The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Advancement or Decline?

Eight years ago, historian and historical philosopher Dr. John Lukacs, in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “It’s The End of the Modern Age” wrote:

For a long time, I have been convinced that we in the West are living near the end of an entire age, the age that began about 500 years ago.

After a brief synopsis of the history of his thought on this matter he says that during the ten years prior to his writing:

my conviction hardened further, into an unquestioning belief not only that the entire age, and the civilization to which I have belonged, are passing but that we are living through — if not already beyond — its very end. I am writing about the so-called Modern Age.

This is a recurring theme in Dr. Lukacs’ writings and one which he has devoted entire books to. A Catholic and self-described reactionary who fled to the United States from his native Hungary shortly after the Communists took it over at the end of World War II, he has little sympathy for the ideas of progress, technology, and growth that many would see as the moving spirit of the Modern Age, but rather eulogizes the bourgeois values and civilization that were also associated with that Age.

Others, looking at the same phenomenon through very different lenses than those of Dr. Lukacs, have described it differently.

Neoconservative Francis Fukuyama, in the late 1980’s wrote an essay entitled “The End of History” which was later expanded into a book. The thesis of this arrogant piece of liberal triumphalism was that it was not just an age that was ending, but all of history, because when liberal democracy becomes universal, mankind would have achieved the end which human development was advancing towards.

The grandfather of postmodernism, French socialist and literary theorist, Jean-François Lyotard saw the passing of modernity (not quite identical to what historian Lukacs calls “the Modern Age” but there is much overlap) as something to celebrate. To Lyotard, the end of modernity meant the end of the meta-narrative, his term for theories which purport to completely explain the world, which he argued post-modern man had grown to be skeptical of.

While each of these views is quite different from the others they have in common the idea that the last century has been one of major societal transformation. Change has taken place and is taking place at an accelerated and perhaps accelerating rate. The question is: is this change good or bad?

As one who is naturally and proudly conservative by disposition, who rejects the Whig theory of history and favours Lord Falkland’s maxim “When it is not necessary to change it is necessary not to change” I am inclined to look at these revolutionary changes as being negative. Thus I find myself sympathizing with Dr. Lukacs’ perspective more than that of the other two. My temperament, however, is hardly evidence of the correctness of my judgment. Let us take a look then, at the question at hand..

Is civilization in decline? The answer depends on how what we understand “civilization” to mean. Many understand “civilization” to refer to modern developments in technology and science and the accompanying changes in the political, economic, and moral arrangements of the societies in which these developments have taken place, viewed in opposition to earlier “primitive” versions of the same. This understanding of “civilization” virtually demands that contemporary society be always viewed as more advanced than past society. It is inseparable from the progressive viewpoint.

This is not the only way of understanding “civilization” however. Another way, and one which I would argue is superior, is to understand “civilization” to refer to the quality of a society marked by civility and civic virtue. Civility and civic virtue are related concepts which largely overlap. While some would reduce “civility” to “politeness” and “civic virtue” to “obedience to the state” this is a very misleading oversimplification. Civility and civic virtue are both aspects of an understanding of self as part of a greater whole, i.e., society. The good of the whole is greater than the good of the self and therefore the self has an obligation or duty to society as a whole. The cultivation of that duty is civic virtue. Civility is the aspect of civil virtue in which we behave properly towards other members of our society. This includes, but is hardly limited to, politeness.

The idea that society forms a whole which has as its end the highest good, to which all other goods are subordinate, is fundamental to the ethics and politics of both Plato and Aristotle. George P. Grant said that “Western society at its height has been” the uniting of Christianity and Plato. In the Christian West, especially the English-speaking part of it, the idea that the good of the whole is greater than the good of the self was balanced by the concept of the rights and freedoms of the individual. It was a delicate balance. Society requires that its individual members put the good of the society ahead of their own to the point of being willing to die for their society in war. Society’s survival depends upon this sense of duty and obligation. If, however, society does not recognize rights and freedoms on the part of the individual which it cannot take away at whim, government can use the concept of the greater good to justify abuses.

The collapse of civilization at the end of the Modern Age can be regarded as the ultimate fulfillment of the goals of the liberalism which was the spirit of the Modern Age. Liberalism was a form of individualism which upset the balance between the whole and the self, by defining society as a contractual construction existing to serve the sovereign individual. Throughout the Modern Age which saw the ascendancy of liberalism, Western societies continued to regard themselves as societies with a Christian core identity.

Since World War II however, that has changed. Whereas non-Western societies have no problem continuing to identify themselves with their traditional faiths, Western societies now prefer to see themselves as having a secular identity, a post-Christian identity. Church attendance is in decline. Orthodoxy, which we will define as Scriptural doctrine as expressed in the early ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church – Apostolic, Nicene, Athanasian – is waning in the pulpit, as respect for Scriptural and ecclesiastical authority is waning in the pew.

The Christian Church will survive, of course. Jesus Christ promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. The question is will the societies whose civilization was once shaped by Christianity survive now that liberalism has triumphed and they have rejected their Christian identity?

The sweeping changes we see all around us in the post-modern, post-Christian era, mark the triumph of the self over the whole. The rights which protected the individual from the abuse of power in traditional society have been transformed into selfish demands that power cater to every whim of the self. Culturally, we have seen the media of art advance technologically. To give one example, the technology of recorded music has advanced from phonographic record, to audio cassette, to CD, to electronic music files, each step being marked by better quality in terms of clarity and definition of the sound. Yet as the media has advanced, the message has declined. Which is more important, the medium or the message? Sensible people would say the latter, and the same period that saw these incredible technological advances saw the new technology being used to convey music which is increasingly vulgar, profane, pornographic, anti-social and violent in its character. Those who vocalize objections to these trends are told in response that these judgments are all subjective, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and “who are you to judge”? What that really translates to is the assertion on the part of the self of its right and ability to define reality, including morality and aesthetics for itself.

