Saturday, September 20, 2014

Independence Movements


On Thursday, September 18th, Scotland voted in a historical referendum on the question of whether or not they wanted independence from the United Kingdom. The devolution of power to the Scottish assembly under Labour governments in the last four decades and the growth of the Scottish independence movement under the leadership of a small but organized group of zealots had made the referendum inevitable. The referendum had a very high voter turnout – 84.59% and in the end the no side won with 55.3% of the votes.

This outcome is pleasing to those, such as myself, who did not wish to see the United Kingdom break up. It was also not particularly surprising. Here in Canada, the Quebec separatist movement failed twice to win their independence in referendums. Quebec is far more culturally distinct from English Canada than Scotland is from the rest of the United Kingdom. Quebec is a French speaking province – the rest of the country speaks English, Quebec is traditionally Roman Catholic, English Canada is traditionally Protestant, and so on. Yet despite this, the secession movement lost twice, albeit by a much narrower margin the second time around than the Scottish independence movement, and is now basically dead. When the Parti Quebecois made it an issue in the last provincial election earlier this year their overwhelming defeat by the Liberals sent the message loud and clear that no further such referendums were welcome.

The unity of England and Scotland goes back much further than that of English and French Canada. The English and the Scots have had the same sovereign since 1603, the year that the King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from the last English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, becoming King James I of England. Note that the Scottish king inherited the English throne. This can by no means be construed as England conquering Scotland. In 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne, the parliaments of the two kingdoms that had shared a monarch for a century voted to unite and form a single country. England and Scotland were both better off for it and the union thus formed proved greater than the sum of its parts. The idea that after three centuries as a united whole one part of this whole should be able to unilaterally vote on whether to break or maintain the union is perverse.

There are some who might charge me with holding to double standard on the matter of secession. When the subject of the war the American states fought between themselves from 1861 to 1865 comes up I ordinarily put forward as my opinion that the South was in the right. In that conflict it was the Southern states that had seceded from the American union to form the Confederate States of America. Recently, when the anti-European Union nationalist parties scored major gains all across Europe in the European Parliamentary election, while progressives were wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth in frustration I was rejoicing.

My answer to the charge would be to say that it is unreasonable to insist that if someone supports one independence movement he must therefore support all independence movements or that if he opposes one he must therefore oppose all. “A foolish consistency”, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” To insist that secession must be either supported or opposed across the board is surely to insist upon a foolish consistency.

If independence movements arise in different countries their reasons for wanting to secede are unlikely to be identical and even less likely to be equally valid. Surely the question of whether we favour or oppose these movements should be more influenced by our evaluation of the reasoning behind these movements than some abstract ideal that supposedly settles the question of independence at a general level.

The leaders of the independence movement among the American colonies in the eighteenth century expressed their intention of seceding from the British Crown in terms of accusations of tyranny and oppression levelled against King George III and lofty sounding ideals about natural rights and democracy drawn from liberal philosophy. The accusations of tyranny were completely bogus and would have been so even if they had been levelled against the elected Parliament that had deliberated and decided upon all the acts to which the American colonists objected. The liberal philosophy behind the lofty ideals was unsound. At any rate, the accusations and ideals both concealed the real reasons for the drive for American independence, not least among which was the fact that the King’s guarantee of the French language and Roman Catholic religion in Canada interfered with their goal of creating a united, English speaking, Protestant, North America. My opinion, of the American independence movement of three centuries ago, is therefore rather low.

When the leaders of the Southern states declared their secession from the American republic a little less than a century later they justified their decision on the grounds of “states’ rights” a phrase which expressed both their objection to federal interference in what they regarded as the domestic affairs of the states and their theory of the American constitution, i.e., that it was a federal union of sovereign states which retained the right to secede at any time. This was one of two constitutional theories that had been competing with each other since the founding of the American republic. Ultimately, the argument was settled in favour of the other side by a bloody internecine war but a strong case can be made that by the terms of the American charter, the South was in fact in the right and that constitutionally, the members states of the federal republic of the United States had the right to secede. (1)

Of course, although the matter was decided by the war, at least from a historical perspective, the states did not divide and fight each other over a disagreement in constitutional theory. Nor did they divide and fight each other over slavery, despite what the politically approved history of the day will tell you, or over tariffs as pro-Confederate libertarians will tell you. Slavery and tariffs were both peripheral issues.

The antebellum Southern states comprised a society with an agrarian economy and an Old World culture with traditional codes of honour and chivalry, presided over by a landed patrician class. By contrast, the society of the north-eastern states was a dynamic society, with an economy that was rapidly being modernized and industrialized, a culture shaped by Puritanism, presided over by a class of wealthy merchants and factory owners. When the latter society succeeded in unilaterally electing a Republican president the leaders of the former society could see the handwriting on the wall – the forces of innovation, modernization, and industrializing now had complete control of the United States and their older style, more rooted, traditional society would be swept away. Secession was a last ditch effort to prevent this, albeit one that ultimately failed and resulted in their society being ravaged by the merciless war machine of the North.

The South, therefore, politically correct propaganda about race and slavery be damned, fought for their independence over what I would regard as a worthy cause – the preservation of a traditional, honourable, chivalrous, rural, society against “the Modern Age at arms” to borrow a phrase from Evelyn Waugh. By contrast, the separatist movement in Quebec arose precisely at the time when that province had thrown off most of its traditional elements and embraced modernity.

As for the Scottish independence movement, it sought to break up a kingdom that has been united for centuries, that was united peacefully by mutual acts of the English and Scottish parliaments a century after the Scottish king inherited the English throne, the union of which has stood the test of time. Let us hope that after this defeat at the polls it will soon be as dead as Quebec separatism.

(1) The case is based upon the ninth and especially the tenth amendment to the US Constitution.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Triumph of Power over Authority


“Order without liberty”, Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, “and liberty without order are equally destructive”. Libertarians of an anarchist bent tend to respond to statements like this by scoffing and saying that they are nothing more than sugar to disguise the taste of statist oppression and make it palatable to the masses. This is more or less what Karl Marx said about religion and both judgements, that of the libertarian anarchist and that of Marx, have about the same worth, i.e., none whatsoever. I think, however, that it would be more accurate to say with Samuel P. Huntington that “Men may, of course, have order without liberty, but they cannot have liberty without order”. (1)

The two men were talking about different things of course. The American President of a little over a century ago was talking about the necessary middle territory between tyranny and anarchy, whereas the Harvard political scientist was commenting upon modernization in societies that were not ready for it. His next words were:

Authority has to exist before it can be limited, and it is authority that is in scarce supply in these modernizing countries where government is at the mercy of alienated intellectuals, rambunctious colonels, and rioting students.

