Thursday, April 23, 2015

Canada's Tradition or Canadian "Values"?

A figure who had a brief starring role on the stage of Canadian history in the early 1990s has re-emerged from the obscurity into which she subsequently receded to make an interesting observation about how an idea she holds dear and believes other Canadians do as well is faring in certain segments of the immigrant community. That figure is the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who entered Parliament as a Progressive Conservative representing Vancouver Centre in 1988 and held a number of cabinet positions in the Mulroney government before taking over the leadership of the party and the Premiership of the country for the Parliamentary recess between Mulroney’s resignation and the general election in which the Conservatives were decimated and Jean Chretien’s Liberals came to power. The National Post, on Thursday April the 16th, reported on a panel discussion at the University of Alberta the previous day that was hosted by the Peter Lougheed Leadership College of which the former Prime Minister is the Founding Principal. She was also one of the panel speakers and the newspaper focused on her remarks.

According to the National Post she told her audience that immigration has brought individuals into our society who “come from cultures that don’t believe in gender equality” and that we have not been doing a good job at selling this “Canadian value” to them. She expressed specific concerns about cultures like that of Islam which require women to wear concealing garments. She objected both to the suggestion “that women bear responsibility for the sexual behaviour of men” and to the fact that wearing a face-concealing veil in a citizenship ceremony runs contrary to the ideal of an open society.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is a good sign, an indicator that some members of Canada’s political class are finally waking up to the many ways in which the open immigration policy imposed upon us by the Liberals in the 1960s has been harmful to our country and our society, note how the National Post informs us that:

She said one of Canada’s challenges is to guide the integration of cultures that don’t share this value. Better education of Canadian residents is the key, she said, adding if Canadians don’t understand their own history and values, people new to the country will find them difficult to learn.

In other words, to this past Premier, if some immigrants do not believe in or accept what she regards as an essential Canadian “value”, the problem is not with our open immigration system that lets anyone in whether they accept our “values” or not or even with our complete lack of a system for assimilating newcomers and integrating them into Canadian culture but rather with those of us who already live here and we need to be re-educated so as to exude those “values” in such a way that the new immigrants will absorb them into themselves through some kind of cultural osmosis process.

This astonishing conclusion could only be arrived at by a mind so indoctrinated in the idea of Canadian “values” that it cannot accept that one of these values, open immigration, might be incompatible with another of these values, sexual equality, (1) despite the glaring evidence that such is in fact the case.

Now both of these supposed Canadian “values” are stupid ideas in my opinion, and I could make a separate case against both open immigration and sexual egalitarianism, but having done so already several times in the past (2) and being likely to do so again, I think that it is the very idea of values that warrants further examination here.

A number of years ago, John Casey, writing in the Spectator, told of an exchange that had taken place during a Conservative Philosophy Group meeting in the early 1980s in which Enoch Powell made an important point about values to then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:

Edward Norman (then Dean of Peterhouse) had attempted to mount a Christian argument for nuclear weapons. The discussion moved on to 'Western values'. Mrs Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defence of our values. Powell: 'No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.' Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.' 'No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.' Mrs Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.

Powell’s point, apparently beyond Mrs. Thatcher’s grasp, was that values, whatever they may be, are not worth fighting, killing, and dying for, that you only do that for something solid and tangible, your country, consisting of real people, in a real territory, with real institutions and a real way of life.

This is one point about values that I think well worth re-iterating but there is another that I wish to focus on. Interestingly, the year before Kim Campbell was elected to Parliament a book that made this point, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (3) became a best-seller in the United States, while the following year, in one of Nabokov’s “dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love”, the man who had for years been making the same point up here in Canada, died, George Parkin Grant (4). The point in question is that it while everybody speaks of values today this is a recent innovation and not one for the better. (5) Whereas we used to speak of good and evil, which were what they were in themselves and were out there for us to discover, and of virtues which were habits of behaviour or character traits that we were to cultivate because of their goodness, now we speak instead of values, which are substitutes for goodness and virtue that we create and choose for ourselves. Since different people may create and choose different values for themselves, and who is to say, now that values have replaced good and evil, that one set of values is better or worse than any other, the language of values is the language of moral and cultural relativism. (6)

Apart from the relativism of the language of values, it is also worth noting that traditional religion uses a different, much less attractive word, for those things we create for ourselves and substitute for God and the higher things. That word, of course, is idols.

The expression “Canadian values” has a particularly odious set of connotations because it is generally used to refer to those values created for Canadians by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party in the 1960s and 1970s as a substitute for Canadian tradition. These included such things as open immigration, multiculturalism, bilingualism (at least for English-speaking Canada), feminism, and the like. These, the Trudeau Liberals decided, were to be Canada’s new values and were to be shoved down Canadians throats whether they liked them or not, and if they didn’t like them they would be called “racists” and “sexists” and other ugly names. As it turned out, apart from the intellectual elite who are guaranteed to be the least intelligent segment of any society and who in Canada adored Trudeau, these values were not to Canadians liking and so, when they had had quite enough of Trudeau’s arrogance, they gave a landslide victory to the party whose historic role it had long been to safeguard the Canadian tradition, including such things as our British parliamentary monarchy and our Common Law heritage. That party was the old Conservative Party, then led by Brian Mulroney. Unfortunately the Mulroney Conservatives seemed little interested in performing their historic role and rescuing Canadian tradition from Trudeau’s values. Thus much of their support evaporated and the party, now under Kim Campbell’s leadership, collapsed.

Our concern ought to be that newcomers to Canada accept Canada’s tradition, not a set of absurd idolatrous values created for the country by a contemptible sleazebag who adored Mao Tse-Tung. Who will speak for that tradition? Historically that was the role of the old Conservative Party but they laid down on the job and their party died because of it. The present Conservative Party gives lip service to Canada’s tradition but it began life as the Reform Party, a Western populist party whose profession of small-c conservatism proved to be false because they could not grasp that there can be no conservatism without patriotic attachment to your own country, its traditions and institutions. (7) The other parties – Liberal, NDP, and Green – are all committed to Trudeau’s values rather than Canada’s tradition. So the question remains open – who will speak for that tradition?

(1) The former Prime Minister spoke of “gender equality”. Human beings have sexes, words have genders. The substitution of gender for sex in reference to human beings is akin to the substitution of “values” for goodness and virtue.

(2) See, for example, “The Progressives’ Penance” ( on immigration and “The Folly of Feminism” ( on sexual egalitarianism.

(3) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).

(4) While it comes up repeatedly in his writings see especially Grant’s Technology and Justice, (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1986), in particular the essay on Nietzsche, and the essays in section five of William Christian and Sheila Grant, eds, The George Grant Reader, (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1998), in particular the first essay in the section “The Good or Values: Value and Technology?”.

(5) Both Grant and Bloom were influenced in this by Leo Strauss who had been a correspondent of Grant’s and a professor of Bloom’s.

(6) Grant, Bloom, and Strauss trace the language of values and the relativism it represents back through Max Weber to Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that modern rationalism had made the religious beliefs of the past untenable, but, an atheist of the right, he condemned the rationalistic, liberal, egalitarian, democracy that he saw modern man to be constructing as condemning men to lives of mediocrity as “the last men”. He believed that man’s heroic spirit must be fed by myths (akin to Plato’s “noble lies”) and hoped that men would exercise their “will to power” to avoid the fate of the “last men”, rise to that of the “supermen”, and create appropriate new myths. He condemned Christian morality for exalting weakness, comparing this unfavourably to the old Greek and Jewish moralities which identified virtue with strength, but hoped that men would go “beyond good and evil” and embrace values, as expressions of their own will and creativity.

(7) Reform’s leaders far too often seemed to want to replace Canada’s tradition with that of the United States.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Save The Senate!

