The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kings and Constitutions

Plato and Aristotle, philosophers of fourth century BC democratic Athens who envied Sparta her kings and aristocrats, observed that there are three simple forms of government – the rule of the one, the rule of the few, and the rule of the many – which observation has been a fundamental of political science ever since. They also observed that governments can be good or bad and that the basic difference between the two is that bad governments use their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the larger society whereas good governments use their power for the benefit of the common good. While this is hardly an earth shattering observation it is the source of a question that has troubled political science ever since – what is the source of a government’s legitimacy, its right to govern?

The anarchist would answer that there is no such thing as government legitimacy and that all governments are illegitimate institutions that seek to monopolize coercive force by forbidding in others the actions they themselves commit. While there are some things that can be said in favour of this, anarchism is ultimately untenable because it is incompatible with human nature. Men are social beings, whose nature it is to live together in community and society rather than apart from one another in isolation. We therefore require a set of laws and an institution that will make, administer, and enforce those laws. We need government.

Having ruled out the anarchist position, we are left with basically three possible answers to the source of government legitimacy. A government that is legitimate, that has the right to govern, is either delegated that authority from above, obtains it from below, or finds it to be inherent in itself.

The last of these possibilities is as unfeasible as the anarchist answer. While a distinction can be made between the idea of a government finding the source of its authority within itself and that of a government exercising its power for its own benefit the two concepts are so close to each other as to make the technical term for a government that derives its authority from itself, autocracy, a virtual synonym for bad government. It is not surprising, therefore, that most political theorists have held to one variation or another of the other two options.

The second possibility, that government obtains its authority from below, from those it governs, is the prevalent theory of the modern age. It is the foundation of the modern theory of democracy (1) and proclaimed to be a self-evident truth in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence. Even Communist governments professed a belief in this view of government legitimacy and hence frequently renamed the countries they took over "The People’s Republic of Such-and-such". In the democratic, liberal, West this was regarded as a pretence because the states so described were one-party police states, which held phony elections for show, in which the government was not accountable and the people were tightly controlled. The Communist response was that the Communist Party was the voice of the people and therefore only in a Communist state where the Communist Party controls everything could the government truly be said to represent and derive its powers from the people. In this we see that the idea that governments derive their powers from the people has more than one interpretation and in not all of these interpretations are frequent elections, multiple parties, competition or even freedom itself absolutely essential to the idea.

Thomas Jefferson’s Lockean assertion notwithstanding the idea that governments derive their legitimate authority from those they govern is not at all self-evident. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that it is self-evident that they do not so derive their authority. If this theory were applied to any other form of authority it would undermine that authority. Imagine telling parents that the only legitimate authority they have in the home is derived from the consent of their children! To say that authority flows from the governed to the governor is to assert nonsense, to contradict the very nature of authority. If legitimate authority is something given to the possessor of that authority from those under that authority then what happens if someone under authority does not like a law passed by that authority and decides to withdraw his consent?

If those under government can withdraw their consent from the authority of that government at any time then they have not conferred any real authority on government at all and we have anarchy. If, on the other hand, the authority the governed confer upon government by their consent cannot be withdrawn the government can do whatever it wants with the authorization of “the people” and we have tyranny. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the “father of modern democracy” is also the “father of totalitarianism” who asserted that once a government was formed that expressed the “General Will” of the people no dissent from the will of that government should be tolerated. The middle solution between these two extremes is to do what most liberal, Western, democracies do which is to schedule regular elections and to treat these as a binding contract conferring authority which must be obeyed on the government until the next election. Whatever might be said in favour of this solution, years ago American conservative commentator Samuel Francis noted a growing tendency in modern mass societies governed by modern bureaucratic democracies to combine the lawlessness of anarchism with the oppression of tyranny in a synthesis he dubbed anarcho-tyranny. The meeting point between two extremes can be a moderate mean that is preferable to either extreme but it can also combine their worse points into one.

Some would argue for the idea of government legitimacy based upon popular consent based upon the fact that the worse a government is the more likely the people it governs are to either leave if they can or to organize against the government and rise up and overthrow it. This argument, however, is more a description of the natural consequences of governing badly than of the source of a government’s right to govern. Ultimately, the present popularity of the idea of authority by popular consent is due not to is being self-evident nor even to its having convincing arguments in its favour, but to the fact that it flatters the people, telling them that they are the true bosses and that those in authority over them are so by their allowance and toleration.

What about the remaining possibility that the right to govern is delegated to civil authority from above?

For those of us who are Christians this possibility is not optional. It is explicitly taught by St. Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his epistle to the church in Rome:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

While among those who profess Christian faith there are some who would set aside the Scriptural authority of the writings of St. Paul against the explicit recognition of such by St. Peter and the orthodox tradition of the church, what the Apostle has taught here is also present in the direct words of Christ Himself Who told Pontius Pilate “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” (John 19:11).

The idea that authority is delegated to civil government from a higher authority – God, in the words of Jesus and St. Paul quoted above – is in keeping with what is observable about the natural movement of all other kinds of authority, i.e., that it flows from the top down. It runs contrary, however, to the humanistic spirit of the Modern Age. That spirit is all about the emancipation of man’s will from external constraint and his freedom to re-make himself and the world around him in accordance with his own desires. The only authority recognized by the spirit of modern man is that of his own will and such authority as he chooses to set up. Against the Christian doctrine that civil government derives its authority from above, from God, the modern spirit asserts the accusation that such a teaching is a recipe for arbitrary and unaccountable government. This, however, is simply an indication of the practical, if not overt, atheism inherent in the modern worldview. For if civil government’s authority is delegated to it by God then civil authority is accountable to God for its stewardship of that authority. It is government that bases its authority upon the will of man that is truly unaccountable and arbitrary. Indeed, the teaching of the divine origin of the authority of civil government is a doctrine that limits government authority, for if God were to delegate unlimited power to civil government He would be making civil government equal to Himself. The power God delegates to civil authority must therefore be limited and it is limited by the purpose for which God has delegated that authority, identified by St. Paul in the passage quoted above.

There is another way of thinking about civil government’s authority in which it is delegated from above. That is to regard a country’s constitution as being a higher authority than its government and to regard the government’s authority as being delegated to it by the constitution. This need not be regarded as a substitute for the Christian doctrine or a theory that is in competition with it. It is completely compatible with it if we think of the constitution as being the vessel by which authority is communicated from God to government.

Today, the word constitution is often understood to mean a legal document listing and limiting the offices and powers of government. This is not the sense of the word I am using here. I mean constitution in the sense in which Aristotle used the term in his Athenian Constitution. In this older sense of the word a constitution is a system of organization. It could be defined as “the way things are set up”. In this sense of the word, the constitution of our American friends and neighbours is not the document that begins “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” but the federal republican system of government as established by that document. Or it would be had not “the Civil War finally blew the old Republic to pieces” as H. L. Mencken put it in his foreword to James Fenimore Cooper’s The American Democrat.

The framers of the American republic believed that a charter, a document defining and delineating the powers of government, is the best safeguard of the rights and liberties of a country’s people and the security and stability of a country’s constitution against those who would subvert the constitution for their own tyrannical purposes. Hence the association of the concepts of charter and constitution to the point where the distinction was blurred. Mencken’s comment, quoted above, places this belief in a somewhat ironic light, the “civil war” to which he referred having taken place less than a century after the American charter was ratified. With all due respect to America’s founders I disagree with their position and would insist that prescription is the best safeguard of these things. Prescription is establishment by ancient use. It commands the respect that is due to age and conveys the right of presumption due to that which has stood the test of time against the unproven claims of innovation and experiment. The embodiment of a country’s constitution in institutions that have been established as “the way things are” from ages past it is a far greater guarantee of stability and security than the fact that a document “says so”.