While I generally agree with what Huntington was saying here, I note that the wording of his comments assumes that liberty is the result of the limitation of authority. I would be more inclined to say that liberty is the result of the limitation of power and that furthermore it is authority that most effectively limits power and therefore authority that is the source and protector of liberty. This is the difference between the perspective of the classical conservative and the neoconservative and it is not a mere matter of semantics. Authority and power are different things. Authority commands obedience, power compels obedience. Authority is a matter of right, power is a matter of ability. People obey authority out of respect and power out of fear. Authority must be backed by power to ensure a stable order but the litmus test of the genuineness, strength, and security of authority is the extent to which it must rely upon the exercise of power. The more genuine, firm, secure, and stable authority is, the less it needs to exercise power. (2) The converse is also true and thus the “order without liberty” of which Roosevelt and Huntington speak, which is the reality of tyrannical states, is also “order without authority”, order that is enforced entirely by power.

Classical conservatives recognize that true authority, which limits and humanizes power, is the sine qua non of the kind of order which is the precondition of liberty. Liberalism, of which neoconservatism is a somewhat more realistic variety, is based upon the idea that liberty is the natural condition of man in a pre-order, pre-society, state and it has historically and erroneously regarded authority as the enemy of liberty. Is it perhaps, this mistaking of the true relationship between power, authority, and liberty, that produced the dark irony of the twentieth century in which so many liberal intellectuals, who regarded themselves as the champions of human enlightenment, prosperity, and freedom, were blinded to the reality of the oppression that existed in societies where traditional authority had been eliminated and replaced by regimes of sheer, naked, power, and so were duped into praising and practically worshipping, the least free society the world has ever known, the Soviet Union, precisely at the time when the worst tyrant in its history, Joseph Stalin, was at the height of his career of brutality and violence? (3)

The Modern Age, which give birth to liberalism and saw it grow, culminated in the twentieth century with liberalism triumphant everywhere in the Western world. The triumph of liberalism was at the expense of her old enemies, the established, institutional Church and the ruling houses of Europe. The kings and emperors of Christendom ruled with traditional authority, based upon ancient prescription and divine consecration. By weakening or eliminating them, in either case replacing their government with that of elected assemblies, liberalism replaced the authority it despised with naked power, for democracy is a form of power – the strength of numbers – rather than of authority. In countries where the traditional authorities were eliminated altogether, there were monstrous consequences. In the 1790s, the revolution against the king and Church in France, brought about the Reign of Terror. (4) In the twentieth century, when the Allies at the instance of liberal American President Woodrow Wilson, broke up the Austria-Hungarian and Prussian empires and deposed the houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern they removed the roadblock that had stood in the way of nineteenth-century pan-German nationalism, paving the way for a power-mad Austrian demagogue to be elected into office in Germany, unify the German-speaking peoples into a single power, and plunge the world into a second bloody conflict after creating the only twentieth-century regime to rival those of the Communist world in terms of sheer statist terror. (5)

Countries which retained their traditional ruling houses, albeit in a weakened, mostly ceremonial role, were spared having to go through this ordeal. A few Western statesmen, like that wise old Tory Sir Winston Churchill, acknowledged this correlation. (6) Most, however, attributed the survival of liberty in the English-speaking world and its ultimate triumph over the Third Reich – and later over Communism – to modernization, democracy, and liberalism. This continues to be the conventional understanding to this day, an understanding that involves a large degree of wilful blindness to the fact that in modern, liberal, democracies too, power has eclipsed authority. In Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, the United States, et al, it is soft power that is exercised domestically rather than the hard power of the Soviet and Nazi regimes. The vast difference between the two types of power – that of sensitivity and diversity re-education and “political correctness” on the one hand versus that of secret police, concentration and work camps, show trials and execution squads on the other – should not be taken lightly, of course. The boundry between the two, however, has a tendency to get fuzzy over time, a fact of which those who have followed our government’s attempts to squelch “hate speech” in recent decades are well aware. (7) This is inevitable, because, different as soft power and hard power are, and indisputably preferable as the former is over the latter, the gulf between power and authority is even greater and those who truly love liberty, ought always to rank authority over power.

Thomas Jefferson, in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence, wrote that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”. In keeping with the foregoing discussion, it could be said that it was well that he used the word “powers” here, for it is power and not authority that governments derive from the governed through democratic election. Jefferson’s use of the adjective “just”, however, indicates that what he had in mind by “just powers” is something closer to what we have here called “authority”, in which case he got things backwards. If a government truly possesses “just powers” or “authority”, i.e., the right to command obedience to its laws in the territory and from the people over which it governs, it is this which produces consent among the governed, and not the other way around. Authority is something which, when it exists in an institution, is recognized by those under that authority, and either obeyed or rebelled against. It is the authority that produces the recognition and not consent which produces the authority.

Although we have been considering the authority and power of governments, government is not the only institution to possess authority, and if we consider the example of the most basic institution in which authority is vested, the family, we find a helpful illustration. There is no rational way in which it could be argued that parents, who are the authority figures in the family, derive their authority from the consent of their children. Their authority over their children arises out of the natural relationships within the family. It is recognized by the children and either obeyed or rebelled against. When rebellion occurs, and it always does, parents must enforce their authority with discipline – an exercise of power. If taken to excess, however, discipline will not reinforce parental authority but have the opposite effect. Children will cease to respect and love their parents, will obey them only out of fear, and ultimately will rebel more. When this happens parents have lost their authority. This is not because authority is something children give to their parents and can revoke if misused, but because authority can only survive in an atmosphere of respect which it generates. If it ceases to generate that respect it shrivels up and dies.

A government derives this respect-generating authority from such things as history, custom, tradition, constitutionality, and ancient establishment. It cannot obtain it from seizing power by force in a coup or revolution and it certainly cannot obtain it from winning a popularity contest. All it can obtain from these things is power. It needs power to reinforce its authority and as a source of power, elections are generally to be preferred over violent coups, which is one reason why a government in which an elected assembly is combined with a hereditary monarchy – the government institution best suited for and most likely to be vested with time-honoured, prescriptive authority – is the best possible government (8). We have that combination today, but liberalism, the prevalent and triumphant ideology of the day, insists that it be democratic in essence and monarchical merely in form, which, as we have seen, is another way of saying that power must trump authority. Liberalism believes that it is safeguarding liberty, but the order that makes liberty possible, is an order in which authority limits power and not the other way around. This means that the longer liberalism prevails, the more liberty itself, like the authority of the sovereign, will be reduced to a mere form. (9)


(1) Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968) p. 7.