As the ongoing trial of disgraced Senator Mike Duffy continues to loom large in the news the media has been treating Canadians to a daily diet of opinion columns and letters to the editor asking why we don’t just get rid of the Senate. For someone with a high regard for the intelligence of either the general populace, the letter writing segment of it, or the class of professional scribblers who earn their bread and butter by composing opinion columns, it must surely be disheartening and disillusioning to realize that so many of those they so admire have displayed, through asking this question, their acceptance of an easily refutable premise. As one who does not hold any of these groups in high regard I do not share this disillusionment – merely a sense of disgust.

Suppose someone were to come forward with evidence that high ranking police officers have been taking bribes, trafficking confiscated narcotics, and otherwise abusing the powers and privileges that come with being charged, in Her Majesty’s name, with the enforcement of the laws of the land? I imagine you are all shocked at the very suggestion of such an unheard of possibility. Once you revive from your faint, snap out of your catatonic state, or otherwise recover from the trauma that has just been inflicted upon your psyche ask yourself if, in the event, perish the thought, that such evidence were to be found, it would be reasonable to argue that because of such corruption, law enforcement agencies therefore ought to be abolished. Perhaps someone reading this who is an anarchist by way of political ideology would say that such an argument is reasonable but if he is a true anarchist he would say that all government agencies including the police are illegitimate regardless of whether we can point to specific examples of corruption or not. Otherwise, I expect, very few would conclude that the abolition of law enforcement is a reasonable response to police corruption.

That point that I wish to make is that you cannot deal with corruption and abuse of office by tearing down institutions and offices once such corruption and abuse is manifest within them. If we were to seriously attempt to do this then very soon we would have no institutions left but corruption would be as much present among us as ever it was before. This is because the source of corruption, as Christians and conservatives have always known although the fact continues to elude liberals, progressives, and socialists to this very day, is not institutions but the human heart. If you tear down an institution because you find corruption in it, you will also find corruption in whatever you erect to take its place because it too must contain the human element. Unless, of course, you are envisioning the replacement of man by machine ala James Cameron.

The Canadian Senate, let it be said, does not do a very good job of representing the principle it is supposed to embody and has not done so in a very long time. If the principle is a true one, however, and important to the balance of Parliament, then an imperfect and badly flawed representation is better than no representation at all. The House of Commons embodies the principle of representative democracy – that we, through the representatives we sent to Parliament, have a say in the laws we live under. The Crown embodies the principle of dignified, prescriptive authority that transcends popular politics. This is the more important of these two principles because governments can only derive power and not authority from winning elections – the power of numbers that comes from having a majority or at least a plurality behind you. A government that has power but not authority is a tyrannical government even if its power is democratic power. In our constitution, the government possesses authority as Ministers of the Crown in whose name they act and power as elected representatives of the people. What then does the Senate represent?

The Senate represents the principle that laws should not be enacted in haste, that reason should govern passion, and that legislation written by the representatives of the people should be reviewed by those representing experience, public spirit, and the wisdom that comes from age before it is allowed to become law. As I said, the Senate does not represent this principle well. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that it does an abysmally poor job of representing the principle. Nevertheless, the principle is a sound one and it is better that it be represented poorly than that it not be represented at all. Note how the impulse to tear down the institution because of the corruption within it is the very opposite of the principle of not acting in haste and allowing reason to overrule passion. To give in to such an impulse would not bode well for our country.

If abolishing the Senate is a bad idea, and it is, the Upper Chamber is badly in need of reforms. I would suggest the following reforms as being particularly appropriate and necessary: 1) that the advisory role to the Crown on appointment to the Senate be taken from the Prime Minister’s Office and placed in the hands of a committee that itself is independent of the Prime Minister’s Office - perhaps consisting of representatives of the provinces, 2) that we increase the minimum age of Senators from thirty to perhaps forty-five or fifty, 3) that we either scrap salaries for Senators altogether or reduce them to something that is a mere honorarium while 4) updating the Constitutional property requirements for Senators to reflect a century and a half of inflation. (1)

These proposed reforms, which unlike the Triple-E alternative advocated by the old Reform Party, seek to be respectful and true to the tradition upon which our Parliament is founded, would go far towards ensuring that the Senate is filled by public spirited individuals with the wisdom of experience rather than cronies of the Prime Minister looking for a cushy position with a large salary and expense account. This would lessen greatly the biggest problem with the Senate as it currently stands while helping it to much better represent its principle in Parliament.

Of course, these proposals would be anathema to someone like Warren Kinsella who in his Toronto Sun column last weekend argued that the Senators were hastening the demise of the Senate by their own words and actions and gave as his chief example of this, Nancy Ruth’s remarks about the quality of airline food given in answer to the auditor general’s question about why she had charged a different breakfast to her expense account. Kinsella spoke of her “arrogance” and her “appalling condescension and contempt”, an interesting choice of pejoratives coming from someone who often tells Canadians what they think or feel as if those who thought or felt differently from him were not “Canadian”, examples of which can be found in the very same article. Kinsella led into this by providing details about the Senator’s background in the Jackman family, using her wealth against her to paint a portrait of patrician pride. Thus I infer that he would not approve of my proposal that only those of independent means be allowed to sit in the Senate.

Reading Warren Kinsella’s column solidified more than ever my conviction that the Senate must be retained and that the reforms which I have proposed would be for the best. After all, which is the more reasonable response to a rich Senator complaining about how airline breakfasts “are pretty awful”? To tell the Senator that she can pay for her breakfast out of her own independent means or to insist that the Upper House of Parliament be abolished altogether?

(1) For a more detailed exposition of these proposals see:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Lessons of Poetry: Part Two - The "Good War"

War is a basic reality of human existence. Individual human beings cannot live together without generating friction that sometimes bursts out in disagreements, disputes, and fights and the same is also true of human societies. When societies clash in war destruction is generated on a much larger scale then when individuals clash and it has long been a dream of many that one day man would lay down his arms forever and war would be no more. The Christian Scriptures speak of such a day but they place it in the world-to-come, beyond the end of history and the Return of Christ. Only those with a naïve and foolish faith in the ability of human ingenuity to overcome each and every limitation placed upon us by the realities of our nature – we call such people “progressives” – envision the abolition of war as a human accomplishment to be achieved inside of history. The schemes they propose to achieve this end generally strike those of us who are not progressives as being unduly optimistic at best, pathways to evils greater than war at worst, and for better or for worse, inevitably doomed to fail.

Once we accept that war is a basic reality of our existence that we cannot, however much we may wish it to be otherwise, do away with forever we are forced to consider how we will deal with this reality. Two questions stand out as being of utmost importance. The first is what limits or boundaries, if any, we may place on war so as to lessen and minimize its destructive potential. The second is how we can best prepare our countries so as to be ready for war when it comes. This second question has two quite different facets depending upon what we have in mind when we think of preparation for war. We might think of such preparation in terms of fortifications, arsenals and military training of a strategic and technical nature. Or we might think of it in terms of the cultivation of the virtues, the habits of character, of the warrior. Since the virtues that serve a man on the battlefield serve him elsewhere as well the second would seem to be clearly the more important of these two perspectives and it is a powerful indictment of the modern mind and the education that forms and feeds it that it thinks of military preparation almost exclusively in terms of the first.

These two questions, of how we may limit war so as to lessen its destructiveness and how we may cultivate the virtues of the warrior so as to prepare our country for war are the subjects of two long-standing traditional discussions in the civilizations of the Western world and it is a further indictment of modern education that it has, to a large extent, cut the modern mind off from these discussions and the traditions which contain them. The first question is what philosophers and theologians traditionally sought to answer in their discussion of justice in war – for what causes may we justly go to war and how, once we have gone to war, we may conduct it in a just manner. The second question is the subject of an older and longer discussion that goes back at least as far as Homer in the eighth century BC, a discussion carried out in the language of poetry.

