hand of his Creator. This unleashing of the human will to power is what we were left with when Christian faith began to wane in the modern age.

The desire to conserve the beauty of the world for future generations is a natural and a noble desire. It results only in folly, however, when those who posses that desire blame the Christian faith for the problems of industrialization, separate man from nature, deifying nature and demonizing man (14), and place their faith in government and international bureaucracies.

(1) Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (London: Phaidon Press, 1944, 1960), p. 178. This is the translation by S. G. C. Middlemore which first appeared in two volumes in 1878. The German original was published in 1860.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid, p. 179.

(4) Roger Scruton, Beauty, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, 2011), p. 49.

(5) Ibid., p. 82.

(6) Ecology is the branch of biology which studies how living things interact with each other in a common environment. The term ecology was coined in the 19th Century to refer to this discipline. It comes from the Greek word word oikos. Oikos literally refers to a house, but the meaning that crosses over into “ecology” is “place where you dwell, surroundings”. The word economy is ultimately derived from the same root, but the Greek compound oikonomia was already in existence in ancient times to refer to “the administration of household affairs”.

(7) Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress (Toronto: House of Anansi, 2004) which consists of his Massey Lectures for that year, is a work of doomsday scare-mongering which nevertheless correctly identifies the correlation between a belief in progress and an irresponsible attitude towards the conservation of resources.

(8) The environmentalist movement has to a large degree embraced socialism, an economic system based upon the rejection of private property. Conservatives and liberals – by liberals I mean “classical liberals” - both believe strongly in private property, and hence cannot accept socialism. Environmentalists should not be so quick to reject private property either. One environmentalist, the late Garrett J. Hardin, who was professor of human ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, (and also a conservative Republican), argued in a number of essays and books, that resources which are privately owned, are better maintained and conserved, than those which are treated as common resources. This has been observably true since ancient times. Other reasons why conservatives are suspicious of the environmentalist movement are its belief in, reliance upon, and support of government and international bureaucracies who interfere in people’s lives from afar, and its increasingly addiction to alarmist rhetoric and doomsday scenarios, such as the supposed “global warming” crisis. These are good reasons to be wary of the environmentalist movement, but not to reject its basic idea that earth’s natural resources and beauty are something we should conserve for future generations to enjoy.

(9) Roger Scruton, in the chapter on natural beauty in his book cited above, points to Immanuel Kant, who argued that beauty was a proper subject for philosophy because taste, the ability to appreciate beauty, was a human universal. This made natural beauty the primary object of taste, because all human beings can appreciate it, whereas appreciation for the arts is more limited. Scruton also discusses those, such as the Marxists, who held an opposing view, but he himself is quite sympathetic to Kant on this point.

(10) Environmentalism has allied itself, for example, with what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death”, and environmentalists have frequently spoken of the propagation of the human species in extremely derogatory terms.

(11) Wendell Berry, Home Economics, (New York: North Point Press, 1987), p. 6. This is the first paragraph of an essay entitled “Getting Along with Nature”, which is the second of the fourteen essays which this book consists of.

(12) I can think of some people who would probably disagree with the second assertion but they are not good advertisements for their position because it arises out of the kind of perpetual immaturity that results from being completely immersed in technology all one’s life.

(13) Berry, op. cit., p. 7.

(14) Note, as Berry did in the first quotation above, that the environmentalists and those who see dominion over nature as something man must seize for himself, although each others enemies, have this separation of man and nature as their common ground.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This and That No. 18

It has been a few months since my last “This and That”. For those unfamiliar with these I will begin with a note of explanation. Most of my posts on this blog are extended essays on particular topics (theological, political, philosophical, ethical, aesthetical, and cultural). The posts entitled “This and That”, on the other hand, combine shorter discussions of multiple topics with personal announcements, notifications of upcoming essays and sometimes commentary on current events.

A New Liturgical Year

We are a week and a half into the new Christian liturgical year, last Sunday having been the second Sunday in Advent. Over the summer I found a copy of John Keble’s The Christian Year in a used book store. Keble was the Victorian Anglican priest after whom Keble College in Oxford is named. His name, like that of Edward Pusey, will forever be linked with that of John Henry Newman as one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, the early 19th Century Catholic revival in the Church of England. Newman credited Keble’s 1833 sermon on “National Apostasy” with launching the movement. The Christian Year was written before all that, however. It was his first publication, written while he was a young man, consisting of a series of devotional poems, one for morning and evening, ones for every Sunday in the liturgical year, and ones for other important liturgical dates.

I have decided to read it the way it was intended to be read, each poem on the day of the Christian calendar it is assigned to. I will also be listening to a collection of recordings of the surviving sacred cantatas by J. S. Bach according to their liturgical dates. The German, Lutheran, Baroque master composer wrote three full cycles of sacred cantatas. They have not all survived, so not every day in the Christian calendar is covered – last Sunday, Advent 2, was not, nor is next Sunday, Advent 3 – but there are over 200 of them still available. The version I will be listening to is the complete edition recorded by the Bachakademie in Stuttgart under the direction of Helmuth Rilling, released in 2011 by hänssler CLASSIC.

A New Concert Season

Speaking of classical music, it is not just a new liturgical year that has started, but the new concert season as well. It started back in September, of course. So far the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has given us excellent performances of pieces by Rachmaninoff, Dvorák, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Mathieu, and Sibelius, as well as a “Night of Song and Dance” about which it is probably best, in keeping with the spirit of Christian charity, to say very little. The next performance, on December 17th, will be of Handel’s Messiah, which is always something I look forward to in the Christmas season.

Manitoba Opera put on its fall production last month. This year they chose Richard Strauss’ Salome as their opener, a one act opera based upon Oscar Wilde’s play, itself based upon the Biblical story of Herodias’ daughter who asked for and received John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. It was a great performance and I am looking forward to their concert of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and their production of Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment, next year.

C. S. Lewis and the Penitential Language of the Prayer Book

Dr. Larry Dixon, who was my faculty advisor at Providence College (now Providence University College) back in the 90’s, has recently discovered C. S. Lewis’ “Miserable Offenders” An Interpretation of Prayer Book Language. He will be reproducing and discussing it at his blog ( in a series of posts. I recommend that you check it out. By an odd coincidence I read this same essay earlier this year myself. It was included in God in the Dock, which I reviewed here: The title of the essay comes from the General Confession in the order for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer which reads:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Lewis’ essay is a defence of the repentant attitude reflected in these words, which had come under attack in his day by liberals offended at the thought that we are “miserable offenders” who must approach God in a spirit of penitence.

Interesting Discussions Elsewhere on the Web

Lawrence Auster, a traditionalist American writer has written a number of critiques of Darwinism recently, which can be found at his website A View From the Right: Dr. Steve Burton, one of the contributors to What’s Wrong With the World, responded here:, which, as you can see, led to an interesting debate in the comments. This also appears to be the background to a series of premises Dr. Burton has been posting about evolutionary psychology. I contributed to the discussion in the comments to the first premise here:

The Ongoing Fight For Freedom

Advent, like Lent, is a period devoted to penitent reflection, prior to the celebration of God’s grace given to man in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are those, however, who show very little penitence and humility in this season, or in any other. The anti-racists, for example, smugly confident in their own righteousness, continue their campaign to have the government punish and silence those who disagree with them. Thankfully, their actions are not going unopposed.