The idea of a constitution grounded in prescription as the immediate source of government legitimacy – the ultimate source being God – finds support in an alternative theory of democracy proposed by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton began the fourth chapter of his Orthodoxy, a chapter entitled “The Ethics of Elfland,” by saying that as he matured he had discovered that the remarks he had heard when he was a boy from old men about how the abstract idealism of youth would give way to pragmatic realism in middle age were all lies. He declared that he now, at the time he was writing, more than ever before, believed in Liberalism, and its ideal of democracy. The principle of democracy, he said, could be expressed in two propositions, “that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men” and that “the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common.” Therefore “the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves – the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state.” He then went on to say that “It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time.” He wrote:

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. (2)

To this I would add that tradition can also be regarded, in a sense, as extending democracy in the other direction as well, and extending the franchise to the unborn. For tradition is that which binds the generations, past, present, and yet to come, into a common unity. If tradition is regarded as true democracy, democracy that gives a voice to those who have gone before and those yet to come by uniting their voices with that of those present now into one then the biggest problems of the modern theory of democracy disappear. For these problems only arise because the theory of modern democracy, in which “the people” are those who live under the government in the present, asserts the ridiculous proposition that it is the governed govern the government. If “the people”, however, are not just the masses assembled at any one moment but the organic whole of a society through time, including past generations and future generations, and tradition is the voice of “the people” so defined, then the contradiction disappears, for the organic whole of a society through time is much larger than those under government at any given moment, and thus cannot be equated with the governed. Furthermore, whereas modern democracy, which makes the masses of the moment sovereign, threatens the stability and security of the prescriptive constitution, because the opinion of the masses changes from moment to moment and has no common unity other than that which is supplied by the demagogue who seeks to subvert the constitution, tradition, as the voice of the people through time, changes slowly, and is supportive of the prescriptive constitution.

I would further assert, again contrary to the theory of government and constitution so dear to our neighbours to the south, that if the truest and best democracy is that in which the sovereign people is the society as an organic whole of past, present, and future generations, and tradition is the voice of that people, then the institution which best serves as the focal point of the authority conveyed by the tradition-grounded, prescriptive constitution upon civil government, so as to embody the voice of the people in the present, is precisely that institution which serves that purpose in our own constitution, the office of king, presently occupied, by a queen, Her Majesty, Elizabeth II.

Aristotle believed that a constitution which mixed the rule of the one, the few, and the many was potentially the best constitution available to man. This mixture is present in both the parliamentary monarchy of the United Kingdom, Canada, and in the republican system of the United States. In the United States, the office of the president fills the place of the rule of one. It is an elected term position, and in the constitutional scheme of the United States, the president is elected as the representative of the country as a whole, whereas senators are elected to represent states, and congressmen to represent districts. The office of king in our own constitution is a hereditary, life, position. The modern democratic mind finds this objectionable. I would say, however, that it is precisely this that makes the office of king a suitable expression of the voice of the people. The office of king passes from one generation to the next through time, just as in the organic whole of the nation, one generation follows another. As Roger Scruton has put it "the monarch is so convenient a symbol of the trans-generational ties that bind us to our country." (3) The modern mind claims the office is outdated, but it is in our times, times of turbulence and dynamic and rapid change, that an institution that represents stability and steadfastness is most needed.

Those who prefer a republican system over even a parliamentary monarchy and a charter over tradition and prescription maintain that the office of king is a threat to the rights and liberties of the people. It is only bad kings that threaten those rights and liberties, however, and it is no solution to make every office an elected one, for bad elected officials are as much of a threat to the rights and liberties of the people as bad kings, and often a worse threat because, holding office only until the next election, their interest in the affairs of the public is a short-term one. (4) Indeed, a king who inherits his throne and has therefore been trained all his life for the duties of the role he is to fill is far more likely to be a good governor than an elected politician. To be an elected politician one must first run in an election, which indicated a love for power, a quality that is not exactly desirable in one who is to exercise it. There is a reason our basic word for an evil and oppressive governor, tyrant, comes from a root that originally meant "usurper", i.e., one whose love for power leads him to seize it for himself and to exercise it improperly.

There have been bad kings, of course. One bad king was King John who ruled England from 1199 until his death in 1216. He was a particularly bad king. After famously attempting unsuccessfully to usurp the throne from his brother Richard the Lionheart when the the latter was imprisoned in Germany during his return from the Crusades, (5) when John did finally accede to the throne upon Richard’s death with the support of his mother and most of the nobility it was over the claim one rival claimant did so over the claim of his nephew Arthur, son of his older brother Geoffrey. Arthur’s claim was supported by the French king Philip II and John went to war. He captured, imprisoned, and almost certainly murdered Arthur but his military adventures proved disastrous, costing the Crown much territory and earning him the nickname “Lackland.” His efforts at diplomacy fared no better, involving the kind of marrying, divorcing, and bending canon law for which Henry VIII would later become known. Between this and his conflict with Pope Innocent III over ecclesiastical appointments he managed to get himself excommunicated – and at one time the entire country interdicted. He combined incompetence in foreign policy with tyranny at home and eventually faced a revolt from the barons.

That John was forced to sign the Magna Carta Libertatum in 1215 is often cited as evidence that kings are a threat to liberty, that charters are the best safe-guards of liberty, and of the progressive view of history in which society becomes better and better as government evolves towards liberal democracy. This point of view ignores several facts. When John affixed his seal to the document at Runnymede it was a victory for aristocracy not democracy as it was the barons and not a popular uprising that forced him so to do. Furthermore, the Magna Carta was not an innovative, progressive, document. It did not force the king to recognize new restraints upon his powers so much as to acknowledge those already existing in the English law and constitution. Many of the rights and liberties identified in it go back at least as far as the ninth century reign of Alfred the Great of Wessex. Most had been recognized in the Charter of Liberties issued by Henry I upon his accession to the throne a century earlier.

Centuries later there was another revolt against an English king. This time, however, the intention was to subvert the constitution. Following the extinction of the Welsh line of Tudor, the throne of England had passed to the House of Stuart, uniting the thrones of England and Scotland. The first Stuart king to rule over England was James I (VI of Scotland) who was succeeded by his son Charles I. Charles, the first English monarch raised in the Anglican faith, inherited the legacy of the English Reformation that had taken place during the century that the Tudors had ruled. The Church of England, with Catholic bishops in Apostolic succession and a Protestant confession had become the established church. A party of Calvinists who had suffered persecution during the brief return to Roman Catholicism during the reign of Mary and many of whom had fled to Switzerland where they were infected with republicanism and Presbyterianism, had been gradually increasing in strength since the reign of Elizabeth I. Not at all pleased with the Elizabethan settlement, they increasingly demanded that the Church of England be stripped of bishops, priests, vestments, ornaments, liturgy, and anything that did not come directly out of the pages of Scripture. These demands were resisted by King Charles who wished to keep the Anglican Church the way it was. When he married a Roman Catholic and allowed her to keep and practice her religion, the Puritans saw this as a conspiracy to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England. They became paranoid and their demands became increasingly odious and personally offensive to the king. They hijacked the discussion in Parliament, in which they had become the dominant party, refusing to co-operate with the king or deal with the government business before the Parliament, turning it instead into a soapbox upon which to vent their hatred of Roman Catholicism. Eventually the king dissolved Parliament and governed without it for eleven years. This was within his constitutional right at the time, and he governed well, but it infuriated the Puritans and when he called Parliament back together they were even less willing to co-operate. It broke out into the English Civil War, the result of which was that the king was arrested and, in a kangaroo court conducted after the Puritan army forcibly removed his supporters from Parliament, condemned to die. (6)

If King John had been a bad king because he ignored the established constitution which his barons forced him to acknowledge in the Magna Carta, the Puritans who rebelled against King Charles I, illegally tried him for treason and killed him, were determined to overthrow the established constitution, both of the state and the church. While they called Charles a tyrant, he, unlike John, was a popular king. The Puritans, on the other hand, used the power they seized to oppress the people. They stripped the churches of their organs, ornaments, and other decoration. They called these idolatrous and claimed to be motivated by ideals of purity and simplicity but the effect was to rob the people of the beautiful art and music that had been universally accessible in the churches. They got rid of the festive seasons of Christmas and Easter and passed laws forbidding sports and amusements on Sundays, even outside church hours, although this was the only day of the week such were available to them.

In his final speech before his death, King Charles insisted that the liberty and freedom of the people consists of "those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own" and not in blurring the difference and distinction between subject and sovereign. He pointed out that had he submitted to the demands of the Puritans, had he "given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the Sword", he would not have been brought to the scaffold and so he was "the martyr of the people." The subsequent abuse of the people during the Puritan interregnum more than justified this assertion.

In the example of King Charles, rightly canonized a saint by the Anglican Church in the Restoration, we see the example of how a king can be the upholder of the constitution and defender of the people protected by that constitution, against forces in the elected assembly that seek to subvert the constitution and oppress the people in the name of liberty. This, of course, is the proper constitutional role of a king, and the reason the office of king will never be outdated, despite what progressives and modernists may say to the contrary.