It was poetry that took the Greek word for a man of war – hero – and exalted it into a term of adoration and praise. Although poetic language is not exactly noted for its realism, poetic licence being a byword for exaggeration, hyperbole, and the dressing up of the facts, the inescapable realities of human existence – life, death, joy, suffering, love and yes, war – are its subject matter. Of the themes that recur throughout the poetry of the Great Tradition when war is the subject, it is that of the hero and his mighty deeds which stands out. It is a theme which the modern mind, formed by utilitarian education and fed by comic books, video games, fantasy novels, television, and cinematic film easily misunderstands and in such a mind the concept of the hero is inevitably reduced to that of the “good guy”.

The good guy is the person you are supposed to cheer for because he is on the side of Light opposed to Darkness. The hero is not so one-dimensional a character. He is good in a sense, for otherwise he would not be the object of praise, but his goodness does not consist of his being on the side of Light or even of his being a particularly moral person. It consists of his possessing, as evidenced through his actions, the qualities that befit a warrior. While these include such natural traits as physical strength (Achilles, Heracles) and crafty intelligence (Odysseus) it is traits of character, foremost of which is that of courage or valour, that are awarded the highest praise. Indeed, gallantry is held to be of such importance that it is worthy of glory regardless of whether it ends in victory or defeat, or even if, as is the case in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, it is wasted due to some grotesque mistake.

This immortalisation in verse and song was justly due the warrior for risking or even laying down his life in duty and service to his country and it fell to the poet to pay this due on his country’s behalf. It also served a pedagogical purpose. To hold up examples of courage and other martial virtues for adulation is to also hold them up for emulation, particularly when the learning of these verses by heart played so important a role in the training of young minds.

In one of the earliest known discussions of educational theory, that which takes place between Socrates and his friends in Plato’s Republic, the pedagogical aspect of poetry is a major concern and it is famously proposed that lines from Homer that might teach the wrong lessons be bowdlerized. It is a repugnant proposal, of course, but the concern behind it is one the poet may very well have shared, as there are varying degrees to which heroes are worthy of adulation and emulation and even the best of them possessed less desirable or even undesirable traits and qualities in addition to the heroic virtues. With this in mind, consider how Homer presented his heroes.

The main hero of the Iliad is Achilles, king of the Myrmidons. The epic begins with the poet evoking the Muse and asking her to sing of the wrath of Achilles and is structured around that wrath as first, in anger against Agamemnon, Achilles withdraws himself and his men from the siege of Troy causing the tide of the war to swing against the Achaeans then later, in sorrowful anger over the death of Patroclus he returns to battle to slay Hector, crown prince of Troy. Yet the poem ends by honouring the latter in a funeral that is made possible by divine intervention. This intervention is necessary because Achilles in his wrath is determined to defile the body of Hector by dragging it behind his chariot and leaving it to be devoured by dogs, thus incurring the anger of the gods.

It is Hector, not Achilles, nor any of the other Greeks for that matter, who comes across as the noblest, the most worthy of emulation of Homer’s heroes. It is significant that while it takes Achilles, Greece’s bravest and strongest warrior, to slay Hector, Achilles’ own death, which takes place outside of the time-frame of the Iliad but is prophetically alluded to, is at the hands of Paris, Hector’s weak and cowardly brother.

Achilles is portrayed as the embodiment of the follies of youth. He is arrogant and impetuous, easily swayed by passions, and overly concerned with his own glory. Indeed, the latter seems to be his only real purpose for going to war for, while he hints, when he reminds Agamemnon in their dispute that he has no personal quarrel with the Trojans (1), at the mercenary motivation that had shocked and offended Plato, he and his mother make frequent reference to his having been presented with a choice by fate – he could stay at home and live a long but unsung life or he could go to Troy where he would die before its gates but win a name that would live in song forever. He chooses the latter and accordingly is remembered as the greatest of the Greek heroes, with the possible exception of Heracles, but in the discontent of the words of his shade in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, expressing a preference for the lowest station on earth over the highest in the underworld, the message comes across that there can be no satisfaction in glory sought for its own sake.

It is Hector, by contrast, who fights for worthy reasons. Hector, “tamer of horses”, fights not for his personal glory but out of a sense of duty to his father and mother, his wife and son, and to their city. He fights for family and home and is all the more noble in doing so because he is aware that it will ultimately be to no avail, that he will die, the house of Priam will fall, Ilium will be destroyed, and his wife taken away into captivity. To fight and die for these things is what the poets have honoured heroes for down through the centuries from Homer to Horace to Thomas Babbington Macauley.

This view of war and the warrior, of what is worth fighting and dying for, and of the standard by which the warrior is judged worthy of praise or shame, is worlds removed from an image that has pervaded the popular consciousness in recent decades. This image began as a way of looking at and explaining the Second World War but it has grown into a paradigm by which all new conflicts are to be parsed and which has even been superimposed upon previous wars including the First World War and the war the American states fought between themselves in the 1860s. The image is the “Good War” narrative which has supplanted both the poetic idea of the heroic warrior, winning praise and renown for his gallantry as he lays down his life for family, friends, home, and country and the traditional discussion about what constitutes justice in war.

It is in keeping with the older traditions to say that the Allies were justified in going to war with Nazi Germany. By the fall of 1939 Hitler had proven himself to be thirsting for war, a threat to his neighbours, and a pathological liar who could not be trusted to keep his word given in negotiations. He had given Britain and France more than enough of a casus belli to justify their declarations of war. For countries like my own, Canada, and Australia, it was loyalty which moved us to enter the war and stand by our king and mother country in their hour of need. What could be more in keeping with the older traditions than this?

The Good War narrative goes far beyond any of this. It declares the war itself to have been good because the character of the two sides was such that it was a microcosm of the great struggle between Good and Evil. The Allies were the Forces of Light, embodying all that is pure and good, and the Axis were the very Forces of Darkness. What need is there to find a just cause for such a war? It is its own just cause. Who dare speak of limitations on how war can be justly conducted when the enemy is the avatar of Evil?

This narrative embraces a cosmology that is considered heretical by the standards of traditional, orthodox, Christianity. Dualism, the idea that the cosmos is eternally engaged in a battle between the matched forces of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, is part of the mainstream of several Eastern philosophies and religions but within the Christian West was a doctrine of Gnosticism, historically the heretical rival of orthodox, Apostolic, Christianity. The growth of the Good War narrative is, therefore, yet another evidence, as if more was needed, that the period after the Second World War is a post-Christian as well as a post-modern age.

Both of the traditions which the Good War narrative has supplanted have been accused of being instruments in the hands of hawks and warmongers. Not infrequently those who make these accusations on the one hand embrace the Good War interpretation of World War II on the other. Yet today, whenever a politician wants to bomb or invade some country it is to the rhetoric of Winston Churchill of which he can provide a poor imitation at best rather than the arguments of Cicero, St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas that he turns to make his case. The leaders of the country he wishes to attack are inevitably new Hitlers and those who oppose his plans for war are inevitably compared to Neville Chamberlain. Not to be outdone, the radicals who pour contempt on the poetic ideal of the hero and heroism and traditional just war theory and who automatically condemn any and every military action taken by their own country – or any Western country, especially the United States – regardless of the particulars, make use of the Good War narrative as well, except that in their rhetoric it is the Western leaders who are Hitler.

However did this image of the Good War arise? It could hardly be said to have been born out of the facts of the Second World War. The most repugnant and repulsive characteristics of the Third Reich – its tyrannical dictatorship, secret police, network of prison camps, and repressive totalitarian state which held the lives of its people extremely cheap - were shared by the Soviet Union. The war began with an alliance between these two powers that included a secret deal to divide the spoils between themselves. After this alliance was broken by Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union the Stalinist regime joined the Allies and one of the most obvious results of the war was a significant expansion of that regime’s territory. At least as strong of a case can be made that Stalin and his Bolshevik regime were the greater of the two evils as can be made that Hitler and his Nazi regime were. More people died in this war than in any other and well over half of these were civilian deaths. Those who were the Forces of Light, according to the Good War theory, invented weapons whose destructive potential was exponentially greater than any the world had known before and brought the war to an end by dropping two of these weapons on heavily populated cities. Then, when the war was over, the Forces of Light put the leaders of the Forces of Darkness on trial before a court that operated in accordance with a concept of “justice” far closer to that of Stalin than that which is traditional to the English-speaking world. No, the facts of the Second World War do not support the Good War narrative at all.

