Heed my advice if you wish to stay sane;
If you smoke, smoke Old Toby and not Mary Jane.
Twenty-seven years ago the World Health Organization declared May 31st to be “World No Tobacco Day”. What better way to celebrate the occasion, and to give the WHO and its parent organization the United Nations that ancient phallic symbol of disrespect, the digitus impudicus, that they so richly deserve than by writing a pro-smoking essay?
Just to be clear, it is not all smoking that I will be defending, merely that of the leaves of that excellent, indigenous-to-the-Americas, plant Nicotiana. This plant, long grown by decent, salt-of-the-earth farmers of the kind depicted in the novels of Wendell Berry and which has long provided comfort and temporary respite from the stress and pressure of the day to professional and working classes alike, has been the target of a decades long vilification campaign on the part of numerous organizations of bossy busy-bodies. Just under a century ago another plant, this one indigenous to Asia but which has been put to various uses in Western countries for millennia, was banned outright or at least heavily regulated in most countries of the world. The scientific name of this plant is Cannabis, its more common name is hemp, and its flowers and leaves too are often smoked as the drug marijuana. I will not be defending the smoking of this substance, just that of tobacco and I will explain my reasons for supporting the one and not the other as this essay unfolds.
It is not primarily a question of legality. Tobacco is technically legal, at least for those of the age of majority, although it is taxed to the hilt, its advertisement is forbidden, the companies that sell it are required to put grotesque warnings on their labels, shops that sell it are required to keep it hidden, and its use is prohibited in an increasing number of places and situations. The use of cannabis as a drug is illegal, except when prescribed by a doctor for medicinal purposes. There is currently a campaign to legalize its recreational use, a campaign that has received the prominent support of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. Although Trudeau’s support is a very good reason indeed to question the soundness of legalizing marijuana, it seems evident to me that the prohibitionist approach to marijuana and other mind-altering substances has been the wrong tactic, one that has accomplished more harm than good. It needs to be said, however, that despite the fact that the prohibition of marijuana has driven the profit margins of its production and sale through the roof, enriching drug lords, and creating needless amounts of violence as criminal organizations compete for the monopoly of the dangerous but profitable black market, the outright prohibition of the drug is far more honest than the laws regarding tobacco, which are designed to demonize tobacco producers and harass and persecute tobacco smokers while still allowing the government to make money off of the trade.
When it comes to matters such as this culture is far more important than law. Decades ago, when the anti-tobacco zealots were just getting organized , when the most prominent tobacco prohibitionist was a vegetarian dictator with a postage stamp moustache who governed Germany with an iron fist while the Tory statesman who led the free world in its fight against this dictator did so with a huge cigar firmly clamped between his teeth, cultural attitudes towards tobacco smoking ranged from tolerant to supportive and tobacco was depicted positively in much literature and art. “A woman is only a woman”, Rudyard Kipling quipped in a poem, “but a good cigar is a smoke”. G. K. Chesterton wrote “Nobody who has an abstract standard of right and wrong can possibly think it wrong to smoke a cigar.” In the context in which he wrote this he told about offering cigars to two American journalists, one of whom responded as if he “were the Old Man of the Mountain offering him hashish that would turn him into an assassin”. Hashish is an alternative form of the drug produced from the hemp plant, thus Chesterton’s remarks demonstrate more than one way in which cultural attitudes have changed. C. S. Lewis, himself a chain smoker, mocked anti-smoking fanatics in his novels while J. R. R. Tolkien’s hobbits famously grew and smoked “pipe-weed” described by Tolkien as “a variety probably of Nicotiana.” Since that time, the technological media of film and television have replaced the written word as the primary vehicle of popular culture and in these media today, tobacco smoking is routinely demonized, while pot smoking is routinely glorified. That the cultural attitudes represented by Lewis and Tolkien are slipping away from us while those of the protest movements of the sixties and seventies of the last century have now become mainstream is in itself a reason to be dismayed over the turn our culture has taken.
Long before the anti-tobacco movement became the power that it is today, certain preachers would condemn smoking from the pulpit. These were virtually all Protestants of a kind that placed great emphasis upon basing its theology and ethics directly upon the Bible without putting much stock in how Christians, in the Great Tradition from the Church Fathers down to the Medieval Scholastics, interpreted the Scriptures. This, amusingly, led to dogmatic ethical positions that are not only not taught by the Bible but sometimes contradict its teachings. It was this kind of Protestant, for example, that preached against the consumption of and even started a movement to ban the sale of a form of beverage that was made by Jesus Christ Himself in His first miracle (John 2) and later commanded by Christ to be consumed in the sacrament He ordained and instituted at the Last Supper before His Crucifixion. There is, of course, no verse in the Bible, Old or New Testament, with or without the Deutero-Canonical writings, that mentions, let alone condemns, the smoking of tobacco. Preachers who condemned it from the pulpit, inevitably had to fall back on St. Paul’s comments in the third and sixth chapters of his epistle to the Corinthian Church against defiling the Temple of God. Of course the context of these remarks make it clear that the defilement St. Paul was talking about is fornication, and if one wishes to argue that the concept can be extended to include defilement by other means, it is equally valid to extrapolate what Jesus says in Matthew 15:11 “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but that which commeth out of the mouth, this defileth a man” to show that smoking is not included. Which is undoubtedly why the greatest Calvinist Baptist preacher of all time, C. H. Spurgeon, wrote to the Daily Telegraph saying: “I demur altogether and most positively to the statement that to smoke tobacco is in itself a sin…There is growing up in society a Pharisaic system which adds to the commands of God the precepts of men; to that system I will not yield for an hour”
Of course the contemporary anti-smoker does not base his ideas upon the Bible, a collection of writings that he usually wants to ban as much as he wants to ban tobacco, but rather upon the adverse effects of tobacco smoke upon people’s health. Now it is true that tobacco smoking has been shown to increase your risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases as well as your risk of strokes and heart attacks. There are all sorts of other facts, however, that one needs to take into consideration to have the proper perspective on this. Virtually everything has a risk factor of some sort or another. Exposure to sunlight increases your risk of cancer, but as is also needed for your body to form Vitamin D3, it would be foolish to live like Count Dracula in an attempt to avoid the risk of getting cancer from the sun. The extent of the risk created by smoking depends upon both the amount you smoke and the manner in which you smoke. The more you smoke, the greater the risk, and cigarettes pose a far greater risk than cigars and pipes. Cigarettes are made from processed tobacco with plenty of additives whereas hand rolled cigars and pipe tobacco are generally pure tobacco leaf, furthermore cigarettes are intended to be inhaled and the latter products are not. The supposed threat of “second-hand smoke” is somewhere between a gross exaggeration and an outright lie. (1) Furthermore, tobacco smoking, like exposure to sunlight, has its health benefits as well. It has been shown to decrease the risk of Parkinson’s and Altzheimer’s diseases (2) and it seems to be an effectual form of self-medication for schizophrenics (3). I emphasize these benefits because of the contrast with cannabis smoke which is notoriously bad for your mental health, increasing your likelihood of developing schizophrenia or paranoia, but there are other health benefits to tobacco. It is, for example, an anti-inflammatory which decreases your risk of certain types of osteoarthritis (4) as well as ulcerative colitis and other digestive disorders (5).
