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National governing perpetuity

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted March 3, 2008

Since Canada's Liberals are always on the lookout for "new ideas" that are timely and thus salable, I put forth this proposition to be considered as much as its merit deserves. It has not only been inspired by the recent intercollegiality shown with the budget, the government's most important money bill, but also the recent governmental tranquility through the present era of minority governments at the federal level in Canada.

In a sentence, I propose that the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada merge, and become one.

"Tory" ain't what it used to be

Tories of all parties may be distressed at what I'm about to reveal, but conservatism nowadays is a pale shadow of what it used to be. The high-water mark for full-throated Toryism was reached in the mid-18th century. The spark was Queen Anne, even if Sir Robert Walpole kept her high Toryism away from day-to-day governmental policy. Back in those days, it was eminently respectable to invoke Throne and Altar explicitly. The "mob" was considered ipso facto unruly. Liberalism was easy to dismiss out of hand as the vain dreams of escaped peasants. Practical liberalism was considered fit for the colonies, which existed in the educated imagination as something akin to the badlands. It was possible to claim that "salutary neglect" was a proper policy for the colonies because they weren't civil enough for aristocratic governance.

As you may suspect, any movement which claims that mace and cross should act in concert is no foe to Big Government. That suspicion would be true: an eighteenth-century Tory was quite cheered at the thought of Big Government extending the economic planning of the day - mercantilism and regulation of trade - over as much of the economy as would stand for it. No less was he cheered at the thought of those loyal to King and Country getting a compensatory boost through a little favouritism from HM's Government. Who better a recipient of subsidy than the morally and politically deserving? To a staunch supporter of Throne and Alter, "no-one" would be the proper answer.

As a measure of the time, consider that "base," or of the lower orders, was a terrible insult. The worthies back then acted in a manner that today's do when accused of "racism" or "crypto-Nazism."

Nor is "liberal"

The use of "base" (and its variants) as a potent insult must have much pleased the old Tories. It may very well have been the foundation of many jokes at the expense of the rising liberal movement. Unfortunately, in the long term, the joke was on the Tories themselves. What was not realized at the time by those high worthies is that the use of "base" et. al. as a snub benefits the middle class in the long term. Throwing the middle in with the lower always leads to a middle class that identifies with the lower classes – and vice-versa.

Consider this thought experiment. Assume that the professoriate got the idea that possession of a Ph. D. makes one ipso facto smart, and the lack of one is all the proof you need of someone's stupidity. As a result of this drubbing and snubbing, anyone bereft of a doctorate internalizes the insult – including those misters and mizzes with high I.Q. scores. (After vainly protesting, they eventually give up.) Decades pass, and the lower orders go about their business, largely ignored by the smart set. After those decades, the smarter sort decides that the lower orders are becoming unruly and impertinent: some of them seem to think that they're "smarter than smart." A governmental clampdown is prepared.

Only, it goes horribly wrong. As it turns out, a lot of the "El Stupido" circuit proves to be much smarter than anticipated – and the "smarts" prove to be a hybrid of book smarts and practical smarts. The assimilation encouraged by the internalization of the "stupid" smear treatment has led to a mob of educated "stupes" and practical-minded bookworms.

Substitute "low-class" for "stupid" and you've got, in a nutshell, what went so wrong for Great Britain on the eve of the American Revolution. That revolt was the nucleus for the liberal program, largely born in the crucible of the colonies. Free trade, minimal interference with commerce, eschewing governmental interference, eschewing governmental help as a kind of disguised bribery, suspicion of official authority, support of unorthodox thought which (at times) went up to pandering, tolerance for the fellow with ways far from one's own, natural rights as the capstone to all of them – the entire liberal agenda began to take the world by storm in that period. Try advocating it now….

The Tories wise up

Defeated in no uncertain terms by the American rebellion, the Tories could only sit and wait. The French Revolution's eruption into the Terror gave them a new set of warning cries, but little grist for a positive program. That had to wait for the Industrial Revolution to get going.

The concept that saved the Tory movement in the era of liberalism regnant was the "Happy Peasant," retooled to include the "Happy Worker." With this change of perspective, it was asserted that the lower orders were base because they had a perfect right to be. Rather than wolfishness, the peasant class exhibited a stout-hearted defense of folkways and customs long earned. They only became wolfish as a result of outside agitators singing siren songs of liberty and individual self-government, and/or through the corruption of big money. The sterner sort of Tory insisted that this resulted from the incapacity of the peasantry to govern themselves, but the soft-hearted variant explained that they already did so, in their way. What was considered "brutishness" by the effete was merely taking advantage of compensatory freedoms. Freedoms that were long sanctioned by custom and tradition.