It is surely no coincidence that this narrative arose in a period in which the old tradition of celebrating heroes and their deeds in verse and inspiring through such verse the cultivation of virtues such as courage, loyalty, and dutifulness to home, family, and country was all but dead. It had been alive and well in the Victorian era but seemed to sing its swan song in the first World War, which saw a plethora of soldier-poets, some of whom, writing in the old tradition, produced the poems that remain part of our annual ceremonies of remembrance to this day, while others concentrated on the horrors of the war and expressed cynicism towards the old tradition and the heroic virtues. War has always been horrible, of course, but poets from Homer to Housman had managed to lament the cruel reality of war with its waste of so many lives struck down prematurely while at the same time praising the patriotic valour of the warrior. This became more difficult as modern technology changed the nature of warfare. It is easy to see the gallantry of light cavalrymen charging with sword in hand against a battery of artillery at the end of a valley with enemy guns on all sides. Where can it be possibly found in the dropping of bombs that kill civilians by the thousands from aircraft miles above?

It is not just that poets have found it difficult to maintain the old tradition in the face of new, modern, technological, warfare. It is also that poetry itself has come to be supplanted, first by other forms of literature such as the novel, then later by media such as film and television that have supplanted the written word altogether. It is films and television, novels and comic books, which form and feed the modern mind. These are the genres that have reduced the complex hero to the simple good guy and it is in the minds fed by such junk food that the image of the Good War was born.

(1) Achilles was the only one of the Greek kings who could say this. Paris, prince of Troy, after enjoying the hospitality of Menelaus, king of Sparta, had absconded with his wife, Helen. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and Menelaus’ brother had organized the retaliatory expedition against Troy. In doing so, according to the myth, he had reminded all of the other kings that when, in their youth, they had been rivals for Helen’s hand, the contest had been resolved when they swore an oath to support and uphold whomever Helen had chosen, which was Menelaus. Achilles, being much younger than the others, had no part in either the contest or the oath.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lessons of Poetry: Part One - The Crisis of Modern Education

In Mazo de la Roche’s Morning at Jalna, set in 1863, the second generation of the Whiteoaks are still children. Philip, the future heir of the estate and the father of the family’s entire third generation is still a baby, but his older siblings Augusta, the future Lady Buckley, and Nicholas and Ernest, familiar as the old uncles in most of the volumes of the series, are all in their formative years. Plans are made for them to be educated in boarding schools in England but in the mean time they have tutors at Jalna. At the start of the novel an Irishman named Madigan is their tutor but when, after being snared into marrying the daughter of a neighbour he jilts his bride on their honeymoon and disappears, she takes over his position. Shortly after the following ensues:

Lessons began the following morning and Mrs. Madigan declared that never in her life had she met with such ignorance. “Mr. Madigan really taught us nothing but Latin and poetry,” said Augusta.

“It’s what you call a classical education,” added Nicholas.

“And what good will such an education be to you in this country, I’d like to know?” asked Mrs. Madigan, her eyes piercing him like gimlets.

No answer is given to this question, alas, and Ernest then proves himself to be a poor advertisement for the merits of classical education by confusing the date of the year of Columbus’ discovery of America with that of the Battle of Hastings and confidently asserting Charles Lever’s authorship of the works of Shakespeare.

The best answer to those who, like Mrs. Madigan, question the good of classical education is to contrast it with that which has replaced it. Nobody could put that contrast better than the late Joseph Sobran who was fond of saying that “in one century we went from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to offering remedial English in college.” Today in North America and indeed throughout the Western world the law requires that all young people attend school up to a certain age and for most children this means attendance at a taxpayer-funded, bureaucrat-controlled institution. These institutions, which have been laboratories for progressive experimentation for decades now, have become increasingly standardized as more and more control over school curricula and activities has been taken from parents and local trustees who answer to them and placed in the hands of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education. The more complete the standardization, the more the state schools seem to exist for no purpose other than to churn out the kind of people Nietzsche would have described as “die letzten Menschen”. Those parents who, understandably, want something better than this for their children have the limited options of home or parochial schooling, or, if they have the means, private schooling. Only in these alternatives is classical learning - or at least a near approximation - available today.

That there is a serious problem with the present educational system is widely recognized. As with any illness, however, if it is not properly diagnosed, the proposed treatment may be as bad or worse than the disease. There are many who rightly object to the way the public schools are being used to indoctrinate children with egalitarian dogma and socialize them into the new, hypersensitive, politically correct, multicultural, order who can visualize an alternative only in terms of vocational training. In other words they think that the sole or primary purpose of the schools ought to be to prepare students to get jobs and earn their living or, a variation on this theme, to get better jobs and earn a higher living than they would be able to otherwise. Important as learning a trade or profession undoubtedly is, an educational system that makes this its primary goal is no real alternative to the present system. It, as much as the other, would merely prepare its students to be unthinking cogs in an economic and social machine.

Classical educators had very different goals. They attempted to instil wisdom and not just facts, to train their students to make qualitative and not just quantitative judgements, to develop virtue and good character and not just useful sets of skills. They sought to prepare their students, not for places within a mass society that functions like a machine, but to be free subjects of their Sovereign – or free citizens of the republic if they had the misfortunate to live in a polity of that nature – by forming through its disciplines the habits of mind essential to mature, responsible, freedom. This is why the traditional subjects of a classical education are called the liberal arts. That is “liberal” in the sense of “appropriate for a freeman” not in the sense of “progressive egalitarian democrat”. These were more than just “Latin and poetry”, of course, although “Latin and poetry” can be taken as a fair way of summarizing grammar, the first and most basic of the three elements that comprise the trivium, the foundation of classical education. (1)

The idea that learning dead tongues like Latin and classical Greek and the memorization and recital of poetry ought to be central to the most basic stage of the education of the free subject will strike many today as being quaint and archaic. Let us leave an inquiry into the importance of Greek and Latin for another time, (2) and for now we will consider the importance of the lessons which poetry has for us.

The basic arguments for having children memorize poetry are that it trains the memory, builds vocabulary and syntax, and, in the words of Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind, through it students “internalize rhythmic, beautiful patterns of English language” which become “part of the student’s ‘language store,’ those wells of language that we all use every day in writing and speaking”. (3) It is also the way in which poets are made. This is true regardless of which side you come down on in the old classical v. romantic debate about whether good poetry is defined by rules and forms or springs up from inspiration within you. Learning poetry by heart is both an excellent way of mastering rules and forms and, if poetry is something that bubbles up from the heart like water from a flowing well, of filling that well in the first place. The irrefutable evidence for this assertion is the dearth of good poetry written since the advent of modern, progressive, technological education. Bilge, like that written by the late Maya Angelou, does not count.

Learning poetry is important for another reason, however, and it is this reason which I wish to emphasize. Tradition, by which I mean the wisdom distilled from the accumulated experience of past generations and passed down to us that we may benefit from it ourselves, hopefully add to it, and pass it on to future generations, is a rich heritage containing many valuable lessons. Poetry is an indispensable vessel for the transmission of this wisdom. Michael Oakeshott pointed out years ago that although the modern rationalism that now permeates all disciplines tries to reduce all knowledge to the technical and living tradition to rigid ideology, the greater part of human wisdom cannot be reduced to either the technical or ideological. In a similar vein it can be said that much wisdom can be communicated in verse which simply cannot be adequately expressed in prose. The ancients knew this which is one of the reasons why from the very beginning of the Great Tradition, its language has so often been that of poetry, from that of the epics of Homer and Virgil to that of the odes of Pindar and Horace, from that of the Psalms of David to that of the tragedies of Sophocles and Seneca.

