The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, December 31, 2010

Liturgical poetry cycle complete

With my last post, the series of poems beginning with "Kyrie Eleison" is complete. These poems are built around the text of the Ordinary of the Mass in English translation. The translation used is that found in the Order of Communion in the Book of Common Prayer. The poems were written and posted in the order in which they are found in the Anglican Prayerbook, with the Great Doxology at the end rather than before the Credo as it stands in Roman Catholic liturgy. The construction of the poems and the manner in which the liturgical text is incorporated varies. In some the liturgical words are made part of the regular meter and rhyme pattern. In others they were placed as extra-metrical refrains between stanzas of the poems. In the last, the Latin text of the first two lines is also included at the end.

Here are direct links to each poem in the cycle in their order:

Kyrie Eleison:
Agnus Dei:
Gloria in Excelsis:

My inspiration for this project is musical. After attending the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's marvelous performance of Beethoven's Mass in C-Major on December 4th I spent much of early December listening to recordings of other masses - the Missa Solemnis, Hadyn's "Nelson" Mass, Mozart's "Coronation" Mass, and especially J. S. Bach's Mass in B Minor. The latter is rapidly approaching the great oratarios - Haydn's "Creation", Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" and Handel's "Messiah" at the top of my list of favorite sacred music. At any rate, listening to these hymns which the Christian Church has been singing for centuries set to the accompaniment of music by the greatest composers the world has ever known (or ever will know), inspired me to take these hymns, in the form in which I knew them the best, and set them in poetic verse with whatever little talent in so doing I may possess.

Gloria in Excelsis

When Christ the Son of God Most High was born
His Angel to the shepherds did appear
And in the night before the light of morn
Proclaimed to them Good News the King is near.

Glory be to God on High,
And in earth peace, good will towards men.

These words of praise to God and peace to man
The Angel and heavenly choir did sing.
Since then throughout the world in every land
Where Christ’s Church is found, on tongues they still ring.

We praise Thee, we bless Thee
We worship Thee, we glorify Thee.

In praise to God saved men with angels join
And earth and heaven become as if one
And share that which cannot be bought with coin
The favour of God and His Only Son.

We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory,
O Lord God, Heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.

In Christ, the Son, the Father is revealed,
In human flesh to man God is made known
By Him Who was worthy to take the sealed
Scroll from Him who sits on th’heavenly throne.

O Lord, the Only-Begotten Son, Jesu Christ
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father
That takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.

Why was Christ the only One found worthy
Of all in heaven, on earth or below?
With His blood for God He purchased earthy
People back from sin and death, hell and woe.

Thou that takest away the sin of the world
Receive our prayer.

The huge breach made by sin when Adam fell
Between the grievéd God and fallen man
Christ’s death removed – and removed it so well
Howe’er hard they search, find it no one can.

Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father
Have mercy upon us.

The glory of the Father the Son shares
With no one else except the Holy Ghost;
He takes upon Himself the world’s cares
And saves from sin unto the uttermost.

For Thou only art holy,
Thou only art the Lord;

The Church of Christ established on the earth
Against it, hell’s gates never shall prevail
Thee, O Christ, Who art of infinite worth
Thy Father and the Spirit, we do hail.

Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost,
Art most high in the glory of God the Father.

And so to Thee O holy Three-in-One
We lift our voices and sing out Thy praise
And worship Thee whose light outshines the sun
Whose reign will last beyond the end of days.

Gloria in excelsis Deo
et in terra pax hoiínibus bonae voluntatis


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Agnus Dei

Thou offered up Thyself a sacrifice
And with Thy blood made propitiation
So that all who believe might be born twice
Who are called to Thee from every nation.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

The sin that separated man from God
Thou took upon Thyself Who knew no sin
Enduring on Thy back the divine rod
Over Satan the victory to win.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O mediator between God and man
Thou accomplished reconciliation
An age of grace and forgiveness began
And made both warring sides become as one.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
Grant us Thy peace.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Blessed is He Who comes in humility
Though Lord over all from all eternity
On the back of a donkey He makes His seat
As the people cast palm leaves before His feet
And open their mouths in a glorious shout
Let the stones and the rocks with one voice cry out:

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the Highest!


Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts
Let men and angels praise Thy Holy name
Almighty Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Throughout the ages evermore the same.

Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory
The sun, moon, and all the stars speak of Thee
Mountains, seas, and rivers tell Thy story
Thy handiwork proclaims Thy Deity.

All things which breathe obtain their life from Thee
And every blessing underneath Thy sky.
Let our voices sing throughout land and sea
Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Part I

I believe in One God Sovereign o’er all
Who has neither beginning nor an end
Beyond the farthest star from this world’s ball
His realms and vast dominions do extend.

The Father Almighty is this One God
Jehovah, Elohim and Adonai
Whose name all the heavenly angels laud
And all creatures beneath the clear blue sky.

The heavens declare His glory above
But who can take the measure of His worth?
All knowing, All powerful, God is love
Who is the maker of heaven and earth.

Yes, heaven and earth and what is more
The spiritual and the physical.
The source of being and existence for
All things visible and invisible.

Part II

And I believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ
Through Whom and in Whom the Father is known
God’s true Sacred Prophet, and Priest and King,
Who rules and reigns from God’s Holy throne.

He’s the Only-Begotten Son of God
Although by faith we His children become.
He breaks the nations with an iron rod
But with a shepherd’s He comforts His own.

Begotten of the Father Almighty
In the eternity before all worlds
Alpha and Omega, First and Last, He
Is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus is God being sired of God,
The Light of Light which lighteth every man
And Very God, He is, of Very God
Since before this world’s history began.

He was begotten but He was not made
Not a beginning - a relationship
Which is and was and which shall never fade
Is the nature of His divine Sonship.

“I and My Father are One” Jesus said,
Being of one substance with the Father.
In Him all the fullness of Godhead dwelled
In humanity born of His Mother.

There with the Father in the beginning
The foundation of Creation He laid.
In Him and of Him the world has it’s being
Even in Him through Whom all things were made.

Who for us men and for our salvation
Came down from heaven
to this sinful earth
And become One of the Jewish nation
Through the miracle of the Virgin Birth.

He laid His heavenly glory aside
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
In flesh His divinity He did hide
And let the world He fashioned be His host.

In Judean Bethlehem He was born
Of the Virgin Mary and was made man
He Who one day would wear a crown of thorns
And die to pay for all of mankind’s sin.

He was betrayed by a disciple and
Friend, and was crucified also for us
Under Pontius Pilate
who o’er the land
Roman deputy and governor was.

He suffered and was buried in a tomb
Which was not His except by loan. He made
Atonement for sin by bearing its doom
By His death our debt to God’s Law He paid.

The spotless Lamb of God and Sacrifice
Sinless Himself, for us it was He died
And the third day He rose again to life
According to the Scriptures bona fide.

To’s (1) disciples did Christ Risen appear
And He fellowshipped with the Eleven
Them, to preach His Gospel both far and near
He sent, and Ascended into Heaven.

In Heaven’s glory He yet remains, and
Sitteth on the right hand of the Father

There always praised by the angel band
He reigns on High for ever and ever.

He is preparing mansions there for His
Redeemed and shall come again with glory
To judge both the quick and the dead
, for ‘tis
Prophesied in God’s inspired story.

He is the Messiah Who was foretold
By the Holy Ghost through prophetic men
Whose goings forth, He (2) says, have been of old
And Whose kingdom shall have no end. Amen!

Part III

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The (3)
Counsellor and Comforter Christ promised
Would be sent down to dwell in us when He
Returned to that, of His realms, the calmest.

He is the Lord, the Giver of Life Who
Convicts of sin and quickens with the Word
He lives in the heart of the Christian to
Give him strength to live godly in this world.

He was present at Creation too
A member of the Godhead three-in-one
He is fully God and personal Who
Proceedeth from the Father and the Son

He is Almighty and Eternal Who
With the Father and the Son together
Is worshipped and glorified
, and He too
Rules over all things upper and nether

It is from Him that we have the Bible
Who spake by the Prophets in days of old
And by Apostles whom He made able
To preach the holy Gospel clear and bold.

And I believe One Holy Catholic (4)
And Apostolic Church, consisting of
Believers, both the sleeping and the quick,
Commissioned by the Christ to share His love.

And I acknowledge one Baptism in the
Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Which for the remission of sins in he
Who trusts in Christ is the outward signpost.

And I look for the Resurrection of
The dead
, which will happen on that great day
When Christ Who first came down to earth in love
Will come back again in Judgment to stay.

And with all of Christ’s redeemed Church and
With God’s Creation do I look for the (3)
Life of the world to come in which firsthand
We shall witness Him and His glory see.

Glory be to God the Father on High
And to the Son of God and Son of Man
And let all praise to the Holy Ghost fly
And let us shout a loud Amen. AMEN!

(1) i.e., “To his”
(2) The Holy Ghost
(3) Pronounced like “thee”.
(4) Universal

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kyrie Eleison

For the rebellion deep within our heart
Which darkens our deeds and corrupts our thoughts
And turns our words into poisonous darts -
Lord, have mercy upon us.

For the fleshly lust which defiles us all
And the lust of the eyes which deceives us
And that pride of life from which we all fall -
Christ, have mercy upon us.

We have strayed from Thy path like wayward sheep
And righteousness dwells not within us.
We look to Thy grace and fall at Thy feet

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Age of Economism and its Errors

In October of 1793, following the murder of Queen Marie Antoinette at the hands of the filthy riff-raff that had taken over France and in the name of “human rights” established a terrorist state, Edmund Burke gave a speech in which he lamented the death of the era of Christian chivalry. In this speech Burke famously declared:

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.