This is also what we see in the post-WWII revolution in morality. The self has declared its own pleasure to be the highest good and declared entire categories of behavior that pertain to material pleasures to be off-limits to society and societal standards of what is right and what is wrong. The self will decide for itself what is right and what is wrong and society’s only role will be to affirm it in its decision. If the decisions of a couple of young selves (for we cannot call them a young man and a young woman – the self has reserved for itself the right to define what a “man” or a “woman” is for itself) results in a pregnancy, and the couple lacks either the ability or the desire to take upon themselves the duty of raising their child, society’s interest in preserving the sanctity of human life must take backseat to the interest of the self.

The advocates of this new empowerment of the self identify it with “freedom” but it is not freedom in any but the most superficial sense. The collapse of the cultural, moral, religious, and social core of a society creates a vacuum, and nature, as the old saw says, abhors a vacuum. The hole will be filled by political and economical control. The same decades that have seen the moral and cultural collapse described above, have also seen people’s ordinary, everyday lives become more and more subjected to bureaucratic administration and regulation, as well as the emergence of a new political and economical order carried out on an international rather than a national scale. The new “freedom” of the empowered self from cultural, moral, and religious restraint is only the opiate that blinds it to political and economic domination. Aldous Huxley saw it coming.

Political and economic total control, the collapse of national identity into a new international order, and the collapse of society as a cultural, religious, and moral whole. A “brave new world” it may very well be. A civilization, it is not. This is definitely a period of decline.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Gospel Tradition

On this, the Lord’s Day, Christians are meeting together, as we do every week, to remember the death of our Lord and to celebrate His glorious resurrection. The Christian message, that the Savior Whom God had given His fallen world, had atoned for our sins in His death by crucifixion, and then was raised by God from the dead on the third day, was called the “euangellion”. In English this word is translated by “Gospel” or “good news”.

The choice of this term as the title of the Christian message invokes the language of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isaiah 52:7)

The Gospel is indeed “good news” to repentant sinners in any day and age for it announces that God has provided salvation for sinners, mercy and forgiveness of sins, free and without cost, to all who will put their faith in the Savior Who is at the heart of the message. Since we, in the words of St. Paul, “have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and every day are in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins, the Gospel remains “good news” for us. As Arabella Katherine Hankey put it:

I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest

The Gospel is also a tradition. Some well-meaning Christians may cringe to hear that, misapplying Jesus’ warnings to the Pharisees about the misuse of tradition, but the Scripture itself declares it.

St. Paul, in the 15th chapter of his first epistle to the Church in Corinth, declares unto the Corinthians “the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

He writes:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (1 Cor, 15:3-8)

In this passage St. Paul declares the Gospel he has been preaching – Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection, both attested to by Scripture, and by visible evidence, His burial for His death, and a multitude of witnesses for His resurrection.

Note however his introductory words “For I delivered unto you, first of all that which I also received”. This is the essence of a tradition. A tradition is something which we have because we have received it from others, and which we pass on to others. The English word tradition is derived from the Latin word trado, tradere, which means to surrender something unto others, to bequeath something, to hand something down to posterity. Tradition comes from the fourth principal part of this word – traditum, the stem on which the perfect, passive participle is built – thus: that which has been handed over, that which has been surrendered.

In St. Paul’s day, the Gospel he was preaching was being passed on to others by people who were contemporaneous with the events of the Gospel. Today, two millennia later, the Gospel comes to us, with its message of hope, salvation, and forgiveness of sins, through generations of faithful believers, who have passed on to us, that which they first received from Christ’s Apostles.

Most traditions are particular, which is to say that they belong to a particular society in which a particular people pass them down to their descendants. The Gospel is particular in the sense that those who hear and believe the Gospel message become a particular spiritual community, God’s Church, His ekklesia or “called out assembly”, and that spiritual community passes the Gospel tradition down through the ages. The Gospel is also a universal tradition. It is universal in the sense that it speaks to everybody, it calls everybody to believe, and comes with the commandment of the Lord that it be preached to everybody.

St. Paul said that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). This literally describes the order in which the Gospel was preached. The Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem to their own people and then took it to the Greek speaking people throughout the Roman Empire. St. Paul in particular went throughout Asia Minor preaching the Gospel to the Greeks.

It is also, however, first century shorthand for saying “everybody in the world” and St. Paul clearly meant it in both senses. Nobody is to be excluded from the grace and mercy of God, from the forgiveness of sins and salvation that the Gospel of Christ brings to the sinners of the world, except that they exclude themselves by rejecting the Gospel.

To those reading these words, may you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and receive therein the forgiveness of your sins and everlasting life.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Freedom and the Individual

In philosophical liberalism, the concepts of “freedom” and “the individual” are closely related to each other, perhaps inseparably. This may come as a surprise to those who associate the word “liberalism” primarily with 20th and 21st Century political liberalism. That liberalism frequently uses the language of the common good to justify ever increasing attempts on the part of the state bureaucracy to administer our everyday lives. Usually, the only time contemporary political liberalism reverts to the language of individual freedom is when it is speaking of freedom of the individual, not from political control, i.e., the control of the state, but from the control of tradition, religion, and morality in the realm of lifestyle ethics.

Many conservatives, in response to the abuse of the concept of the “common good” on the part of contemporary political liberals have grown suspicious of any and all use of this concept. This is unfortunate because this concept, which so dominated the political and ethical writings of Plato and Aristotle is fundamental to any stable model of society. A stable society is the only kind of society in which the rights, dignity, and freedoms of individual human beings are ever truly protected by law. It is also the essential goal of conservatism. Conservatism conceives of society as an organic whole uniting past, present and future generations in a union in which the present generation enjoys society as a possession as an inheritance from past generations, held in trust for future generations, with an ensuing duty to preserve that society intact. This is the sine qua non of conservatism.

