The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable, by Ron Dart, Dewdney B.C., Synaxis Press, 2004, 221 pp.
As someone who self-identifies as a “High Tory” I have on occasion been asked to explain what exactly a High Tory is. I usually respond by explaining what a Tory is first and then explaining what is suggested by the qualifying adjective High. While Tory can be simply a nickname for a member or supporter of the Conservative Party I use the term to mean someone who holds to a certain set of principles and convictions and a certain way of looking at life and the world. The expression “small c conservative” is also used by those who wish to identify themselves as being conservative other than in the partisan sense but I prefer the word Tory because it hearkens back to an older form of conservatism, that exemplified by the eighteenth century poet, biographer, essayist, and lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson. A Tory is someone who supports the traditions, institutions, and constitution of his country, especially against radical innovations mercilessly derived from absolute, abstract ideals. A Tory looks upon his country and society, not as an aggregation of individuals who happen to live in the same place and time, but as a corporate identity in which individuals and families are connected, in many different ways and at many different levels, to form communities, classes, and all sorts of other social layers that ultimately come together to make an organic whole that includes past and future generations along with the present. A Tory is someone who sees the institutions of church and state as existing to promote the common good of the organic whole of his society which he understands as a collective good rather than in the utilitarian terms of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Having established the meaning of the noun Tory, we now turn to the qualifier. In the writings of T. S. Eliot, who was to the twentieth century what Dr. Johnson was to the eighteenth, i.e., the definitive Tory, we find in his statement “I am an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics” the key to understanding what the “High” in High Tory refers to. Anglo-Catholic is often used interchangeably with High Church and while both expressions usually denote a liturgical style today, both originally referred to a form of ecclesiology, i.e.,, the theology of the church, that correlates with the Tory’s organic view of society, by stressing the importance of Apostolic Succession as an organic and organizational link between the church in the present and the church founded by Christ through His Apostles. Classicism looks to Greco-Roman civilization as the font of the tradition of excellence in the humanities, i.e., arts, philosophy, literature, etc., which excellence is often called High Culture. Royalism is support for the high office of the king or queen and it is the sine qua non of what it means to be a Tory politically.
The High Tory tradition has been an important part of Canada since before Confederation, having inspired the United Empire Loyalists and ultimately, of course, going back to the United Kingdom. In Canada, the question has arisen of whether the High Tory is left-of-centre or right-of-centre. I would answer by saying that the High Tory is right-of-centre, being both a High Tory and very right-of-centre myself. One High Tory who is not so certain of that is Ron Dart.
Ron Dart is a professor at the University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia where he teaches in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies. Professor Dart is a devout Anglican, a Canadian nationalist, and a prolific author who has written several books about the thought of such Canadian Tories as Stephen Leacock and George Grant. He identifies himself both as a High Tory and a Red Tory and indeed uses the terms more or less interchangeably. In 1999 he published a collection of essays under the title The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes. Most recently he published Keepers of the Flame: Canadian Red Toryism. The book that I wish to discuss here, however, is one that he published ten years ago with the title The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable. Ten year ago, when this book first came out, the current Conservative Party had just been formed by the final merger of what was left of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance, which had itself been formed by an earlier attempt to merge the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party. The completion of the merger seems to have been the catalyst that prompted the writing of several of these essays and their compilation into this book.
Professor Dart took a very dim view of the movement to “unite the right” and the party that emerged from it describing it as a form of American colonization that was replacing Canada’s indigenous Tory tradition with American republicanism. This, I think, was a valid concern, and one which I shared to a large degree, but I do need to point out that my own scepticism towards the merger was based upon the expectation that it would combine the worst in both parties rather than the best. I need to point this out because many of the ideas that I would regard as the best in the Reform/Alliance party – in which I had a membership until a few months before the merger in 2003 – are ideas that Professor Dart would associate with American republicanism.
I say this because throughout the essays in this book, Professor Dart has stressed the differences between the High Tory tradition and the right-of-centre, small-c conservatism of the Canadian Alliance (which he calls the Alliance Party indicating his view of it as an American import), maximizing the distance between the two, while making the most of points of convergence between the High Tory tradition and the left-of-centre views of socialism and second-generation liberalism, minimizing the distance between these. In doing so, he says much that I would affirm and some things that I would question.
