The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Tory and Freedom

Democracy, which liberal and leftist alike consider to be the best form of government, is widely equated with freedom. As we have seen, however, democracy as conceived by the left is the pathway to totalitarianism, for when the distinction between governed and government is eliminated and the state is regarded as the voice of the people, it ceases to see the need for restrictions on the use of its power. Liberalism contained restraints on this tendency of democracy, in the form of protections of the rights of the individual, but as liberalism has moved away from its original individualism towards a realignment with the collectivist left over the course of the last century it has gradually ceased to be a roadblock to totalitarianism.

The Tory, the classical conservative who sees royal and ecclesiastical authority as being irrevocably called to cooperate for the common good of the whole society, accepts democracy, only as a part of a mixed government, under the monarchy and the upper house and deriving its legitimate authority from the same source as these institutions, tradition and prescription. He sees liberalism’s restraints on democracy as necessary and good, but insufficient, because only by making the power of democracy subordinate to the authority vested by prescription in monarchy and aristocracy – or in Canada, the substitute for aristocracy that is our Senate – in a mixed government, can democracy’s tendency to slide into demagoguery, mob rule, and totalitarianism be checked.

Liberalism, from its very beginning has claimed the freedom of the individual as its lodestar but as its ability to restrain democratic totalitarianism has waned it would seem to have lost its bearings and run adrift. As Tory journalist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne put it nine years ago “with remarkable rapidity, from being a doctrine designed to take government off the backs of the people, liberalism has become a doctrine designed to put it back again”. (1)

Toryism, by contrast with the neoconservatism of the last four decades which is actually a form of liberalism, does not march under the banner of freedom but seeks stability and continuity in order established in tradition. These, however, are not hostile to freedom, as liberalism so often has assumed they are, but are the very things which make freedom possible. The Tory, therefore, is, albeit in an indirect manner, the more consistent supporter of liberty.

In saying that freedom is made possible by a stable, order, established in tradition, the Tory expresses a different view of the nature of freedom, than that espoused by the liberal. The liberal sees freedom as the natural possession of man, but as belonging to him outside of society rather than inside society. This is because he regards man’s natural condition as being individual and society as an artificial construction of individuals. This concept of the individual as prior to society conflicts with what we know of actual individuals, however, who are born into social existence in their families, neighbourhoods, and nations. The Tory recognizes man’s social existence as his natural state, and the condition of an individual isolated from society, such as a hermit who has withdrawn into the desert, as being manifestly unnatural. Man possesses and enjoys freedom, he insists, in and through society, rather than outside of it.

Freedom, the Tory says, cannot exist outside of the context and boundaries of ordered society. While the liberal, who thinks of freedom in terms of the absence of context and boundary, finds this to be absurd, the folly of his position was well illustrated by G. K. Chesterton in the short story in which a professor who wrote a book about “the Psychology of Liberty” reveals himself to have gone dangerously mad by taking his doctrine to the extreme of “liberating” a goldfish from its bowl. (2)

Liberalism further mistakes the nature of freedom by conceiving of it as leading to the end of human happiness through the means of indulging human appetites. This element of liberal thought has grown stronger over the century in which liberalism has given up most of its ability to restrain the totalitarian impulse in democracy to protect the individual. Aldous Huxley saw this coming and in his Brave New World depicted a society in which everyone lives out a life that has been predetermined for him by the state but in which he is free to indulge his appetites for drugs and sex and encouraged by the state to do so.

This view of liberalism is a fundamental contradiction of the wisdom of the ancients and the teachings of Christianity the sources of the tradition to which the Tory looks for light. Plato and Aristotle taught that to achieve true happiness, man must form good habits of behaviour, virtues, in which he masters his appetites and passions – his internal desires and drives for such things as food, sex, wealth, and power – and keeps them in submission to his reason and will, for if he does not these will enslave him. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that man was given freedom in Creation, but lost it when he enslaved himself to sin in the Fall. God redeemed man – the literal meaning of redemption is the purchase for the purpose of emancipation of a slave – from slavery to sin, through the Incarnation, Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his restored freedom, man is no longer chained to the fallen, Adamic, nature that remains with him in this life, but is to walk in his freedom through faith.