The normalization of the more soft-hearted mindset led to a huge expansion of government action. The man in the van was none other than Otto von Bismarck: his guiding principle was, "the State is there in part to facilitate the peasants maintain their folkways." Are the lower orders incapable of accumulating anything except body fat? Fine; they're not fit for self-implemented long-term planning, nor should they be. Social services for their benefit should be imposed by the government. Let them enjoy their luxuries and their spontaneity through the aid of the State, which can take over the long-term-planning function. Are the lower orders also incapable of undertaking jobs without getting themselves injured and killed? Why should they be blamed for it, especially by those whose sordid hands clutch money? Why should good souls be sacrificed for the advancement of mere trade? The government, surely, has a responsibility to the lower orders in this capacity as well, through health plans and safety regulations.  

The Tories (of all parties) that followed Bismarck's insight hit upon a sure-fire winner…the plank that kept on electing. By making the liberals look sordid, mean-minded and merely middle class, or as selfish, they routed old-style liberalism. The heart of liberalism was already rent when the old liberals (as of little more than a century ago) swallowed the suicide pill of Social Darwinism – the one that finally cleaved them from their "base" political strength. Tories should indeed thank God for Bismarckism: by moving Altar somewhat ahead of Throne, they kept themselves from the fate that they soundly meted out to the classical liberals. The advent of mass war made it easy for the Tory to shift to universal suffrage: the people that may be called upon to die for their country surely deserve to have a say in its running. If they be feckless, so what? During war is that kind of ‘fecklessness' not bravery?

Consequently, despite the pap, the twentieth century was a profoundly Toryish age, although in a universal-suffrage framework. Throne and Altar became re-mainstreamed as Vox Populi, Vox Dei. Not many democrats substituted an "est" for the comma.

The Grand Convergence

Of course, the liberals' kiesters were saved by the intrusion of socialism. It was easy to forget that Marx was a blueblood who, in a nation obsessed with place, managed to win the hand of a baron's daughter. (For a time, the Prussian Ministry of the Interior – in a Prussia where ministerships were basically owned by gentry and aristocracy – was Marx's brother-in-law. His father Heinrich was upper gentry, and he himself was a trust-fund boy. No need to wonder why Marx spawned so many "parlour pinks:" it was class solidarity all along.)

The socialist third option explains why an age profoundly Tory wound up with the Liberals as the "Natural Governing Party." The formula was easy: filch from the "red" Tories through the social democrats, and blame the Tories when something went wrong. Adapt and blame, tax and spend, elect and elect. And try to forget what the old Liberals would say if they popped out of their graves.

Ironically, the gentrification of wealth meant that the liberals' abandoned forefathers were taken in by the conservatives. Although at times it makes for a rusty joint, free-market liberalism has largely been internalized by many of today's conservatives. What this has led to is: Liberals implementing closet Tory programs while blaming the Tories for the unintended consequences, with Tories shucking off their own ancestry by trying to hold up (and, at times implement) some of the eroding traditions of dead Liberals. It makes for quite the argle-bargle.

It also makes for a new kind of ruling class – scions of the plutocracy who have internalized a disdain for trade, and even for wealth itself. This kind of person doesn't mind paying high income taxes – may indeed see high tax rates as a kind of Spartanesque cold bath that weeds out the soft and the arriviste. Once this psychological hump is laboured over, the result is quite agreeable for the high Tory. A huge government protecting the peasant class, including the ones who prosper thanks to the modern answer to the "King's mill." Multifarious laws and regulations freezing people in their place. Initiative drained as a consequence. Troublemakers urging individual self-government being at risk of the judgment – "antidemocrat." Consequent ease in getting rid of any popular troublemaker. Happy peasants convinced that they're really in charge. All that for the price of forking over most – a majority! - of one's income to various levels of government. And, if the mob gets too encouraged, a group of compliant free marketeers with Adam Smith in hand.

"They filch our policies, they implement ‘em, they blame us, and we stay on top."

So Why Not Make It Official?

With Tories protecting that part of liberalism they don't detest, and Liberals competing to see who can be more Bismarckian while (for now) eschewing the more militaristic element of Bismarckism, the two parties may as well be one. Both have forsaken their ancestral roots; both aim at a "centre" that has the high (if democratized) Tory at the top; both believe in a hampered free market with the State enjoying the same veto power over the free economy as the governor of a Crown colony used to over the elected legislature. In short, both parties are thoroughly mercantilistic at the domestic level, and tend to flirt with monetary mercantilism at the international-trade level. Both of them thoroughly eschew Walpole's "salutary neglect."

More to the point, what passes for partisanship between the two is little more than quibbles over priorities, details, and implementations. The Liberals' support of the Conservative budget is a useful symbol, but in itself little more than a capstone.

So why not a formal merger between the two? Since both parties shook off their moorings, there is ample scope for both Tory and Liberal to claim that they made the other side fold their hand, even if the high Tories have somewhat more of a brag thanks to Bismarckism.

Even that preponderance does balance out, though. What better way to ensure that the Liberals regain their status as the "Natural Governing Party?"… ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com, and has an undamaged mail address here.


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