(2) This condition, of authority that is backed by power which it has little need to exercise because it is firmly grounded in prescription (ancient usage) and tradition is what Roger Scruton calls “establishment” in The Meaning of Conservatism, (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 1980, 2002)

(3) For an account of just how deluded some of these were, see the final chapter “Who Whom?” in Malcolm Muggeridge’s The Green Stick: Chronicles of Wasted Time Vol. 1,(London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, 1972), which chapter covers the years Muggeridge spent in Moscow as correspondent for the liberal/radical newspaper, the Manchester Guardian, in the 1930s. For the full details on what was going on in the Soviet Union at the time see Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror: A Re-Assessment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). This edition of a book Conquest originally put out in 1968 was revised when material from the Soviet archives became available at the end of the Cold War. The material vindicated Conquest’s original assessment.

(4) Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who visited the United States in the early 1830s and recorded his observations of that society in his Democracy in America, in his later discussion of own country’s revolution (The Old Regime and the French Revolution) noted that the revolutionaries seized the apparatus of state power from the Bourbon monarchy and turned it to their own ends. An argument could be made that this, and not the lofty ideals they proclaim, is the true goal of all revolutionaries. At any rate, revolutions are usually carried out against governments whose authority has grown weak, requiring them to rely more and more upon the exercise of power, which in turn generates the popular discontent that revolutionaries exploit against the government. Revolution is no solution, however, because it can only replace a government whose authority has weakened with a government that has no authority at all but only power, for authority arises out of prescription, i.e., long accepted and established usage. Revolutions may be started in response to real problems but they are never the solution to that problem. Francis Schaeffer, writing in response to the international student revolution of the 1960s and the rise of the New Left, was right when he said that these movements were correct in identifying the predominant culture as “plastic” (artificial and cheap), but he was very wrong when he said, in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970) that orthodox Christianity must teach its young people to be revolutionary in a Scriptural, Christ-like manner. (pp. 29-30, 40-41) There is no such thing. Joseph de Maistre had it right when he said “What is needed is not a revolution in the opposite direction, but the opposite of a revolution.” The contemporary use of “revolutionary” as an adjective of praise is a sign of the degradation of our culture, thought and language.

(5) John Lukacs in his The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993), written in response to the end of the Cold War and Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History”, contrasts the old Austria-Hungarian Empire, a civilization of the highest order in which people of various nationalities (such as “Austrian” and “Hungarian”) were united by a common loyalty to the Hapsburg monarchy with the Third Reich as the outcome of nineteenth century German nationalism. He discusses at length a theme that runs through all his writings - the difference between the older concept of patriotism and the modern phenomenon of nationalism, the superiority of the former, and the perversity of the latter. There is a similarity between Lukacs’ praise of the Hapsburg monarchy in the old empire (he, it should be noted, is an Hungarian Catholic who emigrated to the United States after the land of his birth was overrun first by the Nazis then by the Soviets) as the unifying object of loyalty in a multinational polity to the role of the monarchy in Canada as described by W. L. Morton, a Canadian historian of the old Tory school, in The Canadian Identity (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961, 1972) p. 85. Contradicting the progressive notion that monarchy is an outdated institution, and in words quite pertinent to the theme of this essay, Lukacs writes “A hereditary (as distinct from an electoral) constitutional monarchy is especially suited to modern democracy, when masses of people are not only avid for the symbols of royalty but when, more than ever before, they need the visible presence and consequent authority of a compassionate father (or mother) figure, the presence of a respectable reigning family, with their children. Such authority ensures not fear and perhaps not even power, except that kind of intangible power that is the result of decent, honest, human respect. A constitutional and hereditary monarchy in the twentieth century is more than an instrument for continuity and tradition. Its function is historical, but also political and social”. (p. 70).

(6) Churchill is frequently quoted as having said “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He did indeed say this, although he also said “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” More to the point he said “This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones” and on another occasion “If the Allies at the peace table at Versailles had allowed a Hohenzollern, a Wittelsbach and a Habsburg to return to their thrones, there would have been no Hitler. A democratic basis of society might have been preserved by a crowned Weimar in contact with the victorious Allies.”

(7) See my “The Long War Against Free Speech in Canada” for details: http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2011/05/long-war-against-free-speech-in-canada.html

(8) Aristotle and Polybius foresaw this millennia ago. As Stephen Leacock put it this combination has joined “the dignity of Kingship with the power of Democracy.”

(9) High Tory journalist, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, gave an excellent talk to the Athenaeum club about how liberalism failed in its emancipation project and brought enslavement instead in 2006. An abridgement of his remarks can be found, ironically enough at the Guardian’s website, here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/jun/21/comment.politics2

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Triumph of the Philistine

I have recently been reading The Chronicles of Wasted Time, the memoirs of the curmudgeonly British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. I was first introduced to Muggeridge over twenty years ago by my maternal grandmother, who lent me his Jesus Rediscovered a few months after I announced my intention to study theology. Muggeridge, who had been raised in an agnostic, socialist home – his father was a Labour MP – and who married into the leading family of the Fabian Left – his wife was the niece of Beatrice Webb – grew disillusioned with Marxism, seeing the reality of Stalinist state-terrorism first hand as correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in Moscow in the early 1930s and later in life converted to Roman Catholicism. I picked up a copy of his memoirs in a used book store over ten years ago and was inspired to finally read them when I came across Anthony Powell’s recollections of Muggeridge in his own four volume autobiography, To Keep the Ball Rolling. In The Green Stick, the first volume of The Chronicles of Wasted Time, I found the following interesting observation:

As I see it, in the twentieth century the genius of man has gone into science and the resultant technology, leaving the field of mysticism and imaginative art and literature almost entirely to charlatans and sick or obsessed minds. The result has been that, whereas in the last half century more progress has been made in the exploration of man’s material circumstances, and in the application of the knowledge thereby gained, than in the whole of the rest of recorded time, the corresponding contribution to art and literature has been negligible and derisory. The circumstances of the age are just not conducive to such activities, and those who nonetheless pursue them tend to become unhinged or junkies or alcoholics, if not all three. (pp. 208-209)

Muggeridge does not elaborate further on this at any great length – unless the theme of belonging to a doomed civilization in its dying days that underlies his entire autobiography is regarded as such an elaboration. It seems to me that it is an observation that deserves further consideration.

