By Casey LeFroy
What kind of animal is Red Toryism? What truck would The Cause have with the crimson devil? Quoting the words of T.S. Eliot on the subject, a man befriended and lauded by no less than this our patron saint, Russell Kirk notes that:
In December 1928, Eliot published in his magazine his essay ‘The Literature of Fascism’– which he rejected, along with the literature of Communism. “A new school of political thought is needed,” he wrote, “which might learn from political thought abroad, but not from political practice.”
What has prevented us from doing just that, so far? George Parkin Grant, the great Dread Tory of Canadian fame, noted in English-Speaking Justice that English and American thinkers had cut themselves off in a depressing parochialism when they facilely identified totalitarianism with Nietzsche, Rousseau, and the Continentals, and opted hands down for English liberalism rooted in Locke. Conservatives were also affected, being an offshoot of the classic liberal-democratic tradition. Although Conservative roots are sunk deep in the classically liberal tradition, that of (largely unknown) Swiss theorists like Vinet, English Whigs as represented by Lord Acton, and the latest American reinterpretations offered by men like Richard Weaver, they have gone along by degrees in accepting both John Locke’s “blank-slate” epistemology as well as his pared-down Kantian contractualism.
Tempted as I am to digress on how Calvinists who know the first chapter of Romans could ever side with Lockean tabula rasa epistemology, it is worth noting that conservative opposition to examining the liberal definition of man has more to do with temperament than intellectual conviction: it simply does not sit well with the deeply conservative temperament, rooted in provincial traditions and local places, to consider placing themselves to some degree, however small, within the “Red” camp, however construed. Add to this, the re-incubation in American self-reliance over centuries, and the suggestion becomes intolerable. Red Toryism smacks of high treason to the Cause. But what, precisely, is the state of the “Cause” at this date? Where, and in what state, lies our defunct Nargothrond? Can we ever recover “It”, committed (as we are) to a belief that contractual calculation of self-interest in a comfortable preservation sustained by technology is the fundamental secular “destiny” of man?
We find ourselves in the strangest type of position: interested in preserving continuity and liberty, concatenated side-by-side through church, family, and local community, we are thereby (successfully) characterized as (at best) living dinosaurs or at worst as pernicious fossils. The logic of our basic assumptions pulls us towards “progressivism”, even if it is a prudential variety more respectful of older ways and holdovers from that ancient European past. Our political opponents, the faux liberaux (neo-“liberals”) have presented us gleefully with a fait d’accompli, a global-unitary-Hegelian-superstate run by an oligarchy on the basis of a consumptive massed industrialism, wherein significant elements of favoured minorities are bribed through massive redistribution to support the furthering thrust of progress in a “long march through the old institutions”. We are told that the new era dawning upon us will supersede the past just as Christianity replaced paganism. The hour of the perfectly unfettered individual is right around the next corner. Only the mad, unblessed, and blind could object to it! Economically, neo-conservatism has successfully defended a libertarian approach to business, and politically, the new liberalism has successfully upheld the ultimate and burning relevance of mass diversity. The result has been rampant individualism, even in our camp.
The triumphant Left informs us (when it deigns to address us) that (just) as there can never be a perfect society, yet (just so) there can never be an end to the growth of the corporate state in the name of that perfect and infinite Justice. The efficient causes of technology and the formal causes of liberalism are all that matter in this equation. Any other causation, particularly the transcendent, is tolerated at best, and certainly not welcome in the State. Nor are they merely opposed final causes or common-sense static facets in the polis. The deep immanence of material causation is also only “matter” to be worked over- there is no piety here towards older culture-ways, particularly those of the white peoples. “Justice will progress by degrees, infinitely, at the behest of the State, and thanks largely to Science”. That is the official line, from now, until the end of time. The dies are cast. Any resistance to this model is viewed as either pathological or a new reason for pursuing a more ultimate victory over the benighted forces of traditional reactionism. We are benevolently encouraged to assimilate our cultural and biological distinctiveness to the Hive. Astonishingly, by and large we largely do so. The ground grows thinner under our feet every year.