These health benefits are not, of course, the reason people smoke tobacco. People smoke tobacco because it calms them down when they are stressed out and anxious and because it makes them alert when they need to concentrate. Other recreational drugs are used for a feeling of psychological pleasure or euphoria which, however enjoyable it may be to the user, usually impairs his reason, judgement, and general ability to function mentally. The alternative smokes produced from the hemp plant are a good example of this. Tobacco, by contrast, does not impair your mental functions but rather, if anything, enhances them, while balancing out your mental and emotional state. It is, of course, addictive, but this, like its other negative effects, varies according to how you take it. Cigarettes are more addictive than cigars and pipes.
Perhaps you feel that such benefits do not outweigh the risks of smoking tobacco, even moderately and in the far less dangerous forms or pipes or cigars. That is a valid decision, but one that you should make for yourself and not one that the control freaks at the WHO should be making for you.
Therefore, I say feel free to thumb your nose at the World Health Organization and all the other health nazis by saying yes to tobacco this “World No Tobacco Day”.
Imagine that a national political figure made a controversial statement that was highly offensive to black people and the leader of a black organization was to publicly rebuke him for it. Suppose that you then opened your newspaper one morning, turned to the opinion page, and in a syndicated column were to read that although the politician had stuck his foot in his mouth he was now out of hot water because “Canadians don’t like black people involving themselves, at all, in politics.” Would you find this statement to be offensive? If so, what would you consider to be most offensive about it, that it expresses racist sentiments or that it presumptuously attributes those sentiments to you and your countrymen?
There are many substitutions you can make for the main variable in the above scenario. You could substitute any other racial group other than white Europeans for black people. Or you could substitute women or homosexuals. Run the scenario again with each of these substitutions and you will probably get the same results. Progressive, liberal, and forward thinking people would be appalled to read such remarks in their newspaper and would probably put pressure on the editor to stop running the column.
What if, however, we were to substitute “Christians” for “black people”? Or “religious people” used in such a way that many if not most people would automatically read it as meaning “Christians”.
This, it would appear, is somehow different because we were recently treated to just such a comment and by a progressive, liberal, forward thinking commentator, nonetheless.
The national political figure was Justin Trudeau who, a little over a year ago, was elected leader of the Liberal Party, presumably on the basis of his youth, good looks, and family name. He is the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the lawyer and far left editor, writer and activist from Quebec who entered federal politics in the 1960s as a member of the Liberal Party and succeeded Lester Pearson as leader of the Liberals and Prime Minister. Under his leadership the Liberal Party went from being the party of free trade and continentalism, founded with its lips firmly pressed against Uncle Sam’s rear end, to being the party of socialism, multiculturalism and post-modern moral relativism (in other words a huge redundancy as we already had the NDP for that). Take your pick as to which version of the Liberal Party was most repulsive – it is six of one, half a dozen of the other. In the decade and a half that Pierre Trudeau governed Canada as the head of the Liberal Party he did everything he could to undermine the political, cultural, and social traditions of both English and French Canada, while ruining the country’s economy, saddling us with an enormous debt, and creating a constitutional crisis that long threatened to tear the country apart. The reason I bring all this up is because Trudeau fils is doing an excellent job of making Trudeau père look good by comparison.
The controvers y the young Trudeau provoked a few weeks ago was over abortion. The day before the annual March for Life in Ottawa he announced that future Liberal candidates would be expected to vote the party line with regards to abortion and defined that party line as pro-choice – no legislative restriction on abortion. Needless to say, Trudeau’s stance did not impress the Roman Catholic Church, whose members have traditionally tended to vote Liberal in Canada. Trudeau himself is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and claims, despite his obvious disagreement with the Church on this key ethical issue, to be devout. Catholic leaders have condemned Trudeau’s stance and last week, in an interview with the CBC, the Catholic Bishop of Ottawa described Trudeau’s support for abortion as “scandalous”.
Enter Warren Kinsella. Warren Kinsella is, among other disagreeable things, a lawyer, a punk rocker, a former Liberal Party strategist, and a progressive, forward minded, liberal. He writes a column for the Toronto Sun which is carried by the other papers in the Sun chain, including the Winnipeg Sun. As these papers generally have a right-of-centre, neo-conservative slant, Kinsella’s left-of-centre column tends to stand out.
Last Friday an article by Kinsella entitled “Trudeau leaps blindly into abortion debate” appeared on page 9 of the Winnipeg Sun. In the first half of the column Kinsella praised as reasonable Trudeau’s earlier statement that the party’s position is “we do not reopen (the abortion) debate” but then pointed out that by declaring that future candidates would have to toe the party line Trudeau had done just that. He further observed that Trudeau has dug himself deeper into this hole with his confusing and contradictory attempts to salvage the situation.
Then, however, Kinsella went on to talk about and quote from the Catholic Bishop’s remarks, suggesting that by rebuking Trudeau, the bishop has provided him with a way out of the mess he has made. Here is the reasoning he used to arrive at this conclusion:
“As Stockwell Day learned the hard way, Canadians favour a wall between church and state. And they don’t like the religious involving themselves, at all, in politics.”
It is interesting the different ways in which different people remember certain events. When I think back to the federal election of 2000 in which Stockwell Day led the Canadian Alliance, I do not recall “Canadians” as a whole mocking or attacking Stockwell Day because of his Christian faith. I remember progressive and liberal media elites doing so, especially a certain Liberal Party strategist.
Tories, if and when they are ever true to their own principles, look to their country’s long-rooted traditions and institutions as the foundation of their policies. Progressives look instead to the “will of the people”. Since the people don’t actually have a collective will, unless you count that which is filtered through time and expressed as tradition and which is hence on the side of the Tory rather than the progressive, progressives have to supply the people with one, which inevitably is indistinguishable from the progressive’s own will. Which is why, in this country, one frequently finds progressive writers in an arrogant and condescending tone, telling Canadians what they think.
On almost any issue, Canadians have a wide diversity of ideas. There are those, like myself, who are Tories and support Canada’s traditions and institutions. Then there are those who for some reason or another – perhaps they had a nasty fall when they were children, perhaps they are lacking some important nutrient in their diet, perhaps they have been breathing in too many noxious fumes of one sort or another – are progressive and think more like Kinsella. Of course there are many other viewpoints out there as well. The closest thing to a general consensus among Canadians is that we are not Americans (referring to America in the sense of the country not the continents). Almost everyone agrees about this. Traditional Tories say that we are not Americans with a sense of patriotic pride in our country’s Loyalist heritage and traditions. Neoconservatives agree that we are not Americans but with a sense of regret that we were not part of what they consider to be the great experiment in freedom and democracy shaping the ultimate destiny of the world. Progressives like to say that we are not Americans in the context of telling us what we think, even if what they say we think has less to do with our own country’s traditions and institutions than it does with the United States.
This can be the source of great irony. Note that in the sentences quoted earlier in which the progressive Kinsella tells Canadians what they think, he attributes to them the American concept of a “wall between church and state”. The idea of a “wall between church and state” is not a Canadian idea, nor is it part of our political tradition or constitution. The expression comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. Jefferson was explaining the significance of the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Furthermore, when Jefferson wrote about “the wall of separation between church and state” he was clearly expressing a liberal, democratic fear of the power of the state, not a progressive contempt for religion. This wall, as Jefferson saw it, was to keep Congress out of religion, not to keep religion from having any say in politics.