Burke’s friend Adam Smith would probably not have appreciated this remark had he lived to hear about it. The author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and the father of modern economics had in fact died three years previously and so was spared the indignity of hearing his profession slighted by the man of whom he had once said that he was “the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us.”

What exactly did Burke mean when he made this remark?

Burke was mourning, not just the murdered Queen of France, but of the civilized way of life she represented. The world of faith and tradition, honour and chivalry, manners and civility, rank and order, with all that it entailed good and bad, was dying before his eyes, personified in the person of the daughter of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and wife of Louis XVI of France. In its place, he saw a new world arising, where society would be a laboratory for ivory tower intellectuals to test their abstract theories with men and women as their experimental guinea pigs.

That is what is Burke had in mind with those three words “sophisters”, “economists” and “calculators”. People, detached from the realities of human life, who believe that through cold, hard, reason and logic they can draw up a blue print for a society which will be better for all of its members than one which has slowly evolved through history and which naturally arises out of the relationships and interactions of people bound together by ties of kinship, culture, religion and history.

Some might object that the description above applies to economists who are socialists but not to classical or liberal economists who believe in capitalism. It is the former who believe in a planned economy and social engineering. The latter believe in freedom and letting people make their own decisions for themselves.

There is some truth to this distinction. Socialism originally referred, in the 19th Century, to various movements that sought to replace the private ownership of property with the collective ownership of property on the part of either the community or those who worked the property. The theory behind socialism is the idea that injustices occur in society because of inequality in status and wealth and that this inequality arises out of the private ownership of property. From this premise, the socialist logically proceeds to the notion that if we were to eliminate the distinction between “mine” and “thine” and replace it with an all-inclusive “ours”, an ideal peaceful society would arise, where all men are equals and brothers, sharing all things in common, where each “contributes according to his ability” and receives “according to his need”.

Socialism clearly belongs to the age “of sophisters, economists, and calculators”. It is completely out of touch with reality. It treats the evils and injustices which are an unavoidable aspect of the human condition because they arise out of human nature as a disease that can be successfully treated with a political and economic cure. It is therefore unsurprising that every society which has seriously tried to put it into practice has only exponentially magnified the misery of its people.

It does not follow from this that capitalism is categorically any different.

The “capitalism vs. socialism” debate which dominates academic discussion of political matters today reminds me in many ways of the “Calvinism vs. Arminianism” debate which keeps cropping up in discussions of Christian theology. The latter debate, as to whether the view of predestination and free will expressed in the Five Articles of Remonstrance of 1610 is more true and Scriptural than the view expressed in the Canons of the 1618-19 Synod of Dort, is treated by both sides as a debate between the only two logical positions on these matters, despite the fact that it is an in-house debate among the Reformed branch, of the Protestant wing, of the Christian faith.

Likewise, “capitalism” and “socialism” are subcategories of a particular kind of economy – the modern industrial economy. The modern industrial economy is an economy where the primary economic activity is the production and distribution of factory manufactured goods. It differs from the Western economy which immediately preceded the Industrial Revolution, in which the primary economic activity was agriculture and where items that are mass-produced in factories today were produced by skilled craftsmen. This economy was neither “capitalist” nor “socialist”, categories which are meaningless when applied to it.

Capitalism like socialism, is an abstract blueprint for society, drawn up by rationalist theorists who are out of touch with reality. It is more properly called economic liberalism because it is the extrapolation of the liberal worldview into economics. The liberal worldview is as out of touch with reality as the socialist worldviews. Liberalism is based upon the idea that people are by nature good and so like socialists liberals look for a source of evil that is outside human nature and which can be altered through political means. Hence the long history of liberal projects to eliminate evil through “universal suffrage”, “universal education”, and the like, each designed to eliminate a new “source of poverty, crime, and suffering” after the last project proved to be a dud. They all prove to be duds because poverty, crime, and suffering are born out of the human nature that is present in the breast of every human being and which cannot be eliminated by political solutions.

More immediately relevant to economic liberalism is the liberal view of society. Central to liberal theory is the idea that the “individual” is prior to society. An “individual” in liberal theory, is a generic person apart from society, whose identifying traits are not those which distinguish him from other people, but characteristics which liberal theory claims he possesses equally with all other “individuals” – personal sovereignty and natural rights. In reality, no such creature exists. Particular persons exist, but they exist within societies, societies which are both older than them and logically prior to them. People enter the world as members of pre-existing families, and by extension as members of the pre-existing communities and societies to which their pre-existing families belong, which are defined and bound together, by ties of language, culture, history, etc. Liberal theory blatantly contradicts observable reality.

Economic liberalism is directly derived from the liberal view of the “individual” and society. Economic liberalism or capitalism is the idea that a society’s collective economic interests are best served by its individual members entering into unrestrained voluntary transactions in which their motivation is entirely their own self-interest. When individuals enter into such transactions the impersonal forces of supply and demand which drive the market ensure that the outcome will produce the greatest amount of happiness for the largest number of people.

This theory contains both truth and error.

It is true that under ordinary circumstances, each of us is better qualified to make the decisions that affect our personal economic interests, than the government is to make them for us. As Dr. Thomas Fleming put it:

The one essential insight of free-market economics is that human beings are more efficient at providing for their own needs than any set of other people could possibly be, no matter how enlightened. (The Morality of Everyday Life, University of Missouri Press, 2004, pp. 18-19)

The problem is, that because liberalism sees the individual as being prior to society, and society as existing for the individual, liberalism concludes that a society’s economic interests lies solely in the personal economic interests of its individual members. Society cannot have any collective economic interests, to the liberal, because to the liberal society is an abstract concept created by individuals to serve their own self-interests. To treat collective society as having interests of its own is to commit the fallacy of reification (treating an abstract concept as if it were a concrete reality) to a liberal.

As we have seen, however, liberalism is wrong. Society is the reality. It is liberalism’s concept of the “individual” that is the abstraction. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that a society will have a collective stake in its own economy. Would a society not, for example, have a collective interest in making sure that has sufficient domestic production of all essential goods that would be needed in an emergency wartime situation in which dependence upon foreign suppliers might result in critical shortages if the enemy were to block the supply lines?

In light of the above, we would expect economic liberalism to depart from reality precisely where it denies society a collective stake in the economy, and this is exactly where we find it in economic liberalism’s devotion to the idea of free trade.

Free trade is the idea that a country should eliminate duties and tariffs altogether or lower them to the point where they do not result in a significant difference in price between foreign and domestic goods. The result is supposed to be that all goods will be produced where it is most efficient to produce them, productivity will rise across the board, prices will drop, and all countries will be better off. A country that puts free trade into practice will generally expect reciprocity on the part of its trading partners, but a true economic liberal insists that even a policy of unilateral free trade will be to the benefit of the country that practices it.

What does history tell us about the effects free trade has on a country’s economy?

In the early 19th Century the leading economic country in the world was the United Kingdom. Liberals and radicals were demanding free trade, and in 1846, Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel, formed an alliance with Liberals and Radicals against the policies of his own party and abolished the Corn Laws (laws protecting British agriculture). This led to the defeat of Peel’s government but it also put the UK on the road to free trade. A couple of decades later the UK had implemented free trade and eliminated its import duties and tariffs. Around the same time Britain was doing this the Republican Party was erecting a tariff wall around the United States. The Republican Party had been founded upon Alexander Hamilton’s economic system, which involved protecting domestic producers with tariffs and using the revenue to fund the government and pay for internal improvement projects like roads, canals, and railroads that would benefit internal commerce.

The UK practiced free trade for approximately the same period of time that the USA followed the Hamiltonian protectionist system of the Republicans – from the late 1860’s till the period between the World Wars. During this period the USA replaced the UK as the world’s leading economic country.

During this same period of time the new Germany which had united under the Prussian monarchy implemented economic nationalism similar to that of the Republicans in the United States. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck applied the economic principles of Friedrich List whose primary influence was Alexander Hamilton. Following this economic policy, Germany became an industrial power in the same decades when those Western European countries that were implementing free trade began to decline.

Liberal Democrats introduced free trade into the American Republic in the 20th Century. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the author of America’s welfare state moved America towards international free trade in the 1930’s and 40’s, and JFK, LBJ, and Bill Clinton moved America further in that direction. By that time the Republican Party had abandoned its founding platform and adopted free trade as well. During the post-WWII period in which America became a free trade country, Japan adopted America’s old protectionist policies. These decades were the decades of America’s decline as a manufacturing power and Japan’s rise to prominence in the new post-WWII high-tech economy.

None of this seems to faze true believers in free trade. A. E. Housman described free trade as being a fetish to the liberal, which seems accurate enough. In their ongoing devotion to policies that have proven disastrous whenever they have been implemented, economic liberals and socialists are alike.

This is not the only similarity between capitalism and socialism. For two systems which are so widely believed to be polar opposites of one another, they share a surprisingly large number of common goals and values. Both have a materialistic view which equates human happiness with having one’s material needs met. Both envision a classless society – capitalism the society of meritocracy, socialism the society of egalitarianism. Both have a utopian vision of a world where global peace has been established through the breaking down of traditional nations and societies into a one-world order.

Both are antagonistic to traditional, organic society, made up of families rooted in local communities with strong social and religious institutions, inevitably falling in a hierarchical arrangement of some sort.

What alternative to capitalism and socialism is there? Is there anything salvageable from the wreck of pre-modern, civilized, chivalrous Christendom that can guide us through the murky darkness of modernity?