To say that the greater, more valuable, part of human knowledge and wisdom can only be expressed in the metric language of poetry rather than the technical language of the natural sciences is to expose the vastness of the gulf that exists between the classical and the modern mind. Technically-oriented training produces minds that seem incapable of viewing goodness, truth, or beauty except through the lens of utility or usefulness, something which could hardly have been said of the kind of education that formed the minds of Shakespeare and Jonson, Donne and Herbert, Pope and Johnson, Scott, Coleridge, Southey, and Wordsworth, Hunt and Tennyson, Pound, Yeats and Eliot.

In Part Two we will consider a popular interpretation of an important historical conflict of the last century and the adverse effects this interpretation has had by creating a paradigm into which many have sought to fit subsequent conflicts and we will hold that interpretation up to be judged by the light of the lessons of the poetry of the Great Tradition.

(1) Logic and rhetoric are the other two. The quadrivium, consisting of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, with the trivium, form the seven classical liberal arts.

(2) You can find arguments for the study of classical languages and literature in Victor Davis Hanson’s Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (New York: Encounter Books, 2001) and E. Christian Kopff’s The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (Wilmington: ISI Books, 1999). Or, if you want it in a nutshell, Dorothy L. Sayers put it this way: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.” That is from her “The Lost Tools of Learning” which can be read online here:


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Equality is not Justice and Justice is not Equality

Western civilization in its classical and Christian manifestations saw the Good as being the chief end for which human beings, individually and as a collective whole, were to strive. Goodness, like the closely related ideas of Truth and Beauty, was what it was in itself rather than whatever we decided it to be, and it was something we were to seek after and discover. Justice, the condition and act of being and doing what is right, was the particular aspect of Goodness that was the end for which man organized his societies politically, that is to say under law and government.

Today, Western civilization has passed through its Modern era into what is called the Postmodern age, although Übermodern would probably be a more apt term for it as it takes the traits of the modern and magnifies them to the nth degree. In these eras, Justice has been supplanted by a usurper. The name of this usurper is Equality although it sometimes tries to steal the name of Justice as well as its position. Whenever, for example, you hear “Justice” spoken of with “Social” as a modifier then you can be sure that it is this modern Pretender that is being spoken of and not true and legitimate Justice.

The superficial similarities between Equality and certain aspects of Justice are such that the differences between the two need to be made absolutely clear so as to avoid confusion. Equality is the idea that in some way or another people either are or ought to be all the same and therefore should be treated the same way. Justice is the idea that all people ought to be treated right.

It is easy to see how the confusion between the two concepts can arise. If we start with Justice’s assertion that all people ought to be treated right we can see that it is saying in a sense that all people ought to be treated the same way, that is to say, rightly. It is when we start with Equality’s assertion that all people ought to be treated the same way that a problem becomes apparent because we cannot from this assertion derive any sense of the idea that all people should be treated right. This is because treating people right and treating people the same are not identical concepts. Often to treat two people right means to treat each differently.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean by this. If you were to come across a stranger in need and welcome him into your home, treating him as if he were a member of your family, your actions would meet with widespread acclamation and you would find yourself toasted for your generosity, liberality, warm-hearted humanity, and countless other virtues. If, however, your own father, who begat you and lovingly raised you, who provided you with everything you need and gave you your start in life, were to come to you and you were to turn him aside and treat him as a perfect stranger, you would find yourself rightly condemned as a cold-blooded ingrate. In the latter instance as in the former you will have treated people the same way whether they were family members or strangers. In the second instance, however, you will not have done right by doing so.

This, by the way, is the difference between the image and the reality of Equality. Equality projects the image of treating strangers like they were family, but its reality is the treating of family members as if they were strangers.

Equality is sometimes confused with the idea that within a country the law should be the same for all people, governors and governed alike. This idea is a fundamental principle of our legal tradition. Although the principle is often spoken of as isonomy or “equality under law” there is an important difference between it and the concept of Equality. The difference is that whereas the latter asserts that all the people under the law are the same, the principle asserts that the law is the same for all people. This is not a matter of semantics. When we say that the law is the same for all people we are saying that the law is one and it is this, the unity of the law, that is the essence of the principle. To assert that it is the people, who are many, that are the same is to assert nonsense.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident”, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal.” No greater statement of utter tripe and poppycock has ever been penned. To say that all men are created equal is to say that all men are created the same. Apart from the most peripheral and trivial of matters – that we are all born and all die, that we all have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes, etc. - this is patently untrue. In matters of ability, both physical and mental, personality, quality, and character human beings are like the proverbial snowflake – no two are identical. Nor would any sane person want them to be.

“We are all equal”, those who have been conditioned to accept without question the doctrine of Equality might object to my reasoning above, “in terms of our worth or value.” While that sounds very nice and may give us warm, fuzzy, tingly feelings inside, it does not bear up under scrutiny. The words “worth” and “value” are marketplace words. They can refer to the amount that you are willing to pay for something if you are a prospective buyer, or the amount that you are willing to receive in exchange for something if you are a prospective seller. They can also refer to the intrinsic qualities of the objects upon which the buyer and seller base their decision as to how much they are willing to pay or accept. (1) To say that all people are of equal value, therefore, is either to reduce all people to the level of commodities for sale in the marketplace, which is hardly in keeping with the humanitarianism professed by most egalitarians who in other contexts would most strenuously object to the objectification of people, or to assert them to be equal in terms of some intrinsic quality that is unobservable to ordinary human beings for in all observable intrinsic qualities people are definitely not equal.

That unobservable intrinsic quality is sometimes further described as being our “worth in God’s eyes”. This is tautological, providing us with no new information about what that quality might be, for if it is unobservable to the human eye, who else can see it but God? More importantly, one would be hard pressed to find evidence for this concept in authoritative divine revelation.

The God Who revealed Himself in the words of the Christian Scriptures and in the Person of Jesus Christ is a God of Justice not of Equality. While He holds men accountable to the single standard which is His Law, He holds them accountable in varying degrees in accordance with whether they have received His Law in full or only partly through their consciences. (2) He has given men One mediator through Whom grace, mercy, and salvation can be received because it is only through the cross of Jesus Christ that He can be “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (3) In the Church which is His body, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female”, not because these distinctions are unimportant or are to be eliminated but because “ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. (4) As with the concept of the “one law for all” in our legal tradition, it is unity – the unity of God’s Law, His Gospel, and His Church and, of course, of the One True and Living God Himself – that is taught in those passages and verses that are sometimes misconstrued as teaching egalitarianism. The God of the Christian Scriptures created people differently, giving each their own abilities, qualities, talents, and gifts, and while He holds all people accountable to one Law, He holds each person accountable for the use made of what was given him in particular. That is the difference between Justice and Equality.

(1) The difference between these two meanings of value is what Oscar Wilde alluded to in his famous quip about the cynic who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
(2) Romans 2
(3) Romans 3:26
(4) Galatians 3:28

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Give Up Freedom To Gain Perpetual War? No Thank You!

In times of conflict, when our country is at war, we are willing to tolerate such inconveniences, burdens, and abridgements of our rights and freedoms as are deemed to be necessary for the war effort. We recognize, in such times, that the good of our whole country must come first and that we must come together in support of those who are fighting on our behalf. Implicit in all of this, however, is the understanding that war is an exceptional circumstance and that the conditions of peace in which our rights and freedoms are not so curtailed are the norm.

This long-standing traditional consensus served us well down through the ages but in the last century it was torn apart by attacks coming from two different directions. While there have always been those who have defected from their society’s collective efforts in wartime in post-World War II conflicts these have occurred on a much larger scale as part of organized movements that have been driven by ideologies such as pacifism. From this direction the tradition that tells us to come together in unity when our country is at war has come under attack. The attack from the other direction is upon the tradition that tells us to make the conditions of peace the norm and it is this attack, and especially one particular form of this attack, that I wish to discuss here.

