The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, August 27, 2010

This and That

It has been longer than I wished since my last post. Between the August heat, a spell of illness that hit me earlier this week, and simply having other things to do, I have not spent much time in front of my computer since last weekend. My next essay (on immigration) is more or less complete in outline. I may not have the time to write it out before the middle of next week, however.

The August issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture includes an essay by Jerry Salyer entitled Where The Demons Dwell: The Antichrist Right. Several decades ago, there was an attempt on the Left to revive "paganism" as an alternative to Christianity. The religion that these leftists founded, bore little to no resemblance to the actual paganism that had existed in Europe prior to the spread of the Gospel and the rise of the Church. No genuine pagan religion, for example, had a goddess at the head of its pantheon. The new paganism reflected, not the faith of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Germans, or Celts, but the ideals of 20th Century leftist movements like feminism and the sexual revolution.

Mr. Salyer's article is written in response to a similar endeavor on the part of some on the Right. The idea of an "Antichrist Right" seems strange. After all, is not the purpose of the Right, in part, to stand up for the Church and other institutions of traditional Western society against the onslaught of rationalist secularism? In fact the basic concept of the "Antichrist Right" goes back to Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th Century. Christianity, according to these right-wing critics from Nietzsche to Spengler to those of the present day, by preaching a message of redemption that is universally available and a morality which stresses compassion for the poor, weak and downtrodden, gave birth to the liberalism that is killing the West.

Mr. Salyer answers the charges against Christianity while demonstrating that the neopaganism of the Right is no more a legitimate continuation of pre-Christian European paganism than that of the Left. I will not summarize his arguments here, but instead refer you to his excellent essay.

I spent much of last weekend at the beach reading the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic poem about a Geat warrior who as a young man defeats the monster Grendel and his mother, in the service of a Danish king, then as an elderly man, battles a dragon in his own kingdom in which battle he is fatally wounded. Beowulf, like the Scylding king Hrothgar whom he serves, is a pre-Christian pagan, and this poem celebrates everything that the "Antichrist Right" admires about pagan culture. It honors Germanic warrior culture for its virtues - strong ties of kinship and loyalty, courage in battle, etc. A bard in the poem sings about Sigurd/Siegfried (the hero of the Norse Völsungsaga and the German Nibelungenlied, and of course Wagner's operatic Ring cycle based on those poems - he is to Norse/Germanic mythology what Achilles was to Greek and Roman mythology).

Yet this poem was clearly written by a Christian. We do not know who the author was, or even when it was written (just that it was towards the end of the 1st Christian millenium). However, he refers to the Christian God throughout the poem, decries pagan idolatry, and makes Grendel and his mother to be descendants of Cain. Clearly the author of Beowulf saw no conflict between Christianity and the virtues of a strong community, built on ties of blood and loyalty, that honors and celebrates martial virtue. The universal and the particular are not mutually exclusive, but the necessary complements of each other.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Tradition of Liberty

In recent essays I have been harshly critical of liberalism, the Modern Age ideology which attempted to lay a foundation for political liberty in the notion of the sovereignty of the individual. I criticized liberalism for making liberty the enemy of society, tradition, and authority. The subject of this essay will be liberty in its proper context – the tradition of a stable, civilized society.

In the Book of Genesis, the first book in the sacred canon of both Christianity and Judaism, we find the account of creation, in which God makes the heavens and the earth, and all that is therein, then makes man. In the second chapter of Genesis, God, after having placed Adam in the Garden of Paradise in Eden, tells him “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Note the nature of this commandment. Man is prohibited from eating the fruit of one specific tree. He is free to eat fruit of all the other trees.

The Garden of Eden was not a democracy. Adam and Eve were not sovereign individuals. It was an absolute monarchy. God was King, His word was law, He did not derive His powers from “the consent of the governed”, He did not hold regular plebiscites on His right to rule, He did not poll His people. Yet Adam and Eve were free, and arguably a lot freer than any of their descendants. The laws were few (the only other one was “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”), and clear, and Adam and Eve were free to do whatever was not proscribed by law. The law prohibited the eating of one fruit, all other fruit they were free to eat.