The following principles are a start:

A) Private property is not the source of evil. The ills we face and must live with as human beings come from human nature, which is the nature of each of us. The law can contain human evil, by prohibiting us from hurting each other, and punishing us if we do. It cannot change our nature, however, and the only solution to the problem of human evil is a spiritual rather than a political one. Private property is a traditional social institution that has worked better than most if not all communal property arrangements.

B) Society is prior to the individual person within it. A society has collective needs and interests which must be balanced with the personal needs and interests of its members.


C) Society should not collectively decide for its members things which are best left up to their own personal judgment. This includes personal economic decisions. Socialism treats the personal economic well-being of a society’s members as a collective matter to be handled by the government. Capitalism treats the collective economic well-being of the country as a personal matter to be handled by private individuals. Both are errors.

The principle of subsidiarity applies here. Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be made by the lowest level of authority that is capable of making them. A decision that affects your family should be made by the authority within your family. A decision concerning your local neighborhood, should be made by the neighborhood authorities. It is only when a decision affects the entire country that it should be made and must be made by the federal government. This applies in economics as in everything else. In practice it means that most economic decisions and transactions will resemble those in a liberal economy. It is not laissez-faire, however, because the government still has the right and responsibility to make laws and decisions which affect the collective economic good of the society which is distinct from the personal economic good of its members.

These principles are not a blueprint for an ideal society. No such thing can be created by the mind of man. They are however, pretty basic economic common sense, which is sorely needed in the ideological debate between capitalism and socialism.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monarchism and Minarchism

Imagine that you are sitting at your dining room table. Having just finished your breakfast, you are glancing over the morning newspaper while you enjoy your cup of coffee and prepare for the coming day, when all of a sudden there is a knock on the door. You go to answer it and on your doorstep you find a man you have never seen before. He has with him a briefcase, a clipboard, and a smug, pompous, attitude of superiority.

You ask him who he is and he says “I am from the government and I am here to inspect your home to make sure it is up to regulation standards”.

Naturally, you ask to see the man’s credentials. He produces them and they appear to be legitimate it, so reluctantly and with a great deal of annoyance at having your daily routine disturbed, you allow him in.

The inspector goes through your house, from attic to basement, making sure you have working smoke detectors in every room, that your electrical, water, and sewage systems meet the latest standards. From time to time he makes snotty comments about the way you live:

“You know, you really shouldn’t have all these appliances plugged into the same circuit.”

“You should rearrange your furniture to make it easier for people to leave in case of a fire.”

Finally the inspection is over, and the inspector lets you know that you have passed. “Just by the skin of your teeth”, he adds, by his demeanor though not his words.

Was it a king or queen who authorized this invasion of your home? Or was it a democratic assembly composed of politicians who are elected by a general vote on a regular basis?

After the inspector leaves you realize you need to go right now or you will be late for work. In a hurry, and still irritated by the inspection, you get in your car and hurry towards work. A couple of blocks before you reach your workplace you hear a siren. You look in your rearview mirror and a police car is flashing its lights at you and a policeman is waving you over to the side.

You glance at your speedometer and see that you have been speeding – not recklessly, but enough to get you stopped.

You pull over to the curb and wait for the policeman. He walks up to your window and asks to see your driving license. He takes a look at it, hands it back to you, and asks you if you realized how fast you were going. Then he asks you why you aren’t wearing your seatbelt.

You had been so preoccupied in your mind with the inspection and getting to work on time that you had completely forgotten to fasten your seatbelt! Now you have been caught having committed two traffic offences at the same time, and the policeman is convinced that you are a troublemaking scofflaw and decides to make an example out of you. He gives you a tongue-lashing, writes you a big ticket, and sends you on your way to work, where you are now, of course, late.

Who thought up the idea of punishing people with fines for not wearing their seatbelts – an offence which can not possibly hurt anyone other than the offender? Was it a king? Was it a queen? Or was it not rather a bunch of progressive do-gooders in the democratic assembly?

You get to work and your boss chews you out for being late. You explain the circumstances and you notice that he isn’t really listening to you and seems to be worried about something. Then you remember that it is government inspection week at work too. Today the fire inspector will be making sure your employers fire detection system and fire escape routes meet government standards. Tomorrow the safety inspector will be inspecting your workplace, looking for potential hazards to your and your co-workers safety. Several other inspectors will be coming in later in the week. Preparations for these inspections have been hindering your companies productivity for the past month.

Who was it that tied your company up with so much red tape? Was this an innovation from the Crown or from the Commons?

The idea is widely held today that democracy is the form of government that is most compatible with freedom and limitations on government power. This notion, however, is contrary to the facts of history.

The last few centuries saw the triumph of Whiggery. In Whig doctrine, a country may have a king or queen (a head of state whose office is passed down through hereditary succession) but only if their position is reduced to that of ceremonial figurehead. The actual governing of the country must be carried out, by officials elected by the general public. In the Whig system the king or queen “reigns but does not rule”, is the “head of state” but not the “head of government”.

The Whig system should not be identified with constitutional, parliamentary monarchy. The confusion of the two is common but erroneous. The latter is a much older aspect of the English constitution which we in Canada have inherited. A constitutional monarchy, is a monarchy in which the office of king or queen regnant is established, defined, and filled by society’s constitution and the king, deriving his authority from the constitution, is therefore responsible to the constitution, to uphold it rather than to overthrow it by governing arbitrarily. A parliamentary monarchy is a monarchy in which the constitution dictates that the sovereign lawmaking authority of the king or queen is to be exercised “in parliamento”. Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means “to speak”. The concept here is that the people who live under a country’s laws should have a voice in the making of those laws. It is a completely different concept from the notion of democracy in which the people themselves are regarded as the sovereign power.

Constitutional parliamentary monarchy is an English tradition that goes back prior to the Norman conquest of 1066 to the time of the Anglo-Saxon kings. The line of Norman kings that started when William of Normandy secured his shaky claim to succeed Edward the Confessor to the throne of England by defeating his rival Harold II at the Battle of Hastings promised to govern according to the constitution and laws of Edward, which had evolved out of the constitutional reforms made by Edward’s ancestor Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, in the 9th Century. When John Plantagenet was compelled by his barons to agree to the Magna Carta in 1215 it did not really introduce anything new in the way of constitutional limitations on the authority of the king, so much as require in writing his agreement to uphold the existing constitution.

The triumph of the Whigs occurred in 1688 when Parliament forced King James II to abdicate and gave his crown to his son-in-law William of Orange. This did not have the immediate effect of reducing the office of king to that of ceremonial figurehead but it ultimately led to that because it represented the triumph of the principle of democracy over the principle of royalty in the constitution. Over the course of the three centuries since the so-called “Glorious Revolution” the implications of the Whig victory have unfolded as Parliament, especially the elected lower House, has taken over the role of actually governing, and the role of the Crown has shrunk to a ceremonial role.

If the Whig doctrine, linking non-intrusive, limited government, and freedom to the democratic principle is correct, then we should expect that over the last three centuries government would have shrunk, taxes would gone down, and government presence in people’s everyday lives would have all but vanished.

The exact opposite is true.

The more the important the principle of democracy has become in our mixed constitution, the more real governing power has been concentrated in the hands of elected officials and the bureaucracies they head, and the less of a role the Crown plays in government, the bigger government has become.

Over the last three centuries, the Parliaments of Great Britain and Canada have imposed income taxes on their peoples. The first income tax was introduced in Great Britain by the government of William Pitt the Younger in the late 18th century. Canada’s first income tax was introduced in 1917 by the Borden government. Income taxes take far more money out of the hands of the tax payers and raise far more government revenue than any other kind of tax. They were unheard of back in the days when the king was unmistakably the head of government as well as the head of the state.

Also unheard of, back in the days when kings had more real power, were these large government bureaucracies we have today with their armies of inspectors invading homes and businesses to enforce libraries of petty regulations covering every minute aspect of everyday life. Huge bureaucracies go hand in glove with mass democracy. The saying “a man’s home is his castle” is obsolete today in the age of democracy, but it actually meant something back in the age in which it has its origins – the age when kings ruled as well as reigned. Kings were simply not interested in passing laws to prevent you from hurting yourself and hiring huge numbers of civil servants to enforce these laws. The king had constables and magistrates to enforce the peace, i.e., to keep you from hurting others and/or upsetting the civil order. It is democratically elected politicians and the progressive “experts” they hire to staff their bureaucracies that created the “nanny state”.

Democracy, then, is not the foundation of a free and just society under a limited government, that liberal doctrine makes it out to be.

Nor is monarchy the antithesis of freedom that liberalism makes it out to be.

There have been bad kings and good kings. If the definition of good government, is a government that provides society with basic laws (laws which govern public areas, laws which prohibit actions that hurt other people and threaten the order of society, and which provide a just manner for people to settle disputes with one another) and enforces those laws, but otherwise lets them live their own lives, then the English parliamentary monarchy has been overall a good government through history.

What about a government that fails to enforce the basic rule of law, which instead enforces thousands of petty regulations about minute aspects of everyday life, which taxes people to death, which actively seeks to undermine other social authorities such as parents in the home and clergy in the church, which wages war against the social, cultural, and moral traditions of the society it governs? Would that not be the very embodiment of a bad government?

That is the kind of government we have, now that the principle of democracy has triumphed over the principle of monarchy.

There are some who would have us take the principle of democracy even further and abolish monarchy even in its present ceremonial role. Let them not be deceived into thinking that they would be furthering the cause of freedom, justice, and good government by so-doing.

Aristotle argued that the best hypothetical constitution of a society would combine the principles of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, each balancing the others. What Aristotle wrote about in theory, materialized in the traditional English constitution of parliamentary monarchy, which we in Canada have inherited.