(1) There have been other theories of democracy which do not rest upon this idea.

(2) G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York: Image Books,1990; original publisher New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1908), p. 45.

(3) Roger Scruton, A Political Philosophy, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006), p. 11.

(4) This argument was developed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in Democracy - The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order ( Rutgers, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2001). Note that Hoppe, while arguing that monarchy is preferable to democracy, is himself an anarchist.

(5) John is remembered for this more often than for the events of his own reign, even the signing of the Magna Carta, for the simple reason that it became the background to the Robin Hood legend, in which the villainous king-to-be is depicted as the sinister mastermind behind the outlaw’s main enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham.


Saturday, January 25, 2014


In the Anglican prayer book the collect to be said upon the Sunday after Easter is:

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

It is from this collect that Robertson Davies obtained the title for the second novel in his trilogy set in Salterton, a fictional, although loosely based on Kingston, community in Ontario. The plot of Leaven of Malice follows the events that unfold due to the placing of an advertisement in the Evening Bellman newspaper announcing the upcoming nuptials of Pearl Vambrace and Solomon Bridgewater. The problems with the ad are numerous. The wedding is set for the 31st day of a month that has only 30 days. Jevon Knapp, the dean of St. Nicholas Anglican Cathedral where the wedding is set to take place reads about it for the first time in the newspaper. So, for that matter, do the couple in question, whom we met for the first time in Tempest-Tost where they participated in an amateur production of the Shakespearean play alluded to in the title. They are not in fact engaged and worse the young lady is the daughter of Professor Vambrace whose one-time rivalry with the young man’s father for a deanship at the university had developed into an animosity between the two families comparable to that of the Capulets and Montagues.

The malice which spreads like leaven throughout Salterton in the book, begins with the malice of the person who placed the spurious advertisement out of spite against both the couple named and Gloster Ridley, the editor of the newspaper. It spreads to the elderly busybody Puss Pottinger and Matthew Snelgrove, lawyer and diocesan chancellor who share a dislike of Humphrey Cobbler, the irascible cathedral organist that causes them to baselessly and irrationally accuse him of placing the advertisement. The extent to which it infects old Mrs. Bridgewater who exercises a soft tyranny over her son is not fully evident until the third novel in the trilogy, A Mixture of Frailties, in which the vengeful terms of her will are revealed. It is perhaps most evident, however, in Professor Vambrace, whose response to the advertisement of his daughter’s engagement to the son of his hated rival is to threaten a suit of libel against the newspaper and, when the newspaper fails to apologize in a way that he deems satisfactory, take steps to initiate that lawsuit.

Malicious libel suits are not limited to the realm of fiction alas. Last fall a jury delivered a verdict against Mark and Connie Fournier, the administrators of the conservative message board Free Dominion, and two of the members of their board, in a lawsuit for libel that had been brought against them by Richard Warman several years previously. The jury awarded Warman $42, 000 in damages plus costs. On Thursday, January 23rd 2014, Justice Robert Smith of the Ontario Superior Court awarded those costs, raising the total bill the Fourners have been ordered to pay Warman to $127, 000. He also issued what is in effect a gag order. He gave an injunction against the Fourniers that prohibits them from publishing anything negative about Richard Warman. As a consequence, Free Dominion has been closed to the public because due to this injunction all anyone possessed of malice towards the Fourniers would need to do is post something negative about Warman and it would mean an automatic trip to jail for them for contempt of court. This, of course, means that Free Dominion, can no longer perform the function of a public forum for which it was created. Appropriately, the Fourniers have placed in large red letters the announcement “Censored! Closed to the Public” across the main page of their site.

The verdict and Justice Smith’s decision are both tremendous injustices in my informed opinion. Richard Warman, the plaintiff, is a human rights lawyer, who formerly worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, who made multiple complaints under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and who is a noted activist for the progressive cause of anti-racism. This means that he is a public figure, whose actions affect the interests of the public and are therefore subject to public discussion and debate. The threshold for what constitutes defamation against a public figure is supposed to be much higher than what constitutes defamation against a private citizen. In this case, however, the threshold was lowered. Several of the Free Dominion posts deemed to be libelous against Warman consisted merely of name calling. Name calling is not supposed to constitute actionable defamation. It is my opinion that the handling and outcome of this case are not only grounds for the verdict and ruling to be overturned upon appeal but for disciplinary action to be taken against the court.

The ridiculously high amounts the Fourniers have been ordered to pay constitute what is known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to plaintiffs in civil lawsuits as a means of punishing the defendant. To obtain punitive damages the plaintiff is supposed to be able to show malicious intent on the part of the defendant. This would seem to be the justification on the part of the plaintiff and the court for allowing the inclusion of the kind of insults that would normally not be considered actionable within this suit.

They do not show any such thing, however, for there is no malicious intent to be shown. The Fourniers started Free Dominion thirteen years ago as a public forum for the promotion of small-c conservative ideas. What those ideas basically consist of are classical liberal views of political and economic freedom and conservative moral and social stances such as those held by evangelical Christians, traditional Catholics, and other conservative faith groups. Part of their understanding of political freedom is the idea of freedom of speech, that government and law should not be used to control what people think or say. The Fourniers’ opponents on the left have accused them of inconsistency because they moderate what is allowed to be posted on Free Dominion but this charge is not valid. Belief in free speech does not mean that you have to provide a platform for every idea out there. It means that you oppose the use of law and government power to curtail the expression of thoughts, whether you yourself agree or disagree with those thoughts.

This is where Richard Warman enters the picture. As an employee of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Warman worked for the government. It is my understanding that he still is an employee of the government in some capacity. More importantly, however, because this is what became the subject of public discussion, he was a complainant in multiple cases using Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Act was a bill passed by Parliament in 1977 during the premiership of Pierre Trudeau that prohibits people and businesses from discriminating against other people in certain situations – employment, housing, etc. – on the basis of criteria such as race, sex, religion, etc. Section 13 of this Act, which Parliament rescinded in a bill passed last June that comes into effect this June, declared certain types of speech, i.e., speech which is “likely to” expose someone to “hatred or contempt” on the basis of his race, sex, etc., to be discrimination when it is communicated electronically. Warman made numerous complaints under this Section which is why he and his actions came under criticism from people, like the Fourniers, who are concerned about the erosion of free speech in this country.

Many of Warman’s defenders have argued that because Section 13 was Canadian law he should not be criticized for using it. That is a ridiculous line of argument. If the government were to pass a law saying that on a certain day every year it is legal to beat up elderly people and take their money would that mean that we should not criticize or condemn those who took advantage of that law? Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was bad law. Indeed, the entire Canadian Human

Rights Act is bad law, because while it is laudable for a government to adopt a policy of non-discrimination towards the people it governs it is reprehensible for that same government to prohibit those same people from discriminating among themselves. Those who use bad laws against their fellow countrymen are as much the proper subjects of criticism as the laws themselves.

In opposing Warman’s actions and allowing them to be freely criticized on their message board the Fourniers were not acting out of malice but out of principle. Indeed, if it is evidence of malice that you are looking for you might do better to look for it on the other side. This lawsuit is one of several that the plaintiff filed against the defendants. He has launched several other similar lawsuits against several other defendants as well. He asked for a crippling amount in punitive damages and an injunction that prevents the defendants from operating their website as the public forum it was intended to be. Surely in all of this there is far more evidence of an intent that has been leavened with malice than in the principled refusal to allow someone else to dictate what you will or will not say or allow to be said on your own website? As Dean Knapp said of malice in Davies’ novel, “You find it, for instance, in unfounded charges brought against people that we dislike.”

The malice that is on display here, I hasten to point out, is not necessarily personal malice. Not being God, I am not priviledge with the ability to peer into Warman’s heart on the assumption that he actually possesses one and therefore make no judgement as to what may or may not be found there. Rather the malice on display here and in the Schadenfreude that could be found dripping from the entries and comments on blogs of those progressive, forward-thinking, types who followed this case every time they had a Warman victory and a Free Dominion set back to report is the malice that is inherent within anti-racism.