Kinsella therefore, has not only attributed to Canadians the belief in a political concept that is part of the American tradition rather than our own, he has also transformed that concept into its polar opposite, a fence to keep “the religious” out of politics rather than a defensive wall protecting religion from state intrusion.
We have not yet mined the irony in Kinsella’s remarks to its full depth. The author of The Web of Hate has built a reputation for himself, among his supporters as an expert on bigotry, among his detractors as a jerk who likes to bully his opponents on the right with accusations of bigotry. You can decide for yourself which version is more accurate, but note in doing so, the irony that this same self-appointed expert on bigotry and hatred, who in the federal election of fourteen years ago publicly ridiculed the leader of the Canadian Alliance for his evangelical Christian beliefs, wrote “the religious” rather than “religion”.
Then ask yourselves whether you, as Canadians, feel complimented or insulted at having this progressive sentiment attributed to yourselves.
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, Seventh Revised Edition, Washington, D.C., Regnery Publishing Inc., 1953, 1985, 535 pp., US$19.95
In Canada conservatism has been a form of political thought, a movement, and even a political party, from the very beginning. The foremost of the Fathers of Confederation, and the first Prime Minister in the first Canadian parliament of 1867, was Sir John A. Macdonald, leader of the Conservative Party. The traditional Canadian conservative was a monarchist, an Anglophile, a supporter of the British Empire and later the Commonwealth, who had old-fashioned social and moral views, was a Protestant, usually Anglican or Presbyterian, and was a pro-business economic nationalist. Until the 1960s, the province of Quebec was traditionally very conservative, although in a French and Roman Catholic sort of way.
In the United States, there was no conservative movement as such until after World War II. The reason for this should be obvious – the United States had been born out of a revolution led by men espousing liberal and in many cases radical ideas. The American revolutionaries used the word “Tory”, which was the name for the royalist traditionalist party prior to its nineteenth century reorganization under the name “Conservative”, as a term of contempt for the Loyalists who later became the first English Canadians. From its very conception the United States identified itself as a liberal republic. Even the American regions that were the most culturally, socially, and religiously conservative, were often very liberal – in the classical sense – politically. Thus Southern conservatism, which predates any type of national conservatism in the United States by well over a century, historically combines a defense of a Tory social, moral, cultural, and religious order, with that of a Jeffersonian liberal political order.
The United States developed a “Right” before it developed a conservative movement. This was in response to the changes that took place within American liberalism between the two World Wars. American liberalism was originally very individualistic and committed to the ideas of minimal government and maximum personal freedom. During the Wilson administration in the First World War American liberals, impressed with the ability of the state to administer and manage the national economy to meet its wartime goals, began to ask why the state could not do the same in peacetime to meet progressive social goals. The Great Depression of the 1930s gave them the opportunity to experiment along these lines and under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, liberal Democrats became Keynesian interventionists, government expansionists and centralizers, and the architects of the American welfare state. Those who continued to hold to liberalism in its classical form and were alarmed at liberalism’s drift towards statism were surprised to find themselves forced into the role of the reactionary, i.e., the advocate of the old, traditional, order – in this case the American liberal republican order – against progressive innovation. Thus the American Old Right, which included historians Charles A. Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes, social critics H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock, journalists Garet Garrett and John T. Flynn, publisher Colonel Robert McCormick and Republican Senator Robert A. Taft, was born. Most of these continued to think of themselves as liberals, some calling themselves “true liberals” or “classical liberals”, although Mencken and Nock in acknowledgement of the position into which they had been forced began to refer to themselves as “Tory anarchists”.
One of the results of World War II, American entry into which the American Old Right had firmly opposed until Pearl Harbour, was a geopolitical realignment in which the United States became the dominant power in the liberal Western world which was now threatened by a Communist Eastern bloc headed by the Soviet Union. Since both superpowers had the atomic weapons their rivalry took the form of a “Cold War.” It was in the context of this Cold War, that William F. Buckley Jr. reorganized the American Right, forged out of an alliance between Old Right liberals, now called libertarians, defectors from Communism such as James Burnham, Frank Meyer, and Whittaker Chambers, Europeans who had emigrated to the United States and were either Catholic monarchists like Thomas Molnar and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn or philosophical critics of modernity like Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss, and Burkean traditionalists like Robert Nisbet and Richard M. Weaver. This latter group had begun to emerge immediately after World War II, beginning with the 1948 publication of Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, a short book that traced the moral and spiritual decay of Western civilization into the materialistic technolatry that made the development of the atomic bomb possible back to the nominalism of the thirteenth century. Although it is the ideas of the last two groups that most match those that have historically been associated with conservatism Buckley gave the name conservative to the entire movement he was putting together. His inspiration for doing so came from a book which was first published in 1953 under the title The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana by a man of letters from Mecosta, Michigan named Russell Kirk.
Kirk had begun writing this book while studying at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland to which he submitted it as his doctoral dissertation. He had originally titled it “The Conservative Route”, but was persuaded by his publisher, Henry Regnery of Chicago, that a less pessimistic sounding title would be more appropriate. He was accused by his critics of having manufactured a long pedigree for a newly created movement but this does not do him justice. What Kirk was actually doing was tracing the influence of the thought of Edmund Burke in England and the United States – Canada alas is omitted – during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
By making Edmund Burke the founder of what he calls conservatism, Kirk was, of course, consciously abridging the tradition of conservative thought, which he acknowledged in his introduction where he gave his reasons for starting with Burke rather than earlier conservative thinkers like Bolingbroke, Hobbes, and Filmer, or even Hooker and Falkland. It is ironic, perhaps, to describe Burke as the father of conservatism, when he was a Whig (liberal) rather than a Tory through most of his Parliamentary career but he earned his conservative credentials with his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke’s friend, the lexicographer, moralist, and staunch Tory Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary defined a Tory as “One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig” and in the Reflections, Burke defends the constitution and monarchy of England , the Christian religion and the established church, against doctrines of the kind that had been turned against the monarchy, aristocracy, and Roman Catholic Church in the French Revolution. Whenever I read Burke’s Reflections I get the strong impression that Burke was writing, not only for himself, but for Dr. Johnson who had died in the decade prior to the French Revolution and could no longer speak for himself, even though Burke retained his admiration for the Whig revolution of 1688 and showed no hint of his friend’s Jacobite sympathies At the time Kirk was writing this book, Irving Kristol was still a liberal and had yet to define a neo-conservative as “a liberal mugged by reality” but the description would seem to fit the Burke of the Reflections to a tee. Thus, the line of thought starting with Burke that Kirk called conservative, might be more precisely called “neo-Tory”.
In the introduction, entitled “The Idea of Conservatism”, Kirk identified six canons of conservative thought. These are general principles, because Kirk insisted that conservatism is not to be thought of as an ideology, by which he meant a rigid formula for an ideal society. The canons, which are the most referenced part of this book, are as follows: 1) “Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience”, 2) “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems”, 3) “Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a ‘classless society’”, 4) “Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked”, 5) “Faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs”, and finally 6) “Recognition that change may not be salutary reform”. (pp. 8-9) Although the fourth canon is something that liberals, or at least classical liberals, also adhere to these are a good, concise, summary of those basic conservative concepts that both a Tory supporter of kings and bishops and a right-leaning American republican could agree upon.
