The Tory tradition in Canada from the 1980s to today – Part Six
By Mark Wegierski
It could be argued that one of the reasons for the comparative success of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, is that it has to some extent acknowledged, albeit in a skewed sense, some of the major social and national instincts of the country. It is probably the NDP's occasional lip-service to community and nation that allows it to gain the support of far more "average people" than it would otherwise have.
In earlier articles, it had been discussed how the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) – the precursor to today's "ultra-politically-correct" NDP – while ferociously fighting for the working majority – had indeed mostly upheld traditional notions of nation, family, and religion. Especially in those earlier decades, there were considerable numbers of so-called "social conservatives of the Left" – typified by such figures as John Ruskin (the nineteenth century cultural critic), William Morris (the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement of traditional aesthetic revival), Jack London, and George Orwell, among others. Christopher Lasch, one of the most prominent critics of late modernity, had identified himself as a "social democrat." The most politically prominent representative of this tradition in Canada was probably Eugene A. Forsey, a labour union adviser and constitutional scholar. In the age of a pre-totalitarian and pre-politically-correct Left, John Ruskin could say with some confidence – "I am a Tory of the sternest sort, a socialist, a communist."
The more intellectually and culturally robust social democratic thinkers (as we have seen in the example of Gad Horowitz), were greatly aware of the real lineaments of what has been termed "the crisis of late modernity" and were to some extent willing to work alongside what remained of the conservative traditions of their respective countries (such as, for example, the Tory tradition in Canada).
It could be argued that most of modern socialism is but a pale and weak reflection (in a rather skewed and secularized form) of the great philosophico-religious systems that have constituted virtually every society in existence before the arising of the so-called Enlightenment. Nevertheless, socialism may contain certain restorative possibilities.
Despite the rapid advance of Enlightenment concepts among various philosophes and savants, it should be noted that the truly catastrophic social and cultural consequences of late modernity for most Western societies had only been concretely instantiated in the aftermath of the 1960s revolutions. It may be noted that until that period most belief-systems – regardless of where they were on the political spectrum – were, to a large extent, socially-conservative.
Although it is accusatorily said today that a tendency like Nazism had also supported so-called "family values" -- the Nazi regime was clearly so extreme, so vicious, so violent that it certainly cannot be considered as symptomatic of any kind of "conservatism". Nor is its ostensible championing of the (German) working classes to be taken as indicative of representing "socialism". Like Soviet Communism -- but unlike most forms of social democracy -- Nazism existed outside Western traditions of ordered liberty.
Today, it can be seen that some of the Sixties' ideas have been carried so radically forward in a relentless dynamic, that some politicians and intellectuals considered as "highly progressive" during the Sixties' period itself, might now have some qualms about them, or even find them rather repugnant.
Such reflective traditionalists as J.R.R. Tolkien had also realized that the motivations of many of the young people in the Sixties were considerably idealistic. It could be argued that the young people were usually twisted in bad directions by a combination of opportunistic corporations that promoted antinomianism and consumptionism, and professional left-wing agitators that pushed what later became called "political correctness".
Most of modern socialism could be seen to have arisen in a desperate attempt to re-assert that spirit of community and the collective which liberal capitalism has so thoroughly eroded through the political and industrial revolutions of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and their subsequently unfolding social, political, cultural, and technological consequences.
Socialism, however, is also typically a system based on the view of the human person as an entirely material being, a collection of molecules and energies that are somehow intrinsically imbued with a teleology. (The so-called "inevitability of progress".) Insofar as socialism is a rigidly materialistic system (one thinks, for example, of the thinness of Lenin's Dialectical Materialism or "DiaMat"), it fails to take into account an extremely important part of human nature and existence. That is why the Left is forced to fish around in Marx's early writings, and to, after all, make the appeal to "feeling", injecting some emotional content into what could be seen as a philosophical system that does not properly acknowledge the spiritual, religious, and deeply-psychological factors of human existence.
Leaving behind what could be seen as intensive but rather arid theorizing, left-liberalism has become today, for a considerable number of persons, virtually all "feeling" – consisting mostly of various kinds of ressentiment as well as (especially in the case of the white liberal elites) of overflowing "compassion" – though mostly only for so-called "recognized minorities".
It is a matter of some irony that one frequently sees increasing unhappiness among people and criticism of the capitalist system precisely as living standards have vastly improved. In the nineteenth century, what would today be seen as the unbelievably harsh, grinding poverty among huge numbers of the population, existing even in such places as England, did not create revolutionary ferment, because the society was far more grounded in such traditional verities as nation, family, and religion. It could be argued that various premodern and early modern residues had not yet been thoroughly expunged.
As far as why the Bolsheviks were able to seize power in an apparently far more traditional Russia, it can be seen that that society had endured catastrophic defeat in war, and had been conditioned by centuries of despotic rule (firstly, under the Tartar yoke, and secondly, under a Tsarist autocracy virtually outside European traditions of ordered liberty). There were very little traditions of resilient intermediary institutions of civil society, and when the main power-centres of the country had been seized, and the "White" armies beaten back in a colossal, savage civil war, control of the country thereby ensued. It could be argued that, ironically, Soviet Communism had more in common with what Marx had disparagingly called "the Oriental mode of production" – than his "scientific socialism."
Looking at the contemporary scene, it could be argued that it is only today, in the aftermath of the Sixties' revolutions, that late capitalism has truly reached the stage suggested in Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto – "all that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned".
All that most people seem to be able to aspire to today is either wealth beyond the dreams of avarice or becoming acclaimed a world champion of "political correctness". Indeed, it can be seen that such archetypical figures of our current day world, such as Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, "Bono", Malcolm Gladwell, Madonna Ciccone, and Angelina Jolie, handily combine the two pursuits.
Late capitalism entertains similarly materialistic views of human needs as the socialism it claims to be opposing. Indeed, the slogan of many liberals today might well be Jeremy Bentham's, "push-pin is as good as poetry". While the masses are continually told and flattered that they are in charge of the system, the stupefying ideology of consumptionist pop-culture serves a crucial role in upholding the managerial-therapeutic regime. Most people are bereft of any true knowledge of history or culture, leaving such matters to the academic mandarinate, among whom – it should be well noted -- "political correctness" and some especially peculiar views of society, culture, and history -- rule. Thus, stridently acclaiming virtually all human inclinations and levels of knowledge, as equally worthy, contributes to the "dumbing down" of what was once a fairly respectable, authentically popular culture, where people could still reach reasoned judgements about important matters. It discourages the so-called average person from trying to look beyond today's usual cultural diet of mostly antinomian and "politically-correct" films and television programs, and celebrity gossip websites. It serves the further entrenchment of the regime.
It could be argued that the purely material and materialistic definition of humanity ultimately reduces the human being to a meaningless lump of matter, to be shaped, manipulated, coerced, and destroyed at will. It could be argued that the societal "solutions" of both socialism and liberalism are reductive or incomplete, incapable of truly satisfying the human being's deepest longing and needs. Finally, it could be argued that the perennial philosophy of conservatism is more likely to move societies towards the so-called "higher synthesis" -- combining the premodern sense of genuine spirit, "meaningfulness", and real community, with the benefits of modern technology used for human ends, not against them.
To be continued next week.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.