The malice in racism is easy to see. Malice is ill will and evil design towards other people. Racism can be defined either positively or negatively. Defined positively it is the belief in the superiority of a race, typically one’s own. Defined negatively it means a dislike of a particular race or other races in general. When that dislike comes with a desire or intent that its object suffer harm then malice is clearly present in racism. The malice in anti-racism is harder to see, because anti-racism defines itself as opposition to an evil that stands in the way of universal peace, harmony, and getting along, a desire for which could hardly be described as malicious. Yet malice is present in anti-racism where it has indeed leavened the whole lump.

Anti-racism is itself a leaven that has thoroughly permeated Western culture in the last half century. Clergymen in churches, pedagogues in schools, professors in universities, journalists in newspapers and on television and silly entertainers in media of all sorts have joined together in spreading the message that we must all learn to get along with each other and that in order to do so we must stop attaching any importance to race or ethnicity. Those who do so, at least if they are white people, are racists who stand in the way of universal peace and harmony. They must therefore be shunned, treated as social pariahs, and practically be considered outlaws (an outlaw is someone who has been declared to be outside the protection of law so that whatever is done to him will be without legal consequence). There is clearly malice present in this way of thinking.

Consider the anti-racist position on laws like Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is basically that laws like this are needed to protect “vulnerable minorities” against a resurgent Nazi movement and that the concern that such laws unjustly infringe upon basic rights and freedoms such as freedom of thought, speech, and association is unwarranted because the laws only target racists. Apart from the fact that the minorities they are concerned about are in no way vulnerable and that the resurgent Nazi movement they are worried about is nothing more than a bugaboo what this position ultimately amounts to is “who cares, it is only racists and they deserve it”.

It is the nature of malice, however, like all leaven, to grow and spread. Lawyers who defend murderers and rapists in court are not considered to be tainted by the criminal guilt of their clients. Lawyers who defend people on so-called “hate” charges are viewed by anti-racists with the same contempt their clients are viewed regardless of what their own ideas may or may not be. Mark and Connie Fournier of Free Dominion are not racists. Indeed, if anything they are moderate anti-racists. Their stand against hate speech laws is based entirely upon the idea that infringing upon the freedom of speech of some is infringing upon the freedom of speech for all and the test of one’s commitment to freedom of speech is one’s willingness to extend it to those with whom one disagrees and not just those with whom one agrees. For taking that stance, progressive anti-racists have ridiculed them and accused them of being apologists for racism. In July of 2005, Richard Warman in an address to the group Anti-Racist Action in Toronto, described his methods of combatting neo-Nazi groups, saying that the approach he found to be most effective was one of “maximum disruption” which basically meant going after the neo-Nazi groups in as many ways possible at the same time. Can the resemblance between this strategy and his multiple-lawsuit approach to conservative critics like the Fourniers be merely a coincidence?

Sadly, the worst part of the malicious leaven of anti-racism is that its permeation of our whole culture has created widespread indifference to the injustices committed in our midst, first against those whose views are considered to be racist and second against those who are not racists themselves but who oppose the injustices committed against racists. How many more degrees removed from actual racism will the injustices have to spread before we shake off that indifference?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Man and Machine: Part Five

Technology and the Truth

Since ancient times goodness has been considered by the wise to be the highest ideal for which man strives, can strive, or ought to strive. It has never been isolated, at the apex of the mountain of human aspiration, however, and down through the ages of man its closest associate and constant companion has been truth. Not infrequently their names are spoken in connection with that of a third ideal, beauty. The association of these ideals is at least as old as the sixth book of Plato’s Republic, although the formulation of the three as a triad is much more recent, perhaps having its origins in the Renaissance efforts to regain the ideas and achievements of classical civilization. Even in the older, medieval triad of the one, the good, and the true, however, goodness and truth were always associated.

The Athenian philosophers understood goodness in terms of harmony between a thing and its natural end. Everything has a nature, an irreducible essence that makes it what it is. Every nature has an end, in the sense of a telos, a purpose. A lamp, for example, is made for the purpose of lighting up a room. That is the end towards which it is made, to which its nature is bent. If goodness lies in harmony between a thing and its natural end, a lamp is deemed to be good or not based upon how well it achieves the end of lighting up a room. The nature of goodness has been a major subject of philosophical discussion and especially the nature of human goodness which, given the definition of general goodness, can only be understood in terms of the natural end of man.

Goodness is the highest ideal because all other ideals are encapsulated within it. Take, for example, the concept of rightness or justice, which is the subject of ethics. Justice, as the concept was classically understood, means behaving towards others as one ought, in the most literal sense of the word ought, i.e., as we owe it to others to behave. This, it should be clear to see, presupposes that we owe certain kinds of behaviour towards other people. This is not as controversial a presupposition as it may seem. Even liberal individualism acknowledges a debt of behaviour towards other people, at least in the negative sense of owing it to them not to violate their life, person, and property. The most basic of our obligations towards other people are part of our nature as human beings and therefore if justice or rightness consists of fulfilling those obligations it can therefore be said to be goodness as applied to human behaviour, which is, of course, the way everybody thinks about it whether they have gone through the exercise of defining it or not. Likewise, beauty is goodness as applied to that which is appealing to the senses of sight and sound.

Truth too, can be thought of as a type of goodness. It is goodness as it pertains to thoughts and language. Thought, in the abstract, is the total conscious activity of our minds and brains. Specific thoughts are pictures that we form or models that we build in our minds. Language is the medium through which we communicate these pictures or models to other people. These pictures or models are representations of things as we understand them to be, to have been in the past, or as we either expect, fear, or desire them to be in the future. The more accurately our thoughts correspond with the way the things they represent actually are, were or will be the better will our thoughts achieve their natural end, which is our understanding of ourselves, the world in which we live, and that which lies beyond that world. This correspondence between depiction in thought and language and the actuality of what is depicted is what has traditionally been understood by the word truth.

If truth is goodness in thought and language that consists of accurate correspondence between how we depict things in what we think and say and how those things actually are can human beings ever be said to possess truth?

This question is an important one that arises out of the difference between things as they appear to us and things as they are in themselves. We can judge how the way things are depicted in thought and word correspond with how those same things appear to us because how those things appear to us is known to us. We should be careful, however, not to confuse how things appear to us with how things are in themselves. We know that things as they appear to us cannot be declared to be absolutely identical to how things are in themselves because we know that our own senses and minds interpret things so as to produce their appearances.

Do not make the mistake of reading too much into this difference. Our own participation in how things appear to us does not mean that there is absolutely no correspondence between appearances and actual reality. Indeed, for most, if not all, practical purposes it is safe to treat the way things appear as if they were identical to the way things are. The importance of recognizing the difference between the appearance of things, which we know, and the reality of things that lies beneath the appearance, lies in the fact that it is through this recognition that we are aware that there is a greater standard of truth, that lies beyond and beneath that truth to which we have access, of which the latter is merely an approximation. This, of course, is what Plato illustrated for us thousands of years ago in his allegory of the cave.

The insights of Athens are best seen when illuminated by the light of Jerusalem. Expressed in theological terms, the difference between such truth as is accessible to us and that which is beyond is, is the difference between human and divine truth. Man has a knowledge of things as they appear to him, God knows all things as they are in themselves. As the Lord said to Samuel “the LORD seeth not as man seeth ; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).

There is a story that was related by nineteenth century Danish Lutheran theologian and existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments. (1) In the second part of the book, where Kierkegaard discusses the eighteenth century German philosopher and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, he quotes Lessing as having said that if God were to hold out both His hands with the right hand containing the truth, pure and whole, and the left hand containing the relentless, endless, striving for truth, and say “Choose”, that he would fall down before God’s left hand, saying “Give, Father, for the truth is for You alone”. While Kierkegarrd did not seem to be impressed with Lessing’s profession of humility (2), he approved of the idea that truth is something for God to possess and man to eternally strive for. By approving this idea, Kierkegaard was not endorsing the behaviour of the “silly women”, St. Paul refers to, who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7). The Apostle was talking about people who constantly jump from one new religious fad to another. Kierkegaard was talking about the gulf that exists between the pure and absolute truth as it is known to God and that small approximation of it which man can arrive at through his philosophical efforts. (3) He contrasts that idea with the arrogance of Hegel’s absolute idealism, and the whole concept that human philosophy could devise a “System” which would satisfactorily explain all of reality.

The arrogance which Kierkegaard objected to in Hegel’s “System” is hardly unique to Hegel. The idea that a complete and fully integrated knowledge of all things lies within man’s reach if he will but stretch forth the hands of reason and science to grasp it lies at the heart of most modern thinking. The contrast between this attitude and that of Socrates, who was puzzled by the Delphic Oracle’s proclamation that he was the wisest man in Greece because in his own estimation he “knew nothing”, could not be any greater.