The longest chapter in the book is devoted to Burke, naturally, which focuses upon his defense of prejudice, “the answer with which intuition and ancestral consensus of opinion supply a man when he lacks either time or knowledge to arrive at a decision predicated upon pure reason” (p. 38), prescription, prudence and principle against abstract reason and innovation. What Kirk then presents in the following chapters is not an unbroken chain of thought from Burke to the mid-twentieth century, with each link directly connected to the one that precedes and the one that follows, but rather a collection of snapshots, arranged in a rough chronological order, of individuals and movements on both sides of the Atlantic that have adopted a Burkean stance in one context or another. Although his next chapter discusses the early American Federalists, and particularly John Adams’ defence of constitutional ordered liberty against egalitarian, democratic, populism, Kirk did not limit himself to statesmen and politicians. One chapter discusses conservatism among the Romantic poets, particularly Sir Walter Scott and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his later years, who opposed Benthamite utilitarianism. Another chapter is devoted to Benjamin Disraeli, both as novelist and Tory statesman, and John Henry Newman the leader of the Oxford Movement, the catholic revival in the Church of England in the 1830s who eventually “crossed the Tiber” to become a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Newman was a strong intellectual critic of theological, ecclesiastical, social and political liberalism as both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic. By contrast, a convert to Roman Catholicism who gets prominent treatment, nineteenth century New England Transcendentalist Orestes Brownson, went through virtually every radical cause and idea imaginable, before finally settling down as a Catholic and a conservative.
The final chapters of the book focus on the retreat of conservative ideas in England and America in the late nineteenth century that the book’s original title alluded to, but they are not entirely pessimistic in tone. Various groups on both sides of the Atlantic began to rearticulate conservative ideas in the early twentieth century and Kirk discussed several of these, with a focus on the New Humanist critics Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt. One of Babbitt’s students at Harvard University went on to become a prominent Modernist poet and moved to England, where he became a British citizen and shocked the Bloomsbury Set intellectuals by converting to orthodox Anglicanism. This was T. S. Eliot who, in his capacity as director of Faber and Faber, published the British edition of the book. Eliot objected to the original subtitle on the grounds that George Santayana was not significant enough to warrant being placed on the level of Burke. Amusingly, Kirk’s response was to replace Santayana with his friend’s own name, which is why every edition from the second on has been subtitled “From Burke to Eliot” even though Eliot is only briefly discussed. It is from Eliot that Kirk borrowed one of his favourite phrases “the permanent things” and Kirk later wrote an entire book on the poet who became, not just a conservative, but a High Tory, calling himself a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.”
The Conservative Mind has now reached the sixty-first anniversary of its first publication and Kirk is still honoured as a prophet by the American conservative movement, although the honour is mostly lip service. The American conservative moment was long ago taken over by those whose primary interest is a Pax Americana in which the United States uses its vast military might to spread liberal, capitalist, democracy throughout the globe. This is a concept that Kirk would have found appalling. As a young man he had been influenced by American Old Right figures like Albert Jay Nock who were noted for their opposition to military interventionism as an instrument of government expansion. He shared the horror of the Old Right and Richard M. Weaver over the barbaric atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and at the end of the Cold War he joined Patrick Buchanan and the other paleoconservatives who argued that the time had come for America to bring her troops home and opposed the first President Bush’s plans for a New World Order to be policed by an America-led coalition of free countries and his intervention in the Iraq-Kuwait crisis.
Here in Canada, Russell Kirk and his magnus opus have never really been given their due by conservatives. The older type of Canadian conservative, the Loyalist and royalist Tory, often dismissed Kirk as an American liberal republican, and ignored how so many of the ideas he held dear such as Eliot’s “permanent things”, the Burkean concepts of prejudice and prescription, the idea of society as multigenerational and organic rather than contractual in the Lockean sense, were key elements in their own tradition. The newer type of Canadian conservative, who prefers the imported American brand of conservatism to our own domestic variety, shows little awareness of Russell Kirk and would probably wonder what his idea of established order and liberty, stemming from a living tradition with roots stretching back through medieval Christendom to Greco-Roman cultural and civilization has to do with lower taxes and economic deregulation.
It would probably do both Canadian and American conservatives much good to dust off this sixty year old conservative classic and give it a read.
I read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels when I was in my early teens and before I had watched more than a couple of the film series that was inspired by the books. Thus I had read Thunderball before I watched either of the two film versions of it (the second film version, which like the first starred Sean Connery as 007, was Never Say Never Again). (1) I was disappointed, therefore, to discover that my favourite part of the book had been omitted from both films. In the story’s primary plotline Bond is sent to recover two atomic bombs that had been stolen by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his terrorist organization SPECTRE. If you have seen either of the films you will recall that before even receiving this assignment, Bond had stumbled across a clue while he was hanging out at a health spa, breaking the rules and seducing the nurses.
What is not mentioned in either of the movies is the reason why Bond was at the spa to begin with. In the novel, however, this is spelled out at great length in a hilarious secondary plot that leads into the main story. Bond has just undergone his annual physical examination and, while the report indicates he is in prime condition, M, director of the British Secret Service is not satisfied. He, having just come back from a health retreat with all the fanaticism of a new convert, summons Bond into his office and gives him a lecture about eating right and his smoking and drinking habits and then sends him away for a mandatory stay at the health spa. The cab driver who takes him there comments on how odd it is for someone of Bond’s age and health to be going to a place that caters to a clientele of old men with bad backs. While Bond seems to utterly disregard the rules of the spa during his stay, he too comes away from the spa as a convert. He quits drinking, cuts back on his smoking, even switching to a lighter, filtered brand of cigarette, and subsists on a diet of yogurt, Energen rolls and other health foods. He is now so full of pep and energy that he drives his housekeeper, his secretary, and everyone else around him crazy. This all comes to an end when the blackmail message from Blofield arrives. Bond is summoned into an emergency meeting where M, who has already reverted back to his old habits offers him a smoke, and replies with a “Humpf” when Bond says “Thanks sir. I’m trying to give it up”. Having been made aware of the crisis and given his assignment, he returns home and orders his housekeeper to cook him up a real breakfast of bacon and eggs and hot buttered toast (“not wholemeal”), and is subsequently back to normal.
I have always read this as an excellent satire of health fanaticism, although it is apparently inspired by an actual clinic that Fleming himself had attended. Eight years before the publication of Thunderball, C. S. Lewis had mocked health fanatics in the first paragraph of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third of the Narnia books by suggesting that the reason the character of Eustace Scrubb was initially so disagreeable was because of the progressive, forward thinking, advanced views of his parents, who were among other things, teetotalers, non-smokers, and vegetarians.
These books appeared shortly after World War II which, if those who believe we are living in a “post-modern” era are correct, is the prime candidate for the event that signaled the end of the Modern Age. If the Modern Age is thought of as a project that had as its goal the replacement of Medieval Christendom with secular, democratic, liberal nation-states then this project was more or less completed around the time of the war. This is directly related to the fact that health fanaticism was becoming such a nuisance that it became a major object of satire.