Next week, Marc Lemire of the Freedomsite will appear before the Federal Court of Canada, which will be hearing the appeal of the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the September 2009 decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which ruled that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was unconstitutional. If the Federal Court upholds the original decision, Section 13 will finally be stricken from the law. Section 13 is the law which declares that it is an act of illegal discrimination to electronically communicate any material which is “likely to” expose someone to “hatred or contempt” on the grounds of their membership in a group you are forbidden to discriminate against. You can read Mr. Lemire’s account of his upcoming court case here: Let us pray that he will be successful and that we will finally be rid of this disgusting piece of thought-control legislation once and for all.

Meanwhile, today Connie Fournier was cross-examined by Richard Warman and his lawyer, with regards to one of his many nuisance lawsuits against Free Dominion, the conservative message board that she and her husband Mark administer. Let us also remember Mark and Connie in our prayers, that they might win their legal battles, and finally be free of these obnoxious SLAPP suits.

Let us also pray that Richard Warman and the other anti-racists will be humbled, repent, and make restitution to those they have harmed in their misguided zeal.

Upcoming Essays

I have not yet completed my 2011 “arts and culture” series of essays, and I will not have the time to complete it before the end of the year so some of the essays will be post next year. The final essays in the series will be an essay on the beauty of nature, a review of Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, an essay on multiculturalism, and an essay about Matthew Arnold and his Culture and Anarchy. I had also planned about three essays on the subject of criticism but these will now be part of a new series for next year, as the research materials for one of them will take me some time to gather together. The final essays of the “Arts and Culture” series will not necessarily be posted in the order in which I have mentioned them above.

Advent and Christmas Reading

It was a few years ago that I read John Lukacs’ first autohistory Confessions of an Original Sinner. In the library yesterday I found a copy of his second autohistory Last Rites, which is a couple of years old now. I started it last night. I will also be reading a collection of the sermons of St. Augustine for Advent through Epiphany, George Grant’s Time as History (based upon his 1969 Massey Lectures on Nietzsche), Roger Scruton’s The Uses of Pessimism, and I plan on re-reading C. S. Lewis’ fiction, his Narnia series, and his space trilogy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Capitalism and Culture

It is part of our nature as human beings that we both need and desire to live together in communities. Indeed, it is part of our very nature that the most basic human community, the fundamental unit of human society, the family, is one that we are born into upon entering the world, rather than one we voluntarily join. It is also part of our human nature that each of us is a unique person possessed of his own desires, intelligence, and will.

There is tension between these two aspects of our nature, a tension that is intensified by another aspect of human nature that is perhaps best described by the theological term “sin”. This tension creates the necessity for rules and for government with the authority to enforce those rules. Laws can be just or unjust to varying degrees. The more necessary a law is for the good of the whole community the more just it is. The more a law serves the interests of a part of the community rather than the good of the whole, the more unjust that law is. This is true regardless of whether the part of the community served be the few or the many, the rich or the poor, the high or the low. In the most just laws, the good of the whole community is in harmony with the good of each of the parts. Such laws are by nature few and Evelyn Waugh once wisely wrote that while man cannot live without rules they should be “kept to the bare minimum of safety”.

To do so requires that there be something other than just law holding a community together and easing the tension between our human need for community and our human individuality. That something is what we call culture. While a community’s formal rules are part of its culture it also includes much more, including informal rules, and a shared understanding of the community and the world which encourages the kind of attitude and behavior towards others which facilitates community life but which cannot reasonably be enforced by legislation. T. S. Eliot in his Notes Toward a Definition of Culture pointed out that culture and religion overlap to a large degree. Roger Scruton, in a work inspired by Eliot explained further that religion, by setting aside certain things as sacred, renders them inappropriate for the buy-and-sell world of the marketplace, thus ensuring that the most important elements of community life are not conducted on a commercial basis. (1)

This raises the question, which we will be looking at in this essay, of the effect of capitalism upon culture.

Before doing so we will need to consider the definition of the term “capitalism”. Capitalism is not an easy word to define, especially since those people who are in favour of capitalism and those people who are against capitalism do not appear to be referring to the same thing when they say “capitalism”. A further difficulty arises from the fact that the word capitalism does not have the same relationship with the word capitalist as the word socialism has with the word socialist. A socialist is someone who believes in the idea of socialism. A capitalist, however, is someone who uses capital which he owns in order to make a profit. This would suggest that capitalism is an economic activity – the use of capital (productive property) to produce goods to sell in order to obtain a profit. We usually think of capitalism as being the opposite of socialism, however, and socialism is not an economic activity but an economic system, which would suggest that capitalism is such a system as well.

Perhaps that is needlessly complicating the matter. It is possible for capitalism and socialism to be opposed to each other without belonging to the same general category. Socialism, at least as it was understood in the 19th Century, is the belief that private ownership of productive property generates social and economic inequality which produces the oppression of one class by another which in turn creates most of the evils people suffer in society, and that therefore such property should be collectively owned by the society. If capitalism is the economic activity of using privately owned productive property to produce goods to be sold for a profit then it is an activity which socialism clearly judges to be wrong. This is especially true if the capitalist hires other people to labour for him. This is judged to be oppression by the socialist because he regards the capitalist as having an unfair advantage over the laborer in the fact that he owns capital and the laborer does not. Conversely, the capitalist believes that the socialist is unfairly condemning him for things which are not morally wrong – owning property, using that property to produce goods which people want, selling those goods to others who wish to buy them in order to make a profit for himself, and providing jobs for others who need them in order to earn a living. (2)

Those who write in favour of capitalism, however, usually think of it as an economic system rather than an economic activity. The features of the system are the private ownership of property and the free market. The free market is not an actual market in the sense of a place where people go to buy and sell but a concept, an idea about how the process of buying and selling works. People exchange that which they have (sometimes only their labour) for that which they do not have but want or need more than that which they are giving up for it. The price (what amount of x that is exchanged for what amount of y) is determined by the impersonal forces of supply and demand. The more a good is in demand (the more people want it) the higher the price is, the larger the supply of the good (the more available it is) the lower the price. The adjective “free” modifies the concept to suggest the idea that the market works best and has the fairest outcome when people are free to make their own voluntary exchanges without interference from a regulating body. (3)

Historians might object to the free market economist’s definition of capitalism however. If, by a free market we mean a market that is completely unregulated then no such thing has ever existed. If we mean a market that is unregulated but not completely so then the question becomes how unregulated must it be in order to be considered a “free market”? Any answer to that question would be more or less arbitrary and so we are left with a definition of capitalism as an economic system that is either a) an abstract ideal that has never existed in real life or b) a definition that would apply to a number of economies before the Industrial Revolution and the historically recognized dawn of capitalism. A further historical problem with the free market economist’s definition of capitalism is that the transition to an industrial capitalist society was accomplished with a significant degree of positive government intervention and not by the adoption of the laissez faire proposals of economic liberals. (4)

What this tells us is that the liberal economist’s defense of the free market and private enterprise cannot be taken as a literal description of capitalism as a historical economic system. It must be regarded as being either an ex post facto justification of historical capitalism arrived after it had already developed or was in the process of developing (5) or a prescription for what capitalism would look like in its ideal form. This raises the question of what is the defining characteristic of historical capitalism.

Here we run into a very interesting problem. There is an obvious answer to the question of what distinguishes historical capitalism from all previous economies. That answer is the application of modern science in invention to the matter of the efficiency of production. This is what brought about the Industrial Revolution and the transformation of pre-Industrial economies which were predominantly rural and agrarian to industrial economies which were predominantly urban and based upon large-scale manufacturing. The problem lies in the fact that this answer cannot also be used to distinguish capitalism from socialism. Indeed, if this is taken to be the chief distinguishing characteristic of capitalism, which from a historical point of view it seems to be, then socialism would appear to be a form of capitalism. That assessment is not one which is likely to please either free market economists or socialists.