If we are ever going to see the constitution balanced again, and good government restored to this country, it will not be by allowing the principle of democracy to further overshadow the principle of monarchy. For this reason it is important to maintain the monarchy, even in its present ceremonial role. If the monarchy serves no other purpose it is as an anchor in the constitution of the past that will hopefully prevent the ship of state from drifting even further into the turbulent sea of progressive democracy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Advent Sunday

In long eternal ages past
Before the earth was made,
The stars hung in the nightly sky
And sea’s foundations laid,

He lived and reigned upon a throne
In sovereign majesty.
Being and life, they were His own
And Godhead – Deity.

All things belong to Him by right
As God’s begotten Son;
His Father was the King of Light,
Creator had He none.

Although all this He had and was
He came down to the earth,
Was clothed in flesh and One of us
Became by virgin birth.

His mother was a young maiden,
Betrothed but not yet wed,
When first the angel came to her
And these glad tidings said:

That she’d found favour with the Lord
And had been very blessed;
She would conceive and bear a Son
Whose name would be Jesus.

He’d be the Son of God Most High
And sit in David’s chair;
His Kingdom would not have an end,
He’d judge all Jacob there.

Young Mary wondered at these words
But rejoiced to hear them.
Her Son had long awaited been
Since prophets spoke of Him.

He was Messiah to the Jews -
With the promised Kingdom
His Laws He’s write upon their hearts
And redemption bring them.

He was the Logos to the Greeks,
The most divine Reason,
The Order beneath everything
Giving life its meaning.

All of Creation still awaits
His return appearing
To judge the living and the dead
And reign on earth as King.

As we begin the Christian year
This anticipation,
We enter in with joyful hearts,
Full of celebration.

We join with Christians ‘round the world,
Now and in days gone by,
And re-enact the wait of old
For His Nativity.

We do so to invite Him in
To dwell inside our hearts
That we might be as one with Him
Who of His church are parts.

“Lord Jesus come and live in us”,
Upon our knees we pray,
“We turn our hearts again to you,
On this Advent Sunday”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A note about the preceeding essay

The essay in the post previous to this one recovers a lot of ground that was covered in earlier essays, especially those posted in the first couple of months of this blog. This essay in particular was inspired by discussion of libertarianism at Lawrence Auster's traditionalist blog "A View From the Right", particularly this entry:

and this one:

and by Dr. Steve Burton's response to Mr. Auster's arguments found at the traditionalist blog "What's Wrong With the World" here:

I commented on Dr. Burton's post here:

and my essay "Freedom in Society" is an expansion of sorts, of my comments there.

Freedom in Society

The basic political definition of freedom within the tradition of the English-speaking world could be “the right to do whatever is not specifically forbidden by law”. Anarchists, who regard freedom as the absence of law, would obviously object to this definition. It is an important starting point however, because it is the opposite of the notion that people are only allowed to do whatever they are expressly permitted to do by the law.

In these two concepts we see the essential difference between a society that is constitutionally free, and a society that is constitutionally tyrannical or totalitarian. A constitutionally free society has clear, specific rules as to what you are not allowed to do but otherwise leaves you free to make your own choices. A constitutionally tyrannical society has specific rules as to what you are permitted to do and if you do something that is not on that list you could be in trouble with the government. English-speaking countries are by a long-standing tradition constitutionally free societies.

It should be apparent from this that freedom is quantifiable. In a constitutionally free society, the more laws there are the less freedom you have. There is a form of tyranny which can exist within the form of a constitutionally free society because “the right to do whatever is not specifically forbidden by law” does not particularly mean much when there are laws against everything.

Clearly then if we wish to live in a free society we should be aiming for less laws rather than more. This brings us to the question of what kinds of actions should laws forbid.

Evelyn Waugh admirably expressed the Tory (1) position on this question when he wrote:

I believe in government; that men cannot live together without rules but that these should be kept at the bare minimum of safety. (2)

Laws should be limited to what is necessary. This is true, not only for the sake of maintaining liberty in a free society, but also in order to ensure that the laws we do have are effectively enforced. When laws are multiplied, society’s law enforcement agencies have a tendency to concentrate on laws that are easily enforced but less important over laws that are more important and more difficult to enforce. This produces the situation that Dr. Samuel Francis dubbed “anarcho-tyranny”. (3) Picture a city where the police department goes to great effort to make sure the traffic regulations are kept while gang violence runs amok and unsolved homicide after homicide cases pile up, and will you get the idea.

Now, you have undoubtedly noticed that I have not actually answered the question of what kinds of actions should laws forbid in asserting that laws should be limited to those which are necessary. That assertion merely leads to the question being rephrased as “what laws are necessary?”

How do we determine whether a law is necessary or not?

We can only do so, by examining the purpose of law itself. Laws exist as a means to a particular end and their necessity is determined by whether they are essential to achieving that end.

What purpose do laws serve? What is their ultimate end?

The right answer to this question is that laws exist to facilitate society and to ensure its safety and security.

Society consists of people and between people conflicts often arise. It is to be preferred that people settle their disputes peacefully themselves, but if they cannot do so, the need arises for the dispute to be arbitrated. This produces a need for laws which we would categorize as “civil”. Their purpose is to keep disputes from escalating into violence that threatens the fabric of society.

Lets say you and your neighbor disagree as to where the property line dividing your yards is to be located. Your neighbor would like to put up a fence that will cut through your flower garden whereas you believe the fence should be erected so as to include an apple tree your neighbor claims as his own on your property.

How is this to be resolved?

One way is for you and your neighbor to go throughout the neighborhood, gathering support from your friends, and then fight it out between the two parties, destroying property and shedding blood in the process. This is not the optimal solution.

The other way is for society to have clear laws as to how disputes of this nature are to be settled and a magistrate with the authority to hear your side and your neighbor’s and issue a ruling based on the law which both you and your neighbor must abide by.

Civil laws of this nature facilitate society, that is, they make it possible for people to live in peace together in that collective venture we call society.

The other major category of law is “criminal law”. Criminal laws prohibit acts like taking or vandalizing another person’s property, assaulting or killing another person, or raping or kidnapping someone. If you commit a criminal act you are forced to pay a penalty to society, after you have been caught, arrested, and been proven guilty in a court of law. The purpose of criminal law is to protect society and its members from harmful and destructive behavior.

This brings us back to the question of which acts should be proscribed by law – and to the classical liberal answer to that question.

Classical liberalism or libertarianism as it is more commonly known as today asserts that society’s laws should only prohibit actions which harm people other than the person committing the action in their person or property. This is called the “harm principle”. It was the basic thesis of John Stuart Mill’s famous On Liberty (4) but the concept is present in the writings of earlier liberal thinkers as well.

Liberalism’s harm principle should not be dismissed lightly. As an answer to the question of which acts should be illegal and which should not, there is much to commend it. Actions, the criminality of which are uncontroversial among sane people, such as murder, rape, theft and the like, all fall under the category of actions which are harmful to others.

There are, however, problems with the libertarian position which appear when we look at the underlying philosophy behind it and its application to controversial actions.

The philosophy behind the harm principle is the philosophy of classical liberalism. This philosophy asserts that only “individuals” (persons by themselves, not as members of any larger group) are real, that society is a voluntary association of individuals, and that political society and its laws exist to protect the rights of the individual.

One of the earliest liberal thinkers was the 17th century English empiricist John Locke. Locke’s held that in a hypothetical (not necessarily historical) “state of nature” prior to society, all men as individuals are absolutely sovereign over themselves and possess absolute rights to their life, liberty, and property. In this “state of nature”, however, men are vulnerable to violence from other people. Therefore, to protect themselves and their rights, men form societies, which are contracts between sovereign individuals in which they agree to relinquish a portion of their sovereignty to society, so as to obtain laws to protect their rights against the violence of others. (5)

The problem with all this, however, is that it is manifestly wrong and is indeed the exact opposite of what is observable about the nature of human beings and their societies.

All human societies that are older than a single generation existed prior to the people who make up their membership. More importantly, when we look at society in its most basic form, the family, we see that it is not a “voluntary association of individuals”.

The family is the simple form of society, the building block from which more complex societies are established. Each of us entered the world as a member of a family that we did not choose to enter. We were sired by a father, and born to a mother, neither of which we chose. We do not chose our relationships to our parents, nor do we chose our relationships to our siblings.

The family is prior to the individual person, therefore society is prior to the individual person.

Indeed, there is no such thing as an “individual” the way liberalism conceives him. Liberalism’s “individual” is a person, detached from all society, identified not by that which distinguishes him from other people, but by that which supposedly makes him the same as all other people, i.e., a set of “natural rights” which all individuals are supposed to possess equally.

A person apart from society, however, is not living in a “natural state”. Take a hermit living on top of a mountain, in a remote cave, or out in the desert somewhere? Is such a person living in a more “natural” state than a man living with his wife and children in a community with other men who live with their wives and children? Of course not! These kinds of people, are extremely rare, for precisely the reason that their behavior is not normal or natural for human beings.

Furthermore, a person in isolation from society, is not in the position of having rights but no means to enforce and protect them. Isolated from society, a person has no rights whatsoever. A “right” is by definition a claim on other people and therefore cannot exist in the absence of society.

If liberalism’s philosophy of the sovereign individual being logically prior to society is false and contrary to all observable evidence (and it is), it follows that liberalism’s answer to the question of what is the primary purpose of law, i.e., to protect the rights of individuals, cannot be correct.

Now, if the philosophy of classical liberalism is wrong, and its view of the purpose of law is wrong, does that mean the harm principle is also wrong?


As mentioned previously, if we look for laws which are found universally throughout civilized human societies and which forbid actions that few if any would dispute are criminally wrong, we find these laws tend to correspond to the harm principle.

