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Fading blues – the decline of the Tory tradition in Canada since the 1980s (Part Seven)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 26, 2020

What have been some of the greatest blows against British and British-Canadian identity? It could be argued in retrospect that the racialized self-definition of the British as “Anglo-Saxons” – especially in the late Nineteenth Century -- has had a highly deleterious effect on English-speaking societies in the Twentieth Century and today. It undermined the notion of Britishness as a “political nationality” and thereby undermined British identity itself, once racialized identities (of the majority population) had become considered as thoroughly repellent. The term “Anglo-Saxon” in its racialized use gives unpleasant reminders of some of the worst aspects of English-speaking societies in the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth centuries.

Later, there appears to have occurred a dialectical “flip” among the stereotypical elite WASPs from racist blowhards – to the most ultra-politically-correct and self-alienated white grouping. It should nevertheless be remembered that they typically still enjoy living standards that are materially far, far more comfortable than both those of the “poor” whom they claim to champion, as well as of the “reactionary” lower-middle-classes whom they mostly despise. Many of them also continue to disdain Roman Catholics and “white ethnics” (the various Eastern- and Southern-European nationalities) – although ostensibly for “progressive” reasons.

The collapse of the British Empire in the 1950s has left a void in the Canadian social and cultural landscape that is difficult to replace. Ironically, Britishness is disappearing as an operative identity even in Britain. Indeed, there are books being written today about “the abolition of Britain.” A society once considerably characterized by politeness, commonsense, and a toleration of various personal and political eccentricity, has tended to become one of “yobs”, tawdry women, and police enforcement of “political correctness” – a milieu which, already in the early 1960s, had given the creative impetus to a novel like Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (later filmed audaciously by Stanley Kubrick).

It is an interesting question whether certain aspects of a more traditional English-Canadian character may contribute to Canada still being a “nicer” society than current-day Britain or the United States. Certainly, the archetypical Canadian politeness and the comparative livability of Canada’s large cities persist to some extent even today.

It could be argued that Canada, as “British North America”, may have synthesized the more salubrious aspects of both British and American societies, combining something like the orderliness and politeness of Britain with the material prosperity and more democratic attitudes of living in a huge, resource-rich North American country. Thus, Canada may have removed “the nastier edge” of certain aspects of Britain (the excesses of the class-system of the nineteenth-century English haute-bourgeoisie [1]), as well as of the United States (an excessively commercial and materially-driven society).

Today, the obviously democratic, “progressive” strands in Canadian history are often seen as prefigurations of the “Trudeau consensus” that has taken hold since the late 1960s. However, it’s possible to argue that that is a fundamental misapprehension that does not take into account the highly radical nature of the Trudeau transformations – which have amounted to a “regime-change.” It has been argued earlier that, before the 1960s, virtually all of social, cultural, and political life in Canada existed within the “traditionalist-centrist consensus.”

Britishness has long ago been washed away by ever newer definitions of Canadian identity – and now, even some of those newer definitions of Canadian identity – once considered quite “progressive” – are being washed away by the roaring tide of ever more radically interpreted multiculturalism and “hyper-modernism”.

To paraphrase from T. S. Eliot – where, today, is “the British” that we have lost in “the Canadian”? – and where is “the Canadian” that we have lost in “the multicultural”?

Gad Horowitz also has the courage to make a frank admission about socialist [2] Canadian nationalism:

“Socialism is internationalist...

If the United States were socialist, at this moment, we would be continentalists at this moment. If the possibilities of building a socialist society were brighter in the United States than in Canada, or as bright, we would not be terrified by the prospects of absorption. We are nationalists because, as socialists, we do not want our country to be utterly absorbed by the citadel of world capitalism.” [emphasis in Gad Horowitz’s original text]

Canadian Political Thought, H.D. Forbes (ed.), (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 367.

It is of some interest that the tory Canadian nationalism endeavours to remain inherently faithful to Canada, even if today, it does appear that America is a more conservative society than Canada. In earlier articles, all the various reasons that America is apparently more conservative than Canada had been enumerated. Nevertheless, the Tory tradition in Canada does not wish to unqualifiedly embrace the United States today, even if it seems like a more conservative society than Canada.

To be continued. ESR


[1] It is highly inaccurate to characterize the landed aristocracy as allegedly the most oppressive and the most predominant structures of the British class system.

[2] Gad Horowitz typically uses the word “socialism” to mean what is more commonly called “social democracy” not a Soviet-style regime.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.




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