This last reason is perhaps the most powerful argument for why Conservatism needs to change. Frankly, there are (currently) no other feasible peaceful and large-scale alternatives to the process above besides something very akin to “Red Toryism”. If the reader knows of one, I would be happy to hear of it.
It is first of all posited by its theorists (Phillip Blonde at ResPublica, notably) that there is no possibility of preserving the “Good Life” in any form from within the crypto-prescriptive modes of modern liberalism. Failed conservatism cannot succor a disastrous liberalism – they share the same pedigree. Modern conservatives just want to “slow things down” a bit. They share too much with the enemy in the way of faith in technology to offer anything but prudential caution. We live in a modernized fashion, and the center moves farther left every year. Negative critiques against the self-induced illusion of the sorcery-state (that things are progressing anywhere) are useful, yet at some point (presumably) conservatives will have to begin to abandon purely temperamental responses, necessary as they are in private life. They must begin to propound theoretical alternatives. Weaver, Nisbet, Rieff, Kirk, and even Eliot will have to begin to make way for a programme based on something other than angry reaction, healthy as such a reaction initially is. Edmund Burke had concluded something along these lines when he wrote, “When all the forces of history seem to conspire against one, no matter in how honorable a cause, it will eventually be not only impious, but perverse and obstinate, to continue the fight.”
In Technology and Empire, George Parkin Grant remarked of this pedigreed liberal monster that it was curious that Hegel managed to take two classical value-systems with rigorous codes of transcendent morality (Greco-Roman Classicism and Christianity) and make a synthesis of the two which had neither rigor nor transcendence. Progress is forever. It is the final dialectic. We know already that all the current “answers” are dishonest, inconsistent, unimaginative, and proto-fascist. Classic liberalism is also running out of ground. Theodore Dalrymple, Dinesh D’Souza, John Derbyshire, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, or even Ann Coulter and Glen Beck have gotten this far in critique. The neo-conservatives gave us their co-optive vision of the American century, with the USA as a kind of world capital of the new global Empire based on debt and trade. Is this what we want? Phillip Blonde, along with Milbank’s school of radical orthodoxy, are going a bit further in a more fruitful direction. Red Toryism is the only viable and fully theoretical response to Modernity which we have available to us. Setting aside factionalism, Blonde has asked if it is possible (let alone desirable) to have a sustainable State without “intermediate institutions”, or a Market indifferent to the “permanent things”, or a livable Society blind to the ancient “glory of Europe”. For this is precisely what many libertarian thinkers, free-market defenders, and status quo apologists on the Right deeply believe. They assume that man can live as a nomad (and Monad), an atom within the blind forces of the Free Market and a gigantic State intent on protecting huge financial interests, practicing their conservative beliefs in private. They share these assumptions with their violent factional enemies. This is not an “alternative” to the Left – this is an increasingly meaningless and minor debate about the details of precisely how Fanon’s and Che’s Revolution will be managed indefinitely for the profit of the elite, and in any debate like this, those who are more consistent will eventually prevail. No wonder young people aren’t attracted to the cause. Here is Harvey Cox, in The Atlantic, under ‘The Market As God’:
“The Market, for example, strongly prefers individualism and mobility. Since it needs to shift people to wherever production requires them, it becomes wrathful when people cling to local traditions. These belong to the older dispensations and — like the high places of the Baalim — should be plowed under. But maybe not. Like previous religions, the new one has ingenious ways of incorporating pre-existing ones. Hindu temples, Buddhist festivals, and Catholic saints’ shrines can look forward to new incarnations. Along with native costumes and spicy food, they will be allowed to provide local color and authenticity in what could otherwise turn out to be an extremely bland Beulah Land.”
