It is the first of January, the Octave Day of Christmas which is the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and also New Years Day. This means that it is once again time for my annual “full disclosure” essay, a tradition I have borrowed from one of my favourite opinion columnists, the late Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel. In this essay I talk about myself and outline my basic convictions such as underlie all my writings.
I am a male Canadian, who grew up on a farm in Western Manitoba, studied theology for five years after high school, and has lived and worked in Winnipeg, the provincial capital ever since.
I am a life-long Canadian patriot. I say patriot rather than nationalist, because a patriot is someone who feels towards his country, its traditions and institutions, and people the same kind of affection he feels towards his home and family, whereas a nationalist is a zealot for an ideal vision of what his country ought to be, which may or may not have any anything to do with his country as it is and historically has been, and who may do terrible damage to his country in the name of that ideal. In Canada, the Liberal Party identifies itself as the party of Canadian nationalism, and their nationalism is the toxic cancer that has been killing the country I love for over half a century. My Canada is the Dominion of Canada, a British country built on a foundation of Loyalism, governed by a British parliamentary monarchy, with the British Common Law and all its prescriptive rights and freedoms and, in the English-speaking part of the country, British culture as adapted to the northern part of North America. The vestiges of this Canada lingered on in the farms, villages, and small towns of the rural area in which I grew up and while some of the responsibility for the erosion of this Canada belongs to Americanization, the Liberal Party deliberately targeted the old Canada for disappearance with its nationalism project. Renny Whiteoak, the hero of Mazo de la Roche’s epic Canadian Jalna saga, expressed his and his creator’s contempt for this project by dismissing all the talk of nationality with the question of what exactly was wrong with being a colony anyway. While the Dominion of Canada had been much more than a colony since Confederation in 1867, what de la Roche was getting at through her mouthpiece Renny, was that there was nothing wrong with Canada as she was before the Liberal nationalist project, I sentiment I certainly share as I share her cynical contempt for a project that had as its aim the rejection and replacement of everything that had traditionally and historically been Canada.
I prefer the word Tory over the word conservative to describe my convictions. Both words can refer to the members and supporters of the Conservative Party but this is not what I mean when I apply either word to myself. Conservative, when used today in North America in a sense other than the partisan, suggests an old-fashioned liberal – someone who believes in individual rights and liberties, limited government by elected representatives, low taxes and free markets. While this older kind of liberalism has its good points, unlike today’s liberalism of egalitarian social engineering, wealth redistribution, and soft totalitarianism masked with a smiling face and compassionate words, which has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, I mean something more than this when I call myself a conservative.
I use the word Tory in Samuel Johnson and T. S. Eliot’s sense of the term – someone who is a royalist, a high churchman, and a classicist.
We live in a depraved age and it is in keeping with the degenerate spirit of the times that democracy, the rule of the people, is now ubiquitously thought of as being synonymous with freedom and legitimate government. Monarchy is regarded by those who think this way as an outdated and archaic holdover from the past that, if its survival is to be tolerated, must be confined to a merely ceremonial role. As someone who has been a royalist for as long as I can remember, I can see all of this for the malarkey it is. Democratically elected governments intrude into every corner and aspect of their citizens lives in ways kings and queens never dreamed of doing and historically people have been much freer under royal rule than under the dominion of a government which being of the people can do whatever it likes to the people, for it is the people doing it to themselves. Furthermore, democracy places power in the hands of those who can be trusted with it the least – ambitious, power-seeking, politicians. The only way to make government by elected politicians tolerable to those under it is by placing those politicians in the humbling position of being servants or ministers of a royal master, which is why monarchy is even more important in an era of democracy than ever before. Politicians can govern only as representatives of whose who elected them – those who live and can vote in the present day. It is kings and queens, whose position does not depend on popular election but is rooted in tradition, prescription and historical continuity, who represent the whole of their society, including past and future generations and so, it is monarchy and not democracy, that makes all the other elements of government legitimate. As usual, the spirit of the age gets everything completely backwards.
I grew up in a family that, when it attended church, attended the United Church, but had an evangelical “born again” conversion experience when I was fifteen, and was baptized as a teenager in a Baptist church. I was later confirmed an Anglican. When I say that I am a high churchman I mean this in the original sense of that expression, someone who believes in the Church as an organized institution, its institutional authority, and the importance of its organic and organizational continuity with the Church founded by Jesus Christ through His Apostles. In this too, my convictions run contrary to the spirit of our age, which values a vague and undefined spirituality but despises organized religion.
Which is not to say that there is nothing valid in the condemnation and criticism of the institutional Church one often hears. Fundamentalists frequently accuse the ecclesiastical leadership of the mainstream churches of abandoning the theological and moral truths that Christianity has taught for two thousand years and more often than not these accusations are correct. To give up on and withdraw from the institutional Church, however, in the fundamentalist manner, is to depart from the truth in another way, by falling into sectarianism and Donatism. There are many contemporary trends in the Church I deplore. The unbelief, masquerading as theology under the name liberalism, which rejects or reinterprets beyond recognition any traditional Christian doctrines that the liberal considers himself too enlightened to believe in today and replaces them with progressive political, social, and environmental activism is one of these. The abandonment of reverence and a sense of the sacred and a holy for a familiarity that comes close to blasphemy in much of the “personal relationship with Jesus” kind of evangelicalism is another. I would insist, however, that these are problems to be confronted and dealt with in the Church, rather than reasons to withdraw from it.