There is a harmony between the classical and Christian teachings here. In both, true happiness is to be found in the mastery of internal forces that seek to master us - our natural appetites and passions in classical thought, our sinful flesh in the Christian. In both, an established institution exists to help us in this struggle - the state in the classical teaching of the ancients, the church in Christian theology. Both would see the unfettered indulgence of human desire as slavery rather than freedom. In classical thought virtue is the prerequisite for true freedom, which is part of happiness. In Christian thought freedom is the prerequisite for virtue, both in the sense that the redemption of Christ is necessary to free man from slavery to sin that he might be virtuous and that good behaviour is not virtuous unless it is freely chosen. If Huxley’s novel illustrates the classical point of view, the much misunderstood A Clockwork Orange by polymath, novelist, and High Tory Anthony Burgess, is an illustration of the Christian. (3) These are two ways of saying the same thing, that both freedom and virtue require the other, and that to pursue either separately and at the expense of the other is a road that leads to neither.

Freedom, therefore, is an absolutely essential part of the common good of society that the Tory sees as the end of royal and ecclesiastical authority and neither church nor state can assist man in the pursuit of virtue if they do not also seek to secure his liberty. The church proclaims the redemption of man from sin by Christ through her ministry of Word and Sacrament, so that people may follow righteousness through faith in the liberty Christ has purchased for them. Laws, Christianity teaches us, can help us recognize virtue by defining right and wrong, but are powerless to make us virtuous, (4) and so should be kept as few in number as is consistent with order and the common good. The laws of the state, rightly ordered, however, secure our lives and property. As the Tory’s patron saint, King Charles the Martyr, put it in his final speech before he was killed by the Puritans in 1649, the people’s “liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own.” (5) Thus, do church and state, in the traditional order of society, create the context in which freedom can flourish.


(2) “The Yellow Bird” from G. K. Chesterton’s The Poet and the Lunatics.

(3) In the novel, the state uses a form of brainwashing, “the Ludovico Method”, to reform the narrator Alex, a violent young hooligan, but the process does not make him good, it merely takes away his freedom. That it cannot make him good because it takes away his freedom is an objection raised by a priest who serves as chaplain, and in raising this objection, the priest vocalizes the entire point the author, who is falling back upon the Catholicism in which he was raised, is seeking to make.

(4) This is a major theme of St. Paul’s epistles to the Roman and Galatian churches.

(5) He wisely contrasted this with the people’s having a “share in government”, for democracy, by making the government and the people one, leads to the opposite of freedom, total control, for any and every law can be excused when it is a law the people make for themselves.


  1. Gerry,

    "Freedom, therefore, is an absolutely essential part of the common good of society that the Tory sees as the end of royal and ecclesiastical authority and neither church nor state can assist man in the pursuit of virtue if they do not also seek to secure his liberty."

    Freedom stems from order. Insofar as authority is stable and secure, the subjects under said rule experience greater freedom of action than they otherwise would. Inasmuch as authority seeks to foster freedom, the stability of its power is eroded.

    You seem to be misunderstand this idea in a similar vein as libertarians tend to.

    It's not by weakening the state that liberty flourishes and attempting to foster freedom is a sure way to weaken the state.

    1. Shlomo,

      The entire point of this essay as a whole was to argue, as you say, that "freedom stems from order".

      To say that authority undermines itself by seeking to foster freedom, however, raises the question of what is meant by fostering freedom. In the part of my essay you quoted I say that freedom is part of the common good for which society is organized and that church and state must recognize that. I go on, however, to identify how they do so, and in the case of the state's role, I argue, citing King Charles I as an authority, that it is by passing laws securing their lives and property. I do not see how doing this could weaken the state.

      The question now becomes what we mean by the strength of the state. Is the strength of a state measured by its stability and security? If so, then it is safe to argue that the stronger the state, the freer the people will be. If, however, the strength of the state is measured in terms of the extent to which it exerts control over peoples' lives, then it would be nonsense to make this claim.

      With traditional authorities this goes without saying, for a king that were to attempt to regulate every area of his people's lives would be undermining the stability and security of his state by doing so for he would soon have a revolutionary mob at his doorstep. Thus, the freedom of the people increases as the strength of a king's government, measured in stability and security, increases, but the latter decreases should the strength of the government measured in terms of asserted control increase beyond a certain point.

      With modern democracy it is different because a revolution would have to involve the people revolting against themselves. The stability of a democratic government does not depend upon its refraining from tyranny the way a traditional government does. Therefore, the strength of a democratic government, does not guarantee freedom. This is yet one more reason why democracy, if it is to be included in a mixed government, must be subordinate to the institutions of monarchy and aristocracy (or Senate).