There are those, of course, who would contest Muggeridge’s assessment of the state of art and literature in the twentieth century. I am not one of those, and would say that if anything, he understated his case and that in the twenty-first century in which we now live, things are abysmally worse. Consider poetry, as just one example. English poetry of all sorts and levels flourished in the nineteenth century. It was the century of Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth, of Shelly, Keats and Byron, of Scott and the Brownings, of Swinburne, Macauley, and Tennyson. Kipling and Housman survived into the twentieth century, the early decades of which gave us Auden and Owen, Pound, Eliot, Yeats and Frost. Since World War II, however, English poetry has come to resemble nothing so much as the title of Eliot’s most famous poem, “The Wasteland”. The fact that the late Maya Angelou is today considered to be a great poet is all the evidence we need to show that English poetry has gone from its zenith to its nadir within less than a hundred years.

If man’s twentieth century achievements in the realm of science and technology are linked, as Muggeridge suggests, with the decline and degradation of arts and literature, the question that then arises is one of how the two are related to each other. Are science and art somehow mutually incompatible with one another? Are the mental facilities of man so limited as to allow him to only achieve in one of these two areas at a time?

I think that it is to be explained by the shift in the way the Western world understands civilization. Traditional Western civilization was built upon the idea that human activity is directed towards certain ends. Some of these ends are defined by material needs and desires such as the need for food, clothing and shelter. Others are goods which are transcendent, which exist in a higher realm beyond that perceived through the senses. The ends of human activity are not equal but arranged in a hierarchy of importance in which the transcendent goods – goodness itself, truth, beauty, justice, etc., are higher and more important than the lower, material goods. Therefore, whether a society is civilized or not, and the level of its civilization, is determined by the extent of its pursuit of these higher goods, of which its arts and literature are indispensable indicators.

The foundation of this way of looking at things – the idea that there is something beyond the world as perceived through the senses – has been subjected to a steady process of erosion for almost a thousand years beginning with William of Ockham’s denial of the reality of universals. The less men came to believe in a world beyond the material, the less important the higher goods became to them and the more important the lower goods. Hence man turned his efforts more and more towards science, the means whereby he gains knowledge of and mastery over the physical world and so obtains his every material desire.

In a very real sense, the eclipse of art and literature by science and technology represents the triumph of the spirit of the philistine. I do not mean philistine in the literal sense of the people that ancient Israel fought against but in the metaphorical sense. The metaphorical philistine is the man who looks for nothing in life, beyond material security, other than the comforts and amusements, themselves material, that distract him. He sees no purpose in schooling beyond getting a job, and no purpose in higher education beyond getting a better paying job. He sees no need for a higher life of the mind and spirit for himself, and responds to those who seek such for themselves, with scorn and derision.

In previous centuries, philistinism was associated with certain versions of Protestantism. The Protestant Reformation had begun with Martin Luther re-asserting the Pauline doctrine that salvation is God reaching down to man in Christ and giving us His grace to be received through faith. Some Protestants drew from this the conclusion that all human pursuit of higher goods was “religion” and offensive to God and sought to purge their churches and often their lands of it. English Puritanism, which cancelled liturgy, smashed church organs, and stripped churches of beauty and decoration in the name of “simplicity”, which judged art not by the standards of aesthetics but of a very Pharisaic morality, is an obvious example of this.

The basic essence of philistinism, however, is materialism rather than Protestant theology. That human intellect has been poured into science and technology in the twentieth century at the expense of the arts and literature represents the ultimate triumph of philistinism, its having conquered its ancient enemy, the life of the mind, and forced it to pay tribute. Meanwhile, the world of arts and literature has been taken over by those so aptly described by Muggeridge as “charlatans and sick or obsessed minds” as to make the philistine seem more appealing. While the man who sees no point in the paintings of Michelangelo, El Greco, Titian and Poussin, the plays of Shakespeare and Racine, or the verse of Donne, Dryden, Goethe and Baudelaire, and treats those who do as objects of ridicule, was obviously a fool, there is something to be said for the man who sees no point in trying to read the unreadable verse of Angelou, the woman who cannot sit through a production of an Ensler play, and the person, man or woman, who, unable to make the insane equation of nihilistic subversion with aesthetic value, walks away in disgust from most of which is produced as “art” today. So perhaps even the cloud of the triumph of philistinism has its silver lining.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Portrait of a Canadian Storyteller

Robertson Davies: Man of Myth by Judith Skelton Grant, Toronto, Penguin Books, 1994, 788 pp.

First published twenty years ago, Judith Skelton Grant’s Robertson Davies: Man of Myth is the definitive biography of its subject. Written in the last decade of its subject’s life and with his co-operation is an exhaustive portrait of the man who is usually and deservedly thought of as our country’s most distinguished man of letters.

It is as the author of three popular and critically acclaimed trilogies of novels that Robertson Davies is most widely known. His career was a multi-faceted one, however, and Grant presents us with each facet in intricate detail. From his childhood, Davies’ earliest ambition was to be a stage actor, an ambition he actively pursued through participation in many and various amateur productions during his student days and which was ultimately rewarded with Tyrone Guthrie invited him to join the Old Vic Company after his graduation from Balliol College in Oxford with a Bachelor of Letters degree. It was during his two years with the Old Vic Company, where Australian Brenda Newbold, later Mrs. Robertson Davies, was stage manager, that Davies’ realized that his future did not lie in acting and turned his ambition towards playwriting.

It was with the intention of becoming a playwright that Davies returned to Canada with his new bride in 1940 and over the course of his life he did write, direct, and produce many plays. To pay the bills, he began writing columns for his father’s newspapers, the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Peterborough Examiner, under the pen-name Samuel Marchbanks. He created this nom de plume by combining the first name of his great-grandfather with the maiden name of his great-grandmother. Under this name, Davies’ wrote the column which ostensibly dealt with literary, artistic, and other cultural criticism, as a witty and erudite, eccentric curmudgeon. The column became very popular and during the years Davies’ wrote it the journalistic facet of his career expanded as he became literary editor of Saturday Night and then the editor of the Peterborough Examiner.

Davies continued to edit his father’s newspaper until 1962 when he took on a new and more illustrious position as Master of the newly founded Massey College at the University of Toronto. During his time as editor, however, he had also written his first trilogy, the Salterton trilogy. He had been writing plays all along but his efforts had not met with the response he was looking for, either in Canada or abroad, and he decided to try his hand at a new genre. He drew inspiration from his stage experience for the first novel, which is the story of an amateur production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and from his experience as an editor for the second novel, which tells of the consequences than ensue when a man submits a false engagement announcement to the newspaper in a malicious effort to embarrass both the editor and the couple named. The trilogy is named after Salterton, the city in which the first two novels and much of the third are set. Salterton is a fictional depiction of Kingston, to which Davies’ family had moved after living in the villages of Thamesville and Renfrew, and where Davies’ had studied at Queens College after graduating from “Canada’s Eton”, the Upper Canada College (1) and before applying to Balliol. Each of these places and institutions makes its way into Davies’ novels in one form or another – Thamesville becomes the “Deptford” of his second trilogy, Renfrew becomes the “Blairlogie” of the third trilogy, while Upper Canada College becomes the Colborne College that appears in the second and third trilogies.