Orthodox Christianity does not include elaborate dietary laws, of the sort that Judaism and Islam have, but rather takes a libertarian approach to the matter of food and drink. The development of this approach can be seen in the New Testament beginning with Christ’s statement that it is that which comes out of the heart and not that which enters the mouth that defiles a man, to St. Peter’s vision in which the animals the Old Testament forbade the Jews to eat are declared clean, to the ruling of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, to St. Paul’s explanation of Christian liberty in his epistles. What the Christian church enjoins upon its members is something much more difficult than merely following a checklist of what you can and cannot eat and drink. Building upon an ethical foundation lain in both the New Testament and classical philosophy it encourages the cultivation of virtues, habits of good behavior that are typically characterized by the traits of balance and moderation. The Anglican catechism, for example, in the section which explains the Christian understanding of the Ten Commandments “according to their spirit and purpose as our Lord teaches in the Gospel” includes as part of our duty to our neighbour the following “To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity”. Temperance, as used here and in the New Testament where it is described as a fruit of the Spirit, means self-control and moderation.
The cultivation of virtue and character is the work of a lifetime and a path that lies between two ever present temptations. One of these is the temptation to give up and give oneself over to habits of excess. The other is the temptation to substitute a list of rules and to keep adding to it until you are buried under it. These temptations are never succumbed to in isolation from each other. Thus, when the North American descendants of the Puritans substituted a prohibition against the consumption of alcohol for Christianity’s traditional exhortation to sobriety a perverse culture of drunkenness began to develop.
Likewise, as the post-Christian Western world began to develop extremely unhealthy eating habits, such as the consumption of large amounts of fast food, pre-packed processed food, and junk food the health nuts began to crawl out of the woodworks, each with his own long list of what you should and should not eat. These lists frequently contradict each other - one health nut will prohibit fat, another will tell you to eat lots of fat and avoid carbohydrates, one will tell you to eat your food raw, another to eat it cooked, etc. What they have in common is that none of them recommend anything as simple as a balanced diet, and indeed one of the oldest versions, a pre-Christian pagan doctrine that was resurrected in the nineteenth century under the new name of vegetarianism for the new scientific era, prohibits the consumption of one of the major food groups entirely. Its most extreme adherents, vegans, prohibit the consumption of two of the major food groups while self-righteously proclaiming their moral superiority over everybody else.
Health nuts often believe that they have some special knowledge, that the medical establishment is conspiring to suppress and keep from the general public, which provides the secret to better health and a longer life. This resembles the doctrine of gnosis from which the Gnostics, the early enemies of apostolic authority and orthodoxy, derived their name. This too points to the Modern Age’s revolt against Christendom and Christian orthodoxy as the genesis of these ideas. Eric Voegelin argued that the very concept of a “Modern Age” had its origins in Gnostic eschatology and it is significant that he identified Puritanism, the extreme form of English Protestantism in which many of these lifestyle prohibitionist movements have their roots, as a form of Gnosticism.
As the Modern Age progressed and the Western world moved further away from orthodox Christendom, more and more of these legalistic health and lifestyle movements popped up. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the teetotal movement, vegetarianism, and sects that teach that Christians are required to eat kosher. It is not at all surprising that with the near completion of the secularization of the West by the end of World War II, the number of such movements exploded. I think the response of Ian Fleming and C. S. Lewis to these sorts of people – mockery, derision, and satire – is the right one, at least so long as they are merely an annoying, nagging, nuisance. When they try to enlist the government, which in the interest of reducing the cost of socialized medicine often seems inclined to listen to them, to compel us by law to conform to their wishes, it is a different matter and we should actively combat this sort of health tyranny. Otherwise, let us attempt to cultivate the virtues of self-control, moderation, and balance, which will do far more for our health than to follow the latest health fad, peddled by a bunch of fruits and nuts.
(1) Interestingly, Fleming had originally written Thunderball as a screenplay and adapted it into the novel, which was then in turn re-adapted into the movie versions.
Once again it is Mother's Day, the day we have set aside in North America to honour our mothers and show them our appreciation with breakfasts in bed, chocolates, roses, and the canned sentimentality of Hallmark cards. This Mother's Day I would like for us to take the time to remember the mothers who might have been or at least one particular subset of that group. There are many factors that might intervene to prevent a woman from becoming the mother she would otherwise have been – early death, physical infertility due to illness or injury, entering a convent and taking a vow of celibacy, finding her erotic attraction limited to that of the Sapphic variety, etc. The might-have-been mothers I wish for us to think about today, however, are those who entered womanhood capable of bearing children, with the natural desire that they would one day do so, but who were deceived by the lies of the enemy of motherhood and femininity, feminism.
These victims of feminism have been on my mind as of late, ever since I learned that one of the iconic figures of second-wave feminism would be coming to town to speak later this week. As you may be aware, a few years ago a prominent Jewish family in Winnipeg that made its fortune in telecommunications, talked the government into dropping millions of the taxpayers’ dollars into constructing a monstrous eyesore near the Forks in the heart of the city. It is officially called the Canadian Museum of Human Rights but regarded by various groups who feel that their own historic suffering has been slighted or overlooked by the planners of the museum as being just another monument to the Jewish Holocaust. There will be an official opening later this year but already lectures are taking place there. On the fourteenth of May, the guest speaker will be Dr. Germaine Greer. I learned about this, oddly enough, in an opinion piece published by the Winnipeg Free Press on the third, written by an Athena Thiessen who objects to Greer’s appearance at the CMHR because Greer does not accept that people like Thiessen, who rejected the male body parts their Y chromosomes gave them for the imitation female body parts surgery could provide, are real women. Although this has nothing to do with my topic I cannot help but note the irony that the person making this complaint has adopted the Greek name of Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
Dr. Germaine Greer is an Australian born academic who became a feminist luminary in 1970 with the publication of her book The Female Eunuch. Although the title could mislead one into thinking she was writing about female genital mutilation of the barbaric type practiced in many African countries and certain suburbs of Toronto, a subject she did tackle in a later book, it was actually a diatribe about how traditional gender roles and the traditional family had deprived women of their sexuality. The book became a best-seller and its author hit the lecture circuit and became the darling of the media. She developed the reputation of being men’s favourite feminist. Her wit, sharp tongue, and foul mouth undoubtedly contributed to this, as did the fact that while she was a Marxist academic she was not a cold, doctrinaire, intellectual like Simone de Beauvoir. Nor did she give the impression of having just flown in from a Walpurgisnacht’s revel with the devil on Bald Mountain like Betty Friedan. Most importantly, the message which she both preached and modelled to young women, about finding their sexuality through multiple lovers and an avoidance of commitment and pregnancy happened to coincide perfectly with the adolescent fantasies of a generation of males who did not want to and in many cases refused to grow up.
Greer wrote several other feminist books but in 1999 put out The Whole Woman, a direct sequel to The Female Eunuch. In this book she made some interesting admissions. For example she wrote “In The Female Eunuch I argued that motherhood should not be treated as a substitute career: now I would argue that motherhood should be regarded as a genuine career option, that is to say, as paid work and as such an alternative to other paid work”. (p. 260) While this is not exactly a recantation and to equate motherhood with “paid work” is still demeaning it indicates that Greer had had something of an epiphany.
The personal struggle that lay behind this came out in an article that appeared in the inaugural issue of a women’s magazine, Aura, that was launched by Parkhill Publishing in Britain the following year. The headline was “I Was Desperate for a Baby and I have the Medical Bills to Prove It”. I have been unable to track down the full text of the article probably due to the fact that Aura seems to have folded after the first two or three issues, but Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer discussed it shortly after it appeared, quoting Greer as confessing “I still have pregnancy dreams waiting with vast joy and confidence for something that will never happen”. (1) Krauthammer wisely commented that Greer was a victim of her ideology, “In modern times we suffer not for our sins (sin having been abolished) but for ideology”, and that she was not the only one.