It is industrialism, the result of technology produced by the application of modern science to production, that distinguishes capitalism from previous economies, but this does not distinguish capitalism from socialism which is widely regarded as capitalism’s only significant competitor in the modern economy. Capitalism and socialism can only be distinguished by economic theory. In the economic theory of capitalism productive property is privately owned and the market is considered the most efficient and most fair means of distributing goods. In the economic theory of socialism productive property is collectively owned and the state distributes goods based upon need as assessed by the state.

The relationship between historical capitalism and the liberal economist’s theory of the free market can now be explained however. One result of the application of modern science to production was that it now became possible to produce manufactured goods on a much larger scale than before. In a modern, industrialized factory, goods could be produced in larger numbers in shorter periods of time than ever before. As a consequence, the market became more important than ever before. The whole point of a market is to sell that which you have produced in excess of your own needs to others who wish to purchase it in order to obtain other things that you do not make yourself but which you wish for or need. In an economy where people make most of the things they need for their own use themselves the market performs this vital function but people are not absolutely dependent upon it. When large factories began producing on a massive scale, however, all of a sudden the entire economy of a modern, industrialized, country became dependent upon the market. This is where the liberal economists entered the picture and offered a theoretical defense of the market which had already taken on new importance due to technological development.

Our definition of capitalism then, is that it is a modern economy brought into existence by the application of modern science to the development of productivity-enhancing technology and efficient assembly-line processes, in which productive property is privately owned and the market, as the means of distributing mass-produced goods is of central importance to the economy.

Now that we have a working definition of capitalism we can return to the main question of the impact of capitalism upon the culture of societies which have adopted it. Culture, remember, which grows out of a society’s religion, serves as a social adhesive, holding a community together, inspiring the kind of attitudes and behavior necessary for community living which laws alone cannot produce, and helping relieve the tension between human individuality and the human need for community. Has capitalism strengthened culture and helped it to perform this function or has it weakened it?

A case can be made that capitalism, in its early stages, strengthened culture. Although the economic case for the free market was made primarily by liberals who were at their best broad church latitudinarians and at their worst outright religious skeptics, (6) early capitalism was closely identified with the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism, and especially the English version of Calvinism that is known as Puritanism. (7) Capitalism, at this stage in its development was supported by a Protestant ethic which stressed the importance of hard work, thrift and saving, and sacrifice. These are important things for a culture to stress because they help ward off the free rider problem which causes people to lose faith in the collective project of community and society. (8)

These ties between capitalism and the Protestant ethic no longer exist. If anything, capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries has come to support the exact opposite of these values. Contemporary capitalism encourages people to spend their money in order to support the market. This discourages thrift and saving. Yet hard work, thrift and saving are practices that cultures have encouraged and which parents have tried to teach their children for millennia. The Proverbs of Solomon in the Hebrew Scriptures and the fables of 7th Century BC Greek storyteller Aesop both preached their importance (9) The Protestant work ethic of early capitalism was in line with thousands of years worth of accumulated human wisdom. The contemporary capitalist ethic of “shop till you drop” is not. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center ten years ago, then US President George W. Bush in an address to the American nation said “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. (10) While Mr. Bush went on to identify the values of the older capitalism as the source of American prosperity his words were widely interpreted by the news media and their viewing/reading audience as meaning “go shopping”. (11)

Why was this interpretation of “continued participation and confidence in the American economy” as “go shopping” so widely accepted? It was because an equation between “support the economy” and “go shopping” had already been made in the popular culture. It is a very easy equation to make because “go shopping” is the ubiquitous message of the popular media and a lesson people now learn from their earliest childhood. The electronic media have become the primary vessels of the transmission of culture for the majority of people and while television programs are still occasionally produced which convey old fashioned values in their message, the louder message is that of the advertisements which pay for the programs, and whose message is “buy our product”.

In all of this we see that a change has taken place within capitalism itself that coincides with a change in the culture of societies which are economically capitalist. As part of that change, values which culture has traditionally promoted and which were important to the early stages of capitalism have been abandoned as the culture has begun to promote behavior which traditionally culture sought to discourage. Why did this transformation take place and was it inevitable that capitalism would develop in this direction?

The change that has occurred in capitalism is basically this – consumption has become more important than production and the market has ceased to be a means to the end of human material prosperity and has become the end to which human productivity has become the means.

The seeds of this transformation were present in capitalism from the beginning. From “the market is the most efficient and fair way to distribute goods” it is a simple step to “the market is the source of prosperity” and yet another short step to “we must keep shopping in order to keep the market going because our economy will crumble if we don’t”. Yet these steps could never have been taken apart from the weakening and collapse of the cultural roadblocks which stood in their way.

Those roadblocks were essentially religious.

At Mt. Sinai, the commandments which the LORD handed down to Moses, began with:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Ex. 20:2-6)

We have a term for the sin of breaking these commandments. That term is “idolatry”. Theologically, idolatry can be defined as putting something which is not God in the place of God. It is idolatry, even if that which is put in God’s place, is itself a good. In philosophical ethics, roughly the same thing occurs when a means is treated as an end, or a penultimate good is treated as an ultimate good. This is exactly what occurs when the market is regarded as the source of human prosperity. It has taken the place of God as the ultimate source of good for mankind. When man turns a lesser good into an idol, that idol becomes his master and he becomes its slave.

The Christian faith, which inherited the Hebrew Scriptures and the prohibition against idolatry, stood in the way of the market being put in the place of God as the ultimate source of human good, so as long as capitalists were Calvinists, this could not take place. When the Christian faith of the Calvinist eroded, this roadblock was gone. The market was elevated to the level of the highest good and became an idol. When this happened the relationship between man and the market was inverted. The market, as a means to the end which is the material well-being of mankind, is a good thing. As such it is man’s servant not his master. When the market is treated as the source of human happiness it become’s man’s master and man becomes its slave. When this happens you find people making decisions and doing things that they would not otherwise make or do because it is “good for the market”.

Idolatry is an error in the setting of priorities. That which is secondary is treated as if it were of first importance. This leads to other similar errors. Man’s material needs are treated as being of greater importance than his moral and spiritual needs. Consumption is treated as being more important than production. The same Christian faith which warned against idolatry, including making an idol out of the market, warned against these errors as well. “What doeth it profit a man”, the Lord Jesus Christ once asked, “if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” To consume without producing, Christianity and common sense have long warned, is the path to poverty.

Capitalism, in other words, was on the road to contemporary consumerism the moment Christian faith began to wane in capitalist countries. Did capitalism itself contribute to that waning?

In a way this is like the question about whether the chicken came before the egg or vice versa. Capitalism is both the product of and a contributing factor in the ongoing process of change that has transformed the Western world from Christendom into a number of secular states and societies. Modernization is one way of describing this process. Those who regard it as being an unmixed blessing often refer to it as “progress”. This term suggests that the changes in the modernization process are improvements and that they are leading mankind away from the evils of the past towards a glorious future. While the modernization process, including the early stages of the development of modern science, began with Christian scholars in the late middle ages (12) it was deists, religious skeptics, and people who were hostile to the Christian faith who began to think of modernization in terms of progress.

