Sunday, January 4, 2015
Principles and Prejudices
The old year has passed away, a new year is upon us, and that means that once again it is time for my traditional “where I stand” essay. This tradition did not begin with me but with one of my favourite opinion writers, the late Charley Reese, who retired from the Orlando Sentinel in 2001 and from his syndicated column in 2008. Reese believed writers owed it to their readers to make a full disclosure of their views, affiliations, and everything that gave them their particular slant once a year and encouraged other writers to do this by setting an example himself, devoting one column around New Years, sometimes the last of the old year, sometimes the first of the new, to doing this. I liked the idea and have kept this tradition myself every year since I started “Throne, Altar, Liberty”, beginning with the essay “Here I Stand” in 2011.
I am a Canadian. I am furthermore a Canadian nationalist, although I dislike this term and would prefer the older term patriot. In Canada, however, it is the custom for patriots to refer to themselves as nationalists, just as in the republic that is our neighbour to the south it is the custom for nationalists to refer to themselves as patriots. Patriotism consists of loyalty, attachment to, and love for, one’s country, its traditions, and its way of life. It is a feeling, a sentiment, and even, as Alasdair MacIntyre has argued convincingly, a virtue. It develops naturally as an outgrowth of the smaller attachment one feels to one’s family, home, and what Edmund Burke memorably called “little platoons”. Nationalism, by contrast, is an ideology. In nationalism one’s nation or country is not a beloved home to be defended when attacked but a cause around which to rally the masses. It does not develop naturally but requires indoctrination. When I say that I am a Canadian nationalist, in keeping with my country’s custom, what I really mean is that I am a Canadian patriot as I have just explained the term. I was born in Canada, raised in Canada, have lived in Canada all my life up until now, and intend to live in Canada for the remainder of my life. I feel about Canada the same way I feel about my family and friends, about the people and places I have always known and loved.
There is another kind of Canadian nationalism, one which actually is a form of nationalism rather than patriotism. Peter Brimelow aptly described this kind of Canadian nationalism as “one of the toadstools of history”. This is the kind of Canadian nationalism that was historically associated with the Liberal governments of Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, with the new school of Canadian historians that was partial to these governments – think Peter C. Newman and Pierre Berton – and which seems to be the only kind of Canadian nationalism our public broadcaster, the CBC, is interested in. This is the kind of Canadian nationalism that John Farthing described as the “pure-Canada cult” in his excellent book Freedom Wears a Crown, which is among other things the classic rebuttal of this cult. This kind of Canadian nationalism sees the Canadian identity as something Canada needed to forge anew after WWII and from which everything our country inherited from Great Britain needed to be either excluded and eliminated or underplayed and ignored. I loathe and detest this kind of Canadian nationalism. The Canada of which I am a patriot, is the country confederated under its own Parliament based on the British model in 1867, which obtained full sovereignty over her own affairs through evolution rather than revolution, by growing up within the British family of nations under our shared monarch, rather than by severing family ties. I see our country’s heritage of Loyalism, not just as manifested in the American Revolution but when Canada stood by Britain from the beginning of the Second World War, as the top of the list of things for which Canadians can rightly take pride in our country.