Conservatives who adopt the language of liberal individualism in response to the more recent collectivist political liberalism are in fact espousing philosophical liberalism. Those who recognize this fact usually prefer to call themselves libertarians rather than conservatives, although this is not always the case.

When we speak of philosophical liberalism or libertarianism, we can be referring either to a general idea or to a complete political ideology.

Libertarianism as a general idea, is the idea that people should be free to live their own lives, should let other people live their own lives and that laws (rules enforced by government) should prohibit only actions which harm others, whether in their persons or their property.

There is nothing wrong with that kind of libertarianism, indeed there is much to commend it. It raises a number of questions however, to which the answers of libertarianism the political ideology, prove unsatisfactory.

When we say people should be free to live their own lives, by “people” do we mean individuals considered as separate from everybody else or do we mean people as they really are – people who live their lives as part of families, who make up communities, which make up a society? The answer to this question greatly affects our understanding of freedom, for freedom cannot be understood apart from an answer to the questions “Free from what?” and “Free for what purpose?”.

Ideological libertarianism asserts that only individuals are “real”. Society in all of its manifestations, and all of its institutions from the state down to the family and the family up to the state, exist solely for the benefit of individuals qua individuals, according to this ideology. Freedom is the sovereignty of the individual over his person, life, and property, and this means freedom from all external control. The only legitimate social relationships are those carried out on a mutually voluntary contractual basis and the only legitimate social institutions are those defined by such relationships.

From this we see, that for liberalism the question “free for what purpose” has no meaningful answer. For while liberals may still give lip service to Aristotle’s identification of “happiness” as the highest good and argue that freedom is a means to that end, in actuality their understanding of the individual, society, and freedom demands that freedom be regarded as an end, indeed the end, in and of itself.

This ideology is unsound for a number of reasons.

First, it’s understanding of human nature clashes with what is observably real. People are not first individuals, then everything else they are by voluntary choice. The most fundamental relationships in life are not contractual relationships and, apart from marriage and friendship, are not entered into on a mutually voluntary basis. You do not choose to be the son of your father or the daughter of your mother. You do not choose whom you will be siblings with. You do not choose to be the grandchild of your grandparents, and they, apart from their initial decision to become parents themselves opening up the possibility of grandchildren, do not chose to be your grandparents.

These relationships exist within the family. The family is a social unit consisting of several people. It is society in microcosm and it is also prior to the individual. You are born into your family which existed prior to you. The family, and not the individual, is the basic unit of society.

Liberal individualism is also unsound and in a dangerous way because it sets the “individual” against society. By effectually if not nominally making the freedom of the individual the supreme good liberalism teaches the individual to regard any and all limitations on his freedom as prison walls. It doesn’t matter if the limitation is a genuinely unjust law, like a law telling you that you cannot smoke in your own home, or a perfectly reasonable and just one, or even a social limitation imposed through means other than government power, such as most limitations on individual freedom will be in a civilized society. If you are a “sovereign individual” these limitations will all seem like unfair confinement in a jail cell to you.

In G. K. Chesterton’s book The Poet and the Lunatics, there is a short story entitled “The Yellow Bird”. In this story, a young man named Mallow who is jealous that Laura the girl he loves has fallen for another man, visits her house with a couple of friends where they have an interview with his rival, a Russian professor named Imanhov, who was the author of a book called “The Psychology of Liberty” and who had escaped from a prison in Siberia by blowing up the wall of his prison. After Imanhov has explained some of his progressive views, about a future where man will “conquer the planets and colonize the fixed stars”, Mallow and Laura go off and discuss his views. Their conversation is interrupted by Mallow’s friend Gabriel Gale – the poet and hero of the book – who rushes them away from the house as fast as he can. When they finally force him to explain, he tells them how he had seen a canary that Imanhov had “liberated” from its cage earlier that day, torn to pieces by the other birds. This suggested that the professor had taken his ideas on liberty a bit too far. But when Gale noticed that the professor had also “liberated” goldfish from their bowl by smashing it, he knew the man had rapidly progressed into madness, and there was no telling what he would do next. At this point the house explodes and Gale comments “It was only the prison gun…the signal that a prisoner has escaped.”

In telling this story, Chesterton explains that true liberty is impossible without limits. He tells it both by the illustration which is the story itself, and directly in these words he places in the mouth of Gabriel Gale:

What exactly is liberty? First and foremost, surely, it is the power of a thing to be itself. In some ways the yellow bird was free in the cage. It was free to be alone. It was free to sing. In the forest its feathers would be torn to pieces and its voice choked for ever. Then I began to think that being oneself, which is liberty, is itself limitation. We are limited by our brains and bodies; and if we break out, we cease to be ourselves, and, perhaps, to be anything.

Liberal individualism is like the madman in Chesterton’s story. By taking individual liberty to an extreme, making society subservient to the individual, and refusing to allow any concept of the “common good” to balance it, it lost sight of the distinction between the walls of a prison, which exist only to confine those within, and the walls of one’s home which generate a living space within which one can live, free and secure from the elements and intruders.

Philosophical liberalism’s origins go back to the Social Contract theory of the so-called “Enlightenment”. This theory held that the state of nature for mankind, was one of absolutely free and sovereign individuals, who formed society as an artificial construction by making contracts with one another in which they voluntarily gave up a part of their freedom in return for some benefits. This theory, as we have seen, does not correspond to the reality of human nature. We are born into social units (families). Society is our nature. The individual outside of society is the unnatural person.

The idea, however, that the individual human being has dignity and value, that society should protect with guaranteed rights and liberties, is much older than liberalism. Long before the Enlightenment Project and the Modern Age Christianity taught that each individual human being possessed value in the eyes of God. From the Genesis creation account, in the Scriptures Christianity inherited from the Hebrew faith, Christianity taught that each individual was made in the image and likeness of God, an image that remains although marred by sin. Christianity further taught, that on the Last Day, at the Final Judgment, each individual would stand before God and give an account of his life on earth.