If the tradition under attack says that the conditions of peace in which the public are not overly burdened with rules and taxes and their customary rights and freedoms are not abridged are to be the norm then to attack this tradition is to say that the conditions appropriate for wartime are to be the norm instead. One way in which this occurred in the last century was that liberalism, the ideology that started in the so-called “Enlightenment” and came to dominate the Western world in the period known as the Modern Age, changed, at least in North America, in the period between the two World Wars. Until the First World War the ideas of John Locke, in which the need to protect the rights and liberties of the individual from the state was stressed, formed the most prominent strain in liberal thought. After the war the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, in which the role of the modern democratic state as the agent and instrument of utilitarian progress was emphasized, eclipsed those of Locke. The basis of this shift in liberal thought was the reasoning on the part of many liberals who served in administrative positions in the First World War that if the government can mobilize and organize society for the sake of the war effort in times of war then surely it can mobilize and organize society to achieve a better, more just, society in times of peace. This has certainly taken the liberty out of liberalism.

Another way in which governments, addicted to wartime powers, have resisted the tradition of reverting to the conditions of peace as the norm, has been to make conflict the norm rather than peace. About the time that liberalism underwent the shift described in the preceding paragraph liberals of the older type, including American historians such as Charles Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes, began to see a tendency in the foreign policy of the liberal American Presidents of the ‘30s and ‘40s towards holding up “freedom”, “democracy”, and “peace” as ideals while constantly mobilizing the country for war on behalf of those ideals. “Perpetual war for perpetual peace” was how Beard described this policy to Barnes, who borrowed the title for a anthology of essays he edited in 1953 that took a hard, critical, look at the policies of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. (1) Another of these older type liberals, who now called themselves libertarians, Murray N. Rothbard, observed that a “welfare-warfare state” had developed that both practiced the policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace and employed high levels of taxation, spending, and regulation for non-belligerent, progressive purposes in the Benthamite manner we have discussed. That a policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace could be used as a cover for collusion between military leaders and arms manufacturers for the sake of war profiteering on a whole new level made possible by the advent of mass production was a danger against which American President Dwight Eisenhower warned in his Farewell Address.

In the last decade and a half events have transpired that our governments have exploited to take the policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace to a whole new level.

Since the end of the Second World War the acknowledged leading country of the Western world has, for better or worse, been the United States of America. After the Cold War came to an end America and the West have become increasingly entangled in the conflicts of the Middle East. When, on September 11, 2001, the United States found herself the victim of a terrorist attack the American President at the time declared a “War on Terror”. As part of this “War on Terror” the American government created a powerful new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, charged with the task of preventing terrorist attacks on American soil, and the USA PATRIOT Act, which enhanced the investigatory powers of law enforcement and security agencies by removing such impediments as the need for a court order to search records, was rushed through Congress. Here in Canada Jean Chretien’s Liberals rushed similar legislation through Parliament in the form of the Anti-Terrorism Act of the fall of 2001.

The supporters of bills like these argued that they were necessary to remove obstructions that got in the way of security agencies and hindered them from doing their job of protecting us from the violence of terrorism. Critics and opponents of the same bills argued that these so-called obstructions were actually safeguards that protected Canadians and Americans against the misuse of government power and that to get rid of these safeguards is to abandon centuries of tradition, stretching back to before the founding of either the United States or Canada, in which these safeguards evolved to protect our rights and liberties, lives and persons. These critics were, of course, right. If we were to interpret every crisis that occurs as indicating a need for either enhanced government powers or a loosening of constitutional, prescriptive, and legal restraints on the use of government powers, very soon we would have an omnipotent state and no rights and freedoms worth speaking of.

Nobody made this case better than the late paleoconservative columnist Sam Francis, who in column after column took the administration of George W. Bush to task for such things as trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals rather than real courts, eavesdropping on confidential communications and issuing national id cards, creating the Department of Homeland Security, and putting police surveillance cameras throughout federal buildings in Washington D. C., as creating a slippery slope, whereby Americans would become accustomed to less rights, liberties, and constitutional protections and to being spied on by their government. Noting that the powers granted to the American government by the Patriot Act “are far larger than the government of any free people should have and that whatever powers this administration doesn’t use could still be used by future ones”, he pointed out that this “is how free peoples typically lose their freedom—not by a dictator like Saddam Hussein suddenly grabbing power in the night and seizing all the library records but by the slow erosion of the habits and mentality that enables freedom to exist at all” and concluded that the Bush administration was writing the last chapters in the story of American liberty.

Chretien’s Anti-Terrorism Act was no better. This Act utterly abandoned our country’s traditions of liberty and justice and allowed for people to be arrested and detained without charges, denied basic legal protections, and tried in secret without being guaranteed the opportunity to hear and respond to all the evidence against them, if the government were to determine them to be a threat to national security. This Act expired several years ago – legislation of this nature can only be enacted for five year periods – but, contrary to Kelly McParland’s claim in the National Post on February 2nd of this year, it did not expire without having been used. Among its other provisions was an amendment to the national security certificate provision of the Immigration Act that made possible an incident that was a shameful disgrace to our country.

An elderly man, who immigrated to Canada from Germany in the 1950s, who had never committed any violent crime here or elsewhere although he was the victim of terrorist attacks on the part of the followers of Rabbi Kahane, but who was repeatedly dragged through our courts for the “crime” of trying to spread the idea that accounts of atrocities committed by the other side in the Second World War still need to be revised to less resemble wartime propaganda, moved to the United States in order to escape this persecution. He married a woman there, applied for citizenship, and was arrested by United States Immigration who handed him over to our authorities, who issued a national security certificate against him. He was placed in solitary confinement and tried behind closed doors by a judge who refused to recuse himself, despite his obvious bias, and found guilty on the basis of evidence he was not allowed to hear in full, and was then sent to Germany, with our government knowing full well that the German government would arrest him upon landing, and sentence him to five years in prison for mere words that he said. This man, Ernst Zündel, was a noted admirer of a rather odious historical regime, but that did not make him a terrorist any more than Pierre Trudeau’s admiration for the even more odious Maoist regime in China, which, as was not the case with Zündel, was still around when Trudeau was doing the admiring, made the former Prime Minister a terrorist. It is certainly no excuse for treating the man with such blatant injustice.

Chretien’s Anti-Terrorism Act has, as we have noted, expired but our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, wishes to pass another one. Bill C-51, which has passed its second reading and been referred to the Standing Committee in the House, has several parts to it. The first, and the one most emphasized by the bill’s advocates and defenders, is the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act which tells other government agencies to share their information with those charged with protecting national security. This sounds reasonable at first, until you think about why government agencies were prevented from doing this in the first place. The fourth part is the one the bill’s detractors prefer to emphasize because it greatly enhances the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The bill’s supporters say this is to reduce threats to Canadian security, its detractors say that it is to enable CSIS to better spy on Canadians. Other parts of the bill include the Secure Air Travel Act, which authorizes the creation of a no-fly list and otherwise ensures that airport security will be even more of an obnoxious pain in the buttocks than it already is, and various amendments to the Criminal Code including one that makes mincemeat out of the traditional right to confront and challenge your accuser in court in the euphemistic name of the “protection of witnesses”.

This bill is an abomination and the vote on it should be a pretty good litmus test as to how much respect for Canadians and their traditional rights and freedoms our Members of Parliament and Senators possess. The present government was elected by supporters who were sick and tired of the way the Liberal Party was overtaxing and overregulating Canadians while showing complete disregard for our traditions, rights, and freedoms. Why then is it determined to establish a surveillance state? It is rather ironic that the most active opposition to this bill in the House seems to be coming from the party whose members can never speak about freedom without sounding like a Cold War era apparatchik spouting off about “the freedom loving people of the Soviet Union”.

