The ninety-first section of the British North America Act (1) begins with the words:
It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces;
The phrase “Peace, Order, and good Government”, identified here as the end to which the law-making authority of the Queen-in-Parliament is established, has been similarly used in the constitutional documents of other Commonwealth countries and, in Canada, has often been considered to be our equivalent of the United States’ “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Both expressions identify a triad of goods and make that triad out to be the purpose for which government is constituted. The differences, however, not only in content but also in context and use, may outweigh these similarities. Contextually, the American expression does not appear in the document that legally established their republic, the Constitution of the United States of America, but rather in the document by which the Thirteen Colonies rationalized and justified their decision to secede from the British Empire. For the obvious reason that Canada’s Fathers did not secede from the Empire but deliberately choose to maintain the connection to Britain and the Commonwealth and to build the Dominion on a foundation of loyalty and continuity, Canada has no parallel document. With regards to usage, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” served a revolutionary purpose, “Peace, Order, and good Government” a constructive one.
When we turn to the content of the triads the contrast that is most striking is that the goods in the American triad pertain primarily to the individual, whereas the goods in the Canadian/Commonwealth triad belong to the country as a whole. The different sources from which the two are drawn can be seen in this. In the case of the American triad, its origin in classical liberalism, and specifically the social contract theory of John Locke, is quite obvious. The triad is borrowed, with a slight adjustment by Thomas Jefferson, directly from Locke. In the second of his Two Treatises on Government, (2) Locke argues that life, liberty, and property are the basic natural rights that belong to the individual in a pre-societal state of nature, and that the state was created by individuals voluntarily forming a compact to live under laws that would make these rights more secure. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence is a restatement of this theory.
The liberals who formulated this theory sincerely believed that they were devising a rational and effective safeguard against tyranny – the ancient term for usurped and oppressive power. Their Puritan forerunners believed that by removing Charles I from his throne, beheading him, and making Oliver Cromwell into the Lord Protector they were striking a blow for liberty. Cromwell, however, went down in history as the dictator who established a grim and gloomy, Calvinist, theocracy in which Christmas, the theatre, and harmless amusements were all banned and today it has become quite evident how the idea that government exists to protect the rights of individual can be the basis of tyranny as much as a protection against it. (3) Until very recently, the suggestion that the government might pass laws requiring us to use a plethora of newly-coined pronouns to refer to individuals who have chosen a gender identity for themselves other than male and female would have been confined to the literary genres of totalitarian dystopic fiction and conspiracy theory. Yet today many liberals are promoting such legislation, trying to suppress the views of anyone who would be opposed to such legislation, and doing all of this in the sincere belief that it is necessary to protect individual rights.
Liberals were not the first to assert that the law must protect people’s lives and property. Indeed, this assertion is contained within the ancient definition of justice as each person getting what he deserves. Nor were liberals the first to connect this protection with liberty. It was King Charles I who declared that the “liberty and freedom” of his people “consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their goods may be most their own.” In the older tradition, however, the security of life and property, and the freedom that comes from that security, were the products of a stable and orderly civil society and such a society could only exist under a government that legislates and administers justice for the good of the society as a whole. Life outside of such a society was not regarded as man’s natural state. Such an existence, in pre-modern thought, more closely resembled Thomas Hobbes’ idea of a state of nature than that of John Locke, and in this absence of civilization, no rights could exist.
When liberalism rejected the pre-modern tradition in which each person derives his rights and freedom from belonging to a society that is an integrated whole, liberals believed that they were emancipating mankind but, as we see in our present day, triumphant liberalism forges its own chains and fetters with which to bind man. Liberalism is the offspring of rationalism, the epistemological error of reducing the knowable to the technical, i.e., utilitarian knowledge capable of formulation (4) and was born out of the fragmentation of the older tradition. (5) By obsessively fixating on the individual, at the expense of the whole society, liberalism pushed Western civilization so far away from the pre-modern ideal of balance and harmony between the individual and the whole of society in one direction, that in time it produced a pendulum swing in the opposite direction and so in the twentieth century, totalitarianism, which saw only the collective and crushed the individual, came into existence. Liberalism clashed with totalitarianism and triumphed over it, but only by taking on some of its own characteristics. (6)
“Peace, Order, and good Government” was not a conscious attempt to produce a summary of the goods which the pre-liberal tradition regarded as the purpose of the state but it nevertheless serves fairly well as such a summary. “Good Government”, which means the competent and just administration of public affairs, is a fairly adequate equivalent of πολιτεία, as the term was used by Plato and Aristotle to describe their ideal of government. (7) It is certainly more accurate than “republic” which, through its Roman, Italian, and American usage, has ceased to convey the sense of the Latin res publica, “public affairs”, and has taken on the meaning of “kingless government.” The ancients believed that any government, whether it be one ruler, a small elite group, or a majority of enfranchised, corporate, citizens, could be good or bad. A good government was one that exercised its authority in the interests of the whole of the society, a bad government was one that used its power only to serve its own private interests. (8) Actual real-world governments, of course, exist on a spectrum between the absolutely good and the absolutely bad. A common idea among the ancient Athenians, which as adopted by Aristotle, spread through the ancient world by Polybius, and later incorporated into medieval Christendom’s ideal of the Christian commonwealth, (9) was that the best way to ensure a stable government, that would be more good than bad, was to combine monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy (10) into a single government.