We also find, when we look into the thought of pre-liberal Western ethical philosophers and theologians, that the harm principle itself is older than liberal individualism.

The most famous work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th Century Dominican priest, is his Summa Theologica. The second part of this treatise is devoted to ethics. Here Aquinas raises the question of “Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?”

In his answer, Aquinas states:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, 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: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like. (6)

The Thomistic position is both similar to and different from the liberal harm principle. The main difference is that Aquinas’ view affirms society and lawfully constituted authority whereas the libertarian view of J. S. Mill is subversive of society and authority.

The subversive nature of liberalism is such that, despite its protestations to the contrary, liberalism is no friend to the free society. When society and legitimate authority within society are undermined, the result that ensues will be either chaos, tyranny, or a mixture of both. It will never be a free society in which people enjoy both freedom and the benefits of society.

Society as we have seen, is not a “voluntary association of individuals”. It is organic in nature, consisting of a variety of social institutions (family, church, cultural and economic associations of various natures, neighborhoods, communities, etc.) which exist in multiple layers in which society expands outward from the family to become the sovereign polity. Within each social institution and every level of society there are positions of authority.

What is authority?

Authority is the right to command obedience. It is distinct from power, which is the ability to compel obedience by force. It is not completely separate from power, however, because authority includes the right to use an appropriate degree of force to ensure that rules are obeyed.

Where is authority located?

Authority is vested in offices or positions, rather than in the people who occupy those positions and exercise the authority.

What is the source of authority?

The source of authority is the constitution of society. The constitution of society is not a charter written on paper like the British North America Act or the Constitution of the United States of America, important as those documents may be. The true constitution of any society is its system of organization, written in its traditions, and established by prescription.

Society’s constitution is not the voluntary contract that liberalism conceived it to be. Rather, it is as Edmund Burke (7) conceived it:

a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection…not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born…linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible worlds, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place. (8)

That description could better be called a “covenant” than a contract. The covenant of society, like all covenants, functions according to the faith of its members.

When members of a society believe in their constitution they will respect the offices of authority established by that constitution (if not necessarily the people who occupy the offices at any given time). The more faith people have in their constitution, the more respect they have for the constitutional authorities, and the more they voluntarily obey the rules without the use of force.

This has a direct relationship to the degree of freedom in society. A wise ruler will seek to govern so as to maintain faith in society and its authorities, and will therefore seek to effectively enforce essential laws without burdening the people with excessive regulations. A foolish ruler, who prefers to maintain order through naked power, will not be concerned about maintaining people’s faith in society by limiting the laws to the few essential laws effectively enforced.

Thus is a functioning society held together by faith. Governors keep faith with the people on their part, by enforcing the laws that are necessary and not passing excessive laws. The people keep faith with the government by respecting the authorities and voluntarily obeying the laws.

In this we see that there is a relationship between legitimate government and consent. It is not the relationship liberalism suggests, however, but rather the inverse. Liberal theory once again has the cart before the horse. Government does not derive the legitimacy of its authority from the consent of those it governs. Rather people voluntarily consent to government when they believe it to be exercising legitimate authority derived from a legitimate constitution.

How does a constitution obtain legitimacy?

The one word answer is “prescription”.

Prescription is the word we use to describe the process whereby a social arrangement gains legitimacy by virtue of having passed the test of time. Rationalists will scoff, but people have far more faith in a social arrangement that has weathered the storms of time and served society well for generations than in an abstract theory that looks good on paper as to why such-and-such a social arrangement is best.

Do not mistake me. I am not saying that we should accept something that is obviously unjust simply because “that is the way it has always been”. I am saying that the generally accepted legitimacy of a stable constitution of society is something that develops over the course of generations through a long period of time.

It can be overthrown, however, in a very short period of time, by government which abuses its authority and betrays the faith of the people, or by subversive doctrines like liberalism which tell people that their personal interests are more important than those of society.

Most of us in the English-speaking world wish to be free. We also wish to be, like all normal human beings, members of societies. We therefore wish to enjoy freedom within society.

The traditional constitution of English-speaking countries in which we are legally free to do whatever the law does not specifically proscribe, contributes towards the fulfillment of that wish. So does the basic idea expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas, that human laws exist to restrict not all vices, but major vices, primarily those in which harm is done to others.

Since we value being part of a society, however, a real society and not liberalism’s “voluntary association of individuals”, we must resist allowing Aquinas’ concept to be twisted into the anti-social, subversive individualism found in the theories of classical liberals like J. S. Mill.

(1) As is my usual custom, here I use “Tory”, not to mean a member/supporter of the Conservative Party necessarily, but a traditionalist conservative, particularly those within the British and Canadian traditions who support the parliamentary monarchy and the Christian Church.

(2) “A Conservative Manifesto” found on page 161 of the 1986 Penguin edition of The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh edited by Donat Gallagher, taken from Waugh’s Robbery Under Law.

(3) The oldest reference I can find for this is “Anarcho-Tyranny USA”, the speech Dr. Francis’ gave to the John Randolph Club in 1993 and published on pages 14-19 of the July 1994 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. In the text of the address Dr. Francis makes reference to his having used the term in earlier columns, but I have no bibliographic details about these. He wrote about it until the end of his life, and revisited the topic in “Synthesizing Tyranny”, the last essay he wrote for Chronicles published in their April 2005 issue.

(4) Mill defines the principle in the 9th paragraph of his introductory chapter. Note that Mill begins this paragraph by saying that the principle should limit all social control over the individual, whether it be by actual laws enforced by the state or the “moral coercion of public opinion”.

(5) Locke’s views can be found in his Two Treatises of Government, originally published in 1689, particularly the second treatise.



(7) Edmund Burke was an 18th Century British statesman who was originally a classical liberal himself. He entered politics as a member of the Whig Party (the liberal party of the 18th century). He was a friend of Samuel Johnson, the prominent 18th century man of letters, who was noted for his Tory views. Burke once wrote to Johnson’s friend and biographer James Boswell that he had dined with Johnson and “we had a very good day, as we had not a sentence, word, syllable, letter, comma, or tittle of any of the elements that make politics”. Burke may very well have been the “scoundrel” Dr. Johnson had in mind in his famous remark about (false) patriotism, recorded by Boswell. The French Revolution changed all that. Seeing the horrible violence that sprung from the “armed doctrines” of the “Enlightenment”, Burke took up cudgels for tradition, organic society, the ancient constitution, monarchy, and the church – the traditional articles of Tory faith - in a treatise entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France originally published in 1790. When Marie Antoinette was beheaded in 1793, Burke bemoaned the fact that in a “nation of gallant men…honor…and of cavaliers”, “ten thousand swords” had not “leaped from their scabbards” to defend her, and mourned the death of the “age of chivalry” and the rise of that of “sophisters, economists and calculators”. Burke had, to paraphrase Irving Kristol, become a “Whig mugged by reality” , a “neo-Tory” if you will.

(8)Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Gateway Edition, (Henry Regnery Company: Chicago, 1955), pp. 139-140.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Their Duty and Ours

Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales are light between,
Because 'tis fifty years to-night
That God has saved the Queen.

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.
– A. E. Housman (1)

On November 11th, 1918 the Allied commander-in-chief and the German secretary of state signed the Armistice which brought the fighting in the first World War to an official end in a railway car in Compiègne Forest in Picardie, France. The following year, His Majesty King George V issued the following proclamation:

To all my people:

Tuesday next, November 11th, is the first anniversary of the armistice which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four preceding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom. I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities. During that time, except in the rare cases where this might be impractical, all work, all sound and all locomotion should cease, so that in perfect stillness the thoughts of every one may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

Thus November 11th came to be Armistice Day. After the hostilities, which were renewed in 1939, were brought a more decisive close in 1945 the day was renamed Remembrance Day in countries loyal to the British Crown. This change reflected the desire for a more general memorial of those who made the ultimate sacrifice at the call of king and country.

Although Remembrance Day is only 91 years old it embodies concepts which are much older, concepts which have been part of human society since time immemorial. One such concept is the concept of duty. It was out of duty that the men we honour on Remembrance Day gave their lives. It is out of duty that we who live keep their memory alive.

What is duty?

Duty is the sense that one owes a particular service to others. Society would fall apart without duty. Parents have duties to their children, children have duties to their parents. Spouses have duties to each other. Our highest duty is to God. Our second highest duty is to our country.

We, as members of a particular society and country, are part of a whole that is larger than ourselves, a whole that embraces not just those living today, but generations past and generations yet to come as well. Our leaders, owe a duty to our country, to see to it that our country is not endangered and the lives of its young people spent fighting wars for frivolous reasons.

When, however, our country finds itself at war, duty calls upon our young men to go out and fight and if need be die for our country. This is a duty that cannot be fulfilled apart from a willingness to sacrifice all one is, has, and hopes to be and gain. Unflinching bravery to the point of death is not something which can be bought. There is no quid pro quo that society can offer in return.

We honour them for their sacrifice, for honour and glory have always been the reward of valour. Some would prefer that we did not do this. They argue that to honour courage in battle is to glorify war, and hence to encourage and perpetuate it. Therefore, they say, in the interests of ending war and bloodshed, we should not glorify it. Such people are tragically and foolishly mistaken.

Men have always recognized that war is a horrible thing, the cause of bloodshed, death, destruction and sorrow. That has not prevented men from fighting wars. War is a product of human nature. St. James, in the first verses of the fourth chapter of his general epistle, identified lust or desire, as the root from which fighting and war springs. Desire is located in the human heart and cannot be eliminated by schemes to make war a thing of the past.