Now it could be argued that Socrates, who laid the foundation of classical philosophy, lived almost two and a half millennia ago, at the dawn of Western thought and that between then and now we have accumulated so much knowledge that while a disavowal of knowledge was an indication of wisdom in his day, humanistic confidence in man’s ability to attain full knowledge is the mark of wisdom in our own. Indeed, the modern point of view would be difficult if not impossible to hold, without some such argument being taken as an assumption. Is it the case, however, that our accumulation of knowledge has been so great as to justify such an assumption, or is it rather that modern man, by an alchemy of redefinition, has reduced the meaning of knowledge itself so as to make our knowledge appear more complete?

There is much that points to the latter explanation as being the most correct one. As far back as the fourteenth century William of Ockham argued against the multiplication of entities and on this basis denied reality to the universals the knowledge of which Plato argued was the truest of knowledge. Renaissance humanism, shifted the focus of human thought away from God and the metaphysical and towards man himself. Rationalists argued that the only true knowledge is that which can be rationally formulated and empiricism reduced the meaning of science to observable information about the natural world and theories explaining that information which can be tested in the laboratory.

The result of all of this is that while our store of facts has indeed grown since Socrates’ day, a growth which has been both exponential and accelerating in modern times, our concept of knowledge itself has been severely reduced. Thus, an attempt at producing a modern integrated system of knowledge is actually less impressive than classical and medieval attempts at synthesizing a worldview, for while the latter had less in the way of raw data to deal with they sought to incorporate what information they had about the whole of reality into their synthesis.

Our idea of truth cannot be unaffected if our understanding of what constitutes knowledge changes. For if truth is goodness as it pertains to thought and language then it must also be the goal of knowledge. Thought is the medium of knowledge, just as language is the medium of thought. If modern man has deluded himself into thinking that he has a fuller, more complete, system of knowledge by shrinking the definition of knowledge how has this affected his concept of the truth?

Modern man continues to acknowledge truth to be the end of knowledge (and hence science) in theory. In practice, however, he has substituted another end for knowledge in place of truth. Modern man’s confidence in modern science rests upon its practical results – its ability to deliver tools and techniques that decrease his burden, increase his leisure, make the necessities and luxuries of life more available, provide relief from pain and illness. This ability of modern science is nothing to be sneered at but it must be acknowledge that this ability is the result of modern man having substituted power for truth as the practical end of knowledge. George Grant, in his critiques of modern science and technology, argued that technology is, like the term itself, a fusion of making and knowing, created by modern man to serve the end of modern science which is the subjection of nature to the will of man. (4) That this is indeed the end of modern science was acknowledged by one of its earliest and most important proponents, when Sir Francis Bacon equated knowledge with power.

One of the results of this has been that facts have taken the place of truth. Facts the modern man has an abundance of. They are the raw material of the kind of science that produces power and domination. They are not the same thing as truth, however, and as Oscar Wilde once put it “When a truth becomes a fact it loses all its intellectual value.”

In his Technology and Empire, George Grant criticized what he called “the most sacred doctrine of our public religion”, saying that it is “not self-evident, as is often claimed”. This is the distinction between a fact” purportedly a description of what is, and a value, a description of what we think ought to be. The former, the modern academy declares to be that with which science has to do. The latter it relegates to the realm of moral judgement. This, Grant maintained, creates problems in both the fields of science and morality. To think about morality in terms of values, Grant frequently argued, was to think about morality solely in terms of our freedom and choices, for values are what modern man has substituted for goodness, the difference being that values are what he chooses for himself whereas goodness is something that is which he is to seek after, strive for, and find. To think of science in terms of facts is to create and maintain the idea of an objective or value-free science when science is actually in the service of the human will. In other words the fact-value distinction as it is commonly understood separates what is from what we decide but puts each in the wrong place.

What Grant said values are to goodness, it can be argued facts are to truth. In the third chapter of his Historical Consciousness, (5) John Lukacs writes that the historian “does deal with things that happened” but that “these things are not necessarily facts” and gives a fascinating history of the word fact, pointing out that when it was first used as a noun it originally referred, as its cognates in other languages continue to refer, to something that was done or accomplished rather than to a category of reality. Just as Grant argued that the fact-value distinction was created to serve the interests of modern technological society by creating a false image of scientific objectivity and subjective morality, Lukacs wrote that “the nineteenth-century cult of Facts was…one of the intellectual concomitants of the Industrial Revolution”. He went on to explode the “Fact-Fiction dichotomy”, by showing that facts are as much the intellectual constructions of men as fictions and to illustrate the difference between fact and truth by writing:

One evening in 1960, after having worked all day, I drove over the hill to see some friends after supper. My account in my 1960 diary reads: “June went by, closely together with H., in our little country house.” “Late on the evening of June 1”, someone could write, “Lukacs left his ailing wife alone in a darkened house, and drove off to spend several hours drinking with friends on a well-lit terrace, in an electric atmosphere with pretty women.” Absolutely correct. Deeply untrue. (6)

The difference between fact and truth illustrated in the above quotation is the difference between accurate details and a right understanding.

This brings us back to that vital distinction between things as they appear to us and things as they are. Facts, at least in the sense the word came to be used by the nineteenth-century in the English-speaking world, belong to the realm of appearances even though the fact-value and fact-fiction dichotomies both attempt to place them in the realm of things as they are. A fact is a thing or an event as interpreted for us by our senses and our own minds. For practical purposes we can safely act as though the facts we possess are things and events as they are or were.

To forget or deny, however, that there is a reality beyond and beneath fact and appearance is as much a mistake as to think that morality consists only of what we choose to value for ourselves. Goodness and truth, in the sense that these are known to and belong to God, are beyond the reach of our human capabilities. We should not, however, settle for values and facts as substitutes, but should strive to achieve goodness and truth while acknowledging the gap between our achievements and the ideals. Only thus can any sort of human excellence be accomplished.

(1) First published in 1846. Kierkegaard wrote the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and the Philosophical Fragments which appeared two years earlier, under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus. The title of Concluding Unscientific Postscript appears to have ironic intentions. It refers to a book of over five hundred pages, written as a “post-script” to a pamphlet of less than one hundred.

(2) Immediately after the quote he says that if Lessing had lived to see Hegel’s “System” he would have embraced it with both hands.

(3) Note that it is in this same work, indeed in the same section discussing G. E. Lessing, that Kierkegaard points out that the only way across this gulf is a leap made in faith. In speaking of this leap, his point was not, as it is often misrepresented as being, that faith is something that one must exercise in the absence of evidence or even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

(4) This is a persistent theme throughout all of Grant’s writings but especially his Technology and Empire (Toronto: Anansi, 1969) and Technology and Justice (Toronto: Anansi, 1986).

(5) John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness: The Remembered Past (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers Ltd., 1994, originally published by Harper & Row of New York in 1968).

(6) Ibid., p. 108.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Reflections and Ruminations of a Right-Wing Reactionary

Last year, one of my favourite opinion columnists, Charley Reese passed away. He had not written anything in a few years, having retired his syndicated column in 2008 after previously retiring from the Orlando Sentinel in 2001. While he was actively writing, however, it was his practice once a year, around New Year’s, to write a full disclosure column, outlining his beliefs and affiliations, so that his readers would understand where he was coming from in his thrice-weekly column. This is a practice that I consider admirable and have emulated it at Throne, Altar, Liberty, beginning with my 2011 New Year’s essay “Here I Stand”. It is now that time of year once again.

I am a Christian. When I say that I am a Christian I do not merely mean that I am part of a country, culture, and civilization that is, or at least used to be, Christian, as opposed to Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. I mean, that I, a sinful member of the fallen race of man, believe that Jesus of Nazareth, was and is, the Christ, the divine Son of God, given by God the Father to our lost world, to atone for our sins through His death on the cross so that we may be forgiven, justified, reconciled to God, and share in His eternal resurrection life.