Now regardless of the degree of literalness with which you take the Genesis account, we find in this arrangement the illustration of how law and freedom work together. Good laws are few and clear, and tell you what you are not supposed to do rather than what you are permitted to do, leaving you free to do whatever is not specifically proscribed. Throughout the Holy Scriptures, this is the way God governs His people, first Israel, then the Church.

If God, the Absolute Sovereign of all Creation, governs His people with a few basic rules, leaving them otherwise free to do whatever He has not prohibited, how much more then should human governors, who are fallible and prone to error, do the same?

The British legal system, which evolved under Christianity for centuries, and to which Canada as a country under the British Crown is heir, reflects this understanding of the complementary relationship between law and freedom. Under Common Law, personal liberty is limited only by what positive law requires and prohibits. If the law does not say you cannot do this, you are free to do it. The prescriptive rights which evolved alongside with and under Common Law protect this freedom. If an agent of the Crown, possessed of the duty of maintaining the Queen’s peace by enforcing the law, is to detain you, you have the right to be informed of the charge under which you are being detained. You have the right to have a magistrate hear your case and determine whether the officer had just cause to arrest you. You have the right to have your case heard and determined before a jury of your peers. What all of these rights are designed to guarantee is that you are free to go about your daily business, without fear of the police arresting you so long as you are not doing what the law specifically says you cannot do.

A different understanding of the relationship between law and liberty is held by those who gave us the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. In 1982 Prime Minister Trudeau achieved the crowning goal of his premiership with the repatriation and renaming of the British North America Act. At the same time that the Canadian constitution was made made subject to amendment by the Canadian parliament and provinces, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added to it. At the time, there was a huge propaganda campaign aimed at selling the Charter to Canadians, which told us that we desperately needed such a Charter to tell us what our rights and freedoms were. (1)

The problem with such an approach is that it designed to create the attitude of “I am free to do whatever the government permits me to do”. Notice the difference between that attitude and “I am free to do whatever I want, so long as the law does not prohibit it”? There is a huge difference between “freedom to do whatever the law permits” and “freedom to do whatever the law does not prohibit”.

This Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains a clause in Section 33, which allows the federal and provincial governments to pass laws which conflict with the rights and freedoms in section 2 and sections 7-15, for up to 5 years. At the five year point these laws can be renewed. This effectively nullified Section 2 and sections 7-15. Section 2 says that Canadians have the fundamental freedoms of freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, and expression, etc. Section 7-15 include our rights to life, liberty, and security of our person, our freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and arbitrary detainment, our right to legal counsel and right of habeas corpus, and our rights of presumption of innocence and against self-incrimination. All of these rights and freedoms, were more secure before the Charter was passed than since the Charter was passed, because the Charter gives the government a right it did not possess prior to the Charter – the right to take those rights and freedoms away.

Those who look to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to secure liberty in Canada are clearly misguided. So are those who look to democracy. Remember how the Reform Party used to demand “direct democracy” (plebiscites on important issues) and a “Triple-E Senate” (elected, efficienct, equal)? With all due respect to the old Reform Party (2) which was right-wing populist rather than conservative (3), democracy is not the friend of liberty. As power has shifted, from the Crown to the Commons, in the English-speaking world over the last five centuries, size of government and of government's role in people's everyday lives has consistently increased rather than decreased. So are those who look to the Lockean doctrine of “natural rights” (i.e., rights derived from a pre-social “state of nature”), to making all relationships in society voluntary/contractual relationships mirroring the relationships of the business world, and to the doctrine of “individual sovereignty”. Such concepts make liberty the enemy of law, society, authority, and tradition, when in reality these things are the friends of liberty.

All of these things – Charter, democracy, “natural rights”, contractual society, individual sovereignty, are abstract ideals, thought up by rationalist philosophers as progressive improvements on a traditional civilized society, with classical and Christian roots. They are not improvements. Simple laws, which are few and clear, which prohibit certain acts of criminally vicious behavior, but otherwise leave us free to live our lives as we wish, as individuals, but also and more importantly, as families, communities, churches, and a society, are the best laws.