We cannot eliminate human nature without eliminating human beings entirely, a rather high price to pay for world peace. We should not go about provoking and instigating war, but we must be ready to defend our country in war if the need arises. For this reason, we must continue to honour those who have laid down their lives for our country in the past.

We too, you see, owe a duty to our country and a duty to the soldiers whose memory we collectively honour on Remembrance Day. We owe it to them to preserve the country they died for, a patrimony for their descendants and ours. We owe it to them to raise up future generations with the character and sense of duty they themselves displayed, so that should the call of duty come again, there will be those to answer it.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

"God save the Queen" we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

(1) The lines in the epigraph are the second, third, and fourth stanzas of A. E. Housman’s poem 1887, also known as “From Clee to heaven the beacon burns” (the first line of the poem). It is the first poem in Housman's A Shropshire Lad, originally published in 1896. The lines quoted at the end of this essay, are the sixth through eighth stanzas of the same poem. The celebrations referred to throughout the poem are, as the title indicates, of the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Religion, Righteousness and Christianity

Several decades ago Fritz Ridenour wrote a popular study of St. Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome, entitled How to Be Christian Without Being Religious. (1) The title was cleverly worded. Everybody knows how to be religious without being a Christian – you join another religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. To be a Christian without being religious, on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms. Ridenour, however, was writing in the ‘60’s, and the young generation he was writing to, were being portrayed in the media as rebels who rejected the society of their parents and its rules. Church and religion were part of the society they were rebelling against. To reach this generation with the gospel, Ridenour believed he had to separate the gospel and Christ, from religion.

Ridenour may not have been the first to distinguish between “Christianity” and “religion” in this manner, but he would certainly not be the last. It caught on like wildfire and today large segments of the evangelical church adhere religiously to the idea that “Christianity is not a religion”. Here, however, they have out-Ridenoured Ridenour, who opened his book by quoting Webster’s definition of “religion” as “a system of faith and worship” and saying that “Christianity is certainly that”.

Some evangelicals even go so far as to tell people that “God hates religion”.

What is religion?

People who separate religion on the one hand from the Gospel and Christ on the other hand usually define “religion” as “man trying to reach God through his own efforts”.

This is an incredibly tortured definition of religion however. It confuses an attitude towards religion, i.e., a belief that religion will make one righteous and acceptable in the eyes of God, with religion itself.

The defining element of religion is communal worship. Religion is people collectively, as a community, believing in and worshipping God. It, like marriage and family, is a universal institution of human society.

Does the Bible condemn religion?

No. In the Bible, God condemns certain kinds of religious worship, such as human sacrifice and the worship of idols (deities other than the one true and living God), and He condemns the hypocritical use of religion to mask unrighteousness and unbelief, but He never condemns religion itself. Indeed, in the Bible He established not one, but two religions.

In both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, as we shall see, there is a distinction between religion and righteousness. The Old Testament prophets warned God’s people of His displeasure over their sin, telling them that God preferred righteous behavior to the outward practice of religion.

In the New Testament, the Incarnate Son of God went even further. He preached that true righteousness is righteousness in the heart and not just outward obedience to the commandments. If outward righteousness is not enough to please God it is clear that neither religion nor righteousness can make a man acceptable to God, because all are sinners. That truth is fundamental to the Christian Gospel. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can make peace between a Holy God and sinful man. The Scriptures proclaim the Gospel, the Good News that God has shown His love to sinful mankind by giving us His Only Son Jesus, Who took the burden of our sins upon Himself as He died on the cross paying the penalty of our sins, and promises us that all repentant sinners who believe in the Risen Christ are cleansed from sin, declared righteous in the eyes of the Lord, and have everlasting life as the gift of God.

Does that mean then that if we have the Gospel we don’t need religion?

The New Testament clearly says that righteousness is not “optional” for the repentant sinner who trusts in Christ.

“What shall we say then?” St. Paul asks the Romans, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

The answer is “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

The Apostle’s point is not that placing one’s faith in Christ makes one sinless in practice in this life or that good works help maintain one’s salvation after one has trusted Christ (the epistle of Galatians was written to refute the latter error). He is saying that we are not to use salvation by grace through faith as an excuse to sin. Grace does not operate by removing God’s requirement that we be obedient and righteous so that we are now licensed to sin. Grace operates by removing sin and guilt from the sinner who humbly repents and trusts in the salvation given in Jesus Christ.

If salvation by grace does not give us a license to be unrighteous neither does it give us a license to be irreligious.

Throughout the Scriptures we find God emphasizing that righteousness is more important than religion. In the sixth chapter of Hosea, God declares through the prophet “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” God Himself had established the Israelite system of sacrifice and burnt offerings as part of the Covenant He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. When He says, therefore, that He “desired mercy, and not sacrifice”, this has to be understood as a comparative, as in the second clause “the knowledge of God more than burn offerings” rather than a disavowal of the religious system He Himself had instituted.

In the sixth chapter of Micah, God quotes Balak, King of Moab, as having asked Balaam:

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He then approves Balaam’s answer:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Christ made reference to verses like these when He condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. When the Pharisees asked His disciples: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”

He responded by saying:

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

In the 23 chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew we find Jesus rebuking the Pharisees by saying:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

The “weightier matters of the law”, according to Christ, are those which God is said to require of people in Michah 6:8, “judgment” meaning “justice” and faith corresponding to walking humbly with God. By saying that the Pharisees ought to have done these “and not to leave the other undone”, Christ is clearly saying that the fact that righteousness (justice, mercy, and faith) is more important than religion, does not mean the latter is unimportant.

That is not something that changed with the Cross and the establishment of the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, however, God has established a different religion for His Church than that which He established for Israel in the Old Covenant.

At Mt. Sinai, God established a covenant with the people of Israel, in which He agreed to be their God, and they His people. He gave them a religion, which included a place of worship (the Tabernacle which was later replaced by the Temple), a priesthood (the tribe of Levi), sacrifices, holy days, and a special diet. The religion established in the Old Testament, according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament, pointed to Christ. The Levite priesthood and the sacrifices of bulls and of goats, pointed to Christ’s eternal priesthood, and the sacrifice of His own blood, offered in the Holy of Holies in heaven, which effectively takes away the sins of those who trust Him.

In the Old Testament, God promised through His prophets that He would, when He sent the Messiah, provide a New Covenant, in which He would write His Laws upon the hearts of His people. This Covenant was accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This Covenant established a new spiritual community, the Church, led by Christ’s Apostles. As recorded in the Book of Acts, God led the Apostles in the early days of the Church, to decide that circumcision and the dietary requirements of the Sinaitic Law, would not be religious requirements for the Church. Baptism became the initiation ceremony for the Christian Church, symbolizing repentance from sin and union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Christ’s death was the effectual true Sacrifice, which once and for all took away sin, doing away with the need for future sacrifices. In the place of sacrifices in the Christian religion, Christ Himself instituted Holy Communion, as a memorial of His sacrificial death, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthian Church.

The idea that this does not comprise a religion is grotesquely erroneous. There is no sanction in Scripture for the idea that “Christianity is not a religion” or the notion that “God hates religion” any more than there is sanction for the liberal idea that religion is a “personal matter”. God created man with a need to worship his Creator, and He created man, not as a multitude of independent individuals, but as a social being, existing as families, communities, and societies. Man’s need to worship is an aspect of his collective as well as his individual existence, and thus man needs institutional, established religion. Salvation, is a gift of God, which we receive as repentant sinners, through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a gift God has given us, because He loves us and because we as sinners, need it. Religion is also a gift of God, given to us because He loves us, and because we need it.

(1) Fritz Ridenour, How To Be a Christian Without Being Religious, (Regal Books: Ventura, CA, 1967). Regal Books is an imprint of Gospel Light.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On the Passing of a Christian Anarchist

J. R. R. Tolkien, the Oxford literary professor, devout Catholic, and cultural conservative who is remembered today primarily as the author of The Lord of the Rings, once wrote to his son saying:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy.

My own preferences are for monarchy. This essay, however, is a tribute to another reactionary, now deceased, who came to believe in anarchy.

M. Joseph Sobran, who passed away on September 30th, shared Tolkien’s Catholic faith and his love of the English language and its literature. That was his major in Eastern Michigan University, where in 1971 he first met William F. Buckley Jr., the legendary founder and editor of National Review magazine. Mr. Buckley was impressed by a letter Mr. Sobran had written defending the invitation Mr. Buckley had received to speak at the school. He interviewed Mr. Sobran who subsequently received an invitation from Buckley to come to New York and write for the flagship journal of the American conservative movement. He accepted and on September 11, 1972 began his career as a writer and later an editor for National Review.

A man of Joe Sobran’s literary talents could not be limited to one outlet. When J. P. McFadden founded the Human Life Foundation in 1975 he invited Mr. Sobran to be a regular contributor to the foundation’s quarterly journal. The Human Life Review, devoted to promoting the cause of human life against what would come to be dubbed “the culture of death” proved to be an excellent forum for a socially conservative young writer. In 1983, the Human Life Press released a collection of Mr. Sobran’s articles from the journal under the title Single Issues: Essays on the Crucial Social Questions. These essays, consisting of brilliant and witty commentary on such issues as abortion, sex education, the family, secular humanism, fatherhood and pornography, earned their author praise from such luminaries as Clare Boothe Luce, Malcolm Muggeridge, and of course, his mentor William F. Buckley Jr. The praise was well deserved.

Mr. Sobran’s writings began to receive even wider circulation when his Los Angeles Times column was picked up for wider syndication by the Universal Press Syndicate.

In the 1980’s, as the dawning of the end of the Cold War began to appear on the horizon, several writers began to examine critically America’s military presence around the world, maintained since the end of World War II for the purpose of containing the Soviet menace. Would continuing this military presence serve America’s interests in the absence of a Soviet threat or would America find herself pulled into needless and costly wars? Mr. Sobran began to argue that the latter was most likely.

Although he had sound, conservative reasons for taking this position, it earned him the animosity of a number of ex-liberals who had attached themselves to the American conservative movement in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. They especially objected to the way in which Mr. Sobran, in articulating his “America First” views, suggested that America should distance herself from the Middle East conflict. Mr. Sobran wrote a few columns critical of the Israeli lobby in Washington, D. C. and in in 1986 he criticized the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya.

This occurred a year after U.S. President Ronald Reagan had come under attack for his visit to the Bitburg Cemetary in Germany on the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The occasion gave offence because S.S. troops represented a small portion of those buried in the cemetery. The same year it was discovered that Jonathan Pollard was smuggling classified information from America’s Naval Intelligence Service where he worked to Israel. Mr. Sobran defended Ronald Reagan in the first controversy and condemned the espionage in the second controversy.

Mr. Sobran’s detractors drew from all this, the ridiculous conclusion that he hated the Jews, and complained to William Buckley. Mr. Buckley brought the concerns to Mr. Sobran’s attention, published an editor’s note in the July 4th, 1986 issue of National Review in which he wrote:

What needs to be said first is that those who know him know that Sobran is not anti-Semitic.

That was all that needed to be said. Unfortunately, Mr. Buckley did not stop there. He rebuked Mr. Sobran for insensitivity and defended “the structure of prevailing taboos” which has more recently, and quite rightly, come under attack as “political correctness”.

The controversy continued, Mr. Buckley continued to be pressured by people like Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz who wanted him to fire and denounce Mr. Sobran. In December 1991, Mr. Buckley devoted an entire issue of National Review to the subject of “In Search of Anti-Semitism”, focusing on the accusations against Mr. Sobran and against Patrick Buchanan. This issue was one of the most notorious examples of cowardly fence-sitting in the history of the printed word. While continuing to affirm that he did not believe them to be personally anti-Semitic, he refused to defend his friends against the outrageous accusations that were being leveled against them and which he was giving greater publicity to.

Mr. Sobran was not impressed and wrote so. His relationship with Buckley and National Review ended with his being fired in 1993. In the last years of Mr. Buckley’s life, the two would renew their friendship, and Mr. Sobran wrote a most gracious tribute to his former mentor upon his death. The Christian forgiveness Mr. Sobran displayed, should be sufficient evidence to any reasonable person, that he simply did not harbor the irrational hatred of which he was accused.

The end of his career at National Review was not the end of his writing. The conservative Catholic newspaper The Wanderer continued to publish his “Washington Watch” column and his syndicated column continued to be carried by UPS for several years after which it was carried by Griffin Internet Syndicate. In 1994, he launched SOBRAN’s: The Real News of the Month a monthly newsletter published by Griffin Communications which ran until 2007. He also wrote for Chronicles Magazine and in the late 2000’s he was taken on by Chronicles as a contributing editor and his column “The Bare Bodkin” began to be published regularly.

As the title of his Chronicles column would indicate, Mr. Sobran was a Shakespeare expert, having majored in Shakespeare in his graduate studies. In 1997, his book Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time, was published by the Free Press. In this book, Mr. Sobran argued for the Oxfordian position on the authorship of the Shakespearean writings, i.e., that they were really written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Mr. Sobran remained a cultural and social conservative to the end. In the early years of the new millennium, however, he announced his conversion to the kind of anarchism Tolkien spoke of in his letter to his son. The men who brought about this conversion were Dr. Murray N. Rothbard, a brilliant culturally conservative libertarian who had had a falling out with William F. Buckley Jr. considerably earlier than Mr. Sobran did, and Hans-Herman Hoppe. Mr. Sobran announced his conversion in the December 2002 issue of his newsletter, in an article entitled “The Reluctant Anarchist”. Here is how he described the argument that won him over:

Hans argued that no constitution could restrain the state. Once its monopoly of force was granted legitimacy, constitutional limits became mere fictions it could disregard; nobody could have the legal standing to enforce those limits. The state itself would decide, by force, what the constitution “meant,” steadily ruling in its own favor and increasing its own power.

That a conservative Christian would accept such a notion is not as strange as it might seem at first. Nothing has done more to undermine Christian morality, the family, the social and moral order, and the influence of the Church in recent years, decades, and centuries, than the state. Its growth in size and power has been at the expense of all Christian conservatives hold dear. I don’t accept Mr. Sobran’s conclusions, and find his attempts to harmonize anarchism with St. Paul particularly unconvincing, but I can see the attraction that anarchism held for him.

Mr. Sobran’s writings were full of wit, charm, and intelligence. Contrary to the accusations of his detractors, far from being obsessed with one or two hobby horses, he covered a huge range of topics in his columns from culture (both high and low) to religion to politics. If there is any topic that dominated the rest, it was Jesus Christ. Countless columns were devoted entirely to the subject of his Lord and Saviour – “The Man They Still Hate”, “The Optional Jesus”, and “The Words and Deeds of Christ” are but select examples.

Joe Sobran will be missed, not only by his family and friends, but by all of us who never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but who knew him through his writings. May he rest in God’s peace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Trouble With Taxes

Nobody likes paying taxes. We grouse about them, even as we admit that they, like death, are inevitable. If we are honest with ourselves, we will also admit that they are necessary. Do we wish to live in a society without policemen, courts, jails, roads and other public infrastructure, and military defenses? If not, taxes are an essential part of our lives.

There are some who would argue that this is not so. Frank Chodorov, an American libertarian journalist of the early 20th century, wrote an essay entitled “Taxation is Robbery” that was originally published as part of his autobiography.(1) In this essay, Chodorov makes a very logical argument. First, he points out that taxation is by definition compulsory. Then he points out that if a “single unit of society” were to take our property by force, we would “unhesitatingly call the act robbery, a malum in se”. Robbery is defined by an ethical principle which the law “may violate but not supersede”. Therefore, taxation is by definition robbery.

That’s all nice and logical, but the problem is that something that sounds airtight on paper doesn’t always work out very well in real life. Lets imagine that Mr. Chodorov were actually living in the purely voluntary society that he dreamed of. He is sitting at home, minding his own business, when a couple of thugs break into his house, beat him up, and make off with all his valuables. What does he do about it? He goes to the phone and calls the police. He gets no answer, because there are no police. Since his society is purely voluntary, there are no compulsory taxes, and therefore no public revenue out of which to maintain a police service.

Mr. Chodorov leaves his house and by chance he comes across the men who robbed him. His recent experience with home invasion has taught him to never go unarmed and he is able to apprehend the men. Off he goes looking for a judge who will give him justice under the law. He never finds one, of course, for the same reason that the police did not come when he called them.

Eventually, one of the men he has apprehended asks him “Hey buddy, what do you think you are doing holding us captive like this?”

Chodorov responds “You have got a lot of nerve. You broke into my house, beat me up, and stole all my possessions”.

“Yeah, so what?”

“So what? It’s against the law.”

“There is no such thing as the law buddy. This is a voluntary society. Law is by definition compulsory. You cannot force another free individual to behave the way you want him too. There are no laws here.”

A society without taxes is a society without laws. Laws are as compulsory as taxes are. Indeed, they are even more so. Government can impose a voluntary tax. A sales tax on a non-essential item is voluntary. You don’t need the item, you don’t have to buy it, if you don’t buy it, you don’t pay the tax. You do not get to opt out of obeying the law however. You either obey the law or pay the penalty when you break it. If the compulsory nature of taxation makes it “robbery”, does the compulsory nature of law make all of us who live under law, slaves?

Samuel Johnson, the leading figure of eighteenth century English literature, saw the foolishness of this kind of liberal thinking when it was in its infant stage. In a pamphlet, originally published in 1775, entitled Taxation No Tyranny (2) Dr. Johnson argued that it was, a fundamental principle “considered, by all mankind, as comprising the primary and essential condition of all political society” that:

the supreme power of every community has the right of requiring, from all its subjects, such contributions as are necessary to the publick safety or publick prosperity.

Dr. Johnson wrote this tract in response to the rebellion of the American colonists, their position of “no taxation without representation”, and the arguments of their Whig supporters in Parliament. It is important to remember that while the tax Acts passed by Parliament following the Seven Years War were the catalyst of the crisis, the debate was not about the merits or demerits of any particular tax. The American colonies were challenging Parliament’s right (3), as a governing body, to pass taxes. It is to this, that Dr. Johnson was responding by arguing that the American colonies which had been founded by English citizens under a Crown charter, and who had enjoyed from the beginning British military protection of their settlements and trade, could not reasonably expect to enjoy the rights and liberties of English citizens while rejecting the duties of such.

Unfortunately, a question which Dr. Johnson did not raise, was at what point taxation goes beyond “such contributions as are necessary to the publick safety or publick prosperity” and becomes an abuse of government authority on the part of corrupt officials determined to squeeze every last drop of blood out of us possible. That such a point exists, there can be no question, and that we have crossed the line a long time ago in Canada, Britain and the United States, I suspect Dr. Johnson, were he alive today, would fully agree.

Government today, has expanded its role in society, far beyond its traditional functions of administering the law, providing for the common defense, and maintaining the infrastructure of the commonwealth. It now seems to see its role as being that of an all-purpose provider – providing us with education, health care, income security and everything else we may need or want. There are some who seem to see only a positive side to this – that with government providing education, health care, etc. these things are now universally available in a society, rather than limited to those who can afford them. There are, however, three major negatives which far outweigh this questionable positive. The first is that the quality of education and health care goes down when government is the provider. The second, is that the more the government provides for us, the more intrusive it becomes and the less freedom we have. (4) The third negative, and the one we are interested in here, is that it drives taxes through the roof.

The rise of the nanny state in the 20th and 21st centuries occurred, not coincidentally, simultaneously with the introduction of the income tax. Today, the income tax is something we are all used to, however much we dislike it. We look for every deduction possible, we race to get our tax paperwork in on time, we save our receipts for years in case the government audits us, and we grumble and complain about it, but we seldom think about how recent an innovation it is.

In Canada, the income tax was introduced in 1917. In the United States, the first income tax was passed in 1861 but the permanent income tax was not brought in until 1913 when the Sixteenth Amendment Passed. In Great Britain, the first income tax was introduced in 1799. (5)

The income tax raises far more government revenue than any other kind of tax. Why did governments in the English-speaking world wait so long to introduce them? The reason is that an income tax says something about the status of the people who pay it. It says that the product of their industry, whether they be farmers, businessmen, merchants or laborers, belongs primarily to the government rather than to themselves, that the government has first claim on their income, and will assert its rights by collecting a percentage of their income in taxes. This is the relationship, between a master and a slave. The English-speaking peoples, however, had long considered themselves to be free peoples, subjects but not slaves of their kings. Income tax was not for them.

Income taxes were therefore initially introduced as “temporary” measures to pay for wars. (6) In Canada, the Borden government brought in the income tax to raise funds for the first World War. They promised Canadians that the tax was temporary and would be lifted after the war was paid for. In Britain, Pitt the Younger made similar promises, when he introduced the first income tax at a time Britain was at war with revolutionary France. In the United States the Republicans brought in the first income tax to fund the North’s war with the South. (7)

The English-speaking peoples would never have accepted income taxes if they had not been introduced as emergency measures. The problem with government, however, is that things which begin as “temporary” often tend to become permanent.

What are the objections to an income tax?

First and foremost, there is the already mentioned objection that it is a form of slavery. This is not true of other forms of taxation. A poll-tax is the government charging you for the right to vote in elections. A head tax is the government billing you for the right to live under the security its laws provide. A sales tax is the government charging you for the use of the market system which is only possible because the rule of law protects property rights, enforces contracts, and penalizes fraud. (8). A tariff is the government charging people outside the country for access to a country’s domestic market. None of these taxes imply a master-slave relationship between government and people. The income tax, which asserts the governments prior “right” to the product of industry, does. (9)

Secondly, income tax enables the government to take much larger amounts from us than it otherwise would. The government can only charge so much in sales tax. If it raises the sales tax too high it drives people out of the legitimate market. Thus, sales taxes are set at a considerably lower rate than income taxes (10) and since the rate you pay in sales tax is charged on the price of what you are purchasing, a 5% sales tax will not take 5% of your income.

At present, the Canadian government charges 15% on the first $40, 970 of taxable income, 22% on the next $40, 970, 26% on the next $45, 080 and 29% on all taxable income over $127,021. Those are the federal tax rates and do not include the provincial income tax rates. In my province, Manitoba, the provincial income tax starts at 10.8% on $31, 000 of taxable income, goes up to 12.67% for the next $36, 000, and then to 17.4% on all income above $67, 000 (11) Thus, someone in Manitoba, is paying in federal and provincial income taxes combined, over 25% on their first $40, 000, and it gets considerably higher after that. (12)

That is obscene! At the lowest tier in the income tax system, we are already paying over a quarter of our income in taxes, in income tax alone. If the government were to try to take that much from us through other forms of taxation the rates would be so high they would never get away with it.

Thirdly, income tax requires a large government bureaucracy to collect the taxes, keep extensive records on people, and to investigate people if they are suspected of “cheating on their taxes.” Apart from being expensive, the problem with a bureaucracy like this is that it can be used by government to harass and persecute law-abiding citizens. (13)

A fourth objection to income tax, is that it punishes industry. Frank Chodorov argued that this is true of all forms of taxation and he may be correct on that, but it is not true of all kids equally. The income tax is particularly punitive of industry. The more productive you are, the more you earn, the more the government takes from you. This is a problem that could conceivably be removed by taxing all income at a flat rate but a flat tax will still have all the other objectionable qualities of an income tax.

From these objections it can be seen that the income tax is indeed an oppressive tax that demands of people far more than “such contributions as are necessary to the publick safety or publick prosperity” and reduces free people to the slavery which the American colonists claimed the significantly smaller customs and duties that the Parliament of the 1760’s and ‘70’s was reducing them to. It ought to be abolished, and replaced with a sales tax or tariffs, set at a rate high enough to raise revenue to support the essential functions of government, but low enough as to not seriously effect the economy. Government should be trimmed down to where it is small enough to be supported on these smaller taxes. It is there to provide society with the protection of the rule of law, with defences against foreign enemies, and the maintenance of roads and public properties. It is not there to provide every citizen with his every need and wish.

(1) Frank Chodorov, Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist (New York: Devin-Adair, 1962). It can also be found as the second essay in the anthology The Paleoconseratives: New Voices of the Old Right, edited by Joseph Scotchie and published by Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, New Jersey) in 1999, or as an etext at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s website:

(2) J. P. Hardy, ed., The Political Writings of Dr. Johnson, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968) pp. 100-132. It can also be found online here:

(3) Poor old King George III is still much-abused in history books which often recycle uncritically, 18th century American claims that he was attempting to set himself up as a tyrant, but Johnson set the record straight ages ago:

The other position is, that "the crown," if this laudable opposition should not be successful, "will have the power of taxing America at pleasure." Surely they think rather too meanly of our apprehensions, when they suppose us not to know what they well know themselves, that they are taxed, like all other British subjects, by parliament; and that the crown has not, by the new imposts, whether right or wrong, obtained any additional power over their possessions.

(4) To demonstrate how this works, look at current anti-smoking legislation as an example. It is an obnoxious and oppressive abuse of power for governments to tell business and other property owners that they cannot decide for themselves whether to allow smoking on their property and in their own establishments. However, government can argue, when there is a universal, single-payer health system, that it has the right to pass laws like these, in the name of decreasing the cost to the public of treating emphysema and lung cancer. The more the government provides for the public, the more intrusive its regulations become, although it has disguised this loss of freedom by undermining the authority of other social institutions such as the family and the church.

(5) The tithe, in Ancient Israel and the Medieval Church, was not the same thing as an income tax, being paid to religious authorities rather than the secular power.

(6) In Britain and the United States, the first income taxes were temporary in a sense. Pitt’s tax was abolished by Addison, who replaced it with another one, itself abolished at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Robert Peel brought the income tax back in 1842, again promising it was temporary, but this time it stuck. In the United States, the initial income tax was repealed in 1872, and temporarly brought back by the Democrats in the 1890’s until the Supreme Court ruled unapportioned income tax to be unconstitutional in 1895, and so the Sixteenth Amendment had to be passed before the income tax could be brought back in 1913.

(7) The income tax would become the preferred tax of progressives and socialists. It is interesting, therefore, that the first income taxes were brought in by Conservative governments in Canada and Great Britain, and by the Republicans, widely if probably erroneously, regarded as the American “conservative” party, in the United States. Let this be a warning to conservatives. What you introduce as a temporary measure in times of war, may be used by progressives for other purposes in times of peace

(8) Liberal economists, for all their talk of “laissez-faire” and the wonders of the “free market”, often fail to realize that the market simply would not function very well in the absence of law.

(9)In chapter 2 of The Communist Manifesto, entitled “Proletarians and Communists”, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels list a series of measures that they regards as “unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production”. The second is “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” In practice, Communist countries reduced their populations to slaves of the Communist Party. Progressives in the West frequently offered the naïve opinion that this was because the Soviets or the Maoists or the Khmer Rouge were “not really Communists”, they were really fascists who were not living up to the ideals of Marx. In fact, however, universal slavery was a goal of Communism from the beginning.

(10) Unless, of course, the tax is on something like alcohol or tobacco, which the government wishes to punish you for using without actually declaring it illegal.


(12)Astonishing as these percentages are, these are not the highest rates in income tax that people have had to put up with. Before the Reagan presidency, the top tax rate in the United States was 70%, from 1951 to 1963 the top tax rate in the USA was 91%, and it was even higher briefly in the 1940’s. These are not the percentages an American would have had to pay on his total income, only on the highest bracket of his income, but even still it is amazing to think that a government would have the audacity to charge so much. Consider, however, the following:

Another means of reducing inequality was to tax both the profits of a firm and the personal capital gains of the owners. This could raise an individual’s tax rate to astronomical heights, approaching or even exceeding 100 percent. The height of absurdity was reached in 1976, when Sweden’s most famous citizen, film director Ingmar Bergman, was arrested on charges of tax evasion. The case was complex, involving the director’s corporate as well as personal earnings. The bottom line was that Bergman was being taxed at a rate of 139 percent. - Thomas Fleming, Socialism, (Benchmark: Marshall-Cavendish, 2008). p. 73.

(13) Dr. Mario Pei, in his book The America We Lost (New York: World Publishing, 1968) points to the example of gangster Al Capone, who the state of Illinois had been unable to punish for his actual crimes, but was finally incarcerated by the American federal government on charges of tax evasion. This, Dr. Pei argued, was nothing to rejoice over, for while Capone was hardly a law-abiding citizen, what could be done to him, could be done to others. Compare Edmund Wilson’s autobiographical account in The Cold War and the Income Tax: A Protest (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1963).