The Left’s chief sin was not in the first place a “red” ideology, but impiety towards God and towards the incarnated cultural forms Christians had built up over time. They rejected transcendent Forms, hard-earned local liberties, and revelatory traditions. They were overmastered by the same illusion under which neo-liberalism yet labors – that economics was everything. Rosenstock-Huessy remarks in his Out of Revolution that capitalism’s great sin was in not grasping that the wage-laborer only functioned because of the transcendent ethos that came with him intangibly, largely a product of pre-capitalistic conditions, and for which the employer was able to avoid paying, even as he consumed them. As long as robber barons built hospitals and libraries with their loot, as long as homogeneous immigration supplied fresh cultural mettle, and as long as voluntary associations filled the gaps left by industrial ravage, things looked fairly rosy. That ceased around 1900. Democracy entered its post-Christian phase. Technological manipulation gained the upper hand as immigration from Europe slowed and Europe began to burn. Here is Eliot again:
“A real democracy is always a restricted democracy, and can only flourish with some limitation by hereditary rights and responsibilities …. The modern question as popularly put is: ‘democracy is dead, what is to replace it?’ whereas it should be: ‘the frame of democracy has been destroyed; how can we, out of the materials at hand, build a new structure in which democracy can live?’ For the question of questions, which no political philosophy can escape, and by the right answer to which all political thinking must in the end be judged, is simply this: What is Man? what are his limitations? what is his misery and what his greatness? and what, finally, his destiny?”
These last are not questions for the free market, or its self-anointed therapists, or the masses, to try to answer. Man, the dollar-using animal, Man the consumer, cannot answer, or even comprehend the question. And without an answer, as well as a government framed to consider such “limits of the plannable” (or the tangible), arguments for private property are ultimately deceits. The Left sees this quite well. Will individuals remain entitled to even their own DNA under such a regime? “Red Toryism” realizes probably not, and lays plans accordingly. What would it mean for a conservative to become a Red Tory?
Phillip Blonde has proposed, for example, that citizen-groups meeting certain standards of expertise and efficiency could offer budgetary challenges to definable spending areas currently administered bureaucratically. This might be a bus line or a division of narrow services within the State. Since presumably the group would come from the people underserved by the government in that particular area, but would represent real initiative and ability as a smaller group, they would then be allowed to self-administer the services in an effort to provide the actual services legitimately needed, at under the current cost. The people actually needing and using the services would, through service over time, begin to buy back the bureaucratic apparatus and “devolve” the State. And at some point, they might even be able to begin to generate enough positive revenue to operate independently. The revenues of the State would then amount to a safety-net and a public no-interest loan, intended to teach people how to fish, rather than distributing wholesale for nothing. Rural energy or agricultural cooperatives do exactly this, and extremely efficiently and knowledgeably, all the time, every day. This is back-engineered self-government, the same thing that a “left-libertarian” party like the Free Vermonters argues. And if nothing else, it begins to reduce the sheer scale and top-heaviness of centralized power by cutting out the chinovniks.
This is nothing different from Disraeli’s old “One Nation” idea in Britain. It does not represent a revolutionary challenge to anything other than entrenched oligarchical elites, who will be deprived of sinecures and power. So it dovetails perfectly with the old conservative idea that excellence, virtue, and effort ought to have a political reward, disseminated on various scales throughout the body politic. In a Red Tory government, the adjective “Red” represents the keen insight that a well-ordered state will not be micro-managed from the top and/or allowed to deteriorate into festering open wounds, but will be given into the hands of natural leadership. I hate to quote Jefferson, but this was his original idea – the emphasis is upon natural aristoi.Let those who know, in their area, govern. The thing is to make it work and to end the control from the top. The only way to end this state of affairs permanently is not through reaction, but by disenfranchising the political factions currently mis-managing it, and to deliver power to the best people one can find. The by-product will be to restructure it profitably and locally. Under current conditions, supporting a Free Market means playing into the hands of entrenched interests, like central Banks. As Blonde puts it, the State and the Market have visibly failed. Red Toryism desires “a civil state, a moralized market, and an associative society”. Whatever conduces towards those ends is politically desirable, provided the means are appropriate.