He begins his first essay by pointing to the American Revolution, in which the founders of the United States consciously broke away from the English tradition to build a republic on a foundation of liberalism. American conservatism, he is right to observe, has largely been an attempt to conserve the principles of an earlier form of liberalism whereas Canadian conservatism is directly derived from the English High Tory tradition of which it is a continuation. The High Tory, in England and Canada, has traditionally had a high view of the State and its “essential role in building and creating a good and just society” (p. 8), he writes, whereas it was the liberalism upon which the American Republic was built which spoke of a “lighter State” and “less taxes.”
This is all true and factual and this is the essence of both the chasm Dr. Dart sees as existing between the High Tory tradition and that of the Reform/Alliance/present Conservative Parties and the ties he sees between the High Tory tradition and socialism and welfare liberalism. The High Tory does indeed have a high view of the State, regarding it as a positive good rather than a necessary evil. I do not, however, see any necessary contradiction between this view of the State and the idea that the burden of regulations and taxes which the State lays upon the people it governs should be as light as is consistent with maintaining law and order.
It needs to be pointed out that there is a huge gulf between the rhetoric and reality of liberalism with regards to light government and taxation. The original English liberals, the Whigs, declared themselves to be on the side of liberty and against tyranny but the actual result of their campaign to transfer the power, privileges, and prerogatives of the Crown to the elected legislative assembly was to increase rather than to decrease the size and scope of the State and to cause taxes to go up rather than down. The American Revolution, fought with the same rhetoric, had the same results.
This is important because we do not want to make the mistake of thinking that freedom or liberty is a new idea or value that liberalism introduced into the world. This is liberalism’s own way of thinking about it and one of Dr. Dart’s most important and valuable insights, to which I will shortly return, is of the need to question liberalism at the level of its most basic ideas which are often taken for granted today. St. Paul the Apostle, in his epistle to the Romans asserted both the liberty of the believer and that the civil authority was the minister of God, clearly not seeing these as contradictory ideas and King Charles I, who is arguably the patron saint of the Tory, in his final speech before his martyrdom said that he had taken his stand for the true liberty of the people, consisting not of democracy but of laws which secure their lives and goods. The equation of liberty with democracy was, of course, the liberal position and the fact that the historical triumph of liberalism has led to the exponential multiplication of laws and taxes rather than their reduction shows the liberal view up for the lie that it is. Ironically this idea that freedom is a concept for which the world owes liberalism and/or the American revolutionaries is itself the idea that I found most objectionable in the Alliance Party where it tended to take the form of an obnoxious anti-patriotism and is a good part of the reason I let my membership drop.
I would argue that keeping the burdens of law and taxation as light as possible is actually essential to Tory support for the State as a positive institution necessary for the common good of society. Excessive laws and taxation have historically been one of the two biggest sources of popular discontent that demagogues have been able to exploit against the social and civil order and it is therefore in the State’s own interests not to err on the side of too much law and taxation or even to approach the line.. The other source of discontent is widespread misery throughout the populace. It was to combat this second potential threat to the civil order that Tories like Disraeli and Bismarck first devised a modest social safety net in the nineteenth century.
There is a paradox here in that while Disraeli and Bismarck introduced these social reforms to combat socialism it is because of these reforms that Dr. Dart can make a case for common ground between the High Tory and the socialist. It would have been interesting to see a discussion of how Toryism, liberalism, and socialism each separately moved towards support of a State social safety net for different reasons and to accomplish radically different ends. The only one of these changes Dr. Dart discusses as such is the evolution of “second generation” liberalism which he also calls “social liberalism” an expression which he uses to denote welfare liberalism rather than the moral permissiveness with which it is more commonly associated. Socialism too had to evolve before there could be any talk of common ground between the Tory and the socialist because in its original form socialism was the doctrine of levellers and revolutionaries, the very antithesis of the Tory, and it’s central concept was the common ownership of wealth, goods, and property, a doctrine explicitly rejected by the Anglican Church in the Thirty-Eighth of the Articles of Religion.