(1) For a good discussion of Common Law versus Charter Law see William D. Gairdner, The Trouble With Canada: A Citizen Speaks Out (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Company, 1990), especially chapter 16 “Political Sleight of Hand”. A new and revised edition of this book is due out sometime this fall. Also see a number of books and booklets by Kenneth McDonald, especially The Monstrous Trick (APEC Books, 1998), and Alexis In Charterland (Belleville: Epic Press, 2004).

(2) I joined the Reform Party in my college days and remained in it in its Canadian-Alliance stage. My membership expired before it absorbed what was left of the old Progressive Conservatives and became the current Conservative Party. I did not renew. While I agreed with, and still agree with many, probably most, of the right-wing positions on social and economic issues, taken by the Reform Party in its early years, on the level of basic political philosophy I have always been more in sympathy with the older Tory tradition represented by Samuel Johnson, Walter Scott, T. S. Eliot, and in the USA by Russell Kirk.

(3) I will be looking at populism, its strengths and weaknesses, and its differences and its overlaps with conservatism, in an upcoming essay. In the meantime, I refer you to Dr. John Lukacs’ excellent book on the subject, entitled Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, which was published by Yale University Press in 2005. My essay may take the form of a review of Lukacs’ book. It has been 5 years since I read it last and will be picking it up for a re-read in the new few weeks.

A brief word on the news

Immigration has become a hot topic in the Canadian news recently, with the arrival of the Sun Sea, a boat full of Tamils claiming refugee status. I intend to address the subject in an upcoming essay. It may be a week or two in coming, however, as I have yet to decide whether I wish to focus on the story that is in the news, or on the subject of Canada's immigration policy in general. The research the one kind of essay would require is not necessarily the same as the research the other kind of essay would require.

In the meantime, I refer you to Kevin Michael Grace's article Canada (Jason Kenney, Immigration Minister) Welcomes the Camp of the Saints, which was recently posted to VDare. Mr. Grace is one of Canada's best political commentators. His "Eclectica" used to be the first thing I would turn to when my issue of the Alberta Report arrived. It is a shame that we do not see him in print more often these days.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Love and Marriage

On August the fourth, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was an amendment to the state Constitution of California voted on and passed in the November 2008 elections which declares that only sexually complementary (man and woman) marriages would be recognized as valid by the state of California. Needless to say, the overturning of Proposition 8 has resparked the debate about so-called “same-sex marriages” which the passing of the Proposition ignited 2 years ago, and which will undoubtedly flare up again whenever SCUSA issues its final ruling on the matter.

The same-sex marriage debate seems on one level to be silly and trivial, to both sides. To advocates of same-sex marriage, the idea that two men (or two women) being united in a union called marriage and recognized as such, could harm society, is ridiculous. To traditionalists (in which camp I belong) the idea that government fiat could make a same-sex relationship a marriage is as ridiculous as the suggestion that if the government were to declare two plus two to be five it would therefore be so. What then are we arguing about? A hypothetical objective observer to the debate (no such person could actually exist, of course) might ask “Why don’t the same-sex couples who wish to consider themselves married, do so, and those who consider marriage to be an exclusively man-woman relationship disagree”?

One answer is that such a compromise is not acceptable to the same-sex marriage side. It is society’s acceptance and approval they are demanding, not just to be allowed to do their own thing and to think of themselves in whatever way they wish. For the advocates of same-sex marriage to accept anything short of full societal approval vested in recognition of the official status of “married” for same-sex couples who wish that status would be concession of victory to the traditionalist side.

Likewise, for traditionalists to accept a situation in which society recognizes non-sexually complementary unions as marriages, would not be a compromise but a concession of defeat.

No compromise is therefore possible on this issue for either side. It is a zero-sum game.

It is important that the traditionalist side of this debate understand what the real issues are. To understand this, we need to recognize that “same-sex marriage” is a symptom, and not the disease itself. We should not waste our time by arguing that same-sex marriage will bring civilization crumbling to the ground (it will not). What is eroding our civilization and will lead to its collapse is liberalism, modernism, and post-modernism, apart from which there would have been no movement for same-sex marriage.

Liberalism is the disease, same-sex marriage just one of many symptoms.

What are the grounds upon which the advocates of same-sex marriage base their claims?