As a movement, second-wave feminism or “Women’s Lib” was not united in its vision of what it wanted to accomplish. Some hoped to achieve women’s independence of men, others aimed at women’s social, political, and economic equality with men. Some wanted to advance women as a class, others wanted to “emancipate” women as individuals. Then there were those who merely preached hatred of men and demanded a revolutionary overthrow of the family and in some cases of sexual reproduction itself. What the feminists did agree upon was that whatever their future goals for women were, the traditional ideal of woman as wife and mother stood in their way and had to go. They demanded that abortion be made “safe and legal” and so paved the highway to the future they wished to build with the blood and bones of millions of unborn children. In this, they resembled the Communist movement, the Marxist ideology of which many of their founders shared, but their message to young women was expressed in the language of liberal capitalism. They told young women that the path to finding and fulfilling themselves lay in the pursuit of ambitious, high-paying, careers, and that if they still wanted a husband and children they would have plenty of time for that later.
This, of course, was a lie, because women have a much more limited window of opportunity to reproduce than men do, with the optimal child-bearing years coinciding with those in which an ambitious career is usually established, to say nothing of the fact that abortions, even “safe and legal” ones, do not exactly enhance fecundity. So, many young women, bewitched by the message of “you can have it all”, put off their dreams of motherhood only to find that when they finally arrived at the date they had set aside in their planner for their appointment with Mother Nature, she, justifiably insulted at being put off so long, stood them up.
In The Whole Woman, Greer wrote that “The immense rewardingness of children is the best-kept secret in the western world.” (p. 415) The only people trying to keep what is otherwise universal knowledge a secret, however, were feminists like Greer herself, who did an excellent job of keeping it a secret from themselves. While it is a pity that Dr. Greer learned this “secret” too late for it to do her any good, I must say that I feel far more sorry for all those women who will never know the joys of motherhood because they bought into the lies she peddled.
These are the mothers who might have been and this Mother's Day, let us remember them as well.
Yesterday thousands of Canadians of various faiths and backgrounds gathered on Parliament Hill to take part in a rally, the national March for Life. On the eve of the march, Catholic and Orthodox parishes in Ottawa held special masses and prayer services in support of the pro-life movement and a candlelight vigil was held before the Human Rights Monument. The Knights of Columbus held an all-night Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in the morning services in support of the rally were again held in Catholic, Orthodox, and various Protestant churches. At noon at Parliament Hill the participants in the march were addressed from the steps of Parliament by a number of speakers, including Members of Parliament and Senators as well as Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy before the march through downtown Ottawa began at 1:30. Following the march there were testimonies from women and men who had gone through abortions, followed by another prayer service, and the Rose Dinner and the banquet launching the youth conference that is to take place today.
Canada is not the only country in which a March for Life is held. In the United States it is ordinarily held on January 22nd because this is the anniversary of their Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. They held their first March for Life on the one year anniversary in 1974 and have held one every year since, making this year’s their fortieth. Yesterday’s March for Life is Canada’s sixteenth. Although the Canadian equivalent of Roe v. Wade was Morganthaler v. the Queen in 1988, our March for Life is not held on this anniversary but rather on, or near to, that of the passing of Bill C-150, the Criminal Law Amendment Act introduced by Pierre Eliot Trudeau when he was Minister of Justice in 1967 and passed by Parliament when he was Prime Minister in 1969. This bill, which decriminalized abortion in cases where a committee of doctors agreed that the mother’s well-being was jeopardized by the pregnancy, was the first step, albeit a relatively moderate one, towards the present state of the law in which there are no legal restrictions on abortion anywhere in Canada right up to the moment of birth.
The son of the man who introduced this bill is currently the leader of his father’s party and proved this week, as if we did not have proof enough already, that he is truly his father’s son. On Wednesday, the day before the March for Life, Justin Trudeau announced that the Liberal Party was now officially pro-choice, that he would be cracking the party whip and insisting that all Liberal MPs vote pro-choice in the future. Exceptions would be made for pro-life Liberals already seated, but pro-life people seeking to run for office were no longer welcome to do so under the aegis of the Liberal Party. In his own words Trudeau said “It’s not for any government to legislate what happens – what a woman chooses to do with her body, and that is the bottom line” and “I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.”
Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party immediately criticized Trudeau – for allowing the exception to currently seated pro-lifers. He called Trudeau’s position a “double standard” and a “two-tier system” and made clear the NDP’s position on abortion: “it’s not debatable, it’s not negotiable, it is a woman’s right to determine her own health questions and her own reproductive choices.” If that were not clear enough, Mulcair added “No NDP MP and no one running to be an NDP MP will ever vote against a woman's right to choose, simple as that.”
In one sense, it is good that Trudeau and Mulcair are talking this way. There can now be no doubt about the fact that no position other than that of the far left will be tolerated in either the Liberal Party or the NDP. Just to be clear as to what this means it does not mean that only people like myself, who would ban all abortions starting at the moment of conception, are barred from running for either of these parties but that people who are okay with abortion in the first trimester but would wish to see it banned or restricted after that and even people who object only to partial-birth abortions are also not welcome.
Let us also be clear about what the euphemistic language used by both Trudeau and Mulcair actually means. Trudeau spoke of “what a woman chooses to do with her body”. Mulcair spoke of a woman’s “right to determine her own health questions and her own reproductive choices”. Progressives like Trudeau and Mulcair prefer language that makes it sound like they are standing up for the right of women to make for themselves choices that affect only themselves.
These expressions are deceitful for abortion affects not only a woman’s body, health, and choices but those of the human life developing within her as well. It is not just control over themselves, that the progressive position gives women, but complete control over human reproduction, denying any say in the matter either to the fathers who are also involved in the reproductive process or the society that relies upon people reproducing themselves for the next generation that will ensure its survival as a collective whole, and the power of life and death over an entire category of human life, the yet-to-be-born.
This position is and always has been both morally insane and rationally indefensible. Those who argue in favour of the legal availability of abortion will inevitably try to argue that the foetus is not as fully human as the mother and therefore does not have the same rights as she does. This is done in a number of ways; for example, by trying to divert the discussion into an argument about the meaning of a difficult to define term like person or by reasoning that a person or human is something one gradually “becomes” rather than something one “is”. These are clever ways of avoiding the clear facts that from the moment a human sperm fertilizes a human egg forming a zygote, it is a living organism with a full set of human chromosomes and is hence a human life. If it be argued that we do not give children the full rights that adults enjoy within our society until they reach the age of majority it can be answered that we treat the killing of a child no less seriously than we do that of an adult and if anything we consider it more tragic and more serious. If a man hears a noise in the middle of the night, and thinking it is a burglar reaches for his gun and shoots in the direction the noise came from, his mistake will not excuse him from the moral responsibility and the legal consequences of murdering his wife. Similarly, the ethical and sane answer to the question of whether the foetus is human enough to warrant the full protection which the law offers to human life is that the foetus is entitled to the benefit of any doubt that may exist.