Christianity shaped the Western world for well over a thousand years, teaching the importance of the individual within rather than outside and against the context of the family, community, and society. The conservative today, seeking a restoration of personal liberties that have been swallowed up by contemporary collectivist liberalism, must look for a foundation for personal liberty that is older than the Modern Age, one grounded in Western traditions that draw from Christianity and the Greco-Roman classical heritage and which are not hostile to stable society and the common good.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Folly of Disarmament

This essay is a year old. I posted it to my Facebook profile and e-mailed it to a mailing list of select friends on July 8, 2009. In reposting it here today, I have opted to leave it as written. This should be kept in mind when encountering time-sensitive references in the third and eleventh paragraphs (not including block quotes). - Gerry T. Neal


The Folly of Disarmament

by Gerry T. Neal

July 8, 2009

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand,
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand.
– Steve Earle

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
"Stick to the Devil you know."

- Rudyard Kipling

Disarmament is the idea that violence can be averted and peace obtained by getting rid of the tools of violence, i.e., weapons. Historically, disarmament has taken two basic forms. The first is when a society as a whole abandons its defensive measures in the face of a foreign threat. The reasoning behind this kind of disarmament, is that well maintained defenses and a strong military will be interpreted by other countries as a threat, leading those countries to attack first as a pre-emptive measure. Therefore, abandoning these things is a sign of good faith to your potential enemy, showing that you mean no harm. This, the proponents of disarmament argue, will avert an attack and lead to peace.

This theory is logical in the sense of being internally consistent. It is invalidated by history and common sense, though, and nobody with even a miniscule understanding of human nature would be fooled by this argument for one second.

Recently, Hollywood brought Alan Moore’s 1986-87 comic book series The Watchmen back from the obscurity it deserved. The comic book was a not-so-subtle attack on the military build-up policies of the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. Ironically, the plot of The Watchmen undermines the very point Moore was trying to make. The end of the arms race and the dawn of world peace is brought about, not by either side unilaterally disarming, but by both sides being faced with the threat of their own destruction from another source.

Of course, in real life, it was the very policies Moore was attacking that brought about the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – and not very long after his comic book was released. Reagan was able to successfully negotiate an end to the arms race precisely because he was not afraid to win the arms race.

The second form of disarmament is when a government disarms its populace. What is commonly called “gun control” today is a version of this form of disarmament. The official reasoning behind this kind of disarmament is that it will reduce crime, increase public safety, and ensure a stable order to society. The real reasons are not always that benign and these disarmament measures simply cannot be shown to have the beneficial effects their advocates claim for them.

Disarmament is nothing new. After Athens surrendered to Sparta at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), Athens temporarily abandoned democracy and established an oligarchy of 30 men, known to historians as “The Thirty Tyrants”. Under the leadership of Critias, uncle of the philosopher Plato, the Thirty began to purge Athens of people opposed to their rule. When one of their number, Theramenes, opposed the unnecessary bloodshed, the Thirty, fearing that he might lead a popular uprising against them, chose 3000 citizens loyal to themselves to nominally bring into the government to provide the illusion of a broader power base, then proceeded to disarm everybody else. Xenophon describes it like this:

The Three Thousand paraded in the market place and the other citizens in various other parts of the city. The order was given to pile arms, and when the men were off duty, the Thirty sent their Spartan troops and other people who were on their side, seized the arms of all who were not included among the Three Thousand, carried them up to the Acropolis and stored them in the temple. Once this was done they considered that they were now free to act exactly as they liked, and they began to put people to death in great numbers, some because they were personal enemies, some for the sake of their money. (Hellenica, Book III, Chapter II, 20-21, translated by Rex Warner in the Penguin Classics edition A History of My Times, pp. 113-114)

Disarming the populace, then, from very early times, has been associated with tyranny – government free from constraints in its use or abuse of power. This is as true today as it was 2413 years ago.

The advocates of gun control say that people should not resist criminals, that that only escalates the violence and leads to innocent people getting hurt, that instead we should rely upon the police to protect us. That kind of thinking is fit for slaves not for free people.

Free people bear the primary responsibility themselves for the defense and protection of their persons, property, and families. This responsibility cannot be delegated without giving up your freedom. If you give up this freedom to the government, you will not be getting a superior form of security in return, but an inferior one. It is not the job of the police, in a free society, to be everywhere at once, watching over every citizen 24 hours of the day, seven days a week. If that were the job of the police, the society would not be very free.

In Canada, advocates of gun control tend to dismiss the ideas of their opponents as being “American”. Canada, however, is heir to the same British tradition as the United States, and the British tradition is a tradition of liberty. As the late Dr. Samuel T. Francis pointed out:

(T)he right to keep and bear arms emerged in British history, long before the American war for independence, as an essential attributed of freemen, and it was mainly from the British experience in the late 17th and 18th centuries that American republicans drew their immediate lessons about a citizens’ militia and what it meant for the preservation of political freedom. (“Historical Basis for the Second Amendment”, in Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, p. 182)

Recently, gun control has been in the news again. The Harper government, in its first year in office, gave an amnesty to gun owners who had failed to register their guns under the costly, ineffective, and frankly tyrannical long gun registry, introduced by the Liberal administration of Jean Chretien in 1995, and has recently extended that amnesty. A few months ago, the Harper administration introduced a bill into the Senate, calling for the abolition of the same registry. Earlier in February, a similar but more extensive private member’s bill, Bill C-301, had been introduced by Garry Breitkreuz, Conservative MP for Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan.

Predictably, the advocates of gun control have been up in arms about this (pun intended). They are maintaining that the Harper administration’s actions are placing police officers at risk and threatening public safety.

Nonsense. The gun registry has not made Canadians any safer, it has wasted billions of the taxpayers dollars, and was a blatant attack on rural Canadians, turning an entire class of decent Canadian citizens into criminals overnight.