The fact of the matter is that the “war on terrorism” is the ultimate form of “perpetual war for perpetual peace”. The enemy in this war is not a foreign government, with its own territory, that can be decisively conquered, defeated, or destroyed. No matter how many Cato the Elders we may find to punctuate their speeches with “terrorismo delenda est”, we will never be able to produce a single Scipio Africanus to conclusively defeat terrorism, or an Aemilianus to raze its stronghold to the ground, and sow its fields with salt, that it may never rise again. It is not that kind of an enemy. Terrorism can pop up anywhere at any time. A war against terrorism is a war that can never end. A government that wishes to constantly retain its wartime powers and abandon the traditional understanding that peace is to be the norm, not war, could find no better means of accomplishing this end, than by declaring a war on terrorism, and passing bills like C-51.

(1) The title was reused by the late, left-libertarian novelist and essayist Gore Vidal, for a collection of essays similarly criticizing the policies of more recent administrations in 2002.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mr. Harper, Tear Down This Wall!

Far too many Canadians today accept the myth that freedom is a demarcation point between our country and that of our neighbours to the south. Americans, we are told, believe in and place a high value upon freedom, whereas Canadians don’t. Liberals, who prove themselves most unworthy of their name by only believing in the kind of freedoms available in the society depicted in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and socialists, regard this as a point in our country’s favour. Neoconservatives, who believe strongly in individual liberty and the principle of democracy, regard this as our country’s shame. The premise which both the liberal/socialist left and the neoconservative right accept, however, is that freedom is an idea that is somehow inherently American and therefore foreign to Canada.

I don’t accept that premise. When the American Revolution divided the rebellious American colonies from the United Empire Loyalists it was not, no matter how much American propaganda tried to make it out to be, over freedom itself. King George III was no tyrant, nor was Parliament oppressing the thirteen colonies. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great eighteenth century lexicographer, poet, essayist, and conversationalist, and a true blue Tory, ridiculed the talk about liberty coming from men who were themselves “drivers of slaves”. What divided the Americans from the Canadians, was not that the former believed in freedom and the latter did not, but different concepts of what freedom was and where it was to be found. The Americans were enamoured of the ideas that freedom is vested, first and foremost, in the individual, that only democratic, republican forms of government can safeguard individual liberty, and that such forms of government should be obtained through revolution if necessary. The Canadians believed that the conditions in which liberty can thrive and grow, are generated by the stability and order of a rooted society, whose civil and social institutions are grounded in prescription and tradition. Americans believed in rebellion, Canadians in loyalty, but both believed in freedom.

The United States of America, in other words, was founded upon liberal republicanism, the Dominion of Canada upon conservative Toryism. What is called neoconservatism today is a version of the former rather than the latter. Canadian neoconsevatives like to think that they introduced the concept of freedom or liberty into Canada, that it was foreign to the older Tory tradition, but this is not the case. As the greatest living proponent of conservative Toryism, Dr. Roger Scruton explained in his The Meaning of Conservatism three and a half decades ago, while traditional Tory conservatism is not about freedom per se, those things which Toryism does stand for – tradition, established authority, lasting institutions – provide the necessary context for a healthy form of freedom to develop and flourish.

Canada’s traditional Tories, while opposed to liberal republicanism, were not hostile to freedom. George Grant, Canada’s greatest conservative philosopher, in his brilliant treatise exposing the failure of modern liberalism to provide the justice it promises, English Speaking Justice, said that “liberalism in its generic form” is accepted by all decent men including conservatives, defining this generic form of liberalism as “the belief that political liberty is a central human good”. John Farthing, in his classic Tory defence of traditional Canada, Freedom Wears a Crown, treated freedom as being just that – a central human good – and argued that the foundation of freedom in Canada is her traditional order under the Crown-in-Parliament, and that attempts to replace that order with republicanism or majoritarian democracy were therefore as great of threats to the freedoms of Canadians as Soviet-style revolutionary dictatorship. Similarly, the Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, the last Prime Minister who was unmistakably a true, blue, classical Canadian Tory, in his 1972 collection of speeches, Those Things We Treasure, warned of how Canadian freedom was being endangered by the Trudeau government’s actions which undermined both Parliament and the monarchy.

“The Trudeau Government clearly does not believe in freedom”, Diefenbaker said in a speech entitled “A Time to Speak Out”, found in the second chapter “The Twilight of Liberty”. To support this claim, he points to a number of examples of authoritarian legislation, such as “an Act to establish a National Farm Products Marketing Council which will make farmers across Canada the pawns of bureaucrats.” There is one particular example I wish to focus on, however, and so will quote the former Premier at length:

The Trudeau Government seems to be dedicated to controlling the thinking of Canadians. Through the power being exerted by Pierre Juneau, as Chairman of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, private radio and T. V. station proprietors in Canada are frightened to speak, fearful of being subject to the cancellation of their licences. One such station was CKPM in Ottawa, which dared to have an open line program critical of the Government. Pierre Juneau did come before a Committee of the House and he uttered lachrymose words in reply to the criticism levelled at him that he wishes to determine what Canadians shall hear, and to deny them the right to listen to what they will. His attitude was different when he spoke to the Association of Private Broadcasting Companies and in effect stated: “When I ope my lips, let no dog bark.” Under him the broadcasting network owned by the people of Canada is allowed to broadcast what he permits.

The CRTC was a new agency at the time Diefenbaker spoke these words. It had been created by the Broadcasting Act passed by the Liberal government in 1968. Previous Canadian broadcasting legislation was moderate, pertaining primarily to the establishment of a public broadcaster (the CBC) in the 1930s and an agency to oversee that broadcaster. The CRTC, however, was created as a body that would have regulatory oversight over all radio and television broadcasting in Canada, private and public. The creation of the CRTC was very much part of a major twentieth century trend of creating large bureaucratic agencies with vast regulatory powers, overseen by Cabinet Ministers who answer to the Prime Minister, whose own accountability to the Crown-in-Parliament has been greatly diminished, thus in effect, transferring most of the powers of government away from the Parliamentary assembly that passes legislation with the authority of the Queen and into the hands of both the Prime Minister and his Cabinet and the bureaucratic agencies that extend their tentacles into every aspect of the everyday lives of Canadians. Men like Farthing and Diefenbaker were right in warning against the threat to Canada’s heritage of freedom posed by this trend.

As dangerous to traditional Canadian liberties as the growth of bureaucratic agencies, the government’s increasing reliance upon the multiplication of regulations rather than legislation, and the shift in power from the Crown and Parliament to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet at the head of the expansive bureaucracy, all are, the CRTC in particular poses a special threat due to the nature of the area over which it has been given regulatory powers. A fundamental principle of the Canadian political tradition and the British tradition in which the Canadian has its roots is that while behaviour conducted in public is appropriately subject to restriction by the Queen’s laws passed in Parliament, private thoughts and feelings are not. It is not the place of government to tell people what to think and feel. When the Parliament of Queen Elizabeth I passed laws requiring attendance at the services of the Church of England, they did not also require subscription to the tenets of the Anglican faith upon the part of anyone other than the clergy, and these were given considerable latitude in their interpretation of the 39 Articles. This is because church attendance was a matter of religion, and hence a public matter, subject to legislation, but questions of personal belief were matters of conscience, and hence private, outside of the jurisdiction of government.

Through the CRTC, Diefenbaker maintained, the Liberal government was violating this tradition by trying to control what Canadians thought. It was not the kind of overt thought control that takes place in totalitarian societies where you are in danger of being captured by the secret police and put in prison or worse if you dare express contraband opinions. It was a more subtle kind of thought control in which the agency would control the thoughts of Canadians by controlling the channels through which they gain access to the information necessary to form their thoughts. It was given power to regulate the new radio and television media, which were rapidly replacing the print media as the primary and often sole sources to which Canadians turned for information. That the new electronic media were replacing the traditional print media is itself cause for lamentation but that is a subject for another time. In 1976 the Telecommunications Act extended their jurisdiction over other telecommunications, such as telephone services, and changed the agency’s name to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, keeping the old initials.