Although the first trilogy sold well and firmly established his reputation as a novelist it was the second trilogy that won him international acclaim. Davies had a recurring vision in which two boys on a village street in winter, one throwing a snowball that contained a rock. In his novel Fifth Business, this vision becomes an incident in which the snowball hits a pregnant woman instead of the intended target, and the narrator of the novel, the boy who the snowball missed, traces the impact of the snowball through his own life and the lives of the woman hit, her son, and the boy who threw the snowball. Further consequences of the incident are discussed in the second novel, in which the son of the boy who threw the snowball undergoes Jungian psychoanalysis in Switzerland, and the third in which the son of the woman hit by the snowball, tells the story of his life and how he became the master magician Magnus Eisengrim.

Davies’ wrote this trilogy while he was Master of Massey College, a position for which he was personally chosen by Vincent Massey, life-long Canadian diplomat, the first Canadian born Governor General, and heir of the family that had made its fortune in farm equipment. Massey and Davies, both of whom had been to Balliol, had similar ideas as to what the residential graduate college should be. Davies was a popular Master and remained in the position for twenty years until his retirement in 1982 after which he wrote his third and final trilogy, in which Massey College appears as “The College of St. John and the Holy Ghost”, or “Spook.”

It was during the years that Davies wrote this third trilogy that Grant researched and wrote his biography and this influenced both the trilogy and the biography. In Grant’s biography, the Salterton and Deptford trilogies have a chapter each, whereas the Cornish trilogy is given one chapter per novel. Meanwhile in the trilogy itself, the character of Simon Darcourt is engaged in writing the biography of the late Francis Cornish.

In her biography of Davies, Grant explores the man Robertson Davies, and the influences that made him who he was. His father, Rupert, had left his native Wales while a young man, and came to Canada where, starting out as a typesetter, he became a successful newspaper publisher and editor, and eventually a Senator. In Canada, Rupert met and married Florence McKay, a descendant of United Empire Loyalists, ultimately of Scottish and Dutch extraction. Grant gives a detailed account of both family lines, including the ancestral stories that later made their way into Davies’ writings, as well as the strained relationship between Rupert and Florence, and later between mother and son, that was to have a huge impact upon his writing – think of the relationships Solly Bridgewater and Dunstan Ramsay have with their mothers in the first two trilogies.

Rupert and Florence, who met in a Congregationalist Church and later brought their family up in the Presbyterian Church, practiced a severe, Puritan, form of Calvinism. Robertson rejected this form of theology and was confirmed in the Anglican Church at Christ Church Cathedral by the Bishop of Oxford while he was a student at Balliol. The Calvinism he rejected while acknowledging its lingering influence, the traditions and ceremonies of Anglicanism, and his own idiosyncratic and somewhat heterodox theology, can be found throughout his writings, both under his own name and as Samuel Marchbanks.

He was not a very political person, especially in the partisan sense of the word. At various times Grant describes him as a “small l liberal” and a “small c conservative” and he came from perhaps the last generation in which it would make sense to apply both of these terms to the same person simultaneously. His father, who was appointed to the Senate upon the recommendation of Mackenzie King, was a Liberal, the party for which Davies usually voted. His liberalism can be seen in the anarchistic individualism on display in his writings as Samuel Marchbanks, and his conservatism in his love for ceremony, ritual, and tradition, as well as his contempt for the cult of the “common man”. Through his father’s press credentials he was able to be present at the coronation of King George VI, which took place in his Oxford days, and Grant quotes him as having written in the Whig-Standard that the event made him “a Monarchist for life” commenting that “He is still a monarchist, valuing the Crown as a tradition and symbol of permanency that stands above temporary governments”, an admirably conservative sentiment.

Davies was a man of broad classical and humanist learning, with immense knowledge of many arcane subjects. This provided him with ample resources, in addition to his own experiences and those of his forebears, to draw upon as a writer. It also formed his view of what constituted civilization that it was something more than what laws and markets provide. Grant quotes him as saying “Only greatness in the things of the mind and spirit brings lasting reputation” and describes both his belief in Canada’s artistic and cultural potential and his frustration that so few of his countrymen shared his vision. Nevertheless, he continued to do what he could both as writer and educator, to contribute to the artistic and cultural life of Canada and we are a richer nation for it.

Robertson Davies’ novels are well worth reading and for those who wish to know more about the man behind them, there is no better place to turn than to Judith Skelton Grant’s marvelous biography.

(1) The principal of Upper Canada College at the time was W. L. Grant, the son-in-law of another famous Canadian educator George Parkin, brother-in-law of Vincent Massey whom Davies would come to regard as a kind of spiritual father, father of conservative philosopher George Grant and grandfather of liberal philosopher Michael Ignatieff. I do not know if Judith Skelton Grant is related to this family, but she writes of W. L. Grant as being very influential on and supportive of Davies. She also records a dance to which Davies took Grant's daughter Allison (who would become Michael Ignatieff's mother) as his date.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Cave of Our Own Construction

Addicted to Distraction by Bruce G. Charlton, Buckingham, United Kingdom, University of Buckingham Press, 2014, 163 pp., £10

Among traditionalists, reactionaries, paleoconservatives and the rest of us who comprise what is usually called “the Right” it is customary, when the mass media is discussed, to maintain that it is heavily biased towards the Left. Our progressive opponents deride this claim, pointing to the television news channels, radio talk shows, and printed publications that offer an editorial perspective that is widely thought of as being “conservative”. In response we might point out that such media outlets offer a “neoconservative” perspective which is actually a form of liberalism – it is all about how democracy, capitalism and individualism are the hope and salvation of mankind, to be brought to the uttermost corners of the world by the force of the American military if necessary. A defense of actual conservative ideas and institutions, from a perspective that is critical of the modern assumptions that neoconservatives shared with the progressive and liberal Left is avoided by the media like the plague.