It is ironic then that the concept of progress can be regarded as a form of “Christian” heresy. A heresy is what you end up with when you take one element of the orthodox doctrine of a religion and make it all-important by removing it from the context of orthodox doctrine as a whole to the point where other doctrines are denied. As Canadian conservative philosopher George Grant explained in the series of CBC lectures later edited into the book Philosophy in the Mass Age Christianity inherited from Judaism a belief that there is meaning in the order of events which occur because such events are ordered by God towards His ultimate ends. Our Western understanding of history is based upon this belief and when it is removed from the theistic context of Christianity it becomes the idea of “progress” in which man takes God’s place as the mind directing historical events. (13)

This understanding of progress is fundamental to the critique of progress, technology and capitalism that recurs throughout Grant’s writings. In the opening essay of his final book Technology and Justice he breaks down the English word “technology” into its roots and argues that this word better captures the essence of that which it denotes than its counterparts in other European languages, because technology is a synthesis of art and science, of making/doing and knowledge. The purpose of this synthesis is human domination over ourselves, nature, and the world. This, of course, is the domination which he saw as lying at the heart of the concept of progress. (14)

It is this same technology, as we earlier saw, which brought into existence the industrial economy of capitalism. If Grant is correct then, the capitalism which was in its earliest stages driven by the Protestant ethic, was part of a process that would eventually undermine that very influence of Protestant Christianity upon the culture of capitalist nations, which in turn led to the transformation of capitalism into the consumerist corporate empire it is today. Grant himself went even further than that in identifying the seeds of late capitalism in the capitalism of the earlier era:

Early capitalism was full of moral restraints. The Protestant ethic inhibited any passion that did not encourage acquisition. The greed of each would lead to the greater good of all. But in the age of high technology, the new capitalism can allow all passions to flourish along with greed. (15)

The idea here is that of a two-stage liberation of the passions, which pre-modern ethics had shackled. (16) In the first stage greed was unleashed, while other passions – the context suggests the sexual passions are what Grant has chiefly in mind - remained inhibited. In the second stage the remaining passions are emancipated.

While there are some problems with this (17), overall the description of the modern age of progress as a gradual unshackling of the passions from the restraints pre-modern Western civilization placed upon them seems quite accurate. Contemporary capitalism and the culture that corresponds with it has been telling people to indulge themselves and their passions for decades. The advertisement industry, that part of consumerist capitalism whose job is to convince people to buy products, is constantly preaching this message to people, and since advertisement pays the bills for the producers of popular culture in the age of the mass media, that culture has come to preach that message as well. A culture that tells people to indulge their passions and throw off traditional restraints, however, is a culture which does not serve the function for which culture exists very well.

Culture, remember, exists to unite a community or a society, alleviating the tension between the social nature of man and his individuality, in a way which the law, also required for this purpose, cannot. Culture does this, Roger Scruton tells us, by “dedicating them [the present members of a society] to the past and future of the community”. (18) In other words, it provides the present members of the community with the long view that enables and encourages them to sacrifice part of their present, short term good, for the long term good of the community as a whole.

Culture then is supposed to present us with a view of our community, as a whole larger then ourselves. (19) Culture cannot do this when it is too heavily influenced by modern liberalism. Modern liberalism is the belief that the individual comes first and that society is a voluntary contract between individuals made with the end of securing the good of individuals. The free market economist’s defence of capitalism is the economic expression of modern liberalism (20).

Modern liberalism, in its political and economic manifestations, wishes to see all human interaction conducted on a contractual basis. It was against this that 19th Century social critic Thomas Carlyle wrote “We have profoundly forgotten everywhere that cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings”. (21) Nor, it should be added, is it the most important. The most important relationships between human beings are not those which are appropriate for the market place but those which exist within the family. The relationship between a husband and his wife, and between parents and their children, are of far greater importance than the relationship between a seller and a buyer. These relationships would not be improved by being made to resemble a business relationship. Indeed, a huge part of the present crisis of marriage is that the state has done all in its power to reduce marriage to the level of a business partnership.

What the state has removed from marriage is what liberalism would have removed from all human relations – the sense of the sacred. The words we use to express the concept of the sacred are words which originally conveyed the meaning of “set apart”. Something that is sacred, that is holy, is something that is “set aside” or “reserved”. To grasp the concept of the sacred we need to ask two questions: “set apart for what?” and “set apart from what?” The answer to the first is fairly obvious. Within a religious tradition that which is sacred is set apart for that which is considered divine in that religious tradition, the gods, or in Christianity, God. The second question requires a bit more thought but what the answer ultimately boils down to is “the common”, “the ordinary”, “the everyday”, “the mundane”. Something which is sacred is something which is removed from the realm of the ordinary and elevated by being consecrated for the use of the divine.

When something is raised to the level of the sacred it is removed from the market, for something which is dedicated to God is priceless in the most literal sense of the term. To attach a price to it, to make it into an object of commerce, is to commit an act of desecration. Remember that Jesus when He found the money changers in the courtyard of the Temple, overturned their tables and drove them out saying “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13). Whereas modern liberalism demands a separation between church and state, which makes religion into something it is not supposed to be, i.e., a private, personal matter and prevents it from being that which it is supposed to be, i.e., the coming together to worship which lies at the heart of the culture which binds a community, past, present and future, together, it was something more like a separation between commerce and religion which Jesus demanded.

Does this mean that the market is a bad thing?

No, it is a good thing when it is kept in its proper place and put to its proper use. When it is put in religion’s place in the heart of a community, however, it cheapens everything by reducing it to a commodity. Roger Scruton wrote:

But something new seems to be at work in the contemporary world—a process that is eating away the very heart of social life, not merely by putting salesmanship in place of moral virtue, but by putting everything—virtue included—on sale. (22)

This spells death for the life of a community. In a market transaction, both participants exchange something they value less for something they value more. This amounts, paradoxically, to a gain for both parties. This is the “subjective theory of value” which is one of the central insights of Carl Menger (23) and the Austrian School of Economics. This, combined with Ludwig von Mises’ argument about the non-existence of a means whereby a central planning body could calculate the economic needs of everybody within a society, is the reason why the market is the best possible way of handling economic matters.

It works, however, because each person in a market transaction is looking out, first and last, for his own self-interest. This works well in economic transactions but it would be very problematic if every interaction in society were conducted on this basis. If every social interaction consisted of two individuals looking out for their self-interest first and trying to come to an agreement then the only way in which we would ever see others is as means to our own ends. This amounts to the complete objectification (24) of every person, by every person, and is the very antithesis of a healthy community.

Religion, traditionally, consecrates the most important events and relationships in our lives. Weddings are traditionally conducted by clergymen, who pronounce God’s blessing on the union of man and woman, establishing the marriage as a covenant rather than a contract. In most of the traditional branches of the Christian faith a newborn child is baptized shortly after birth upon which occasion the child officially receives his Christian name and when a man is expected to die God’s blessing is pronounced over him in the last rites. The beginning and end of life is thereby consecrated and after a man dies the ceremony in which his loved ones say good bye, the funeral, is an inherently religious rite as well.

All of this serves an important social function. By consecrating the most important events and relationships in our lives as sacred, religion reminds us that life is about more than just the obtaining of material things. This reminds us that life itself is sacred. As technological development and mass production have magnified the role of the market place in Western societies, they have brought us tremendous material blessings, but those blessings have not come without a cost. By taking over the role of the Christian religion at the centre of Western cultures, the market has robbed us to a great degree of our sense of the sacred. It has also robbed us to a large degree of a sense of vocation (25) and of public spirit (26) among our leaders. These are all things which it is difficult to regain once lost.