The Liberals claim that a majority of Canadians support gun control. That may very well be true, although the Liberals have never cared much what “the majority of Canadians” thought whenever they were determined to push legislation to serve some agenda of theirs that most Canadians opposed.

It is not relevant what the majority think, however. Gun control is inherently tyrannical. Free people have the right, responsibility, and duty to protect themselves when attacked. With that right, responsibility, and duty, comes the right to arm themselves. The two cannot be separated. The government that tells you that you do not have the right to arm yourself is telling you that you are not free. That government is behaving tyrannically – even if it has the backing of a majority of its citizens.

If Harper’s policies deserve criticism it is because they do not go far enough in restoring to Canadians that which is their birthright as a free people in a country built on the British tradition of freedom.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Younger Brother

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Peter Hitchens, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 224 pages, US$22.99.

In writing The Rage Against God, British journalist Peter Hitchens undertook a much more humble project than writing a comprehensive rebuttal of the atheistic arguments his brother Christopher compiled in his god is not great. Some of the younger Hitchens’ readers will probably be disappointed in this at first. Upon further reflection, however, I hope they will see that humility is this book’s greatest strength. It is a refreshing contrast to the arrogance of the new atheists.

The first and largest section of The Rage Against God is autobiographical. It is also, from this reader’s perspective, the most interesting part of book. The author has given it the title “A Personal Journey Through Atheism” and while it is that, to be sure, it is also much more. In telling his own story Hitchens also tells the story of his country’s journey away from Christianity towards secularism. The two stories are intricately intertwined and World War II plays a key role in both.

The War marked the end of Britain’s being a Christian nation in anything other than name. It also marked the end of the British Empire with the United Kingdom being eclipsed as the world power by its wartime allies, the United States and the Soviet Union. What this meant for the Hitchens family was that their father, a career officer in the Royal Navy, would have to search for alternate employment when the Navy, once so vital to maintaining the Empire, was downsized.

Peter Hitchens describes the Britain of his youth as a country that was using the memory of World War II to shield itself from realities of political and economic decline. As events like the humiliation of Britain by the Yanks during the Suez Crisis and the Profumo scandal caused the British youth of Hitchens’ generation to lose faith in their country and its leadership, the country itself clung to the cult of Winston Churchill, and the idea “we won the War”.

This loss of faith, among Hitchens’ generation, in Britain and its institutions went hand in glove with that generation’s rejection of the faith of their fathers. Like his brother, Hitchens became a revolutionary socialist in ideology in his youth. He writes:

I had replaced Christianity and the Churchill cult, with an elaborate socialist worldview—because I had decided that I did not wish to believe in God or in patriotism. (p. 100)

The words “I did not wish to” are the operative words in that sentence. They form one of the author’s major insights, spelled out in various places throughout the book. A significant element in faith is choice and this is as true of the atheist as it is of the Christian believer. Atheists, like Hitchens’ brother, charge Christians with believing in God because we want God to be real. While that is hardly the entire truth, it is a partial truth, and Hitchens willingly concedes it. However, he adds, it is also true of atheists. They do not believe because they do not want God to be real. This they generally are unwilling to concede, although Professor Thomas Nagel, who Hitchens quotes from in chapter 10, appears to be an exception.

Exposure to the realities of socialism caused Hitchens to lose faith in that secular alternative to Christianity which paved the way for his return to the Christian faith. His account of his return to the faith is not the typical conversion testimony North American evangelicals have come to expect but that does not diminish the book. He describes how his love for architecture led him to the churches and cathedrals of England and the realization that the men and women who built these buildings could hardly have been the ignorant bumpkins the atheists believed them to be. He describes a visit to the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France where in Rogier van der Weyden’s The Last Judgment he was confronted with the fear of divine retribution. In L. M. Montgomery’s The Chronicles of Avonlea there is a short story entitled “Each In His Own Tongue” in which a fallen women, in fear of damnation at the end of a wicked life, is brought to an understanding of God’s forgiveness and mercy, through the playing of a violin. Although the details are world’s apart, the common theme of God speaking through art, brought this story to my mind as I read Hitchens’ moving description of his own gradual return from unbelief to faith.

While this book is not, as has been said, a rebuttal of his brother’s book, in the second section of the book Hitchens does answer three arguments of atheism. First, he points out that religion itself appears not to be the root cause of many conflicts that are fought in the name of religion or depicted as religious conflicts.

Then he tackles the matter of God and morality. Atheists such as Greg Epstein insist that man can be “good without God”. Hitchens shows that apart from an external source of justice morality among humans ultimately breaks down into “might makes right”.

The third atheist argument Hitchens answers, and the most important, is the argument that atheist states are not really atheist. Hitchens’ answer to this question spills over into the third and final section of the book where he takes a good look at the atheist regime that existed in the former Soviet Union.

The reason this argument is so important for the atheists is because the truth is so damning to their position. Atheists continually try to downplay the countless ways Western civilization has benefited from Christianity and to condense Church history into the Crusades, Inquisition, and priestly child abuse. As Hitchens points out however, violence and persecution that has been conducted in the name of faith is “not because they are religious, but because Man is not great.”

The same cannot be said for the atheist regimes. Hitchens puts it this way:

Atheists, in return, ought equally to concede that Godless regimes and movements have given birth to terrible persecutions and massacres. They do not do so, in my view, because in these cases the slaughter is not the result of a misunderstanding or excessive zeal. Utopia can only ever be approached across a sea of blood. This is a far greater problem for the atheist than it is for the Christian, because the atheist uses this argument to try to demonstrate that religion specifically makes things worse than they otherwise would be. On the contrary, it demonstrates that our ability to be savage to our own kind cannot be wholly prevented by religion. More important still, Atheist states have a consistent tendency to commit mass murders in the name of the greater good. (pp. 153-154)

The only way atheists can get around this is by claiming that governments like the Bolshevik regime, the Maoist regime, the Castro regime, and the Pol Pot regime, were not, despite their proclaimed ideology, atheistic.