Recently, however, I encountered the following sentence which offers a rather different assessment of the relationship between the mass media and the Left:

Leftism is the Mass Media, and the Mass Media is Leftism, inseparable, the same thing: this of course means that Leftism (in its modern form) depends utterly on the continuation of the Mass Media (depends on itself!), stands or falls with the Mass Media. (bold indicates italics in original)

This remarkable sentence can be found on pages 26 to 27 of a fascinating new book entitled Addicted to Distraction. The author is Dr. Bruce G. Charlton, a physician and psychiatrist who is Professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham. He is also a Christian and a prominent blogger in that right-wing sector of the internet known as the “Orthosphere” in the broader sense of the term that includes not just the website by that name but various others with a similar right-wing, traditionalist Christian perspective, including Dr. Charlton’s own site, where the term was originally coined, and this one.

The quoted sentence would elicit from many, probably most, people the response that it confuses the distinction between that which is neutral – in this case the technology of large-scale communication – and that which is charged – the thoughts and words conveyed by that technology. This is a conditioned response, one which is made without much if any thought being put into it, and it raises the question of how valid this distinction actually is. Canada’s greatest conservative philosopher, George Grant, did not think it was valid and devoted much of his thought and writing to demonstrating that technology was anything but neutral. It was another Canadian of Grant’s generation, a pioneer in the study of media communications named Marshal McLuhan, who famously remarked that “the medium is the message” and it is from the launching pad of this insight of McLuhan’s that Dr. Charlton’s own reflections on the nature of the mass media take off.

This does not mean that the mass media that he equates with the Left consists merely of communications technology. Dr. Charlton distinguishes between two senses of the expression mass media. There is the technology itself – print, radio, television, internet, etc – and then there is the system into which all this technology is integrated, the “unified network of communications”. It is the latter which is the focus of his discussion.

Another important distinction he makes is between the Old Left and the New Left. The Old Marxist Left of the trades unions and socialist parties was revolutionary but it was also utopian and visionary. It sought to overthrow the institutions of the existing order but with the idea that it would replace them with a new order that would be a Paradise on earth. The New Left is the Left of “Permanent Revolution” or “perpetual opposition”, which Dr. Charlton describes as the idea that:

The true revolutionary – such as the avant garde artist or radical intellectual – was intrinsically subversive; and would always be in revolt against whoever was in power, changing sides as necessary to achieve this. (p. 18)

If the New Left is always seeking to subvert, oppose, and to overthrow then its agenda is entirely negative. It seeks nothing but destruction and is essentially nihilistic. This, Dr. Charlton argues, is also the essential nature of the mass media.

He describes several specific techniques by which the mass media subverts the good. For example, when Anders Brevik killed all those kids in Norway a couple of years ago the media initially reported that he was a right-wing Christian. Brevik was not a professing Christian at all but the initial reports that contained the falsehood created a far deeper impression than subsequent retractions. Dr. Charlton calls this “first strike framing”, a technique whereby the media subverts something positive – in this case Christianity – by creating a false association in the first reports of an atrocity from which the lasting visceral response is derived. (pp. 71-75)

The subversiveness of the mass media does not lie merely in certain techniques, however. Nor is it to be found in some cabal of conspirators who pull the levels of the media behind the scenes, Dr. Charlton insists, but in the very nature of the system itself. The mass media, as he describes it, is an integrated network of communications technology that has so permeated society that it envelops and surrounds us. It generates a pseudoreality of image and opinion that distracts us from the real world in which we live. The images and opinions it generates are subject to change at any moment and may completely contradict those that preceded them but are presented to us as absolute truths disagreement with which renders a person a dangerous, crazy, outsider. This combination of short-term absolutism with long-term complete relativism, Dr. Charlton labels “Opinionated Relativism”. By distracting us from the real world, common sense, and personal experience and bombarding us with dogmatic but ever-changing opinions and images it subverts our confidence in that which is true, good, and beautiful. His characterization of it as evil and demonic seems entirely appropriate.

So what do we do about it?

While Dr. Charlton does not proffer a plan as to how the mass media system can be defeated as a whole – he indicates that the system will have to collapse on its own before there can be a large scale return to reality – he offers some helpful suggestions as to how we can deal with it as individuals. We are addicted to the false reality the mass media presents us, he argues, and rather than try to wean ourselves off of it, for those who think that they can pick out what is good from the mass media are the most deceived and deluded, we ought to quit it cold turkey. While the process of “detoxing”, by which we stop seeking out, paying attention to, and believing the media and turn our attention back towards reality is one that will involve failure – for we are immersed in the media in societies where everybody is an addict – there is hope, he says, at least for the Christian, because reality is superior to the falsehoods of the media.

Addicted to Distraction is a short book but one that is packed with insights the surface of which I have only begun to scratch in this review. I heartily recommend it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dr. Bob Jones or: How I Learned to Stop Zionizing and Love the Palestinians


In the late summer of 1990 Saddam Hussein ordered his Iraqi forces to invade and conquer the small country of Kuwait. This initiated a crisis that led to a coalition of nations coming together under American leadership to drive Hussein back into Iraq. The campaign, “Operation Desert Storm”, began in the middle of January 1991 and was over by the end of February.

One nation that very much wanted to participate in the coalition but was actively and intensely persuaded not to do so by US President George H. W. Bush was Israel. Bush’s reasons for not wanting Israel to actively participate were simple and sound – her presence would break the coalition, as all of America’s other allies in the region would desert her and possibly align themselves with Hussein. Saddam Hussein, knowing this, launched Scud missiles in the direction of Israel, hoping to provoke an attack from the Israeli government, then headed by the belligerent Yitzhak Shamir.

Shamir resented Bush’s insistence that the coalition’s operation against Hussein ought to take precedence over Israel’s immediate right of retaliation and I remember sympathizing with him. I was a fourteen year old teenager at the time and, although not yet a Christian believer – I would place my faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour later that summer – I was a firm Zionist, on what I thought were Scriptural grounds. My Zionist would intensify after I accepted Christ and remained strong through high school and my first three years at Providence College in Otterburne. Indeed, I remember a heated debate at Saturday morning brunch one morning, early in my first semester at Providence, in which a friend who was in his last semester and I, both argued for Israel and the Jews, against another friend, a student in the seminary with whom we were sitting.

My main theological influences in the early years of my Christian walk had come from fundamentalism, a form of conservative Protestantism that had admirably fought for Scriptural authority and the historic teachings of Christianity on matters such as the Trinity, deity, virgin birth, miracles and literal bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, against the unbelief that had swept the churches in the form of liberalism or modernism. Fundamentalism itself, however, had been largely influenced by a system of Scriptural interpretation called dispensationalism that had started with the Plymouth Brethren in England in the nineteenth century, and through the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible had spread throughout other Protestant denominations. Purporting to be more literal than other systems that relied upon historical exegetical traditions, dispensationalism divided Scriptural history into a series of ages, in which man was tested by God under a particular arrangement, each time failing and being judged. We are living in the Age of Grace,
dispensationalists taught, that is a parenthesis in the Age of Law. The Age of Grace will end with the church being removed from earth in the rapture, after which God will finish His dealings with national Israel, pour out His wrath upon the world in the judgement of the Great Tribulation, which will end with Christ returning to establish His kingdom of earth, which He will rule from Jerusalem for a thousand years.