I derive this view of the institutional Church, from both an anthropological argument, that religion as an institution is fundamental to all true community, and, more importantly, the theological argument, that Jesus Christ Himself founded the Church as an institution which, collectively indwelt by the Holy Spirit, would continue His Incarnational Presence on earth as His Body after His Ascension, and which He promised the gates of hell would never prevail against.
I am a Protestant high churchman, like those prior to the Oxford Movement of the 1830s such as Dr. Johnson, and as such I do not regret the Reformation, with its necessary clarification of the Pauline doctrines of grace and justification and its recover of the position of highest authority for the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, but I do lament the tendencies that later developed in Protestantism of making the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures a private and personal matter between the individual believer and God, contrary to the inspired words of St. Peter, to make the talk where someone gives his interpretation of the Scriptures the central element of communal worship rather than the sacrament of Holy Communion, to neglect the writings whose canonicity was less firmly established than the sixty-six books recognized by all Protestants but which were nevertheless read as Holy Scriptures throughout the Church from the first century onward, and to neglect a fifteen hundred year tradition of Scriptural interpretation, from the Church Fathers through the medieval doctors, apart from which no man can hope to understand the Holy Scriptures, the sources of the truth into which Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His disciples, for that promise was made to the Church collectively, and not to the individual believer.
In classicism, as in royalism and high churchmanship, I set myself against the Zeitgeist. By classicism, I mean the idea that music, literature, and the visual arts exist with beauty as their end, and that beauty like truth and goodness is not whatever we decide it to be, but rather has real existence in itself as part of the established order of things as they are, and that therefore there are non-subjective standards whereby music, literature, and the visual arts can be and ought to be judged. This is not a very popular idea today, especially among artists and, counter-intuitive as this might seem, among art critics. This is because the opposite of classicism, romanticism, which is the belief that an inner well within the artist is the source of all true art and that the artist must follow his inner light rather than external, established order, came to dominate the arts in the nineteenth century, and was taken to the nth degree in the modernism and postmodernism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In identifying with classicism, therefore, I am not merely expressing a preference for Titian and Poussin, Haydn and Mozart, Dante and Shakespeare over Picasso, Schoenberg and Maya Angelou, I am saying that there is something fundamentally wrong and depraved with the latter.
In going, as a Tory, against the spirit of our forward thinking age in all of these things – royalism, high church traditional Christianity, and classicism – I am a reactionary, a term which is used as a label of abuse by those who believe in the false doctrine of progress, i.e., the doctrine that man has an infinite capacity to reshape and improve the world so as to create Paradise for himself on earth, but which I wear as a badge of honour, a habit I picked up from one of my favourite historical writers, John Lukacs.
As a reactionary, a man of the right – indeed, the far right in the truest sense of that expression, one which does not include Hitlerism which, properly understood, was an ideology of the left – I see most contemporary trends as being for the worse rather than the better. This is most evident in the realm of morality where all the old commandments and taboos, which served constructive social and civil purposes are being jettisoned in favour of a set of petty, banal, obnoxious, and increasingly ridiculous rules, designed to micromanage our personal relationships and communications with others so as to prevent us from hurting the feelings of a growing list of groups of people whose feelings are officially protected.
All of this nonsense comes from the idea of equality, one of the chief demons of the age. In the United States, right-liberals, i.e., conservatives, and left-liberals or progressives, argue over “equality of opportunity”, favoured by the former, versus “equality of outcome”, favoured by the latter. In the Tory tradition of Dr. Johnson and Evelyn Waugh, I reject both concepts, and all forms of the idea of equality, as a sick, evil, and depraved perversion of true justice. Justice, being rooted in the order of things as they are, is, like that order, hierarchical rather than egalitarian. I hope that it is not arrogant boasting to word it this way, but I have more sense than to believe in the equality of individuals, much less such drivel as the equality of classes, the sexes, religions, cultures, and the races, either as a description of the way things are or of the way things ought to be made to be. One does not have to subscribe to some crackpot ideology about how one’s own race or sex is superior to the others – which, by the way, is a fair description of the nominally egalitarian feminist and black advocacy movements – to recognize the folly of egalitarianism. Few things get my dander up more than the way these stupid and patently false ideas are shoved down all our throats by educators, clergyman, the media both news and entertainment – not that there is much of a difference anymore – and the government. None of these really believe this nonsense, however much they might lie to themselves and others, as is evidenced by the way they will not allow anyone to disagree with them but seek to utterly ruin the lives, careers, and reputations of anyone who in even the mildest way points out that their emperor has no clothes.
The only other absurd notion as protected against the observation of reality as egalitarianism is liberal individualism taken to its ultimate extreme in which reality itself is declared to be for each of us what we decide it to be for ourselves. If Bruce Jenner decides he is a woman, who are you or I to disagree? All the rest of us are expected to agree that he is a woman, just as if we were living out George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the inhabitants of Oceania, at war with one rival power one day, declare that they have always been at war with the other the next.
That this new morality represents some kind of quantum leap forward in human enlightenment is a proposition that no truly sane and intelligent person could entertain for a second. Give me back the old Victorian morality, I say.
It is a time-honoured New Years tradition to make resolutions of self-improvement on this day and so I make it my resolution for 2016, to grow even more out of step with the times in which we live, and I encourage all of you to do the same.
Happy New Year,
God Save the Queen!