The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Tory and the Individual

I prefer the word “Tory” to the word “conservative” as a description of my political worldview, despite the potential for confusion caused by the fact that this term is widely used as a nickname for members and supporters of the Conservative Party. The Tory worldview is built upon the timeless principle that royal authority and ecclesiastical authority share a divine vocation to co-operate for the common good, which principle can be seen as the basis of both Dr. Johnson’s definition of a Tory in the eighteenth century (1) and T. S. Eliot’s description of himself as “an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics”.

Conservative, on the other hand, is generally defined in opposition to liberalism. Liberalism is a progressive ideology, that is to say, it is built upon a linear view of history that sees humanity as constantly moving towards a better world. Thus, its content is perpetually changing, if not its basic secular, rationalistic, presuppositions. This means that the meaning of conservatism is perpetually changing as well, usually to incorporate a defence of last year’s discarded liberalism against that of the present day.

It has become customary to identify the set of terms liberal and conservative with that of left and right. When the latter set of terms entered the discussion of politics each had a clear, well-defined, meaning and it made sense to regard the right as being essentially synonymous with the Tories. The political usage of left and right began in 1789 with the French Revolution. Supporters of the House of Bourbon, the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, the nobility, and the Ancien Régime gathered on the right side of the chairman of the National Assembly whereas the supporters of the Revolution amassed on the left side. By the twentieth century, the terms left and right had come to be seen as the two poles defining the entire spectrum of political thought, but it was no longer clear what constituted each of the poles. There were several attempts to define left and right. One of these, which attained a certain degree of influence, especially in North America, saw the spectrum in terms of individualism versus collectivism, defining the right as the individualist position and the left as the collectivist position.

Any attempt to reduce the political spectrum to something that simplistic is bound to generate confusion. In this case, the right-individualist versus left-collectivist spectrum was thought up by men who were liberals in the nineteenth century sense of the word and therefore individualists, after liberalism, at least in North America, had moved away from individualism and towards a form of collectivism. The new collectivist liberalism was equated with the left, by the older kind of liberals who equated their own position with the right and conservatism.

So where does the Tory fit on the individualist-collectivist spectrum?

It is not easy to answer this question because the Tory is both an individualist and a collectivist. He is not, however, an individualist in the same sense that a nineteenth century liberal was, nor is he a collectivist in the way a twentieth century left-liberal is. In a future essay I intend to explain the difference between Tory collectivism and left-liberal collectivism. For the remainder of this essay we will look at the difference between Tory individualism and classical liberal individualism.

In the classical liberalism of John Locke and J. S. Mill, the individual is prior to society. To be an individual, in this view, is the natural state of man, whereas society is an artificial construction, created by the mutual voluntary assent of individuals, in order to better secure their rights and liberties.

Now a moment’s reflection is all it takes to realize that this is utter poppycock. What classical liberalism asserts of the individual, cannot be said to be true of any actual individual. I live in the Dominion of Canada, a country that just celebrated its 148th birthday. I am not over 148 years old, nor do I know of any other Canadian who is that old. Canada is older than any individual who lives in it. Her existence is clearly prior to that of any individual who lives within her borders. Even if this were a much younger country, however, it would still not be true that our individual existence predates our social existence, because each of us is born into a family, which is a unit of social organization, albeit on a much smaller scale than that of a country. We do not choose the family we are born into, nor do we choose the country we are born into, although people, as they grow older, affiliate themselves with other families through marriage and may choose another country in which to live.

Since what classical liberalism asserts about the individual is observably not true about any actual person, the individual of whom liberalism predicates priority before society, must be a generic figure who exists only in the abstract. Indeed, everything that liberalism asserts about the individual, such as his possession of certain inalienable natural rights and his sovereign ownership of his self, is asserted of the individual in such a way as, if true, to be true, not just of specific individuals, but of every individual equally. What this tells us is that in classical liberalism, individuality is defined by what makes us all alike. (2)

This, however, is a serious flaw in liberal thought. For in normal conversation, when we speak of actual individuals, of Bob, Walter, June and Sally, their individuality, that which makes them individuals, is not that which makes them alike but that which makes them stand out from others. In liberal theory individuals are equal, but it is uniqueness rather than equality that is the mark of true individuality.

That which makes a person unique, which sets him apart from others, may be good or it may be bad. That which sets Louis Pasteur apart from others, makes him stand out and be memorable, are the ways in which he benefitted mankind through his discoveries. Pol Pot was also a very distinct individual, but it is his evil for which he will be remembered.

The Tory is an individualist, but his individualism concerns actual individuals, and not the abstract, generic, concept of the individual. These are real men and women, embodied souls, created in the image of God but marred by sin, thus possessing much potential for both good and evil. Their individuality is not a shared trait, but is different for each person, because it is the nature of individuality to make a person stand out as distinct and unique, whether for better or for worse. The Tory does not see individuals as being prior to their families, communities, and societies, but rather sees their families, communities, and societies as providing the necessary pre-existing context within which their individuality develops. The Tory believes in both the common good and freedom for individuals, but neither at the expense of the other. Whereas the classical liberal believes the individual to have possessed absolute freedom in a fictitious, pre-society, “state of nature”, the Tory recognizes that society is the state of nature for human individuals and that it is only in the context of a stable, societal, order that they can have and experience any real freedom.

(1) “One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig.” (Whig was defined as “The name of a faction”).

(2) By making “individual” into a generic, defined by that which can be said about each “individual” equally, liberalism has created a false universal. Universals are general concepts of which we encounter particular examples. For example, the idea “tree” is a universal, of which the elms, oaks, maples, and poplars we see in our neighborhood are particulars. “Man” is a universal, as is “woman”, but “individual” is a designation of particular men and women. Liberalism’s individual, ascribes to a term of particularity, the characteristics of a universal. That liberalism would blur the distinction between particular and universal is unsurprising in light of the fact that liberalism is the philosophical great- great-great-grandchild of nominalism, the fourteenth century movement that rejected the classical concept of universals, whether as Plato’s Forms existing in another realm of which this world is a copy, or Aristotle’s Ideas found embodied in their particulars in this realm, and asserted that universals are merely projections of our own mind and will upon the reality around us, that help us to make sense of it.

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