Essentially that argument goes like this: A) Marriage exists to make life happier for individuals who participate in marriage, B) Everybody is equally entitled to all things which make for their individual happiness, therefore C) Same-sex couples should be as entitled to marry each other as sexually complementary couples and to restrict marriage to the latter is to discriminate against the former which is an act of injustice.

Both premises and the conclusion are false as we shall see.

Before demonstrating them to be false, however, we will look at how they reflect presuppositions that are an essential part of the attack on the foundations of Western civilization that is liberalism, the spirit of the Modern Age since the so-called Enlightenment.

In the context of discussing abortion, George P. Grant said of Pope John Paul II:

I have some sympathy for him in what he is trying to oppose, something which is absolutely central to modernity: the emancipation of the passions. I don’t mean by the passions only the sexual passions. Modern politics is taken up with the passion for power, capitalism is taken up with the emancipation of the passion of greed. I’m not sure that this has been a great step in human history. (1)

Grant was right, in describing the emancipation of the passions as being central to modernity. The Modern Age began when philosophers came to the belief that through the application of reason and/or science they could construct a superior civilization to that which had been built upon the foundations of classical philosophy and Christianity. The so-called Enlightenment, and the liberalism which grew out of it rejected Aristotelian ethics and secularized and universalized Christian ethics beyond all recognition.

Plato and Aristotle both taught that virtue and happiness were only possible when reason ruled the passions and the appetites. Plato in the Phaedrus depicted reason as a charioteer who must control the chariot of the soul being drawn by two horses, one of whom, representing the unruly appetites or passions, is always trying to pull the chariot off course. In The Republic, he uses the relationship of reason ruling the appetites, the passions, as a model for the utopian city Socrates and his companions were hypothetically constructing. Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, divides the soul into rational and irrational parts, and the latter into parts completely independent of reason and parts which while irrational themselves can be influenced by reason. The passions fall into the latter category, and the virtuous man, according to Aristotle, is the man who cultivates the rational habit of choosing the middle path regarding his passions, leaning neither to excess or deficiency.

The modern rejection of classical/traditional Western ethics in favor of the “emancipation of the passions” is perhaps most clearly seen in Sigmund Freud. His division of the mind into the passions (id), governed by reason (ego), with both being subject to the mores of civilization (superego) was neither original nor the basis of Freud’s fame. Freud attributed neurosis to the repression of the id, and in so doing laid the foundation for the idea of mental well-being through liberation of the passions. While Freud himself has long been dismissed, his idea that traditional morality’s restraints on the libidos is harmful to the individual psyche continues to bear fruit. In many ways, however, Freud was simply expressing in psychological terms, the goals of Enlightenment liberalism in which the happiness and liberty of the individual is the highest good.

A civilized society, as Plato and Aristotle knew, must have the good as its end, its purpose. In the Christian era, the idea of the societal good came to be moderated with recognition that the individual person has valid rights and freedoms, but these were envisioned as existing within the framework of society and traditional authority. Enlightenment liberalism made the rights and liberties of the individual the enemy of traditional society, traditional morality, and traditional authority. Those who think this is a good think, a positive step towards freedom, should consider that in the same period of centuries in which liberalism triumphed and authority declined, was a period of unprecedented growth of the central state, and concentration of power into it. The emancipation of the passions, is as Aldous Huxley warned, a cover for the loss of political liberty, as the state grows more and more powerful.

The institution of marriage, does not exist primarily for the happiness of individuals. That is not its function. It exists to bind society together, by tying parents of children to each other, as closely as they are tied to their children or their children are tied to each other, and to make of the two basic divisions of mankind, male and female, a one combing both complementary parts. As an institution it is foundational to the family, which is the basic building block of society, prior to and more important than the individual. The relationships between a father and his child, between a mother and her child, and between siblings are permanent relationships. They are based on ties of blood which cannot be untied. Marriage exists to make the relationship between father and mother as binding and permanent as these. The security that comes, from one’s father and mother being permanently tied to each other, is of immeasurable importance to the well-being of their children. Marriage is by nature, a sacrifice. It is about giving of oneself to another and to their possible offspring. It is about giving up one’s rights and liberties and taking burdens and duties upon oneself. It is a step towards maturity and responsibility.