And being “Red” won’t only mean recognizing that the central State will continue to have to loan money while such a re-structuring occurs. In addition to emphasizing the principles of subsidiarity, local units, and organic federalism as explored by modern thinkers such as Alain de Benoist (via the old Dutch Calvinist Althusius), the “Red” stands for hierarchy, excellence, dignity, and the old ways, as well. Red will stand for the old Christian ideals of sacrificial monarchy, in which the heads of states carried their sceptres like a cross. The government, in other words, isn’t a caucus of diverse plutocrats who manipulate the machinery and levers of an increasingly dysfunctional State, but known servants answerable to higher principles and a higher power for the worth of their position. Only a check-and-balance federalism built on Christian principles of subsidiarity, responsibility, and local consent can provide the framework to ensure the modern situation is devolved and doesn’t reappear. Our Founding Fathers aimed for much of this in the Constitution. Again, Eliot, in Idea of a Christian Society: the organization of society on the principle of private profit, as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and to the exhaustion of natural resources, and that a good deal of our progress is material progress for which succeeding generations will have to pay dearly…p.48
“Was our society, which had always been so assured of its superiority and rectitude, so confident of its unexamined premises, assembled around anything more permanent than a congerie of banks, insurance companies, and industries, and had it beliefs more essential than belief in the compound interest and the maintenance of dividends?” p.51
Indeed. Empire may or not be tenable within a Red Tory system, but certainly the kind of massed, technological democracies practiced today represent a form of black magic, hatred of personhood and body, and loathing of the actualized local which Red Toryism is uniquely qualified to challenge. It will effectively begin to deny, to the face of the enemy, that the formal liberalism and the efficient technological causations which it practices represents in toto or even piecemeal a sustainable, moral, or rational model for civilized human survival. It will do this by proposing a phased and transitional devolution of the mega-State, aimed at re-awakening local possibilities in the context of far deeper causations than scientism and multiculturalism. Such a re-organization will provide a wonderful opportunity for permanently discrediting these monstrosities. We want our State back. And our society. And our market. We want them back because they have not delivered democracy, individual rights, nor prosperity. It is not written in the stars nor in history that these goods are permanently bound to the calculation of the cybernetic helmsmen-elite who currently manage our thoughts and actions in the privacy of their own desktops. We are bound with webs of illusion carefully built up which gained currency during the halcyon days following 1945, webs which are now unraveling. We need not despair, because it is not history that has reached a dead end, but the minimalist conceptions of the good and the polis which have prevailed during technological plenty and ideological confusion. The resources are there. There are people who can manage them responsibly.
People are more ready than we realize. Our heritage is deeply imbued with alternative conceptions and aspirations that suggest that we are temporarily astray from the path of genuinely humane and rational civil orders. It only remains for us to begin to listen to the democracy of the dead. Actual working democracy operated well because its assumptions were not democratic, and indeed could never be. It is time to restore the commonwealth by embracing the fullness of our European, federalist, Christian, and Platonic heritage. So the answer to the question is that to be a Red Tory is simply to embrace every aspect of the old antique European commonwealths in its totality through time, to adopt them to novel situations and problems, and to build again the edifice which was once the common good. Phillip Blonde is summoning the ghosts of Europe to aid him:
The truth is – and this is a truth recognized by Burke – is that human beings are individuals always born into relationships. We are always-already (unless we are feral) in society but not eclipsed or diminished by it. All social contract theory is in this sense wrong – we are born already in ethos and already enmeshed in culture code and practice, and we do not need a state or a contract to tell us where we are…because we acknowledge (that there is a common good) we can make common cause with those that differ and create a free and equal society based on such a debate.
And in this debate, provided we divest ourselves of purely classical or neo-liberal thinking (even if it calls itself “conservative”), laying hold of a deeply and purely Conservative tradition (no matter if it appears “red” in some aspects), we will be much more effective, indeed, pre-eminently and deadly so. The debate was never held, and we do not even know our own champions. We have not yet begun to fight, and there are signs that we are now awake.
Published in The Kinist Review: A Review of Christian Agrarian Letters, Summer 2010.