I am a Christian, and while I look back upon my evangelical conversion when I was fifteen, when I knelt down to pray and told the Lord Jesus Christ I accepted Him as my Saviour, as the beginning of my Christian experience, I no longer use the word Christian in its evangelicalese sense of someone who has had such a conversion, but in the more traditional sense of someone who holds to the faith affirmed in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I was baptized by immersion in a Baptist church when I was a teenager and more recently confirmed by a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada. I am reformed in my understanding of justification – that salvation is a work in which God is the only actor, accomplished for us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, freely given to the world by grace and received simply through faith, and catholic in my understanding of the Church as the body of Christ, established by Christ through His Apostles to continue His incarnational presence in the world after His Ascension back to the right hand of the Father in Heaven by the collective indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and commissioned by Him to bring His grace to the world through the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Politically I am a Tory. By referring to myself as a Tory I do not mean to indicate my support for any political party but rather my holding to a set of political convictions. In Canada, like other countries with a Conservative Party, this distinction is often made by use of the expression “small c conservative”, but I prefer the term Tory, despite the potential for confusion, because my political convictions are closer to those of the Tory Party of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, than of the Conservative Party into which it was reorganized early.in the nineteenth century. I believe that human beings are by nature social beings who are born not as individuals but as members of pre-existing social groups, from their families up through their local communities to their nations, and that while it is good and natural for people to develop a sense of individuality within these groups as they mature it is bad for them to become alienated and isolated, and that these social groups from the family up to the nation, are best regarded as organic wholes in which past and future generations are included with those living in the present. I believe, therefore, that governments should rule with the good of their societies viewed as such organic wholes in mind. Therefore, our most important civil institution is the office of the monarch. The monarch can represent the organic whole of a society, including past and future generations, in a way no elected politician ever could, because the royal office is filled not by popular election but by a line of succession and so embodies the principle of continuity. For the same reason the office of monarch is vested with something far more valuable and important than the power politicians obtain through winning elections – sovereign authority. Power is the strength to compel obedience, authority is the right to command obedience. The man who wins an election, whether as representative of his constituency by obtaining the largest number of its votes or as leader of the government by obtaining the support of the largest number of representatives in the legislative assembly, obtains thereby a form of power – the strength of numbers. While power in this form can come from below, true authority can only come from above, from a source that transcends politics in the sense of the struggle for power. Whether that source is conceived of as constitutional order, prescription (long established custom), divine right, or a combination of these, the office of monarch is uniquely suited to be the representative of both the transcendental source of authority and the organic whole of society. The office of monarch is also the safeguard of our social and civil order against the threat of tyranny, a threat which when it arises, almost always comes from a demagogue who claims to be the voice of the “will of the people”. It is well that in our constitution the institutions of senate and elected assembly make up the state together with and under the monarch, joining, in Stephen Leacock’s words “the dignity of kingship with the power of democracy” so long as we remember that for a government to be truly civilized, authority must take precedence over power and power must support authority. These convictions are what I mean when I describe myself as being a Tory.
While it is obvious that holding to a royalism rooted in an organic view of society in which the community precedes the individual is incompatible with an acceptance of the individualism and contractual view of society that is the underlying philosophy of libertarianism, I nevertheless, with a few important qualifications and exceptions, usually agree with the libertarians on questions of whether the government should legislate or not. I fully agree with satirical novelist and High Tory Evelyn Waugh’s libertarian statement that while men cannot live together without rules these “should be kept at the bare minimum of safety.”
I do not share the libertarian’s faith in the ability of market forces, unimpeded by legislation, to bring about a perfectly just distribution of goods and wealth but I do share his contempt for socialism’s confidence in the ability of government planners to do a better job of it. I think that under ordinary circumstances people as individuals, families, and other groups and organizations, know and are better able to manage their own business than anyone else and that governments should let them do so without intrusion and interference. This does not mean pure laissez-faire because, while governments cannot possibly manage any person or group’s business better than that person or group, much less the business of every person and group in the country, government’s can and ought to be able to manage the business of the country as a whole. A farmer, for example, does not need the government to come in, boss him around, and tell him how to run his own farm. A country, however, which needs a healthy agricultural industry to ensure an uninterrupted food supply, may need government to protect the industry if it is threatened.
Social legislation that ensures that a basic standard of living is within the reach of every member of society so that nobody goes without food, clothing, shelter or health care due to old age, infirmity, economic recession or depression, or other factors beyond their control, but only through their own bad choices is a necessity in any civilized country today but this too ought to be kept at the bare minimum. Those who support a more expansive social safety net frequently accuse those of us who try to keep it minimal of a lack of generosity, compassion, and Christian charity but when governments can only pay for these programs with money they have obtained by taxing their people, generosity, compassion, and charity have nothing to do with it. It is not generous, compassionate, or charitable to give to one person what one must first take from another. There is no virtue in being liberal, let alone magnanimous, with other people’s money. Furthermore, the expansion of basic social legislation into a welfare state can hardly be described as compassionate and charitable when it clearly contributes to illegitimacy, the break-up of families, children growing up without fathers, high rates of violent crime, and intergenerational poverty and dependence among the poorest sectors of society. The proper end of social legislation is not to try and achieve the unattainable and false ideal of equality but to alleviate misery and so prevent the kind of dissatisfaction and unrest that could threaten the civil and social order.
Often libertarians will say that government should not pass laws pertaining to morality but this is nonsense which displays an appalling ignorance of the nature of both laws and morality. Morality is a system in which human behaviour is classified into the categories of right or wrong. Laws are always statements about morality. Every law says either a) a certain behaviour is wrong in itself and hence prohibited or b) that a certain behaviour is prohibited and therefore wrong. That having being said, governments ought not to pass laws against everything that is morally wrong but only against acts which cause injury to other people, the institutions of society, and the civil order. It is enough that the police maintain the Queen’s peace, they do not need to be Mrs. Grundy’s enforcer as well.