Even in its evolved form, I confess that I fail to see much in common between socialism and Toryism. It was George Grant, Canada’s finest conservative philosopher, who said that socialism was more conservative than capitalism, prompting Gad Horowitz to dub this view “Red Toryism”. I have always felt that Grant, whom Dr. Dart rightly gives a prominent place in this book and whom I, like Dr, Dart, hold in high esteem, was only half right on this. He was right to say that capitalism is the source of dynamic change and the uprooting of families, communities, and traditions, hence a revolutionary rather than a conservative force. He was wrong to say that socialism was any better. Second generation socialism, which harnesses the power of the State to accomplish progressive ends, if anything exacerbates what the conservative finds objectionable in capitalism.
Dr. Dart also gives a prominent place to Stephen Leacock, another traditional Tory for whom Dr. Dart and I share a high regard. Dr. Dart does an excellent job of showing Leacock, about whom he has written extensively, to have been much more than a humourist, but an economist and political and social scientist as well, but his reading of Leacock on the matter of socialism somewhat puzzles me. In his doctoral dissertation, to which Dr. Dart devotes one of the essays in this book, Leacock analyzed and was highly critical of the doctrine of laissez-faire, and rightly so as it takes the idea of private enterprise to an absurd, individualistic, extreme. This does not amount to a wholesale rejection of private enterprise, however, and Leacock’s take on socialism, in “The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice” was that it was an unworkable scheme, designed for a race of angels rather than men, life under which would be like life in a penitentiary, and which amounts to slavery. It seems to me that Leacock supported private enterprise but not in the extreme form of laissez-faire, and supported a social safety net for precisely the same reasons Disraeli and Bismarck did, i.e., as protection against the threat of socialism. These are my own prejudices, however, and I am not even remotely close to knowing as much about Leacock as Dr. Dart.
Although the evolution of socialism from the idea of collective ownership into the idea of an expansive social safety net is not discussed, Dr. Dart does discuss competing perspectives on the Left. Several essays in the first section of the book discuss American militarism and imperialism and two of these are devoted to the influence of American linguistics professor Noam Chomsky on the Canadian Left. Dr. Dart points out parallels between how the Alliance drew inspiration from the American Right and how the Canadian Left draws inspiration from Chomsky, lamenting that both Left and Right look so much outside their own country’s traditions to those of the United States, and further pointing out how the rhetoric of the self-declared anarchist Chomsky and that of the American Right have a common source is the liberal, republican, ideology of the American Revolution. Dr. Dart’s nationalist call to Canadians, Left and Right, to look to our own heritage and traditions is one which I loudly applaud.
Here, however, I feel compelled to point out that the High Tory tradition has long had an anarchist wing. This is paradoxical, of course, and quite deliberately so on the part of those involved, but it is made possible by distinguishing between two different States. The first, supported by all High Tories, is simply the Crown and Parliament as the governing institutions in the overall traditional order. The second, is a faceless collective, consisting of corrupt politicians and soulless bureaucrats, constantly interjecting itself into our everyday lives, throwing its weight around, bossing us around, burying us beneath a pile of useless and insipid regulations, and taking a huge chunk of our income as payment for its bullying behaviour. It is quite possible to love the first while hating and despising the second.
Novelists, for some reason or another make up a disproportionate part of this wing of the High Tory tradition, examples of which include Evelyn and Auberon Waugh and Anthony Burgess, who in the same breathe declared himself to be both a Jacobite and an anarchist, declaring his hatred of the State even as he recommended to the Americans that they find themselves a Stuart king. This is perhaps more common in Britain than in Canada but there is an obvious Canadian example, himself a novelist, who is even quoted by Dr. Dart in this book. I refer, of course, to Robertson Davies, who as a staunch monarchist, High Anglican and Canadian nationalist was clearly a High Tory despite his mild inclination to vote Liberal and who, in the introduction to The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, put a most amusing justification of the synthesis of royalism and anarchism into the mouth of his well-known fictional alter-ego. Need I say that it is this wing of the High Tory tradition with which I myself would most identify?