When it comes to defining terms and placing things into categories, it has long been noted that people tend to err in one of two opposite ways; that of the “lumper” and that of the “splitter”. Lumpers tend to fit as many things into a single category as possible, no matter how significant the differences between them, while splitters tend to divide things into multiple categories on the basis of the mootest of distinctions. These same erring tendencies have plagued the Christian faith throughout its history. There have been those, like the leaders of the modern ecumenical movement, who have felt that even the most important of Christian truths must be sacrificed in the name of preserving or re-establishing the unity of the Christian Church. There have also been those, like the Cathari, the Radical Reformers and the English Dissenters who have insisted that they are the only ones who possess Christian truth and must withdraw from the rest of the Christian Church to maintain their purity. I have come to see schism as the Scylla and ecumenical compromise as the Charybdis both of which are perils to be avoided.

After, undergoing a personal, evangelical, conversion experience when I was fifteen, I left the United Church of Canada when it started telling people not to believe the Biblical truths which Christians have always believed, was baptized in a Baptist church, and after many years of attending Baptist, Pentecostal, and “non-denominational” evangelical churches, joined an orthodox parish of the Anglican Church of Canada. I chose the parish because of its orthodoxy, and the Anglican Church because Anglicanism at its best, combines the best elements of both Protestantism and Catholicism. It is Protestant in that it affirms the supremacy of Scripture and the Pauline doctrine of justification in its confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles. It is Catholic in its organic and organizational continuity with the early, undivided, church through an unbroken line of apostolic succession, its episcopal hierarchy, its administration of the sacraments, and its liturgical worship.

Believing that the central event in history was God’s coming down to earth, becoming a Man, dying for our sins and rising again, I have no difficulty with accepting that He gave us, through the pens of the prophets and Apostles, a set of authoritative writings, and so hold to the fundamentalist view that the Bible IS the Word of God rather than the neo-orthodox view that it merely contains the Word of God or becomes the Word of God when we experience God through reading it. I also hold to the Reformers’ view that the truths contained in the Bible are the standard by which the teachings and traditions of the church are to be judged. I refuse to identify this view with the phrase “Sola Scriptura”, however, because I reject the lunatic notion that the interpretation of the Bible is a personal and private matter that each believer is to decide for himself. This view is condemned by the Scriptures themselves (2 Pet. 1:20) which clearly teach that Christ did not come to establish merely personal, one-on-one, relationships between Himself and individual believers, but an organized community of faith, the church, in which believers would be joined to each other and to Him in organic unity as His body, and over which He appointed His Apostles as the first bishops (Gk. episkopoi, overseers) with the authority to teach, lead, and ordain others to join and succeed them in that ministry of leadership. The authority of the Scriptures, and the authority of the church and its leadership, both come from God. Although the difference between the two, is more a difference of kind than a difference of degree, the authority of Scriptures as the revealed Word of the God Who breathed them (Gk. theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16) is obviously higher than that of those authorized to teach and interpret. The Reformers were right to insist that the Scriptures are the higher authority, but those who use this truth to cut themselves off from the church’s long and rich tradition of Scriptural interpretation foolishly impoverish themselves.

I am a Canadian. I was born and raised in rural Manitoba and live and work in Winnipeg the capital of Manitoba. I am a patriot, but the Canada I love is the historical and traditional old Canada, the Canada that emerged out of the Confederation of British North America in 1867. Canada was founded as a Dominion within the British Empire, now the British Commonwealth, with the same monarch but our own Parliament. The term “Dominion” was our own choice, and it did not denote colonial status, as the deceitful leaders of the Liberal Party later maintained, but was chosen from the Bible (Psalm 72:8) as a synonym for “kingdom”. Traditionally, Canada has always been pluralist, consisting of English Canadians, French Canadiens with their own language and culture, and Indians with whom the Crown had made treaties. This traditional pluralism was very different from the “multiculturalism” that the Liberal Party shoved down our throats in the late part of the twentieth century. Traditional Canadian pluralism was an element of Canadian reality, whereas multiculturalism is a doctrine in which the non-British ethnic origins of many Canadians is used as a justification for waging war on the national traditions and institutions that Canada inherited, adopted, and adapted from Great Britain. I love those traditions and institutions and am proud of my country’s Loyalist history and roots.

I am a Tory. I need to carefully explain what I mean by this because in Canada, as in the United Kingdom, the term “Tory” usually denotes membership in or support of the Conservative Party, and while I consider the Conservative Party to be superior – by an extremely slim margin – to either the Liberal or NDP Party, I am not referring to party affiliation when I describe myself as a Tory. In Canada the term “small-c conservative” is often used by those who wish to indicate that they are conservative in their political views, whatever their partisan affiliation may happen to be. The views that are usually identified as “conservative” in this way include the classical liberal ideas of limited government and the free market economy and the social and moral views of Puritanism. The North American “conservative movement” has turned these views into an ideological formula for political salvation. This is exactly what is wrong with the North American “conservative movement.”

When I call myself a Tory, I too am referring to my political views rather than party affiliation, but foremost among those views is the firm conviction that there is no such thing as political salvation, much less an ideological formula that can bring it about. I believe firmly in the doctrine of Original Sin in its fullest theological and political sense. I believe that man is a fallen creature, that the source of the suffering and evil that afflict man lies in the depravity of human nature, that this depravity is the result of our own twisting and corrupting something that was itself good, i.e., the Free Will our Creator gave us, that God has graciously made salvation from sin and depravity available to man in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that the fullest experience of this salvation can only be found in the Kingdom of God that transcends the spacial and temporal boundaries of the world in which we live, and the attempt to create that salvation here on earth through political means is a blasphemous attempt to retake Paradise by force, or in Eric Voegelin’s words, to “immanentize the eschaton”, and that such attempts are doomed to failure and invite divine judgement.

I agree with small-c conservatives and libertarians that a market system in which people make their own choices and their own agreements with other people as to what they will buy and sell and at what price is a superior set of arrangements to any alternative in which the government sticks its big, bloody, nose into everybody’s business. There is a difference, however, between saying that the market is a better system to its alternatives, and saying that market capitalism is the path to national salvation and that global free trade will bring universal peace and prosperity, and as a Tory I reject the fantasy of salvation through market capitalism and free trade whether preached by British liberals like David Ricardo and Richard Cobden in the early nineteenth century or by American neo-conservatives like Francis Fukuyama in the present.

If market capitalism and free trade are not the means of salvation, neither is socialism in any of its various forms. Just as in many evangelical circles it is assumed that a person who is not a Calvinist must therefore be an Arminian (and vice versa), (1) so it has been assumed in the large Western world since at least the end of World War II that anyone who is not a capitalist must be a socialist (and vice versa). Both assumptions are examples of the logical fallacy of the false dilemma in which the number of options are artificially reduced to two. If capitalism, as some conservatives whom I highly respect (2) have pointed out, is a dynamic force that dissolves the things Tories or conservatives cherish – tradition, local communities, order – socialism is no better. A person can believe in private property and enterprise without seeing them as being the way of salvation but this is not so of socialism. Socialism is by its very nature a doctrine of political salvation. It falsely places the blame for evil and suffering on the private ownership of property and promises political solutions to evil and suffering, identifying its demands with those of justice itself. If liberal capitalism dissolves the things conservatives cherish, socialism had declared outright war on them. I therefore regard socialism as being utterly and irredeemably repugnant.

I do not wish to give the impression that the political views I call Tory are entirely negative. If, as a Tory, I do not believe in schemes of political salvation or Utopias, what do I believe in?

I believe that men were created by God as social beings and not as isolated individuals. The basic form of social organization is the family. Families form communities in which to live and cooperate together, and larger societies are organized out of many communities. I believe, therefore, that the right metaphor to use in thinking about social organization is that of a living organism and not that of the business partnership. Societies are built out of communities, and communities out of families, and families are not voluntary associations formed by contracts made between autonomous individuals, but organic wholes into which people are born.. The contemporary view of the family as something formed by a contract between two individuals, consisting essentially of those two individuals and their children, and only including other relatives as detachable extensions, is wrong. The family is a multigenerational kin group in which generations past and those yet to be born are joined with the present to form an organic whole. (3) It is the community and the society that are properly regarded as the extensions of the family and they too are organic wholes.