While still a “fundamentalist” in the sense of having a high view of Scriptural authority and no use for the apostasy and unbelief that is liberalism or modernism my theology has grown much more “high church” as I have developed a greater appreciation for the importance of church tradition in interpretation of Scripture. I am no longer a dispensationalist. Yet oddly enough, it was from a man who was an uncompromising adherent of the form of theology I described in the previous paragraph, that I first learned to question the Christian ultra-Zionism that so frequently appeals to this form of interpreting the Scriptures for support.

Dr. Bob Jones Jr. was the son of the famous Methodist evangelist who founded a fundamentalist Christian college that later grew into the institution that well deserves its reputation as the “World’s Most Unusual University”. When it evolved into a university upon moving to its current campus in Greenville, South Carolina, the second Dr. Bob Jones took over the presidency from his father, and under his administration it gained an emphasis on fine arts and high culture that is itself unusual for the type of fundamentalism it espouses. He was himself a Shakespearean scholar and actor, talents which he put to use in developing the university’s fine arts department, which also includes a professional opera association, and after the Second World War he started the collection of Baroque and other religious art now housed in the university’s renowned art gallery.

When I was in my third year of studies at Providence College, I read his memoirs entitled Cornbread and Caviar, which had been published in 1985 by the publishing arm of Bob Jones University. I love reading autobiographies, a genre which fundamentalists excel in, and of fundamentalist autobiographies, Cornbread and Caviar was the crème de la crème. From cover to cover it is filled with fascinating and amusing anecdotes as well as uncompromising, straightforward, commentary on the political and religious issues of the day, backed with the wisdom of the ages and old-fashioned common sense.

The thirteenth chapter is entitled “The Middle East”, in which Dr. Jones tells stories about his many visits to the region, and the interesting people, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, that he had encountered there. In the course of doing so he comments on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Theologically, he was an uncompromising dispensationalist, and he relates a conversation with former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, in which he compared Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War to Gideon’s victory in the book of Judges, and “pointed out to him that some day when they recognize the Messiah, they will have all the land from ‘the river of Egypt’ to the Euphrates”. (p.139) Nevertheless, he displayed an even-handed fairness towards both sides in the conflict, that I had never before seen encountered in the writings of someone from his theological perspective.

After praising the Jordanians (under which term he seems to include the Palestinians) as “the most gentle of people and most faithful of friends” he wrote:

I know God’s promise to Abraham still holds good, and there is blessing for those who bless his descendants and curses for those who curse them. I know too, however, that they are back in the land today, many of them in unbelief and agnosticism, some in atheism, and almost all in rebellion against God’s law. I do not know a more ungodly nation than Israel…I admire the wonderful development, the rich farms, the towering forests, and the sturdy cities which have sprung up since the beginning of the Jewish state of Israel. At the same time, I lament the fact that they are so hostile to Christian missions and so intolerant of Israeli Jews who are converted to Christ. I lament the unkind treatment and arrogance which they have so often shown to the Arabs. I can well understand the resentment of the Jordanians and certainly cannot blame them for it. If you talk to any well-educated Arab and to any honest Jew, you will hear tales of atrocity and cruelty perpetrated upon the Arabs in the land of Israel. It is hard to realize how a people who have been so persecuted and cruelly treated themselves through the years can show so little kindness and gentleness towards those whose lands they have overrun. (pp. 138-139)


He spoke well of Teddy Kollek, King Hussein of Jordan, David Ben Gurion, and Moshe Dayan, his encounters with each of whom he recollected, before going on to blast “a group of self-styled Fundamentalists” (Jerry Falwell was the leader of this group, although his name is not mentioned) for telling Menachem Begin “that the Fundamentalists of America stood behind him in all of his policies and unqualifiedly supported him”. (p. 140) He wrote:

At the same time these men slobbered over Begin and his government, that government was persecuting Christian Arabs and Jews who had been won to Christ. A godly Arab on the West Bank, married to an American missionary and the only man on the city council of Ramallah who was not a Socialist or a Communist, was picked up in the middle of the night and tortured by Begin’s government. That man is now facing a hip operation necessitated very largely by his treatment by the Israeli government. People who are interested in the gospel and welfare of their Christian brethren in Israel might well rejoice in the fact that Menachem Begin is no longer in power, though his successor is as vile a man as Begin. (p. 141)

He then revealed just what sort of a man Begin was – as was Yitzhak Shamir, clearly whom he had in mind when he wrote “some of the men still in power”:

What the press does not tell you very often is that Begin and some of the men still in power were terrorists; that they murdered British soldiers during the time of the British occupation of Palestine; that Begin blew up the King David Hotel, killing the British soldiers whose headquarters was there; and that he and his companions in Irgun (a terrorist organization) slaughtered in one night a whole Arab village of some 200 to 300 people, including infants, pregnant women, and crippled old people.

I had not heard of any of this before, but I later confirmed that everything he said here was in fact the case.

He then told where the bottom line was for him “I have a great love for both Jews and Arabs, but I hate tyranny, terrorism, and violence just as much on the part of Jewish government as I do on the part of an Arab government”.

In the concluding paragraphs of the section from the chapter that I have been quoting, he ridicules as folly the idea that we should not rebuke the Israeli government for its wickedness when the prophets were sent to the kings of Israel and Judah to do just that, the silliness of American ambassadors who think they can bring peace to the region, and the arrogance of Israeli rabbis “and their rabble followers” who hate Christianity and Christian missions, but:

demand from this country [The United States] financial and military support. They want us to supply them arms, munitions, and aircraft while they would deny us the right to send missionaries to Israel to win Jews for Christ. (p. 142)

This was very different from the moral Manichaeism that I had previously encountered in dispensationalist writings about Israel. I recognized immediately that it was a more balanced, common-sensical, and Scriptural approach and once I confirmed that everything he had said about Israel’s persecution of Christians and Begin and Shamir’s terrorist origins was factual – and it was – I became far less willing to automatically excuse everything Israel did, and far more sympathetic to the sufferings of the Arabs. Since then, my theology has moved away from dispensationalism and towards church tradition (although hopefully not away from Scriptures in the process) but I continue to be grateful to Dr. Jones for opening my eyes on this issue, particularly in the present crisis when it has become clear to me that some of Israel’s “Christian” supporters would continue to support and justify Israel in anything she does up to and including the point of genocide against the Palestinian Arabs.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Real Threat to Israel – and to the Rest of Us

Since the latest round in the Israel/Palestine conflict we have seen a phenomenon arise that is cause for great concern. “Protest rallies” have been held against Israel that would be better described as riots than peaceful demonstrations. Recently in Calgary, for example, an anti-Israeli mob gathered on the steps of the Alberta city’s City Hall to protest Israel’s airstrikes. What, exactly, they thought the city of Alberta could do about it, is unclear. At any rate, the “demonstration” broke out into violence as the mob turned on a small handful of Israel supporters who, perhaps unwisely, were also present. Several of them were injured and hospitalized as a result. Mercifully, nobody was killed.