I will make one final observation with regards to the State. Early in the book, Dr. Dart points out that American republicans and their counterparts in the Alliance emphasize the role of society in creating the common good at the expense of the State, a form of thought he traces back to Thomas Paine’s 1776 Common Sense. Paine depicted society, consisting of voluntary, intermediate, associations as good and the State as a necessary evil. The High Tory view, as Dr. Dart explains well, is that both society and State have a role to play in this. My observation is that there are pitfalls on both sides of the Tory position. If Paine exalted society at the expense of the State the other pitfall is to be found in the way second generation liberalism and socialism have expanded the State at the expense of society. First generation liberalism fought to transfer power from the Crown to the legislative assembly, expanding the State in the process, and second generation liberalism has sought to concentrate the authority and in many cases the roles of society’s other institutions and associations in the same legislative assembly, thus expanding the State further at the expense of society. Since both the modern liberal and the socialist seek to harness the power of the democratic assembly and its bureaucracy which they have vastly expanded at the expense of a weakened Crown and society to accomplish modern progressive ends this seems to me to be the more deadly of the two pitfalls.
This brings me back to Dr. Dart’s insight of which mention was made earlier about the need to question liberalism at the deeper level of its basic principles. As the institutions of society, including the Church and family, were weakened a number of debates over contentious issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and gay rights, to list but three examples, arose. Dr. Dart aptly calls these “culture wars” and astutely notes that it is pointless to engage in these debates if we are not willing to examine and understand the deeper principles that lie beneath these issues He further observes that “we live in an age dominated by liberalism” (p. 114), that it is a sort of “matrix” into which we are born, and that there is an ironically illiberal unwillingness to question liberalism’s own fundamental principles.
This is all just from the introduction to the first of the three essays which resonated with me the most in the entire book, all of which are found in the fourth and final section. This is not to slight the other sections in each of which one of Dr. Dart’s most impressive talents is on prominent display. I refer to his matchless ability to see connections between the lives and thoughts of various individuals, to point out where they intersect in ways that have often been overlooked by biographers, historians, and scholars who have made one of these individuals the focus of their study, drawing comparisons or contrasts. It is in this final section of the book, however, that he turns to deep thoughts, principles, and philosophical structures and I suspect that he consciously arranged the book in this way in order to illustrate his point about the importance of looking at the underlying ideas beneath the personalities, conflicts, and issues.
In the first of these three essays which is also the first in the section, Dr. Dart traces the history of the formation of the liberal matrix through seven phases, first identifying the basic principles of liberalism – “liberty (freedom), individualism, equality, fraternity (solidarity), conscience, historicism, and the quest for meaning, happiness or authenticity” (p. 114), observing that liberalism will take different forms depending upon how these principles are prioritized and showing how even deeper than these principles, lie the root of liberalism in its view of human nature as “open and weak on boundaries and limitations…a project in which we make ourselves.” (p. 115)
I was pleased to see that, despite a visible preference for Plato, he argues against the simplistic Plato v. Aristotle model that traces the origins of liberalism back to Aristotle, instead pointing, like Richard M. Weaver and the Radical Orthodoxy movement within Anglican theology (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, et. al.), to the shift away from universals in the nominalism of Occam and Scotus as the source of liberalism. From nominalism, he traces the development of liberalism through the Reformation, the emerging individualism of the seventeenth century which saw the English Civil War, the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the Victorian era, the early twentieth century, to the post-modern era, tracing how liberalism in each phase took the same basic principles one step further, turning them against the traditional Church in the Reformation, then against Christianity itself in the Enlightenment, until finally we arrived at the present where “the language of rights, diversity, process, tolerance, pluralism and openness is very much the sacred speech, script, and shibboleths of the liberal drama”. (p. 120) After giving us this outline of the advancement of liberal thought, he identifies the question -“What is the good in liberalism and what are its limitations” – which requires us to do what so many find difficult to do, or even to think of doing, which is to take a step back from the liberal worldview and to think outside its box. Indeed, in the conclusion to the essay, which comes after a critical examination of the attempt of one liberal, appropriately Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, to think outside the box and a brief discussion of the older alternatives to the liberal view of the self in the contemplative traditions within western and eastern religions, he says “If we have not learned to think outside this matrix, we probably have not yet learned to truly think.” (pp. 127-128).
