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Violence and the civilized society: Conformity and dissidence in different societies (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 12, 2023

Author's Foreword (2023)

The following essay arose out of a presentation to a ginger group the author belonged to at the time, which took place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on December 16, 1988. The starting point of the discussion was the theme "Tories vs. Whigs".

These were rather unhappy times for the author. Before the Internet, living as a conservative and traditionalist in a megapolitan metropolis like Toronto, one often almost felt that (as Orwell had put it) that the only things that belonged to you were the few cubic centimeters inside your own skull.

The reading of the essay should be properly contextualized by taking note of the extreme alienation that the author felt from the Canada of the late-1980s, which tended to push him into a deeply questioning mode about "the received opinions" about liberal democracy, and the exercise of violence in society.

The embrace of toryism seen at times below is clearly Canadian. Although the author is uncomfortable with this line of argument, some have argued that the reason that Canada tightly regulates speech today is its tory-touched origins, which preferred an orderly society to free-wheeling debate that could create acrimonious social divisions.

Indeed, one can notice in the essay a sometimes uneasy hybridization of Canadian and American conservatism, as well as of other influences, such as the Polish.

(Initial drafts of this essay date back to 1988.)

In looking at the theme of "Tories and Whigs," and its possible application to some current-day debates, it must not be imagined that the Tory theorists of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries defended Toryism in the bald terms of the "the King has a right to do whatever he wants." "The Divine Right of Kings" was interpreted in terms of its meanings and implications for society as a whole ‑- i.e., as an embodiment of the Great Chain of Being which gave coherence and meaning to the human person's very existence. The Monarch (or Sovereign) embodied the collective will of society, and it could not be imagined that there could exist in society something that could be superior to the Sovereign. (By definition, the Sovereign is sovereign.)

If one could "translate" this concept into more "modern" terms, this would be as follows: there is a "touchstone" or social consensus around which every traditional society is based, and all major transgressions against that "touchstone" or social consensus can be met with appropriate punishment and/or counter‑measures. This is to say that the Sovereign reserves the ultimate power to punish or execute his subjects when they seriously transgress ‑- or, in other words, that the traditional society may vigorously defend itself against those who threaten its moral code (spiritual existence) or, obviously, its merely physical existence. The point to be made is that if the Sovereign is not sovereign, it is no longer the grounding or centering or absolute principle within that society. Yet, one could argue, without this "center" or absolute principle, life in society is no longer truly meaningful to the human person, because society itself is no longer truly meaningful, i.e., it is de‑absolutized.

Clearly, there are some exceptions to the principle of always upholding traditional societies, most notably in the initial arrival and extension of Christianity into the world.

It is also possible that some traditional societies still existing outside the West today, may embrace some highly questionable notions, and should not defend those notions. Edmund Burke's counsel of prudential statesmanship, and the idea of "reform in order to preserve", may be suggested as a way out of the dilemma of bad traditions – without undermining the concept of tradition as a whole.

But what happens in the far more currently prevalent situations, when a society eventually comes to be built emphatically around anti-traditionalist premises? This could be seen as occurring in current-day liberal democracy dominated by left-liberalism, and also in Nazism and what could probably be most precisely called Leninism.

It is possible to argue that any society can have (or inevitably has) a prevailing ideology or world‑view. But, is in fact, every society justified in defending itself against those who seek to somehow change, or perhaps ultimately, overthrow it?

Obviously, the idea that every society is justified in upholding its world-view, cannot be accepted. For example, traditionalists such as true Tories in Canada are obviously a tiny minority in a predominantly left-liberal society ‑- are they therefore to be "dealt with" and suppressed? There is also a twist in the fact that true Tories would (most likely) oppose a Far Left terrorist‑revolutionary attempt to topple a liberal democratic regime. Therefore, traditionalists would be advocating tolerance for themselves in a liberal democratic system, while calling for a "crackdown" on the Far Left – though presumably only if it advocated and carried out violence. Therefore, one must ask the crucial question, what criteria can be used to properly distinguish between what could be considered healthy though perhaps quite pointed political debate (regardless from which part of the political spectrum it emanates), and something that constitutes an "immediate incitement to violence"?

This also raises a further issue -‑ the fact that organized social violence is only one of a wide panoply of normative, utilitarian, and other coercive controls which any society uses to "keep people in line." A distinction may also be drawn here between the use of coercive instrumentalities mainly for the maintenance of civil order (or the professed attempt to do so), as in some earlier forms of liberal democracy, and the employment of coercive (and also normative and utilitarian instrumentalities) for the sake of the promotion, strengthening, and reinforcement of a given "world‑outlook." In more classical liberalism, the coercive instrumentalities are most often used for the sake of maintenance of civil order (and this is usually their sole "legitimate" justification in classical liberalism). Even today, in many liberal democratic societies, it is usually the normative and (to a certain extent) the utilitarian instrumentalities which are mostly used to "induct" people into various shades of liberalism (most especially through the mass-media, and the mass-education of the young). However, one can see increasingly in some liberal democratic societies, that coercive instrumentalities indeed begin to be used against such things as alleged "hate speech". The recent IRS scandal in the United States is another example of coercive instrumentalities coming to be used against dissenters. And, more recently, the prospects of the emergence of the so-called "surveillance society" have been instantiated more concretely that at any earlier point in American history.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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