The time is now long past when we should have asked ourselves whether the price of “progress” was worth it.

(1)Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998, 2000) This book is a defense of high culture, in the tradition of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot, which argues that the function of modern Western high culture is to fill the gap left by the collapse of Christian belief in Western societies. The argument is a sociological/anthropological explanation of the purpose of religion. While Scruton argues that such a view of religion can only be taken from the outside by those who have distanced themselves from the faith I see no reason why someone like myself who believes that the evidence overwhelmingly points to Jesus of Nazareth having risen from the dead as a historical fact, thus demonstrating the truth of His claim to be the Son of God, cannot also accept a reasonable explanation of the social function of religion.

(2) Socialism’s moral assessment of capitalism and capitalists and capitalism’s moral assessment of socialism are not the subject of this essay and so I will deal with them briefly here. Each side, in its judgement of the other, exaggerates the importance of a particular economic group (productive property owners for capitalism, wage-labourers for socialism) for the good of the other group and of the society as a whole, and downplays the extent to which the well-being of its own group depends upon the good of the whole community. The exaggeration is far greater on the part of the socialist than the capitalist. No efficient system of producing goods on a scale large enough to raise the standard of living of most members of a community significantly above subsistence level ever has been produced by manual labour alone, nor would it be possible to do so. The possibility exists, at least in theory, for a capitalist to do away with his labour force by completely automatizing his property. The capitalist is far more important for the well-being of the wage labourer than the other way around (this is the one essential truth that can be pulled from the mountains of error which exist in the writings of Ayn Rand). Conversely, the capitalist is far more likely to downplay the extent to which community, an orderly society, and just laws contribute to the creation of private wealth. Ultimately, however, the capitalist’s moral assessment of socialism is more accurate than the socialist’s moral assessment of capitalism.

(3) From an economic point of view I have no objection to the free market argument. Socialism, which presents itself as the alternative to capitalism, is based upon the idea that a governing body can plan the economy of an entire society in such a way as to produce a better outcome for all of the society’s members than if each member makes his own economic decisions for himself and has control over whatever property he may privately own. I have never understood how anybody could be stupid enough to believe this.

(4) See Robert Nisbet’s The Quest For Community (London: Oxford University Press, 1953, 1962), pp 104-105.

(5) Marxists, for example, explain the relationship this way.

(6) See, however, Murray N. Rothbard Economic Thought Before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought Vol. 1 (Aldershot and Brookfield: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1995) for the alternative view that free market arguments were anticipated by, among others, neo-Aristotelian Roman Catholic scholastics in the late middle ages.

(7) See, for example Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Scribner, 1958). It should be noted that Weber’s explanation of the relationship between the Protestant work and the doctrine of predestination seems accurate enough as a description of Puritan theology, but some insist that that theology, through the influence of Theodore Beza, William Perkins and others, has diverged from John Calvin’s own teachings on just this point. See R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1654 (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1979), and M. Charles Bell Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985). Nevertheless, the connection between Calvinism and early capitalism seems undeniable. Capitalism developed first where Calvinist influence was the strongest (the Netherlands on continental Europe, the English-speaking world, and especially the strongly Puritan influenced United States of America).

(8) Marxists, of course, and other socialists would argue that the capitalist class – i.e., the class of people that derives its income from its ownership of property is a free rider class that profits from the efforts of others, i.e., those it employs to work on or in its property. This argument is based upon a misconception of the relationship between property owners and labourers. It has more weight, however, when it comes not from those who believe in some nonsensical vision of a propertyless egalitarian society, but those who preach the importance of small property owners who work their own property (deceased British economist E. F. Schumacher for example, Kirkpatrick Sale or Wendell Berry of Kentucky).

(9) Think of Proverbs 6:6-9 and Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper.



(12) Richard M. Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948) identified the nominalism of William of Ockham in the 13th Century as the beginning of the decay of Christian civilization. Nominalism was a rejection of the reality of universals, which in one form or another had been the focus of Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle. This is relevant because the Athenian school, by refocusing philosophy on universals (justice, truth, etc.) laid the foundations for Western civilization, whereas nominalism led to a reversion to the questions which were important to pre-Socratic philosophers (questions about the nature and composition of the world). Note however, that the Athenian philosophers did not reject such matters entirely. Aristotle in particular devoted much study to the natural sciences which is why the Scholastic revival of Aristotelianism was also an important factor in the development of modern science. Science is built upon a foundation of presuppositions which assume a theistic worldview like that of Christianity – science is the observation of the world, the development of theories which explain and predict on the basis of those observations, and the testing of theories through experimentation, all of which presupposes that there is order which can be found in the world through observation, which presupposes, although many scientists deny it, that Someone put that order there.

(13) George P. Grant, Philosophy in the Mass Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995). The original edition was published by Copp Clark Publishing in 1959. It consists of eight essays which were revised from a series of lectures on philosophy Grant had given on CBC radio in 1958. The fourth essay, “History as Progress” is the relevant essay, in which Grant writes “Nevertheless, in its moral connotation there is nothing more important to its understanding than to recognize how the Christian idea of history as the divinely ordained process of salvation, culminating in the Kingdom of God, passes over into the idea of history as progress, culminating in the Kingdom of Man: how Christianity’s orienting of time to a future made by the will of God becomes the futuristic spirit of progress in which events are shaped by the will of man.” (p. 44).

(14) George P. Grant, Technology and Justice (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986). The first essay is entitled “Thinking about Technology”.

(15) George P. Grant, Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1989), p. 59. The original edition of this book was published in 1965. The occasion for Grant’s famous jeremiad was the defeat of the Diefenbaker Conservatives in 1963, when the Liberals and NDP brought down the government following an orchestrated media campaign against Diefenbaker after he refused to allow American nuclear warheads on Canadian soil. Grant regarded this as the last step in the transformation of Canada into a satellite of the American empire. As a part of Western civilization, Grant argued, North American societies have no roots older than the age of progress, but whereas the United States was built upon the concept of progress, Canada was a conservative project made possible by the fact that English Canada retained its ties to Great Britain which still had pre-modern roots.

(16) Grant, like Weaver, was a Christian Platonist. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates argued that the human soul was divided into three parts, reason, will, and the appetites, and that in the properly ordered soul, the soul of the philosopher, reason governed the appetites through the will, and that this same tripartite division would be reflected in the class structure of the just polis. The rule of the philosopher kings representing reason, would be enforced by the guardian warriors representing the will, over the mechanical workers representing the appetites or passions. The same idea that ethical behavior requires the use of the will to suppress our desires when they would pull us away from what reason tells us is the right thing to do, recurs in a slightly different form in the Ethics of Aristotle. Grant’s comments about the removal of moral inhibitions on the passions reflects a Christian version of this.