The CRTC answers to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and its mandate is to oversee and regulate radio and television broadcasting in Canada (including satellite and cable) to ensure that the policy defined in Section 3(1) of the Broadcasting Act is followed. Most of this policy can be summed up in the concept of cultural protectionism. The first subsection calls for Canadian ownership and control of the Canadian broadcasting system, the sixth for maximum use of Canadian creative talent and resources. While cultural protectionism is not a concept I find objectionable – indeed, I would argue that it is necessary up to the point where it starts to generate provincialism and that it is particularly necessary for a country like ours whose only neighbour shares the same language – I would also argue that the CRTC has failed to achieve any of the legitimate goals of cultural protectionism and has failed to protect any Canadian culture worth protecting. If you read the novels of L. M. Montgomery, set in rural P.E.I. and telling the story of Anne Shirley of Green Gables from just before Confederation until the end of the First World War, the Chronicles of the Whiteoaks of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche, a saga set in rural Ontario from the 1850s to the 1950s, the humorous short stories of Stephen Leacock and Robertson Davies’ three trilogies of novels (especially the first two) you will find, whether the communities depicted be Presbyterian, Anglican, or a mixture of the two, a distinct, North American adaptation of British culture, that was at one time recognizable as the culture of English Canada. Today, apart from remnant traces in rural Canada, this culture has largely disappeared. It disappeared in the period in which the CRTC has had jurisdiction over the airwaves. Nor can the CRTC be viewed as a success if we consider the matter from the angle of what we most needed protection from, i.e., the flood of cultural sewage flowing from the film and music studios of Los Angeles, California that has swept away most of what was good and decent in the cultures of both the United States and Canada.

This is because the CRTC has been engaged in a completely different kind of cultural protectionism. If you look at the Broadcasting Policy set forth in the Broadcasting Act you will see that declares that private, community, and public broadcasting (the CBC) are all to be part of an integrated, unified, “Canadian broadcasting system” that will offer “information and analysis concerning Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view”. Since it also talks in more than one place about promoting such things as “equal rights”, “linguistic duality”, and “multiculturalism” it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to say that when the Broadcasting Act speaks of “a Canadian point of view” what it really means is “the left-wing point of view of the Pearson and Trudeau Liberals”. What the CRTC, charged with the task of enforcing this policy, in which private and community broadcasters are to be in sync with the CBC in an integrated system, is really protecting, then, is not the culture of Canada, or even Canada’s traditional cultural plurality, but the left-wing cultural policies introduced by the Trudeau government. It protects these policies, by interfering with the spread of information that might cast those policies in an unfavourable light, and by discouraging and hindering dissent from those policies, by treating them as a fundamental, not-to-be questioned, element of the “Canadian point of view”, although they would have been unrecognizable to Canadians only a few years before they were introduced.

Almost forty years ago, the Trudeau government passed the Canadian Human Rights Act, and while the event made the news, for four decades the radio and television media maintained silence about the bill truly meant and what its consequences were. The bill forbade discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, and a slew of other things, which, translated into the language of ancient and traditional rights and liberties, meant that it told Canadians they were no longer free to associate with or refuse to associate with whoever they wanted, do business or refuse to do business with whoever they wanted, and worst of all, thanks to the notorious Section 13, express their thoughts if those thoughts happened to reflect negatively on people protected by their race, religion, sex, etc. This was a major abridgement of basic Canadian prescriptive liberties done in the name of the Trudeau doctrine of multiculturalism. The bill established an agency to investigate complaints, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and a tribunal to hear complains, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The former conducted its investigations at the taxpayers’ expense, those brought before the latter were subject to stiff penalties yet had none of the basic protections available to defendants in ordinary courts. Provincial governments followed the Trudeau government’s example and established their own equivalents. These Stalinist kangaroo courts were and are a grotesque mockery of our country’s tradition of justice and freedom. Yet one would never have known that any of this was going on if one turned only to the CBC or its various privately owned clones, for one’s information. The traditional print media, not subject to CRTC oversight, would sometimes report these things, particularly the Alberta Report magazine. The average Canadian, however, was clueless about what was going on.

In many cases the information that was blacked out by the radio and television news media would have greatly altered the way a story that was prominent in the news was received and perceived. I will give one example of this. In the late 1990s, when Jean Chretien was promoting proposed legislation that would change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and a private member’s bill introduced by Svend Robinson that would add “sexual orientation” to the list of categories over which the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids discrimination, he promised out of the side of his mouth, that the rights of those whose faith teaches that sexual relations between members of the same sex is a sin would not be infringed upon, because religious rights are guaranteed in the Charter and religion is already a protected category in the CHRA. These promises received airtime all over the radio and television media. What was not covered was the fact that even as Chretien was speaking those words, Christians were being hauled before Human Rights Tribunals all over Canada and charged with discrimination for such things as refusing to help promote a cause contrary to their faith (Scott Brockie, Ontario), refusing to rent a single room to two men in the bed and breakfast they ran out of their own home (Dagmar and Arnost Cepica, PEI) or even purchasing ad space in a newspaper and filling it with references to Bible verses that condemned homosexuality (Hugh Owen, Saskatchewan).

For most of the last four years, an alternative to the CBC and its doppelgangers was available to cable and satellite subscribers in the Sun News Network. Affiliated with the Sun Media newspaper chain, Sun News offered a neoconservative perspective which, while perhaps not entirely to my Old Tory tastes, was a refreshing breathe of fresh air compared to stale views and stories available on the other networks. At least they believed in other freedoms than the freedom to screw and smoke whoever and whatever you wanted. Any number of stories, from the RCMP gun grab at High River to the attempts of activists in the Law Societies to force Trinity Western University to abandon her faith-based community covenant if she wished to open her new law school, received better coverage because Sun News was there both to investigate and report the facts about these stories herself and to keep the other stations accountable. It was also nice to have one station that did not bow down and worship everytime Justin Trudeau opens his mouth to say something vapid.

Sun News ceased broadcasting earlier this month because it had been losing money and its parent company, Quebecor Media, was unable to find a purchaser for it. Many believe that this is due to the CRTC’s decision not to grant them Category-1, mandatory carry, status when they applied for it in 2013, and that that decision was made by the CRTC to deliberately kill the station. Whether or not that is the case, I will leave it to others to say, although it would not surprise me as Sun News certainly did not fit in to the unified and uniform “Canadian broadcasting system”, that the CRTC seeks to protect. What I will say about it is that Sun News showed, in its four years of broadcasting, why it is important that points of view other than those offered by the CBC and approved by the CRTC be available. Now that Sun News is gone it is imperative that the CRTC’s stranglehold over the channels of information available to Canadians be broken.

The present Prime Minister has claimed all his political life to be a believer in freedom. Since becoming Prime Minister he has restored some of the symbols of the older Canadian tradition, the foundation upon which traditional Canadian freedoms rested. His current efforts to meet the threat of terrorism by expanding the powers of CSIS rather than deal with the Trudeau-era immigration and multiculturalism policies that render us vulnerable provide us with good reason to question his commitment to Canadian tradition and freedom. If he truly believes in freedom he must prove it by doing something substantial towards restoring the freedom we have lost. The CRTC, far from being a protective barrier preserving Canadian culture from being swamped by foreign and especially American culture, has failed to preserve the best of Canadian culture while allowing the worst filth from Hollywood in. It has instead become a wall between Canadians and the information they need about what has been done to their culture, traditions, and freedoms, in order to protect what is left and restore what is lost. To borrow and adapt some famous words from the last decent man to hold the office of American President, Mr. Harper, tear down this wall!