America’s Founding Fathers were at their best, not when they were writing rabble-rousing, revolutionary, agitprop like the Declaration of Independence, but when they were putting together the Constitution of their new republic. Despite the fact that a president is a poor substitute for a king or queen, the American Constitution is widely esteemed for its system of checks and balances, a concept America’s Fathers borrowed, indirectly through Montesquieu, from the ancient-medieval ideal of mixed government. That Montesquieu himself had pointed to the British system of King/Queen-in-Parliament as the very embodiment of that ideal, America’s founders for obvious reasons opted to ignore. Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, the heirs of the Loyalist tradition rather than that of the Revolution, had no need either to ignore this fact, or to re-invent the wheel, and directly adapted the British system for the new Dominion. This system began its evolution centuries before the dawn of the Modern Age and it is very fitting and appropriate, therefore, that the Canadian Fathers chose to identify it with the public goods of “Peace, Order, and good Government.”
Today, after a century of assault upon our Loyalist heritage and traditions, our monarchical and parliamentary institutions, and our Common Law rights and freedoms by the Liberal Party of Canada, aided and abetted by her allies in the mainstream Canadian media, it is more important than ever that we remember the principles upon which our country was founded. For it is only by so remembering that we can hope to recover what we have lost and find our way back from the abyss into which the Liberals have been leading us.
(1) This Act, which was passed by the British Parliament in 1867 and which came into effect on July 1st of that year, established the confederation of several of the North American provinces of the British Empire into a new country, which it designated a “Dominion” and gave the name “Canada” which had previously belonged to two of those provinces. Many Canadians, especially supporters of the Liberal Party, are under the impression that the BNAA was replaced as our constitution by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. This is a gross distortion of the truth. What happened that year is that the legislative authority to amend the BNAA, which remains our constitution, was transferred from the British Parliament to the Canadian Parliament, the BNAA was renamed “The Constitution Act, 1867”, and the Charter was added to it as an amendment (or set of amendments). The Charter did not replace our constitution, although, as I have argued many times in the past, it subverted to a great degree, both our constitution of Queen-in-Parliament and the Common Law. Indeed, most of the substantial changes made by the Liberal Party between 1926 and 1982 have had this effect, which is one reason why I, in protest, continue to use the old name of the Act.
(2) The first of the treatises argued against Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarchia. It has been liberal orthodoxy since the nineteenth century that Locke successfully rebutted Filmer, although in the eighteenth century a few honest liberals could be found willing to admit that of the two, Filmer had the better arguments. The second treatise is an attempt at an alternate explanation of the origin and legitimacy of the state.
(3) This has been explored at length by James Kalb in The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command, Wilmington, Delaware, ISI Books, 2008. See also Patrick J. Deneen Why Liberalism Failed, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 2018.
(4) Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, London, Metheun & Co. Ltd., 1962, pp. 1-36.
(5) See Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1948, pp. 52-69.
(6) “In this sense national socialism survived Hitler. Every state in the world has become a welfare state. Whether they call themselves socialist or not does not matter much. Of course the proportions of the compound of nationalism and socialism vary from country to country; but the compound is there…We are all national socialists now.” – John Lukacs, “American History: The Terminological Problem,” The American Scholar, Vol 61., No. 1, (Winter 1992), p. 23. “Some European authors observed that communism died in the East because it had already been implemented in the West.” Tomislav Sunic, Homo Americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age, Book Surge Publishing, 2007, p. 34.
(7) In ordinary Greek usage, πολιτεία could refer either to the rights of citizenship in a city-state or the constitution of the city-state. In other words it had the same range of meaning as the Latin civitas. Plato and Aristotle used it in its ordinary sense, but also made it the designation of the best possible government. It is the title of the Platonic dialogue that addresses this concept. Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, entitled his own work written which was inspired by Plato’s, De Re Publica, and it is from this that the misleading custom of rendering this word as “Republic” in English arises. The common alternative “Commonwealth” is much more accurate.
(8) Note how liberalism, by replacing the good of the commonwealth with the protection of individual rights as the purpose of government, reverses this judgement.
(9) See the Respondeo in St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Q. 105.
(10) Today, the terms democracy and ochlocracy (the rule of the mob) are used for the good and bad versions of “the rule of the many” respectively. Plato and Aristotle, however, used democracy for the bad version.
My Last Post
6 years ago