This does not mean that I see the individual person as being unimportant. I believe in individuality rather than the individualism of liberalism. The individual, in classical liberalism, is a generic person, defined by traits that according to liberal individualism, he shares with every other individual – autonomy, a set of natural rights, etc. I do not believe in this kind of individual and consider liberal individualism to be a dangerous and corrosive social poison that dissolves the social bonds of the family, community, society, and country. True individuality, I believe, lies in what differentiates one person from another and sets him apart from the masses. I agree wholeheartedly with Robertson Davies’ literary alterego Samuel Marchbanks when he said “I confess that I find the modern enthusiasm for the Common Man rather hard to follow…In fact, I suspect that the talk about the Common Man is popular cant; in order to get anywhere or be anything a man must still possess some qualities above the ordinary.” (4)

Believing man to be a social creature by nature and the body of a living organism to be the best metaphor by which to understand the organic wholes that are the family, community, and society, I therefore believe in race, culture, tradition, prescription, and prejudice.

By race I do not mean “a group of people who share common physical traits such as skin colour” but rather the idea of biological descent through generational succession which is a fundamental element of all human social groups, from the family, up through the nation, to the species itself.

By culture I refer to the output of the human mind and creative spirit, from the laws and customs by which we regulate our lives to the languages and literature in which we express our thoughts to the art which we create in pursuit of beauty. Culture can be the expression of a particular people living in a particular place and time or it can be an attempt to reach for that which has been universally sought by all people in all places and times such as the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Both of these forms of culture are important and I agree with T. S. Eliot (5) that they ought to exist in mutual interdependence rather than conflict.

When culture is passed on from one generation to another it becomes tradition which is also the name for the process of passing on culture and accumulated human wisdom and knowledge down through the generations. In recent centuries and especially the last century tradition has received a bad name. The idea has formed, undoubtedly due to a misreading of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees brought upon by the deplorable heresy of the private interpretation of Scripture, that tradition is cold, rigid, inflexible and dead, something that binds us in chains from which we need to be liberated. This idea is blithering nonsense. Tradition is a warm, living, thing, the very lifeblood of the organic family and community, and like all living things is flexible and adaptable. The internal self-correcting mechanisms of the free market economy and the democratic assembly pale in comparison to that of tradition, the ability of which, to separate the wheat and the gold of human ideas and customs from the chaff and the dross through the tests of time, is without parallel. I fully agree with Michael Oakeshott that it is the rationalist ideologies which those who slander tradition as “the dead hand of the past” would substitute for it, that are truly rigid and inflexible. (6) Not coincidentally, these are usually the same thing as the schemes of political salvation, that the Tory rejects wholesale.

It is through race, culture, and tradition that past generations are joined with present and future generations to make the organic wholes of family, community, society and nation.

Prescription, is the authority and legitimacy that customs and institutions derive from long-established usage. It does not mean that a custom or institution that is bad ought to be maintained out of respect for its age. It means that customs or institutions, that have existed, as Edmund Burke (7) put it “from time out of mind”, that have endured and weathered the tests of time, on that basis, do not need rational justification to validate their existence, that the burden of proof and rational justification rests squarely upon those who demand that these customs or institutions, be altered or abolished. Prime Minister Stephen Harper should think long and hard about that if he is considering supporting the NDP’s disgraceful, dishonourable, and despicable scheme to dismember our constitution by abolishing the Senate.

When I say I believe in prejudice I mean prejudice in the way Burke used the term. In Burke’s usage prejudice is man’s capacity to draw upon the accumulated, collective, wisdom belonging to his nation and to mankind as a whole, and to find in this wisdom the resources necessary to make judgements in situations where the time or information necessary to make a fully thought out rational decision is not available. By saying that I believe in prejudice I am also saying that I do not believe in the infallibility of human reason or even that it is always the best possible guide. I certainly do not believe that human reason contains the capacity to overcome all of the ills, evils, weaknesses, and suffering that afflict man. That brings us right back to the first and most basic Tory belief that there is no rational formula that can bring about salvation through political means.

I agree with the ancient philosophers that the three basic possible constitutions of government – the rule of the one, the rule of the few, and the rule of the many – each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and have existed in both positive and negative forms. Aristotle speculated that the best possible constitution would be one that combined the three simple forms in such a way that the strengths of each would negate the weaknesses of the others. While I agree with Aristotle, I add that even the mixed constitution is not a formula for political salvation and should not be treated as such. The ancient Greek historian Polybius believed that this constitution had materialized in the Roman Republic, but I would say that the most obvious embodiment of Aristotle’s mixed constitution is the constitution of parliamentary monarchy that evolved in Great Britain in which the government consists of the reigning king or queen, an aristocratic upper house and a democratic lower house. The fact that this form of government evolved over centuries adds to its strength because it has the weight of prescription behind it. We share this constitution with the United Kingdom, here in Canada, even if it would be rather farcical to describe our upper house as “aristocratic”, and because of the circumstances of our founding, that we developed into a country within the British Empire, it has the weight of the prescription of the older tradition behind it here too. I think that we are very fortunate in this.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool royalist. While I have been an instinctual supporter of the institution of monarchy, the British/Canadian monarchy in particular and the royal family, for as long as I can remember, as I have grown older my royalism has become a reasoned belief as well. If, as argued in the last paragraph, Aristotle’s mixed constitution is the best possible form of government, especially where it has evolved naturally through time rather than put together artificially by design, then that is exactly what we have in the parliamentary monarchy in the United Kingdom and Canada and the monarchy is an essential element of that. Furthermore, history demonstrates the need for a monarchy. When a country abolishes its king or queen it creates a vacuum for a tyrant to exploit. When the Roman nobles drove out their last king, villain though he was, the Roman Republic had to constantly fill the vacuum created with temporary dictators until eventually the Caesars rose to fill it permanently. When the monarchy was temporarily abolished in Britain in the seventeenth century, the evil Puritan despot Oliver Cromwell ruled with an iron fist. When the House of Bourbon was overthrown, late eighteenth century France degenerated into the chaos and tyranny of the Reign of Terror paving the way for the rise of would-be world conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte. When the imperial throne of the Russian Tsar was overthrown by revolutionaries in 1917 the Bolsheviks established one of the most evil regimes of all time, the Soviet Union. When the victorious Allies forced the Austrian and German emperors from their thrones after World War I this created the vacuum that Adolf Hitler was able to exploit, to rise to power and create the Third Reich. As the greatest twentieth century leader of the Tory Party put it “This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones.” (8) In these historical examples, we begin to see what the Austrian emperor meant when, in his reply to Theodore Roosevelt’s question about what the role of a monarch in the present day and age was, he said “to protect my nations from their governments.” (9) One more argument for monarchy is indicated by the words of Stephen Leacock who, commenting on how in our parliamentary system we have the best of both worlds because we have joined “the dignity of Kingship with the power of democracy” (10) A royal monarch, whose position is inherited and whose sovereign authority is derived from ancient prescription, can rise above the pettiness of everyday politics, and add a sorely needed touch of class to government, which otherwise would be constantly dragged down into the gutter by lowlife elected politicians and bureaucrats.

I do not believe in the liberal idea of the separation of church and state. Neither do I accept the contemporary progressive idea that the state should force the church to change its ancient customs, ways, and beliefs to conform to whatever bizarre new fad progressives have dreamed up and added to their canon of human rights. Nor do I hold to the Puritan and theonomist view that the state’s role is to enforce the Old Testament law. Although these ideas are very different from each other, they are all alike in that they are departures from the medieval synthesis, in which the church and the civil authority were distinct rather than separate, each with its own specific role delegated to it by God. The church was the earthly manifestation of the transcendent Kingdom of God, the body of Christ in which the Incarnation was continued, authorized to preach the Gospel, teach the Word, and administer the sacraments. The civil authority was authorized by God to punish evil as St. Paul wrote in Romans 13, but this does not mean all forms of sin but “only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained.” (11) I accept the medieval synthesis of Christendom, over any of the ways in which modern Western civilization, Christian or secular, has found to depart from it.