Hitchens blasts these claims to smithereens, showing repeatedly how these regimes relentlessly strove to drive God out of their countries, how they sought to keep parents and churches from passing on their faith to their children, and how their worst atrocities were directly connected to their atheistic ideology.

In focusing on the deleterious effects of atheism upon civilization in countries like the former Soviet Union, Hitchens is not just answering his brother’s arguments. He is also indicating where Britain and North America might be headed. The militant new breed of atheists seem rather open about their wish to use the power of the law to prevent parents from bringing up their children in the faith.

Let us hope and pray that as Peter Hitchens returned to the faith of his fathers, so our countries will as well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For Queen and Country

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!

Within the question asked by these well-known lines which open the sixth canto of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel lies a declaration. That declaration is simply this: that it is natural, good, and virtuous for a man to love his country. The man who does not has a dead soul.

The term for “love of one’s country” in English is patriotism. This word is derived from the Greek work patris and its Latin cognate patria both of which mean “homeland, native country”. Their most literal translation would be “fatherland” as they are themselves derived from pater which means father in both languages. Unfortunately however, that once innocuous word suggesting the “land of one’s fathers” now has sinister, nasty, connotations that are quite foreign to its original meaning.

From its etymology it would appear that patriotism is an affection whose proper object is a place rather than a people. It is this which is the primary difference between patriotism and nationalism, which latter term indicates affection for the people one is connected to by ties of ancestry and cultural heritage. Patriotism, however, does not denote love for one’s homeland as separate from one’s people but as distinct from one’s people. Barren territory cannot command “true patriot love”. The country the patriot loves is the homeland upon which is built the civil society to which he belongs.

Twenty-six years ago Dr. Alasdair MacIntyre, who at the time was the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and who currently is the O’Brien Senior Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, was invited to give the Lindley Lecture at the University of Kansas. The subject of the lecture he gave was “Is Patriotism a Virtue”?

If, Dr. MacIntyre argued, the standard by which we are to judge the answer to that question is liberal morality, the answer must be no. Liberal morality is the reigning system of ethics of the Modern Age. According to liberal ethics questions of right and wrong can only be answered by reason applied impartially and universally. Dr. MacIntyre argued that there are five central positions to liberal morality:

[F]irst, that morality is constituted by rules to which any rational person would under certain ideal conditions give assent; secondly, that those rules impose constraints upon and are neutral between rival and competing interests—morality itself is not the expression of any particular interest; thirdly, that those rules are also neutral between rival and competing sets of beliefs about what the best way for human beings to live is; fourthly, that the units which provide the subject-matter of morality as well as its agents are individual human beings and that in moral evaluations each individual is to count for one and nobody for more than one; and fifthly, that the standpoint of the moral agent constituted by allegiance to these rules is one and the same for all moral agents and as such in independent of all social particularity.

According to Dr. MacIntyre, if we accept such a moral standpoint, we are required to treat patriotism not as a virtue but as a vice. However, Dr. MacIntyre goes on to argue, liberalism is not the only way to understand morality.

Three years prior to giving that lecture, Dr. MacIntyre’s book After Virtue had been published by the University of Notre Dame Press. In this book Dr. MacIntyre argued that the Enlightenment Project which had spawned the now ubiquitous system of liberal morality was doomed to failure because of its rejection of basic Aristotelian ethical concepts. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle had written that virtue or moral excellence is like excellence in anything else. The purpose of a roof over your house is to protect you from the elements. A “good” roof does this well, as opposed to a roof which leaks and does its task poorly. Fishermen, farmers, police officers, etc. are “good” fishermen, farmers, and police officers to the extent that they fish, farm, and enforce the law, well. Likewise, Aristotle wrote, a man is virtuous when he fulfils the purpose of man, and fulfils it well.

By rejecting that Aristotelian teleology, Dr. MacIntyre argued, the moral philosophers of the Enlightenment Project had stripped morality of its necessary framework and foundation, and left it at the subjective whims of the individual resulting in moral chaos. He pleaded for a return to Aristotelian virtue.

In his lecture on patriotism he spelled out an alternative to liberal morality, that was particular where liberalism is universal. According to this alternative view “it is an essential characteristic of the morality which each of us acquires that it is learned from, in and through the way of life of some particular community.” Moreover, the goods “by reference to which and for the sake of which any set of rules must be justified are also going to be goods that are socially specific and particular”. Finally, it is only in the context of a community that we can be moral at all. Morality is difficult for human beings, and:

[I]t is important to morality that I can only be a moral agent, because we are moral agents, that I need those around me to reinforce my moral strengths and assist in remedying my moral weaknesses. It is in general only within a community that individuals become capable of morality, are sustained in their morality and are constituted as moral agents by the way in which other people regard them and what is owed to and by them as well as by the way in which they regard themselves.


Loyalty to that community, to the hierarchy of particular kinship, particular local community, and particular natural community, is on this view a prerequisite for morality. So patriotism and those loyalties cognate to it are not just virtues but central virtues.

In the remainder of his lecture Dr. MacIntyre defended this alternative morality in which patriotism was indeed a virtue. Acknowledging the liberal argument that patriotism would require an uncritical attitude towards one’s country, he answers it by saying that what is permanently exempted from criticism is “the nation conceived as a project, a project somehow or other brought to birth in the past and carried on so that a morally distinctive community was brought into being which embodied a claim to political autonomy in its various organized and institutionalized expressions”. An uncritical attitude towards one’s country’s current leaders or laws is not required, and indeed, there are certain extreme circumstances where the survival of the country might inspire the patriot to take drastic actions against it’s current leader. Here MacIntyre pointed to Adam von Trott, a Christian conservative, German patriot, who tried to bring down Hitler in order to save Germany (which resulted in his arrest and execution in 1944).