Unfortunately, we have allowed ourselves to become so morally illiterate that most of the criticism of Trudeau’s position has been over his petty tyranny in dictating his opinions to his own party – as if anything else could be expected from a man who has openly admired Communist dictators just as his father used to do – than over the fact that it is the taking of innocent human life to which he will not allow dissent. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper has any sense, he will take advantage of this and of the fact that Trudeau has just screwed over one of the Liberal Party’s largest groups of traditional supporters, the Roman Catholics, by throwing his full support behind the pro-lifers in his own Conservative Party. Most of the pro-lifers in Parliament are already members of the Conservative Party, and it is now the only one of the three major parties that allows them to run. The Prime Minister’s track record, however, does not inspire me with much optimism that this is going to occur any time soon.
I would like to draw the attention of my readers, particularly those of the Anglican/Episcopalian faith, to an organization called The Secker Society. It is a fairly new organization named after the Most Reverend Thomas Secker, who from 1758 to 1768 was Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. At the time the Church of England had not yet established any bishops in the North American colonies. This created all sorts of problems for those seeking to spread the Gospel in North America. It was one of the most significant contributing factors, you may recall, to the tension between the Wesleys and the Anglican hierarchy that eventually led to the Methodist movement breaking away from the Church of England. Archbishop Secker was an outspoken advocate for the establishment of a North American episcopacy.
The mission of the Secker Society is to promote, in the context of the North American church, the Christian faith and worship, as expressed in the historic formularies of the Anglican Church that emerged out of the English Reformation and Restoration, including the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha, the Books of Homilies, etc., and with a particular emphasis upon the liturgy of the Restoration Prayer Book, a cause dear to the hearts of traditional Anglicans, low and high church alike.
Semi-annually, the Secker Society puts out an excellent publication entitled Renewal. I would encourage you to contact them about getting past copies which include some very well written and interesting articles on a number of fascinating subjects pertaining to their mission. I enjoyed each of them but was particularly impressed with a series of articles on the Protestant Bible by D. H. Graham which make clear the often misunderstood position of the Protestant Reformers regarding the deuterocanonical Scriptures, i.e., the Apocrypha.
Last summer I was contacted by an officer of the society who invited me to submit a contribution to the next issue of Renewal. I submitted a piece entitled "Tradition and the Anglican Patrimony" which was featured in the Summer/Fall 2013 edition. I have just been informed that this article is now available to read on the Secker Society's website. Here is a direct link to my article: http://seckersociety.com/tradition.htm
I would also encourage you to check out the rest of their website, the main page of which can be found here: http://seckersociety.com/home.htm. There is plenty of good material to be found there, including this excellent article by Jordan Lavender about the use of the Book of Common Prayer's Daily Offices in private devotional worship: http://seckersociety.com/dailyoffices.htm. I am told that the website is currently being redesigned and that even more material will soon be available there, so keep checking back.
One of the best known of Jesus’ parables is recounted by St. Luke in the tenth chapter of his Gospel, verses twenty-five through thirty-seven. The passage begins with a lawyer asking Jesus the question “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Even though St. Luke tells us that the lawyer was not asking this in good faith but in an attempt, rather, to trip Jesus up, the Lord does not respond as you or I would probably be tempted to do to one of the barristers, solicitors, and attorneys in general of our own day by saying “Fat chance that someone in your line of work will ever make it”. No, Jesus passed on this opportunity to tell an excellent lawyer joke (1) and instead turned the question around and asked the lawyer what the Torah had to say about it. The lawyer answers this by quoting the two verses that Jesus Himself would quote when asked which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus commended this answer, but the lawyer then came back with a second question “Who is my neighbour?” It is then that Jesus relates the parable in which a man is robbed, stripped, and left to die on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, and is left there by a priest and a Levite who happen to pass by but is rescued by a passing Samaritan who treats his wounds and takes him to an inn to take care of him. This parable has come to be known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
I would like to tell a different parable that begins in the same way Jesus’ did, but takes a rather different turn towards the end, hoping, that in doing so, I am not committing a terrible act of blasphemy. Here it goes.
A man is on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem when he is beset by thieves, robbers, and cutthroats, relieved of his possessions, and left bloody, wounded, and mangled on the side of the road. Shortly thereafter a priest comes along, followed a little later by a Levite, and both avert their eyes and walk on the other side of the road, rather than trying to help the poor soul. Then the Samaritan comes along. He is outraged at the plight of his fellow man and the callousness shown by the priest and Levite. In Jerusalem, Jericho, and all the surrounding communities he circulates a petition demanding that highways be made safer for travelers and that legislation be passed forcing people to stop and help the victims of highway robberies or face a heavy fine or possibly a lashing and prison time. He calls for the establishment of a public fund to take care of those victimized by highway crime and for taxes to be imposed on the priests and Levites to pay for this fund. He makes a nuisance of himself lobbying for these reforms before the Sanhedrin and in the courts of Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate and King Herod. Eventually, word of his crusade reaches Rome, and a committee of Senators invites him to come and present his case for highway security and social programs for robbery victims before Caesar himself. Meanwhile, the man who was robbed remains on the side of the road and dies.
This, of course, is the Parable of the Do-Gooder Samaritan.
It is one of the curiosities of the English language that the expression “do-gooder” does not refer to people who actually “do good”. Indeed, the expression is one of ironic contempt that suggests that there is a disconnect between the good the person to which it is applied thinks he is doing and the actual outcome of his actions. Sometimes it is just a matter of ineffectiveness in which the do-gooder has good intentions and a noble goal but fails to actually accomplish anything. Often, however, the do-gooder might accomplish harm either instead of the good he intends or which is greater than and outweighs the smaller good he actually achieves. A do-gooder typically displays naivety of one kind or another, ranging from a simple lack of the experience and know-how necessary to accomplish his lofty goals to a kind of tunnel vision in which he is so focused upon achieving one particular ideal that he is blinded to the negative consequences of his attempts to achieve it.
We usually associate the idea of a do-gooder with that of a social and moral crusader. A crusader of this type is someone who attempts to bring about a particular end either by persuading the government to pass legislation or by organizing private citizens to take action. The interesting thing about this methodology is that it distributes the cost of accomplishing a desired goal among many people, either the organized private citizens or the taxpayers as a whole, and can sometimes lead to the blame being distributed if something goes wrong as well. Meanwhile, the crusader or do-gooder gets the full credit if something good is actually accomplished. This may or may not justify an attitude of cynicism towards the motives of the reformer but it is worth taking note of and contrasting with the example of the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable, who when leaving the robbed man with the innkeeper told the latter to add the cost of any additional assistance that might be required to his bill.
Another contrast between do-gooders and people like the Good Samaritan who actually do good is that the latter are concerned with personally doing the right thing whereas the former are obsessed with improving everybody else. This leaves other people with the impression that the do-gooder is a self-satisfied, self-righteous, better-than-thou type of person, an impression that is in no way lessened when he enlists the help of the government in accomplishing his goals. All sorts of ridiculous legislation that is far more of an obnoxious nuisance to most people than it is a benefit can be attributed to this cause in the last century alone. Some of this legislation, like Prohibition, the biggest single effect of which was to make the mob rich and powerful, was long ago discredited and rescinded. Other such legislation, no-less discredited, for some reason remains on the books. Canadian and American federal drug laws are a prime example. Other laws that were initiated by do-gooders and which harass people more than they help them are laws which prohibit people from driving when their blood alcohol level is above an arbitrary percentage point regardless of whether they are capable of driving safely in that condition or not, laws which jack up the price of tobacco, prohibit smoking sections in restaurants and drive smokers out into the cold whenever they want a puff or two, laws that prevent an employer from offering a man a high enough wage to support his wife and children lest a single woman be discriminated against, and laws that ensure that that an employer, if he wishes to remain free of harassing lawsuits, will hire a certain percentage of ethnic and racial minorities regardless of their qualifications. Any legislation associated with the concept of human rights can be regarded as falling within the category we are discussing.