(17) Grant seems to make no distinction, for example, between the desire to acquire material wealth and “greed”. However, if we consider the passions which were inhibited in the earlier Protestant ethic but which have subsequently been unshackled, such a distinction is necessary. Grant’s next sentence after the one quoted makes reference to Playboy, for example, indicating that sexual desire was what he had in mind when he wrote “any passion that did not encourage acquisition”. The Protestant ethic however, did not completely equate sexual desire with the vice of “lust”. Such an equation would have been expressed in a rule against any and all sexual expression, including that which occurs within wedlock. Only extreme sects like the Shakers ever dreamed up such a rule, however. The mainstream Christian ethic, both Catholic and Protestant, was that sexual desire was only to be physically expressed within the confines of marriage. The passion of sexual desire was not intrinsically bad, but when ungoverned, led to behavior which was either harmful in itself or could have harmful consequences (premarital intercourse was irresponsible because it could lead to children being born outside of the security of wedlock, adultery was intrinsically harmful because it was a betrayal of one’s spouse and could also lead to cuckoldry, etc.) Hence, in the Christian ethic, the vice of lust is not sexual desire per se, but sexual desire which is emancipated from these ethical restraints. Similarly, greed must not be identified with the generic human desire to acquire material wealth. Like sexual desire, the desire for material acquisition is necessary to human survival, and must therefore be identified as a good. It is when it is not balanced with other goods and made subject to the highest good that it becomes a vice. The vice of greed is not easy to define. Some have defined it as “the desire to acquire more than what one needs”. This begs the question of “what do we mean by need?” If by “need” we mean the bare minimum required to maintain our existence, then this definition of greed would translate into the moral requirement that all human beings live at the level of mere subsistence. Only an insane person would think this way. Another definition of greed is “the desire to acquire more than one’s fair share of material goods”. This is better than the first definition but we again run into the problem that “one’s fair share” is a hard concept to pin down, except in cooperative ventures. The best definition of greed is that it the vice of taking one’s desire for material gain so far that one is willing to compromise the good of other people for it.

(18) Scruton, op.cit., p. 9, italics in original.

(19) This serves the good of the community but it also serves our good as individual persons by providing us with a context within which to understand ourselves. That this answers to a need in our human nature seems evident from the search for self-identity which seems to be everywhere present since culture has ceased to provide it.

(20) This can be confusing to people in the English-speaking world, especially North America. This is because we tend to equate conservatism with capitalism and liberalism with socialism and to regard conservatism and liberalism (and capitalism and socialism) as opposites.

(21) The quotation comes from “The Gospel of Mammonism”, which is the second chapter of Book Three of Past and Present (1843). Elsewhere in the same work (“Working Aristocracy” which is chapter 9 of Book III) Carlyle expressed the same sentiment by writing “Cash-payment is not the sole nexus of man with man”. This brought the expression “cash nexus” as a reference to market interactions into the English language.

(22) Scruton, op. cit., p. 55.

(23) Carl Menger, Principles of Economics (New York: New York University Press, 1976) a translation of Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre first published in 1871.

(24) By objectification I mean the reduction of a person to the level of an object. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in his I and Thou (New York: Scribner Classics, 2000, a translation of Ich und Du first published in 1923) pointed out the fundamental difference between the “I-Thou” way of relating to other people and God and the “I-It” way in which we use objects.

(25) Vocation, a word derived from the Latin verb meaning “to call”, refers to the sense that one’s work is an answer to a higher calling. While a sense of vocation can still be found among clergymen, artists and to a lesser degree statesmen (if anyone deserving of this label is still around) it has by and large been lost for most people. Careerism has replaced vocation for those whose work comes with a ladder of success for the ambitious to climb, whereas other jobs have become “occupations” – things done to pass the time and pay the bills. Without a sense of vocation, work is perceived as a necessary evil to be avoided if at all possible, rather than as something which is a good to be engaged in for its own sake as much as for the material remuneration one receives for it. See Weaver, op. cit., pp. 70-79.

(26) Peregrine Worsthorne, Democracy Needs Aristocracy (London: HarperPerennial, 2005), originally published in hardback as In Defence of Aristocracy in 2004. In this book Worsthorne argues for the values the British aristocracy represented (even if they did not always embody them very well) and for the general concept of a leadership class which takes to public service out of a sense of duty. While Worsthorne does find examples of aristocratic leadership in the most capitalist of countries the United States (chapter four) he argues that the capitalism of the new consensus between “New Labour” and “New Conservatism” has threatened the values he is championing. In chapter five, for example, he writes “For triumphant capitalism, unlike triumphant socialism after the war, had no need to make use of the gentlemanly public-service ethics. Quite the contrary. It has a vested interest in the destruction of that ethic, and the marginalization of the gentlemanly class that still adhered to it. Cutting off heads, in the French revolutionary fashion, was not necessary. A less brutal but no less effective method was to stuff their mouths with gold” (p. 199) Worsthorne goes on to decry the way the “spirit of free enterprise” has taken over the old Tory educational institutions so that “a great public school like Eton became just as proud of an old alumni who had built up a media empire from scratch as of one who had become a prime minister or an archbishop.” (pp. 200-201). Earlier, in the chapter in which he gave a brief history of the British aristocracy, Worsthorne explained this as the result of the Labour Party’s acceptance of the post-Thatcher consensus. “New Labour’s removal of the threat to property had thus altered the balance of power in British politics, allowing the bourgeois bulk of the Conservative Party, which only accepted the aristocratic tradition as a marriage of convenience, to show what, out of prudence, they had previously kept hidden: their anti-gentlemanly social chip on the shoulder”. (p. 105) Worsthorne writes “As a force for change, capitalism in Britain was always likely to be a more socially dissolvent force than socialism”. (p. 106). George Grant had made similar remarks in Lament for a Nation and Technology and Empire (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969) in the last of which he wrote “These days when we are told in North America that capitalism is conservative, we should remember that capitalism was the great dissolvent of the traditional virtues”. (p. 67) There is a slight difference in the way these two conservative thinkers came to their similar positions however. Grant believed that the Marxists were wrong in seeing socialism as being more progressive than capitalism and argued that socialism was a positively conservative force. Worsthorne, on the other hand, wrote that “Indeed socialism, by frightening and therefore slowing down the capitalist horses, acted more as a brake than an accelerator”. In other words, it was not that socialism was intrinsically conservative in any way, but that it was a threat that prevented capitalism from going too far down the road of progress.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Reign of Christ the King

Rejoice you all, both small and great
Lift up your voice and sing
Because today we celebrate
The feast of Christ the King

Who rules o’er all the worlds He made
And men both quick and dead
And in the Church for which He paid
Of which He is the head

No ruler ever was so just
Or merciful and true
As He who washed His servants feet
And bore their burdens too

“Thy kingdom come” He taught us pray
And so it surely will
And has already in the hearts
Of those who love Him still

So as we end the Christian year
Lets turn to Him again
And give up all our sin and pride
To let Him in us reign.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Historical Question

History is an important subject of study and discussion. George Santayana once remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, although if we believe those like Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee who say that they have found a cyclical pattern in history this might be inevitable in any circumstance. Regardless, in the people and events of the past, there are lessons both positive and negative for us to learn. Whether or not we learn those lessons will have consequences for our lives in the present and for those of future generations as well.

An orthodoxy is necessary to the consideration of history. By orthodoxy I mean a general consensus as to the established facts of history. Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States in 1968. Ed Broadbent was not elected Prime Minister of Canada in 1988. These are basic, established, facts of history. If we reject the concept of an orthodoxy altogether, and treat all historical facts as being up for debate, we will never learn anything from history.

On the other hand, historical orthodoxy must not be so inflexible as to reject legitimate challenges. Governments, in peace and war, present their acts in the most positive light possible to the people they govern. It would be greatly detrimental to the good of our societies and civilization if we blindly accepted every government’s version of its own actions as part of orthodox history.

What is needed, therefore, is both a settled account of the people and events of the past, and an ongoing re-examination of this account which questions it where it may be in error and corrects it if it finds it so to be.

In the rest of this essay we are going to consider a question regarding 20th Century history and what the academic, media, and political establishments all appear to regard as the orthodox answer to the question. I will argue that the orthodox answer is misleading and that this has important ramifications for us in the present day.