Some Christians, who would not ordinarily be expected to sympathize with the ideas of liberalism, might be alarmed at the particularist system of morality MacIntyre defended in his lecture. Their fears, that particularism might lead to moral relativism, are groundless. Christianity’s requirement that we be just to all men does not exclude particular loyalties. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men”, St. Paul wrote in the sixth chapter of his epistle to the Galatian Church, which he immediately followed up with “especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” The universal hortatory subjunctive in the first part of the verse does not exclude the amplified particular application in the second. St. Paul’s epistles are in fact full of particular duties being enjoined on certain people towards other specific people – duties of husband to wife, and wife to husband, of children to parents and parents to children, etc.

In the third chapter of his epistle to the Church in Philippi St. Paul speaks of our citizenship in heaven. He does not say, however, that it is our only citizenship, and excuse us from participation in and our duties to the temporal societies to which we belong. To interpret this verse that way would be as wrong as it would be to interpret Christ’s remark “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” as saying that we should not display filial piety.

St. Paul did not disavow his temporal citizenship by declaring his citizenship in heaven. In the Book of Acts St. Luke records how St. Paul, after having been arrested in Jerusalem, and about to be scourged, told the centurion who was guarding him “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” Later, when he appeared before Festus, he invoked his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard before Caesar.

St. Paul was not the kind of man who would claim the privileges of earthly citizenship while denying the duties that go along with it. In his epistle to the Church in Rome he commands obedience to temporal authorities and goes so far as to identify their role as enforcers of the law as being ordained by God.

Aristotle wrote that it was the nature of a virtue to be a mean between two extremes, one of excess and one of deficiency. It follows from this, that if the virtue of patriotism consists in loving one’s country, then there are two accompanying vices, loving one’s country too much or in the wrong way, and not loving one’s country enough.

The vice of not loving one’s country enough can manifest itself in indifference to one’s country’s survival or well-being, refusal to take up arms in defense of one’s country should the call of duty arise, or the manifestly perverse form of preferring another country, even the enemy of one’s country, to one’s own.

The vice of loving one’s country too much can also take many forms. It could take the form of jingoism or hostility towards other countries. It could take the form of blind support for all the policies of one’s government even when they are manifestly wrong, stupid, evil and deleterious to the well-being of the country. It could take the form of an ideological nationalism that demands that all other loyalties, to family, God, and local community, take second place to loyalty to country.

Those who are prone to the last mentioned form of excess would do well to remember the words of Edmund Burke:

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.

Patriotism is a natural affection. We love our family members, not because we can make a rational argument for it or even because we are commanded to (which if we are Christians we are) but because it is natural to do so. It is part of who we are to form bonds to the people who are closest to us, to the parents who raise us, to the siblings we grow up with. It is through forming these bonds that we learn how to form bonds of friendship to our acquaintances and neighbors in everyday life. We also develop attachment to places. We grow to love the houses we grow up in, the countryside, and the various buildings – school, grocery store, post office, etc. in which live our everyday lives. From these attachments to the people and places we know best, our love for our country, which encompasses them and countless other similar communities, is formed.

It is normal, right, and virtuous to form such attachments.

As for those who don’t, we will return in closing, to the words of Sir Walter Scott::

If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor'd, and unsung.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada, Past, Present, Future

I sometimes say that I am a patriot of the Canada my father grew up in. This is, of course, a way of expressing disapproval of many significant changes that occurred in Canada in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, some before I was born, others in my early childhood. It should not be taken as suggesting that the only Canada I have ever loved is one that never saw for myself, one that passed away before I was born. I grew up on a farm in rural Manitoba. Time moves slower in the country than in the city, and the rural Canada I grew up in was still in many ways recognizable as the Canada that existed before Pierre Trudeau started messing around with it.

“Protestant, small town, British, virtuous”. Those are the words Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada uses in True Patriot Love, the history of his mother’s family, to describe the Canada his uncle George Parkin Grant loved, and famously lamented over.

Grant, who was born into a family of illustrious Canadian educators and intellectuals, was a professor of philosophy at Dalhousie University and later professor of religion at McMaster. In 1965, two years after the opposition brought down the Diefenbaker administration over his refusal to allow American nuclear arms on Canadian soil, Grant wrote Lament For A Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Grant believed that the collapse of the Diefenbaker administration spelled the end of Canadian sovereignty and that we would be swallowed up in the continental and world empire of the United States of America.

The booklet, Lament for a Nation earned George Grant, a Christian conservative, a place alongside Oswald Spengler, Evelyn Waugh, and James Burnham, as a twentieth century conservative prophet of doom. Ignatieff, who believes his uncle was wrong, says that his uncle “gave up on his country at exactly the moment when it roused itself to action”. As evidence he goes on to list the very changes I referred to in the first paragraph of this essay.

Ignatieff writes that “the modern Canadian welfare state – medicare and the Canada Pension Plan – was created, distinguishing us ever more sharply from the United States”, a curious assessment on the part of a historian. Surely Ignatieff must realize that the modern welfare state is an American construction? Canada, like many European countries, has gone further down the road of welfare statism than the United States went under Roosevelt in the 30’s, or under LBJ in the ‘60’s, but for all that the welfare-states origins lie clearly within the United States of America.

Ignatieff goes on to list such things as “the repatriation of the Canadian constitution, the next-to-last symbol of our dependency on the British, and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, incarnating a distinctive national rights culture; and we gave ourselves a national anthem and a flag.”

We already had a flag actually, the Canadian Red Ensign, and there was nothing wrong with it. In Lament For A Nation, which was published the year the current flag was adopted, George Grant pointed to Diefenbaker’s stand for the Red Ensign, as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as evidence that Diefenbaker’s “basic principles were far removed from any petty sense of self-importance”. The Red Ensign, versions of which remain as the provincial flags of Ontario and Manitoba, speaks of our roots and identity as a country that is at the same time British and North American.