In 2003, just as an earlier round of the same-sex marriage debate was heating up in Massachusetts, Dr. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese delivered three lectures on the subject of marriage at Princeton University. She was in the process of expanding those lectures into a book when she died in 2007. The work was subsequently completed by her former student and editor Sheila O’Connor Ambrose and published posthumously by ISI Books in 2008 under the title Marriage: The Dream That Refuses to Die. The first of the lectures became Chapter One “Male and Female Created He Them”, which is not, despite its title, a sermon from the Book of Genesis, but a history of the institution of marriage, as a social, economic, and political institution, and it’s evolution into modern marriage.

Dr. Fox-Genovese writes:

Having originated more as a relation between families, tribes, or clans than as a relation between individuals, marriage has gradually been transformed into an exclusively personal relation—a matter of an individual’s “right” to specific benefits and privileges and, perhaps above all, community recognition and approval. Thus, the institution that anchored and transmitted legitimate authority has emerged as the frontline target of a comprehensive attack on any notion of legitimate authority, natural or divine. (2)

A significant contributing factor to this transformation, which Dr. Fox-Genovese focused on, was the concept of romantic love as the basis for companionate marriage. She notes that this idea goes against much ancient wisdom in the Western tradition, warning against the dangers of passionate love. For the latter she points to examples in Shakespeare, Arthurian Legend, the legend of Tristan and Isolde, and even Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Countless other examples could be pointed to. The first great epic poem of Greece was Homer’s Illiad. While the poem’s theme is a different passion, manis (wrath), specifically the wrath of Achilles against Agamemnon and its destructive consequences, we cannot miss the fact the background setting of the story is a war whose roots lay in passionate love (of Paris and Helen). Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is essentially an updated version of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. How many of the most famous classic stories of passionate love end very badly for one or both of the lovers? In addition to those already mentioned think of Dido and Aeneas, Troilus and Chriseyde, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra – the list goes on and on. Note that the love St. Paul eulogizes in the famous 13th chapter of his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth is agape – selfless, giving love, and not eros – passionate desire.

These countless cultural warnings were not to tell us that passionate love is a bad thing per se, but to warn us that it must be ruled, that we must rule our passions rather than let them rule us. This is in stark contrast to the message of Hollywood, television, popular music, and every other cultural drug mass-produced in this decadent age.

Liberalism, in seeking to free the individual and his passions, from the restraints of traditional moral society, allied itself with modern, centralized government, and secured the passing of legislation aimed at transforming marriage from the traditional institution into something like a business contract, albeit with less of a legal penalty if the contract is broken. The purpose was to make marriage about the individual rather than about the society. A young couple are in love and want to get married to “complete their happiness”. Instead of being told about responsibility, and sacrifice, and “til death do us part”, a compact breakable only by severe betrayal on the part of one of the spouses, now marriage comes with government benefits and can be dissolved by government at will at the request of one of the partners, no reason necessary. Same-sex marriage is only the latest step in this process, itself part of the larger liberal project of freeing the individual of all duties to traditional moral society (while enslaving him to modern collective power in government and big business).

People do not have a “right” to whatever they think will make them happy. They have a right to what is their own. Justice lies in seeing that everyone gets that which is due him – not that everyone gets to be “equal” with everyone else. Teaching people that they have a “right” to whatever they think will make them happy, i.e., whatever they want, and that they are or ought to be equal with everyone else, is the recipe for turning people against society.

The traditionalist side of the same-sex marriage debate needs to understand that our battle is not primarily against same-sex marriage, but for traditional marriage, which means more than just sexual complementarity. It means marriage that is more than just a contract, marriage that is demanding, marriage that cannot be broken at the whim of government or a spouse. Our fight is for traditional society, which respects the rights and liberties of individuals, while placing just demands on them in pursuit of he good of the whole.

(1) David Cayley, George Grant in Conversation (Concord: Anansi Press, 1995) , p., 156 (This is an edited collection of interviews Grant gave to Cayley on CBC Radio)

(2) Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Marriage: The Dream That Refuses To Die (Wilmington, ISI Books, 2008), p. 4.