Before doing so some terms need to be defined. What is meant by “left” and “right”?

These terms entered political discourse in the era of the French Revolution. They were rather literal terms at the time. The supporters of the Bourbon dynasty, the landed aristocracy, and the Roman Catholic Church sat on the “right” of the speaker in the French assembly, whereas the supporters of the revolution that sought to abolish all three of these and establish a secular, bourgeois, republic of equal citizens sat on the left. By extension, “right” came to refer to all traditionalists, who supported concepts, values, and institutions which dated back prior to the “Enlightenment”, to the era of Christendom and even the Classical Age. Conversely the “left” came to refer to progressives, who believed that man through reason and science could abandon tradition and the past entirely, and establish a golden age for himself in the future. As the 19th Century progressed the term “left-wing” also came to include the economic concept of socialism which the “right-wing” opposed.

“Left” and “right” are related to another set of terms which entered political discussion in the 19th Century. These terms are “conservative” and “liberal”. “Conservative” and “right” or “right wing” were more or less synonymous, although “conservative” could arguably be described as referring to a distinctly English version of “right-wing”. It was coined to refer to the reorganized Tory Party, the party which stood for the established constitution of England, her monarchy, and her Church, after that party had accepted certain ideas from its traditional opponents the Whigs.

“Liberal” on the other hand does not correspond so well to “left” or “left wing”. It has a number of different meanings. In ethical philosophy it is the term for the classical virtue of generosity. In its most basic political sense it refers to the idea that government should not abuse the people it governs but should respect their liberties and basic rights. In this sense of the term almost everybody is a liberal, including conservatives. (1) This basic concept, however, has been developed into more complete political theories which are also called liberalisms, each of which to one degree or another conflicts with conservatism, and, I as a conservative would argue, with reality.

There is classical liberalism, for example, This is what the term “liberalism” generally denoted in the 19th Century, and it is the theory that human beings are at the most fundamental level individuals, and that all social interaction between them should be mutually voluntary, based upon the model of a business contract. This is the theory of John Locke, J. S. Mill, Adam Smith and in the 20th Century Sir Karl Popper and Ludwig von Mises. This kind of liberalism is neither conservative (for conservatism asserts the priority of family and community over the individual) nor left-wing (because it rejects socialism and, indeed, is synonymous with capitalism).b

Then there is “progressive liberalism”. For most of the 20th Century, in North America the term “liberalism” when used without an adjective referred to this kind of liberalism. While “progressive liberalism” builds upon the same theoretical foundation as “classical liberalism” it embraces interventionism by the democratic state as the means of progress. To a large degree this kind of liberalism converged with the left in the 20th Century. It is anti-conservative and embraces socialism to a certain degree.

Let us now consider the question.

“Which was the greater evil in the 20th Century, Nazism or Communism?”

Most people, I would think, would say that this question is unanswerable. “Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea” Dr. Johnson remarked when asked about two minor poets and if it is pointless to discuss degrees of mediocrity it is offensive to many to discuss the degrees of evil between two repressive systems which both imprisoned and killed people by the millions and threatened the security and freedom of the entire world.

Note, however, that many who would respond to the question in this way do not express their true thoughts on the subject by doing so. This indignant rejection of the very question often comes from people who have already answered the question as a means of avoiding having their answer come under scrutiny.

The official orthodoxy on the matter is that a) it is wrong to ask the question because there is no answer and b) the answer is “Nazism”. This position is self-contradictory but to many people challenging it is about the greatest thought crime you could ever commit.

That such an orthodoxy exists is undeniable. Even at the height of the Cold War, self-acknowledged Marxists and even Stalinists could be found among the faculty of major universities across Europe and North America. The student bodies of these universities contain countless radicals who wear t-shirts with Communist slogans or the face of Communist revolutionary Che Gueverra. Could you imagine a similar tolerance being extended to faculty members who identify with the ideas in Mein Kampf or students who dress up as brownshirts? A few years ago here in Winnipeg a couple had their children taken away from them by the child protection bureaucracy because a teacher had called in and complained that the family’s daughter had come to school with a swastika drawn on her arm. Would that teacher have called if the swastika had been a hammer and sickle? (2)

Further evidence of the existence of this orthodoxy can be found in the predictable gut reaction of many to my last paragraph. “Why are you asking these questions? Are you a Nazi sympathizer?” I could turn around and ask “Why are you so upset about these questions? Are you a Communist sympathizer?” If I were to do so, however, I would immediately be accused of “McCarthyism”.(3)

Do you recognize the significance of that fact? It would be far more fair to accuse those who uphold the reigning orthodoxy of sympathy for Communism than to accuse those of us who point out its flaws of sympathy towards the Third Reich. However, there is a word in the English language for someone who accuses another person of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer and that word carries more opprobrium than the label “Communist” itself. We have no equivalent word for a person who accuses another person of being a Nazi.

All of this is of greater practical importance than it may seem at first glance. A number of organizations exist to warn the public of a supposed ongoing Nazi threat and their publications are taken very seriously by the political left and its academic and media counterparts. People on the right who warned about the threat of Communism were dismissed as kooks, extremists, and McCarthyites even when the Soviet Union was still in power.

Which of these two great evil movements of the 20th Century was the most persistent threat, however?

Sir Winston Churchill was deservedly credited with prescience with regards to the threat posed by Hitler’s Reich. He also warned about the dangers of Bolshevism, however, and he did so long before the Austrian demagogue rose to power in Germany. He continued to warn about the threat of Communism after the threat of Nazism had been done away with. Bolshevism seized control of Russia in 1917, 16 years before Hitler came to power in Germany. Nazism ended in 1945, and the war that brought it down left Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Eastern Germany under Communist control. Three years later the Chinese Communists under Mao seized control of their country. Then North Korea, Cuba, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and many other countries fell to the rule of Communism. Domestically, in Western countries, Communists and their sympathizers outnumber by far the handful of people who still admire Adolf Hitler and his regime, and have long done so.

Despite all of this people who warned about the “Red Menace” were dismissed as witch hunters and extremists while draconian “hate speech” laws were passed to counter the supposed threat of resurgent Nazism.

What is the explanation of this? Is it simply a matter of “pas d'ennemi à gauche” (4) on the part of Leftists in control of the official orthodoxy?

Yes and no. While “no enemies to the left” plays a significant part in generating this orthodoxy it is not a simple matter of a leftist establishment regarding “right-wing extremists” (Nazis) as worse than “left-wing extremists” (Communists). The idea that Nazism represents an extreme on the right and Communism an extreme on the left is itself part of the orthodoxy which does not correspond with reality. Nazism was not a right-wing movement. It was in fact a left-wing movement.

This is not to deny that there were right-wing elements in Nazism. George Grant said that “One definition of national socialism is a strange union of the atheisms of ‘the right’ and of ‘the left’”. (5) By “atheism of the right” he meant the philosophy of Nietzsche, but while there is truth in this description, the only significant, recognizably right-wing element of Nazism was its anti-Bolshevism. Otherwise, Nazism was clearly a left-wing movement.

The official title of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers Party, a left-wing name if ever there was one. That doesn’t mean much, but the Nazi Party rose to power by appealing to the groups which left-wing movements have traditionally sought out for their support base – the young and the working class. It was distrusted by the most conservative class in Germany – the Catholic aristocracy – from the beginning. The unsuccessful movement to remove Hitler from power during World War II drew its members from this class. (6) The Nazis had no time for the things the traditional right-wing existed to support – royalty, aristocracy, and the Christian Church. Their eugenics program and racial doctrines were both based upon Darwinism.(7) While there was a long-standing and regrettable tradition of mutual suspicion on the part of Christians and Jews in Europe this was not the basis of the anti-semitism of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Their anti-Semitism was based upon the idea that Jews and Aryans were biological enemies in a Darwinian struggle for survival. (8) Even the manner in which the Nazi regime carried out its mass-murder program was clearly based upon the principles of utopianism and progressive industrial factory-line efficiency which is one of its most chilling aspects.

Nazism was primarily a blend of nationalism and socialism, both of which elements were left-wing. Hitler’s socialism may not have resembled most other socialisms (except that practiced in the Soviet Union at the time) but his nationalism was clearly the left-wing nationalism which was born, alongside modern democracy and totalitarianism, in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18th Century. In this nationalism, the general will of the people (the nation, the volk) is sovereign and the absolute loyalty it demands of each citizen must supercede all other loyalties, such as those to family, home, church, and neighborhood. It was against this notion that Edmund Burke wrote that true love for one’s country, and indeed for the world, must grow outward from the love for one’s “little platoon” that arises naturally. In Hitler’s demand that children spy on their parents, and neighbor on his neighbor, for the Reich, it is Rousseau’s nationalism and not Burke’s patriotism that was taken to its ultimate extreme.

That both of the repressive, totalitarian movements of the 20th Century were manifestations of the left, of the spirit of progress and modernity, was understood by British satirist and novelist Evelyn Waugh, who in the first volume of his Sword of Honour trilogy describes his protagonist, Guy Crouchback, as eagerly returning to England to sign up for World War II after the pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, because he felt that in a conflict against the alliance of those two evils, “the modern age in arms”, there was a place for him. (9)

It is unlikely that history books and academic classes will be identifying Nazism as a left-wing movement any time soon, however. It is to the advantage of the left that Communism and Nazism are regarded as the extremes of the left and right, not only because it makes the left look better if one of the great evil movements of the 20th Century was on the other side, but because it drives people towards the centre ground of liberalism. This is beneficial to the left because this central territory was completely colonized by them in the 20th Century.

(1) As George Grant put it “Liberalism in its generic form is surely something that all decent men accept as good—‘conservatives’ included. In so far as the word ‘liberalism’ is used to describe the belief that political liberty is a central human good, it is difficult for me to consider as sane those who would deny that they are liberals.” English Speaking Justice (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1974, 1985) p. 4.

(2) I had not yet started Throne, Altar, Liberty when this happened but was writing essays which I posted to my Facebook page and privately e-mailed to my friends. In an essay entitled “First They Came for the White Supremacists…” (May 27, 2009) I pointed out that it was ironical that the government was “using people’s fears of Nazism as the basis for their experiments in thought control.” Why was it ironical? “What was it about Hitler’s regime that made it so terrible? I always thought that it was the fact that the Third Reich was a tyrannical regime with secret police and a fanatical leader-worship cult that encouraged people to turn in their parents, neighbors, and friends if they were suspected of disloyalty to the state, in which freedom was non-existent and the state was in the hands of a gang of petty thugs who ruled by fear.” I then pointed out that “Yet you can be an avowed Marxist and remain respectable in academic circles. You can hang up the flags of murderous Communist regimes, wear T-shirts glorifying Communist mass-murderer ‘Che’ Guevera, and praise Castro and Mao to high heaven, and nobody will say anything about it.” A month later I took part in a small and brief protest against the actions of Child and Family Services. Lindor Reynolds, a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed us, and I explained that I believed CFS had overstepped the boundaries of their mandate from Her Majesty’s government in removing children from a home on the basis of the political views of the parents. Reynolds did not think it important to ask us whether or not we agreed with the political views of the parents in question or with the ideology the swastika represented before imputing such agreement to us in her write up. I wonder if it would have occurred to her to have asked if we had been protesting the removal of a child from a home on the basis of his having proudly worn his hippie father’s “Che” t-shirt to school? (And yes, I would consider that to be as much an abuse of state power as the other).

(3) The word “McCarthyism” is derived, of course, from the name of Joseph R. McCarthy, who was the Republican Senator from Wisconsin from 1947 until his death a decade later. McCarthy, in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1950, accused the US State department of being “infested with communists”, stating that he had a list of known Communist agents who were employed by the State department. The speech was widely reported in the press, McCarthy was summoned before a Senate subcommittee headed by Senator Millard Tydings which had been charged with investigating his allegations, and later McCarthy himself would investigate alleged Communist infiltration of various branches of the American government, including the US army. By the end of his life, the media had made his name synonymous with “witch hunting”. There has been evidence, however, right from the beginning, that McCarthy’s accusations were not as wide of the mark as the press maintained. In McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning, published by Henry Regnery of Chicago in 1954, William F. Buckley Jr. and L. Brent Bozell examined McCarthy’s earliest allegations, those heard by the Tydings Committee, in great depth and demonstrated that while not all of them could be shown to be Communists, there was evidence in the vast majority of cases that a security risk existed. Since the end of the Cold War, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ensuing new access to Soviet archives, and the declassification of the files of the VENONA Project in 1995, new evidence has come to light that suggests that McCarthy’s accusations only touched the tip of the iceberg with regards to Soviet infiltration of the American government in that era. See Arthur Herman Joseph McCarthy : Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator (New York: Free Press, 2000) and M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted By History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies (New York: Crown Forum, 2007).

(4) “No enemies on the left”.

(5) Grant, op. cit., p. 103.

(6) Claus von Stauffenberg, for example.

(7) Since WWII, the left has tried to portray eugenics and “racism” as “right-wing” phenomena. This is grossly misleading. Eugenics, which developed out of the theories of Charles Darwin and his cousin Sir Francis Galton, was regarded initially as a progressive development in science. Eugenics programs received broad support from across the political spectrum. Left-wing intellectuals rallied behind it. Here in Canada, Tommy Douglas wrote his master’s thesis in support of eugenics in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power. In notoriously left-wing Sweden eugenics was practiced until the late 1970’s. While it received right-wing support as well, including that of Sir Winston Churchill, and the right-wing Social Credit government in Alberta had a sterlization program for decades (a fact about which Jane Harris Zsovan has recently thrown a book length hissy fit) the most notable principled opposition to eugenics in the pre-Hitler era came from socially conservative religious leaders. Theories of racial supremacy also arose out of the “Enlightenment” and its emphasis upon the natural sciences and were thus originally considered to be progressive.

(8) Dr. Jacob Neusner, an academic rabbi and a pioneer in the scholarly study of Judaism within the context of the mainstream American university, in an essay entitled “Sorting Out Jew-Haters” which appeared in the March 1995 issue of Chronicles Magazine, distinguished between the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany in which “Jews are a separate species within humanity, peculiarly wicked, responsible for the evil of the human condition” and other negative attitudes towards the Jews. He points out how only this specific anti-Semitism as an “encompassing worldview” could have had the horrific consequences it had in Nazi-occupied Europe. This is the opposite approach to that of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen whose books argue that the Holocaust was the natural product of the teachings of Christianity and the German mindset. Neusner is correct.

(9) As the trilogy unfolds, from Men in Arms through Officers and Gentleman to Unconditional Surrender, Crouchback increasingly becomes aware of the fact that his old-fashioned notions of chivalry and honour are being punished while people with less noble concepts are rewarded. The extent to which modern notions have pushed out traditional principles is made clear to him when the new alliance is forged between Britain and the Soviet Union.