You may have observed a certain similarity between the quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas in the previous paragraph and the famous “harm principle” of nineteenth century English liberal John Stuart Mill. Neither I, nor any other Tory that I am aware of, believes that everything in classical English liberalism is bad, on the contrary we believe that much of it is good. As Dr. Johnson, the Tory of Tories, said “A wise Tory and a wise Whig, I believe, will agree. Their principles are the same, though their modes of thinking are different.” As I see it, the most admirable concepts that we usually associate with the classical English liberalism of the Victorian era, such as legal and constitutional protections of basic rights and freedoms, all have deep pre-modern roots. This does not mean that they were perfectly established and practiced before the Modern Age any more than they are perfectly established and practiced now, but it does mean that they cannot be legitimately regarded, as liberals and progressives wish to regard them, as the products of rational speculation in the Modern Age. I say this to indicate what I see as the criteria of demarcation between the elements of liberalism that I or any Tory would regard as admirable and the elements that are unacceptable. The elements that are admirable have classical and/or medieval Christian precedents and roots. The element is most objectionable is that which liberalism shares with all other forms of progressive thought, once again the idea that human reason is capable of devising a formula for eliminating the evils that afflict mankind and therefore accomplishing salvation through political means. This idea, corrupts even liberalism’s best ideas, because an idea that may be admirable in itself can become deplorable as an element of a formula for political salvation. This is because formulas for political salvation demand universal application and the universal application of something that is otherwise good can often be harmful of other goods.

The Modern Age is not the only age in which men have been tempted by schemes of political salvation. As the late Thomas Molnar put it utopia is the perennial heresy. It is the Modern Age, however, that has made the idea of manmade political salvation its defining characteristic. As the defining characteristic of the Modern Age, the idea of manmade political salvation is known as progress. The idea of progress is a heresy, a Christian truth that has been so corrupted as to make it the enemy of all Christian truth. In this case, the Christian truth that has been corrupted is the doctrine that God’s intervention into the temporal affairs of man, especially in the salvific events of the Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is directed towards the end, of the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God, when history ends, time dissolves into eternity, and Heaven and earth become one. Corrupted by rationalism, this becomes the Modern idea of Progress, that history, guided by human reason, is moving towards a future state in which mankind through reason and science will have eliminated all evil and suffering. There are two basic forms of the idea of Progress, technological progress and social progress, and while many who call themselves conservatives today accept the former, I as a Tory reject both. This makes me, what progressives derogatorily call a reactionary, a term that I, like Hungarian-born American historian John Lukacs, gladly accept as a badge of honour.

Technological progress, is the idea that modern science, by providing man with complete mastery over his own nature and that of the world in which he lives, will enable man to rationally devise tools and techniques to solve whatever problems come his way and so eliminate all that ails him. I would say that this arrogance is the very epitome of what the Greeks called hybris and that it is leading modern man precisely to where hybris always led the Greek tragic hero – a huge fall.

Social progress, is the idea that by making our government institutions more democratic and eliminating social, economic and political inequality, man can create a just society in which the root causes of conflict, crime, suffering and injustice are eliminated. I say that this is a ridiculous idea for a number of reasons.

First of all, making our government institutions more democratic will not make them better. If we have a mixed constitution, the more democratic we make our government institutions, the less balanced our constitution becomes. That to me would seem to make our government worse, not better. Furthermore, the last few centuries have demonstrated that as government has become more democratic, it has taxed its subjects at far higher rates, wasted more of their money, and intruded into their personal lives far more than it ever did before. Democracy, like monarchy, is a necessary component of a mixed constitution, but there are different forms of democracy, and the kind that social progress calls for, is the kind C. S. Lewis astutely and humourously warned us against, by placing its advocacy in the words of his advisor devil Screwtape in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.”

Likewise, equality of any sort cannot be achieved without treating most people unjustly. This is because equality is not the same thing as justice, and in fact, is a form of injustice, and a particularly pernicious one because it so effectively masquerades as justice. Think of it this way. Equality presents itself as the idea that you ought to treat a perfect stranger as if he were your brother. Presented that way, it sounds appealing, does it not, almost as if it captured the very teaching of the Parable of the Good Samaritan? The reality of equality, however, which hides behind that mask, is the demand that you treat your brother as if he were a perfect stranger. Sane civilizations have seen behind the mask of equality, and warned about it ever since the myth of Procrustes in ancient Greece.

The ultimate problem with the idea of social progress is that is a denial of the basic human reality which is Original Sin. Man’s afflictions are not born out of social, political, or economic inequality or out of other-than-democratic elements of government. They come from a flaw in human nature that no amount of democratization or egalitarianism can ever eliminate, although it can and will exacerbate it.

An argument often made for the idea of social progress is that it must be true because of the good accomplished by the social reform movements it has spawned, examples including the abolition of slavery movement, the feminist movement, the anti-colonial and anti-imperial movements, the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and the Gay Liberation Movement. Frankly, I find this argument to be ridiculous. It is self-contradictory – the good of the abolition of slavery was undone by the anti-colonial/anti-imperial movements for as soon as the colonial powers that had abolished slavery withdrew it was restarted. Most of these movements were not near as good as they are made out to be. Among the proud accomplishments of the feminist movement are no-fault divorce, a massive rise in the number of children being raised without their father, and the legally protected “right” of women to decide whether their children live or die. Feminism clearly deserves to be classified as an evil rather than a good movement. The anti-colonial movement basically transferred power from competent imperial governments to incompetent kleptocrats who ran their countries into the ground and are now blaming European imperialism and colonialism for the evils that were actually caused by ending colonialism. The American Civil Rights Movement opposed the injustice of de jure racial segregation only to replace it with the injustices of de jure racial integration and anti-discrimination legislation, both of which undermine the freedom of association. The anti-apartheid movement also opposed an injustice but its triumph has led to the breakdown of law and order in South Africa, the collapse of its economy, and the savage murders of Afrikaner farmers that can only be described as genocide in the making. In abolishing the foolish laws under which Oscar Wilde was prosecuted and ruined in the nineteenth century, the Gay Liberation Movement accomplished good, but that good has been far overshadowed by the evil accomplished as the movement went beyond demanding the legal freedom for homosexuals to live as they choose to demanding that everybody else be forced not merely to tolerate but to accept them.

The pride progressives take in these highly dubious accomplishments is yet another example of hybris displayed by believers in technological progress and will lead only to the same end. The near ubiquitous acceptance of the idea of progress in one or the other of these forms throughout Western Civilization suggests that we are due for a major fall and brings to mind Oswald Spengler’s declaration of almost a century ago that Euro-American civilization had entered into its twilight. I do not wish for this to be the case but I also remember Hegel’s remark that “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk”, i.e., that when wisdom can see the imminent collapse of civilization, it is already too late to prevent it. The only hope that remains to us is the intervention of divine grace. But then divine grace is the only true hope that we have ever had. That is precisely the problem with the idea of progress and all schemes of political salvation – they are attempts to circumvent the grace of God and achieve salvation through human effort.

Thankfully, and I will end on this note, I believe that divine grace is always available to us, if we are willing to find it, in Christ.

Happy New Year,
God Save the Queen!

(1) Calvinism and Arminianism, far from exhausting the options available to Christians, do not even exhaust the options available to Protestants. Lutherans, for example, are neither Calvinist nor Arminian.

(2) Examples include Canadian philosopher George Grant and British journalist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne.

(3) This is the reason why the contemporary view of marriage as a contract entered into by two individuals for their mutual benefit and which can be dissolved by either partner at any time without cost is so horrendously wrong. Marriage is the joining, not just of two individuals, but of two families, it confers blessings upon the couple joined in marriage but it also imposes duties and demands sacrifices, and it is properly an indissoluble covenant rather than a contract.

(4) Robertson Davies, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1985), p. 131, from the part of the book originally published in 1945 as the Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, this particular entry being a commentary on the British General Election of that year “which is interpreted in some circles as a mighty triumph for the Common Man. I suppose it is, for it has turned out of office Winston Churchill, who certainly ranked high among the Uncommon Men of our times.”

(5) In Notes Towards the Definition of Culture.

(6) In “Rationalism and Politics”.

(7) Edmund Burke was an eighteenth century British statesman. As a Whig, he supported the American colonists in Parliament in the period of the American Revolution, but later, finding the violence and chaos of the French Revolution to be repugnant, wrote a famous treatise in which he defended Britain’s prescriptive constitution of church and state against abstract speculators and rationalists and their “armed doctrines” such as the social contract theory and the natural rights of man. If, as Irving Kristol famously said, a neo-conservative is “a liberal mugged by reality”, the Burke of the Reflections on the Revolution in France was a “neo-Tory”.

(8) Sir Winston Churchill, April 8, 1945.

(9) Quoted by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Publishers, 1952), p. 138.

(10) Stephen Leacock, “Education and Empire Unity”, an address to the Empire Club of Canada on March 19th, 1907, later published as “Greater Canada: An Appeal” in University Magazine and The Social Criticism of Stephen Leacock.

(11) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 96, A. 2. co.