Ultimately though, the worst thing about being a do-gooder is that it is a cop out of the ethical or moral life. It is far easier, to sign up for some “save the world” cause or the other – take your pick, they are a dime a dozen – and try to fix other people, than it is to try and do the right thing yourself, to cultivate the virtues and good character, and to seek after the good, the true, and the beautiful. The latter is the hard work of a lifetime and the rewards, while enduring, take longer to appear whereas the former is easy and the rewards are instantly gratifying.
(1) Have you heard the one about the dispute between God and the devil over the fence between Heaven and Hell? The fence was run down and it was the devil's turn to have it fixed. He, being the blighter he is, did nothing about it. God pointed out his negligence and he replied "So sue me". When God said that He might do just that the devil came back with "Oh yeah. Where are you going to find a lawyer?".
Down south of the border, in Barack Hussein Obama’s America, the anti-racist Stalinists are currently indulging themselves in their favourite pastime, a Two Minutes Hate. The Emmanuel Goldstein over whom they are working themselves up into an orgasmic frenzy of rage, is Donald Tokowitz Sterling, the lawyer and real estate developer who owns the basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA has banned him for life and fined him two and a half million dollars for committing crimethink. More specifically, he complained over his phone to his mistress that she had posted a picture of herself with Magic Johnson and told her that he did not like her publicly associating with black people and bringing them to basketball games. He apparently was unaware that she was recording the conversation with the intention of using it against him, possibly in revenge over a lawsuit his wife had initiated against her demanding the return of some expensive gifts Sterling had given her.
From what I have read about Sterling over the last week he strikes me as a rather repulsive person, although I hesitate to express such an opinion lest I be thought to be lending even the smallest amount of support to the racial grievance industry which is busy manufacturing phony outrage and milking this situation for all it can get out of it. As for his remarks, which, having been made privately ought to have remained private and would have remained private had his mistress and the mainstream media been possessed of even a modicum of decency, I am reminded of these remarks of Auberon Waugh from thirty-eight years ago:
I can quite understand people wishing there were fewer blacks around, and am not particularly shocked to hear such sentiments expressed although I might say, 'Tut, tut'. I can quite understand people feeling it wrong that others should be discriminated against on account of their colour, and might even give a feeble clap or two if somebody put this case forcefully enough. (1)
The point Waugh was arguing for, in the article in which he made these remarks, was that racist ideologues and progressives determined to stamp out racist thought or at least the expression of it were both pompous, silly, and bossy and that neither ought to be taken seriously. This was an excellent point for the time in which it was made. Since that time it has become evident that the anti-racists progressives are far more capable of imposing their views on the public and harassing and harming their opponents than the racist ideologues and so, while my own sentiments are similar to those expressed by Waugh in the quoted remarks, I would have to say that my clapping would probably be even more feeble than his.
The self-righteous, progressive crusade to eliminate all racist thought, a carryover in spirit if not in content from progressivism’s roots in Calvinist Puritanism, has created a very toxic culture indeed, if it is now regarded as acceptable and even desirable that a man be punished with a couple of million dollars’ worth of fines, a lifetime ban, and probably the forced sale of his team, over remarks that were supposed to be private. This toxic culture has unfortunately spilled over into other areas that have nothing to do with race.
Up here, for example, in the true north strong and free, the Law Societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia have just voted to ban from the bar any lawyer who has graduated from the law school which Trinity Western University, an evangelical, Protestant university in British Columbia, is working to establish. It is not a question of the competency of TWU law school graduates. Rather, it has to do with the university’s covenant, in which students and faculty agree to live according to the rules of ethics taught by the Christian faith. This includes, of course, the rule against sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and by marriage, the Christian university means marriage as Jesus, quoting the book of Genesis, defined it, i.e., what happens when a man leaves his father and mother, is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh.
That a Christian school would expect its students to abide by Christian rules is hardly surprising. This sort of policy is exactly what one would expect such a school to have and such policies form part of the appeal Christian schools have to families who do not want to send their children into the hedonism that is the culture on so many secular campuses and, believe it or not, to many students themselves, who may prefer a campus cultural climate in which they are not constantly under pressure to conform to a secular, pleasure worshipping, lifestyle.
So why is that the legal associations of Ontario and Nova Scotia think this is something to ban TWU graduates over?
The policy, we are told by the Law Societies and by those who support them in this ban, discriminates against those who are sexually attracted to members of their own sex. It is therefore, they say, bigoted and against Canadian values and should not be allowed.
Most of TWU’s supporters would argue that their policy is not discriminatory. TWU’s covenant does not single out homosexuals. It requires everybody to abstain from sex outside of marriage. Homosexuals are a small percentage of the general population and one does not really expect that the student body of TWU would be any different. Therefore, the rule affects far more heterosexuals than it does homosexuals. Nor is the traditional Christian definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman discriminatory in that men who are attracted to men are not barred from marrying women and women who are attracted to women are not barred from marrying men.
Indeed, it is tempting to argue that what is truly discriminatory is the policy of the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society. (2) This argument, after all, is true. By banning graduates of the TWU law school from practicing law in Ontario and Nova Scotia over a school policy that has nothing to do with their students professional competence and which arises out of the University’s Christian faith, these legal associations are discriminating against TWU graduates because of the Christianity of their alma mater. This is religious discrimination and Jewish attorney, news commentator, and conservative Ezra Levant has superbly argued against it on these very grounds. (3)
I would put forward a different argument, however. I would argue that if we have come so far that two provincial law societies have voted against the accreditation of a law school because it is part of a university that holds to the faith that shaped so many of the traditions and institutions of our country, we have a bigger problem than discrimination to deal with. The problem is that the progressive campaign to stomp out racist thinking has expanded into a crusade against all sorts of other ideas that progressives consider to be bigoted and discriminatory. Just as the real enemy of progressive anti-racism has always been white people rather than a generic concept of racial hatred (black rappers whose lyrics are filled with far more hateful and even violent rhetoric against whites than Sterling’s remarks are not given the same treatment) so the real targets of the progressive campaigns against sexism and homophobia are the traditional family and the religion that shaped Western civilization. The left has declared an all-out war on Western civilization – its peoples, its culture, and its traditional religion. If we truly wish to defend the Christian faith in this war, we must reject the progressive doctrine of anti-racism upon which their successful campaigns have been built and the toxic anti-Western culture it has spawned.
(1) Auberon Waugh, “Unfit for Publication”, The Spectator, July 9, 1976, republished as “Che Guevera of the West Midlands” in Brideshead Benighted ((Little, Brown and Company: Boston and Toronto, 1986) pp. 153-156)
(2) The Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) voted to reject the TWU law school’s accreditation on April 24th, The Nova Scotia Barristers Society voted the next day that they would accept the school’s accreditation but only on condition that the school abandon its Christian covenant.
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca