Fading blues – the decline of the Tory tradition in Canada since the 1980s (Part Eight)
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 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.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.