It was, of course, because the Red Ensign identified Canada as being British, that it had to go, even though the Ensign, which includes the fleur-de-lis of Quebec in the shield of arms, also speaks of our country’s French heritage, while the current flag speaks of neither. The Liberal Party elites who insisted upon all of these changes are often thought of as being extremely anti-American and in a certain sense, the worst possible sense, that is correct. Yet, in their attitude towards Canada’s British roots, heritage, and identity they showed themselves to be the most American of all Canadians. They spoke condescending of all the things they were getting rid of – the Red Ensign, “Royal” in the title of several government services, and the name of the country “The Dominion of Canada” as our “colonial trappings”.

What utter nonsense. The Red Ensign, far from being a colonial flag, was the flag our soldiers fought under in World War II, a war which we entered upon our own Declaration of War. The Liberal elites, ignorant of Canada’s history, considered “Dominion” to be a synonym for “colony”.

Sir. John A. MacDonald and the Fathers of Confederation wished to name our country “The Kingdom of Canada” and proposed such as the name in the early drafts of the British North America Act. This met with opposition in London based on the fear that such a title would prove provocative to the United States. The term “Dominion”, taken from the 8th verse of the 72nd Psalm was adopted as a substitute for “Kingdom”, being intended to convey the exact same meaning.

John G. Diefenbaker, in an address given to the Empire Club of Toronto on March 9, 1972 and later printed as the 4th chapter “Towards a False Republic” in his book Those Things We Treasure, describes some of the underhanded tactics the Liberal Party elites were using to strip Canada of her royal heritage:

An “Information Canada” booklet entitled How Canadians Govern Themselves states on page 3 that “…we are no longer a Dominion.” This statement is a direct contradiction of the British North America Act which gave the name “Dominion of Canada” to our country, and that was the name included in the Treaty of Versailles, the operative Statute of Westminster and the Canadian declaration of war in 1939.

The repatriation of the British North America Act, which made Canada’s constitution amendable by our own Parliament, was probably a good thing. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not. Despite the lofty title of this document, the basic right of property is omitted altogether, whereas all of the other most basic freedoms and rights of a civilized, free society, previously protected by ancient prescription under Common Law, find themselves spelled out in sections 2, and 7 through 13, where they are compromised by the weasel clause in section 1, and the notwithstanding clause in section 33. Do we really want the government to pass a law giving itself the power to arrest some and hold them indefinitely without trial despite the rights listed in section 11 of the Charter, which all Canadians had before the Charter was passed? That is exactly what the Charter allows the government to do.

In all of these changes Michael Ignatieff sees the Liberal Party leading Canada into shaping its own identity and future as a country. They look more like acts of sabotage to me.

I hope that George Grant was as wrong about Canada being doomed to become a colony of the United States as he was wrong about socialism being “an essentially conservative force”. In chapter 5 of Lament For a Nation, Grant argues that American corporate capitalism (which he distinguishes from “early capitalism” which was “full of moral restraints”) is a powerful force for progress in the world. Grant was hostile to and suspicious of progress, which he regarded as social upheaval and change which threatened the tranquility of everyday life, rather than as societal improvement. With this attitude I am in full sympathy. I do not however, accept Grant’s conclusion that socialism must therefore be conservative. Grant wrote:

Yet what is socialism, if it is not the use of the government to restrain greed in the name of social good? In actual practice, socialism has always had to advocate inhibition in this respect. In doing so, was it not appealing to the conservative idea of social order against the liberal idea of freedom?

Socialism, far from restraining greed, encourages it. Socialism encourages among the lower classes the greed which it condemns in the upper classes. As the former in any society will outnumber the latter by far, socialism results in a net increase in greed in society. Socialism cannot appeal to the conservative idea of social order because it has historically been defined as opposition to the institution of private property, an institution as foundational to conservative order as it is to the freedom of the classical liberal.

Grant was correct in seeing corporate capitalism as a progressive force and in seeing progress as being a bad rather than a good thing. Instead of pursuing the silly argument that socialism, the economic doctrine beloved of revolutionaries around the world, was somehow “conservative” he should have pursued his thought on “early capitalism”, inhibited by Protestant morality, beyond the two or three lines he devoted to it as it was a thought far worthier of such a great Christian thinker. He could, for example, have considered the arguments of Wilhelm Röpke, the German economist who combined the Austrian school’s arguments for the free market, with arguments that such a market could only function within the framework and on the foundation of Christian moral and social order.

Grant’s views on socialism led to his being dubbed a “Red Tory”. I however, would associate that term with someone like Dalton Camp, a politician who hid his revolutionary socialist agenda behind a conservative mask. Grant, in contrast, was an actual conservative, a defender of the ways and mores of everyday life in traditional, Christian, small town, Canada, against the forces seeking to overwhelm and swamp that life.

Despite the revolutionary agenda of the Liberal Party in the ‘60’s and 70’s, I believe that the Canada George Grant loved, the Canada I love, is still out there, in the small towns, churches, and homes of rural Canada, and perhaps, hidden deeply, in parts of urban Canada as well. Canada became a country under the reign of Queen Victoria. Historian W. L. Morton, in his history The Kingdom of Canada, described the moment when Queen Elizabeth II opened Parliament in person in 1957, the first Canadian monarch to do so, as the moment Canada truly became the “Kingdom of Canada” Sir. John A. MacDonald had envisioned.(1) On this, the 143rd anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act and the birth of Canada as a sovereign country, Queen Elizabeth is visiting her North American kingdom once more. May that inspire hope that the traditions of our country may yet be preserved in recognizable form for generations to come.

Happy Dominion Day
God save the Queen

(1) As an interesting aside, the first viceroy Queen Elizabeth II appointed upon ascending to the throne, and the first ever Canadian born Governor General, Vincent Massey, was uncle-by-marriage to George P Grant.