The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This and That No. 4

In re-reading Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences for the review essay (“How We Got Here From There”) which precedes this post I finally located the passage in this book which I searched in vain for when writing the essay which launched this blog (“The Divine Right of Kings Versus the Tyranny of The People”). That passage, from Weaver’s 4th chapter “Egotism in Work and Art” reads:

It would be an unpopular man who should suggest to the present generation that work is a divine ordinance. The idea has been grouped with the widely misinterpreted divine right of kings, and , if we examine the matter closely, we find that the two are indeed related. For whether one is a worker or a ruler, the question becomes at once: What is the real source of his authority to act? That Governor John Winthrop found a solution for this problem is worth knowing. In a statement to the General Court of Massachusetts in 1645 he said: “The questions that have troubled the country have been about the authority of the magistracy, and the liberty of the people. It is you have called us unto this office; but being called, we have our authority from God; it is the ordinance of God, and it hath the image of God stamped upon it; and the contempt of it has been vindicated by God with terrible examples of his vengeance.” In other words, the leader may be chosen by the people, but he is guided by the right; and, in the same way, we may say that the worker may be employed by anyone, but that he is directed by the autonomous ideal in the task. (p. 76)

In the second paragraph of his Introduction Weaver makes reference to how the “widely prevailing Whig theory of history, with its belief that the most advanced point in time represents the point of highest development” prevents people from admitting the truth of certain basic facts. That same Whig theory is brilliantly undermined by his book. Although American conservatism is thought by many to be a re-labelled classical liberalism, the book which “launched the renaissance of philosophical conservatism” in the United States, was definitely written by a Tory, albeit an American Tory, loyal to the institutions of his own country as a good Tory must be. For more on Toryism I refer you to my essay: "On Being a Tory in the Age of Whigs"

I inadvertently left out the third of the three books I had intended to include in the “Also Recommended” section. Rather than edit it in now I will mention it here, it is T. S. Eliot’s Notes Towards a Definition of Culture which was published by Faber and Faber of London, first in 1948 (the same year Ideas Have Consequences came out), my copy being the 1967 reprint of the 1962 Faber paper covered edition.

I chose this book, like George Grant’s Technology and Justice and C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man because of thematic similarities. Lewis’s book, about what abandonment of the universals that underlie all traditional cultures is doing to modern man is most directly parallel to Weaver in theme. Eliot, who wrote to define culture, distinguishes between a number of different meanings, pointing out that religion is at the heart of culture, and, in defending his concept of a higher culture (led by an aristocracy of course) points out that the ability to think in terms of the universal is the mark of a higher culture, and that this is why Christianity, which is a universal faith in the sense that it believes and preaches that there is one God for everybody and invites everybody to participate in Christ’s redemption and join in Christian worship, is at the heart of the higher culture and civilization of the West. Grant’s book also looks at the decline of Western civilization but my inclusion of it is more because of parallels in secondary themes, such as the significance of the development of technology.

All three of these men were like Weaver conservatives and Christians - indeed, they were all Anglicans (or in Weaver’s case Episcopalian). Grant and Lewis were also strong Christian Platonists like Weaver – Eliot I read as being more Aristotelian. This is an after the fact observation. It was not a conscious consideration in choosing the recommendations.

Some might lift an eyebrow at my recommendation of Grant’s book. George P. Grant is often referred to as a “Red Tory” – indeed, the “Red Tory” because the Red Tories claim to get their inspiration from him. I challenge Grant’s being so designated, however, and not only because Grant rejected that label himself, which is the reason I did not refer to him in my essay on "Red Toryism" ("Red Is Not the Color of Toryism"). A “Red Tory” is a progressive or socialist who is a member of the Conservative Party and sometimes cloaks his real philosophy in conservative lingo. Grant, after a Christian spiritual awakening at the end of World War II, became a genuine philosophical conservative. As such, and as a patriot, indeed a nationalist, of his country Canada, Grant was a true Tory. He was a left Tory on economic issues to be sure, and here he departed from the Tory tradition in Canada, but this was certainly not the case with regards to social issues, which are more important than economic issues (see his essays on euthanasia and abortion in Technology and Justice).

There is a point to be made about conservatism and indeed about politics in general in the above, which is related to what Richard Weaver wrote about knowledge. Just as truth about God, the hierarchy of goods, and other universals is at the center of true knowledge, with facts about the observable material universe at the periphery, held together by that truth which is at the center, so practical economic and social issues should be the peripheral matters in one’s political outlook with more basic principles about the organization of political society at the center. At the heart of conservatism, is the preservation of the values, institutions, culture, civilization and the very life of the political society. Specific stances on economic and social issues must be held together and related to each other by that center. The same holds true for other political viewpoints.

A distinction needs to be made, however, between two different uses of the word “politics”. The most common use of the word “politics” today is in reference to partisan politics – to the struggle over power in political society. The familiar farcical etymology of “politics” – from poly (many) and ticks (blood-sucking insects) – is quite appropriate in reference to this kind of politics. The original meaning of politics, however, the meaning reflected in the title of Aristotle’s Politics , and for that matter Plato’s Republic (the title of which is Politeia in Greek), is reflective thought about matters which concern life in an organized, sovereign, society (which in 5th/4th Century BC Greece, was the city/state – the polis). While this must rank below theology, metaphysics, ethics, and other such branches of philosophy pertaining to transcendent truth, in the hierarchy of the sciences (in the original meaning of science, i.e., all organized human knowledge, not just facts about the physical world), it also ranks above all the natural sciences.

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