Many today go further than this and say that questions of morality, right and wrong, are private and personal, to be decided by the individual rather than the community or society. This too is nonsense. Yes, every man must make his own moral decisions, but this means choosing his own actions not creating his own personal system of morality. The morality of his community, society, and civilization, contained in its mores and folkways, customs and habits, stories and songs, religion and culture, is the indispensable instrument by which he learns to make moral decisions and to cultivate virtues and it is the role of his parents and priests, family and church, community and its elders, to provide him with this means. This is not the role of the State and the State ought not to usurp this role nor should it undermine the efforts of the institutions and authorities whose role it is.
There are many today who look upon the last several decades since the end of the Second World War as an unprecedented Golden Age of human enlightenment in which we have made great strides towards achieving freedom, prosperity, and racial, sexual, and social equality. I am not one of those. When I look at the same decades I see the moral, spiritual, social, and cultural disintegration of my country and the wider Western Civilization to which it belongs, often in the very things those progressives consider to be “advances” over which to pat themselves on the back. If the equality of the sexes, for example, is a laudable ideal then it follows that artificial contraception and abortion must be legal, affordable, and universally accessible, for as long as women are getting pregnant, bearing, giving birth to, and nursing children with their bodies, their choices as much as those of men will ensure that the roles of the sexes will be different and not fully interchangeable, hence not equal. Abortion is the deliberate termination of innocent human life by the will of the person upon whom that life is dependent and whose instinct and duty is to protect it. It is difficult to conceive of any greater evil. George Grant was quite right when he described the arguments made in favour of it as the fascist concept of the triumph of the will masquerading behind the language of liberalism.
These revolutionary moral, social, and cultural changes are always spoken of in the language of liberation by those who look positively upon them just as they depict us who take the negative view as being puritanical zealots who wish to impose a narrow morality upon society by force of law. I find it difficult to understand how the replacement of social and cultural taboos against sexual immorality which were deeply rooted in tradition and the wisdom of the ages with newly coined taboos against thoughts and words that are deemed to be “politically incorrect”, i.e., objectionable to the brutally inflexible ideology of egalitarianism, can possibly be regarded as being liberating. Surely telling a man what he can and cannot think and say is far more intrusive than telling him that if he gets a woman pregnant he should do right by her and the child. Furthermore, these changes did not just happen on their own due to forces outside our control. They happened because those who wished to bring them about obtained enough influence in the State so as to be able to use its power to tamper and experiment with the social and moral order.
An example of this is how the law has been used to change the fundamental nature of marriage. I do not mean the recent change to include same-sex couples – that is merely a superficial consequence of the real change, albeit one that is already proving to have its own deleterious consequences on what Roger Scruton calls “the autonomous institutions” of civil society, as pressure is being placed upon religious-based educational institutions like Trinity Western University and will eventually, as everyone who is not a complete moron can see, be placed upon clergy and churches as well, to change their teachings and practices so as to be in accord with the change made in the civil law. The real change to marriage was the introduction of no-fault, easy divorce. This transformed marriage from a permanent union, formed by solemn vows, to which both partners are expected to make sacrifices of self into a temporary arrangement of convenience between couples, easier to get out of than a business partnership, that comes with legal perks. By creating no-fault divorce, government divorced marriage from all the reasons for which the institution exists in the first place and undermined other social authorities. The church is robbed of its authority if, after the priest proclaims the words of Christ, “what God has joined together let no man put asunder”, a judge is able to sign the union out of existence the next day without any fuss or muss.
I would like, of course, as one who willingly accepts the label of reactionary, to see all these changes reversed, just as I would like to see the general decay in Western thought of which they merely the most recent manifestation reversed. We have gone from thinking of the Good, the True the Beautiful as transcendent realities, that are what they are, and which it is our duty to pursue and approach to the best of our imperfect ability to thinking that they are whatever we decide them to be for ourselves. It took all the centuries of the Modern Age to bring this about but now, in what is awkwardly and absurdly called the Postmodern era, we have in a few short decades done to such visible realities as sex, what we had previously done to the invisible, transcendental, realities. Where this process of decay and disintegration may lead us next if it continues much longer, I shudder to think.
On that cheery note it is time to bring this essay to a close.
Happy New Year,
God Save the Queen