The Calgary riot is far from being the only example. The same thing has happened in other major Canadian cities such as Toronto and across the rest of the Western world. Indeed, while this sort of things is new to us for the most part here in Canada, in some countries, such as France, it is both old hat and far more extreme. The riots in France have been aptly compared to the Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Nazi Germany in 1938 in which Jewish homes, synagogues, and stores were vandalized and ransacked. The biggest difference between the two events was that in 2014 Paris, the rioters who were smashing windows and attacking Jews were not Aryan supremacists but Arabs who mixed praises to Allah, with their gutter level, Nazi-era, anti-Semitism.

This sort of thing does a huge disservice to the Palestinian Arabs living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in whose name these protests are ostensibly being held. So, of course, does the actions of Hamas, the despicable terrorist group that hurls rockets at civilian neighbourhoods in Israel from launchers that it hides in schools, nurseries, and hospitals in an utterly evil attempt to maximize the deaths of non-combatants on both sides (for the most part ineffective when it comes to Israeli citizens). This is not what I wish to focus on here, however.

The fact that we are experiencing this sort of nonsense throughout the West is indicative of a much deeper problem, one which very few commentators seem willing to address. Some go out of their way to avoid addressing it. Arthur Weinreb, for example, recently writing in the neo-conservative Canadian Free Press, said that the police and not pro-Palestinian protestors were the problem. Now much of what he said is valid. In a country like Canada, peaceful protests and demonstrations are and should be legal, and it is the job of the police to ensure that when they occur they occur in a lawful and orderly fashion and do not breakdown into violent riots of this sort. The police seem to have abdicated that responsibility to a certain degree in the case of Calgary.

Weinreb attributes this abdication to political correctness on the part of the police, an unwillingness to investigate Muslims. That may very well be the case but placing all the blame on the police and virtually exonerating the protestors is itself a form of political correctness. For the elephant in the room here, the issue which commentators are unwilling to touch, is the fact that these riots would not be a problem were it not for liberal, multicultural, policies that encourage mass immigration from the Third World while discouraging assimilation to the established cultures, institutions, and ways of Western countries.

Forty one years ago, a distinguished writer in the country that has seen the worst of these riots, addressed this issue in a prophetic novel. In The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, a traditionalist French Catholic and royalist, depicts Western civilization on the verge of collapse, threatened by an invasion of Third World immigrants armed with nothing but their own wretchedness, against which the West, weakened by generations of liberal guilt, finds itself powerless to resist. When European countries close their consulates, ending a program whereby impoverished parents in India could improve the lots of their children by putting them up for adoption in Europe, a horde of millions of the poorest of the poor, climb aboard an armada of decrepit ships in heed to the words of an unlikely prophet, who declares that the day has come for “Buddha and Allah” and all the Hindu gods to cross the seas and take for themselves the kingdom of the “nice little god of the Christians”, and set sail for the coast of France where they are due to arrive on Easter morning. The French media, in a frenzy of self-loathing, propagate the welcoming of the armada, which they dub the “last chance for mankind”, uttering banalities like “we are all from the Ganges now”. When France fails to summon up sufficient will to live in order to resist this invasion, the rest of the West falls too. Towards the end of the novel, the Grand Rabbi is depicted as joining in the surge of antiracist sentiment that dooms France and the West, “in spite of the fact that Israel herself was doomed not to survive it.”

Raspail, although the armada he depicts is laden with Hindus from India, showed a great deal of insight into the true nature of the threat that Western countries, including Israel, face. Needless to say, in a West dominated by liberalism, his insights have gone ignored. This is true of mainstream conservatives as much as anybody else for they have opted to concentrate on military threats that are for the most part non-existent. As the Cold War drew to an end and the Soviet Union collapsed Francis Fukuyama argued that the world was progressing towards an “end of history” in the form of universal, liberal, capitalist democracy. More realistically, Samuel P. Huntington argued that history would continue to be shaped by the “clash of civilizations”, with the next clash being between the America-led West and the Islamic world.

Since the jihadist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, this clash has been mostly conceived of in military terms. The knee-jerk tendency is to think of the threat in terms of terrorist bombs and the solution in terms of high-tech military hardware, wreaking death and destruction upon Arab and Muslim countries or alternatively, imposing liberalism, feminism, and democracy upon them (one result of which was the electoral victories of Hamas). It would make more sense to think of the threat in demographic terms, as Patrick J. Buchanan did in The Death of the West. In this 2002 book, Buchanan argued that Israel could be seen as a metaphor or microcosm of the West as a whole. Noting the high fertility rates of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, as well as in the surrounding Arab countries, he pointed out that over the next twenty-five years her population, including both Jews and Arabs, could be predicted to grow by 2.1 million while her neighbours would grow by 62.2 million, while the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel herself would grow to 25 million, vastly outnumbering the number of Jewish Israelis. In the long run, this and not Hamas’ rockets, is what threatens Israel’s existence. Similarly, it is the low fertility rates of Western countries, combined with the mass immigration of people with much higher fertility rates, that threatens Western civilization – or what is left of it – and which is importing into the West, a problem with jihadist violence that we otherwise would not have to put up with.

Of course liberals will have nothing to do with any proposals that take that diagnosis of the problem into account and neither will mainstream conservatives. A couple of years ago, the man who is now being spoken of as likely to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative Party and possibly Prime Minister of Canada, Jason Kenney, banned Serbian-American scholar Dr. Srdja Trifkovic from entering Canada. Dr. Trifkovic’s strategy for victory in the war against jihadism is a combination of keeping the jihadists out of Western countries while letting them be in their own countries, a refreshing opposite strategy to that of George W. Bush and one which rests squarely on the diagnosis of the problem that we have just considered. Mr. Kenney, however, appears to prefer the failed strategy of appeasing them here, while bombing them to death over there. So problems of this sort are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.