The second of the three essays comes almost immediately after the first, with a short review of a Charles Taylor book in between. In this essay, Dr. Dart contrasts the High Tory way and the older Western tradition from which it is derived with eight “Marks of Modernity”. Where the modern world values the vita activa, i.e., the life of “labour, work and action” (p. 133) over the contemplative life, Martha over Mary to use Scriptural imagery, the older tradition valued the contemplative life higher. Perhaps value is not the right word, however, for the second mark of modernity is the shift away from the classical emphasis on virtues to an emphasis on values, to what is chosen by the self rather than what is fixed. These reversals have brought about a further shift from wisdom to knowledge, manifested in the abandonment of the classical understanding of education as to “awaken the soul to the good, true and beautiful” (p. 135) to the modern understanding of it as job training. The fourth mark of modernity is that the individual has come to “trump the rights of the community, nation, and commonweal” (p. 138) and the fifth is the shift away from memory and the past to a “preoccupation with the present and immediate” (p. 139) which Dr. Dart very accurately characterizes as a turning away from the humilitas to hubris. The sixth mark is a turn away from thinking of our relationships in terms of covenant built on loyalty to contract based upon mutual advantages and interests. Modern man, Dr. Dart then points out, has gone from thinking of self as a gift, “something we discover through being open to the grace and goodness of existence” to thinking of self as a project, something “that we make and write as an artist might write a drama, poem, or novel” (p. 141). Finally, he talks about how modern man has embraced equality to the point of rejecting hierarchy, the “notion of good, better, best and bad, worse, worst” that “resists the dumbing down of all things to the level of opinion” and means “that the self can aspire to higher things, greater and grander quality.” (p. 144)
In making these contrasts, Dr. Dart gives an outline of the High Tory way – the life of contemplation, the classical virtues, wisdom as the end of learning, the commonweal, memory of the past, relationships as covenants, self as gift and hierarchy – with which I would wholeheartedly agree, although as a High Tory of the Right, I would probably put much more emphasis on the last item. That Dr. Dart’s emphasis is on the first item is evident in the essays following this one, particularly the ones about C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton (from whom he borrowed the subtitle for the book). This is a good emphasis too, and it brings us to the third of Dr. Dart’s essays that I wish to discuss, which apart from two book reviews is the last in the book.
In this essay Dr. Dart talks about the Anglican Church, at one time called “The Tory Party at prayer”, which I am pleased to see he traces back further than the break with Rome in the sixteenth century to the arrival of Christianity in Albion. Describing the tradition as “deeply Celtic, firmly Catholic, thoroughly Reformed, generously Liberal, eagerly Evangelical and openly Charismatic” (pp. 199-200). He identifies as the eleven foundation stones of the Anglican Tradition, the wisdom of Tradition, the Bible, “experience, spirituality, mysticism and the contemplative way” but not a spirituality that demonizes institutional religion, the magisterial Tradition (by which he means the speaking of the Church to political, economic and social issues), a high view of the arts and culture in which “the good, true and the beautiful are means of grace, and must be seen as such”, “a profound respect for Nature as a good”, a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, education in which the heart and head are integrated, rejection of the “split between the sacred and the profane”, tension between a conservative respect for the wisdom of the past and the old ways and liberal concern for the matters of the present, and the localism of the parish. (pp. 200-204).
After this beautiful portrait of the breadth and depth of the Anglican tradition he discusses the contemporary situation in the Anglican Church – the way liberalism has come to dominate the leadership, the response of the conservatives in the conferences of the Essentials movement, the discussion (or lack thereof) between the two sides, how Bishop Ingham of New Westminster took liberalism to the next level with a reductionist form of pluralism in a book released in 1997, and the critical response it received the following year (modestly, Dr. Dart does not mention that he co-wrote the response).
There are obvious parallels between what is happening in the Church and what is happening in modern society as a whole, illustrating perhaps, both the wisdom of what Dr. Dart has to say about refusing to divide the world into the sacred and profane and how important it is that the Church speak prophetically into the whole of society rather than uncritically submitting to the spirit of the age. There are no easy solutions to the crisis in the Church, but just as with our country and with Western civilization as a whole, there is a clear need to think deeply and critically about modern principles that have gone unchallenged and to find refreshment from traditional wells and streams as we seek to walk the old paths anew. This is the High Tory way, and on that High Tories, Left and Right, can surely agree.
If I have not already said this in this review, I would like to conclude by giving my hearty recommendation that you read The Canadian High Tory Tradition but with the warning that you will not be able to stop at this book, which discusses so many other interesting writers and books that my reading list has not gone down by one with the reading of it, but expanded immensely. That, by the way, is what I consider the mark of a truly excellent book.
Originally published on Throne, Altar, Liberty 10 June, 2014.