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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wither Red Toryism

You learn something new everyday, like the fascinating fact that Edmund Burke supported peacekeeping and socialized healthcare.  No really.

Clark's remarks reminded me of something that has been missing in Canadian political culture for the last decade or so: a progressive conservatism – some call those who follow its tenets Red Tories – that has its roots in Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. It has been overwhelmed and taken over by the conservatism of the Blue Tories, and our Conservatives have made it clear there is no room for the Joe Clarks of our country in their party.

Conservatism of the progressive variety has a set of core values and beliefs. It supports a social safety net and believes in helping people to better themselves. It is no accident that former Ontario premier Bill Davis, whose most important contribution to his province and the country was the extension of the public education system and a commitment to accessibility, was a PC.

One must admire the chutzpah in the above - no other word for it. If Burke wasn't exactly an Ayn Rand individualist, it rather strains credulity to imagine that the man who denounced the French Revolution would have approved of Trudeaupia. The stealth jacobinism of the last forty years, that has seen one of the freest nations in history transform itself into a "northern European welfare state," would have appalled Burke. 

Despite being considered the father of modern conservatism, Burke was actually a Whig, an 18th century liberal. He only broke with the Whigs when the party, led by his once friend Charles Fox, began openly supporting the French Revolution. Like modern liberals, the late Georgian Whigs so hated their own society they were keenly supporting those who sought to destroy it. That Robespierre, to say nothing of Napoleon, would have had a man like Fox jailed or guillotined, no more dissuaded the "new" Whigs from their jacobin passions than does Fidel Castro's human rights record dim his popularity in Hollywood. 

Burke, like both Whigs and Tories of the time, feared the "Overmighty State." A government that seizes nearly half of one's income would have seemed very mighty to the men running Westminister's comparatively shoe-string operations in the 1780s. Burke believed in reform rather than revolution, gradual change rather than a sudden jerk toward modernity, but that was the methodology.  Whigs and Tories of the Georgian Era believed in liberty, the question was how to defend it. 

Rule by a few or by many? A sentiment captured in the oft quoted observation from the American Revolution: "which is better—to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants not a mile away?" How could liberty be best transmitted to the next generation? Was Lockean individualism enough? Or was something cultural, something organic within civil society required that would instill these values? 

There is no more a clear line between Edmund Burke and Joe Clark than between Burke and Trudeau. As for the current conservative government, Burke was a close friend of Adam Smith. Smith said of Burke:  "the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us". It is unlikely either men would have regarded the last budget as anything but a pork laden swindle.  Better perhaps than what is being done elsewhere, but not good by any means.  Burke's voice, like Smith's, is lost in modern Canadian politics. Something far more worrisome than the partisan homelessness of Liberals in Tory clothing.

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 21, 2009 | Permalink


Unfortunately there are no more conservatives in Canadian politics (With a few exceptions of course) Harper's government is for ever marching left and has been since elected. The PC party of Alberta has is so large and so massive we out spend every other province, this is not how conservative government acts.

Posted by: Calgary Libertarian | 2009-07-21 8:37:00 AM

Excellent post. I laughed when I read that quote comparing Burke with Red Toryism. Burke would have had something to say about that!

Posted by: Dane Richard | 2009-07-21 10:09:13 AM

Red or Blue the joke's on you! They're all globalists now and they no longer represent Candianss to the world. They represent the International Bankers to us. Bought and paid for they are.
Don't forget to vote! :)

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-07-21 4:55:58 PM

And the idea that Harper is some kind of small government Tory is simply laughable.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-07-21 5:12:10 PM

Very good writing style, could use some of that down here to your south

Posted by: GeronL | 2009-07-22 1:15:54 AM

. . . missing in Canadian political culture for the last decade or so: conservatism


Posted by: K Stricker | 2009-07-22 10:16:58 AM

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