Tories are attentive to tradition, the insights of the past and the truths learned about the human condition by those who have come before. Bernard of Chartres said: ‘If we see further than those who have gone before us, it is because we are children on the shoulders of giants’. The eagerness of Tories to hear and heed the past stands in startling contrast to so many in the modern world who have abolished the past and lack any sense of direction for present and future. (Tories do not, though, merely see the past through glazed and romanticized eyes.)
Tories have a passion for the common good. The good of the people, of the nation, of each and all, is the foundation of Tory thought. This commitment to the organic nature of state and society that works together for the common good is basic to Tory thought and politics. John Donne, in Meditation 17, summed this integrative and holistic vision: 'No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind'. The Tory notion, therefore, of women, men and children (animals and earth) being connected comes as a challenge to the atomistic notion of much of modern and postmodern liberalism, in which the individuals should be free to shape their future. The concern for the commonwealth is why Tories within Canada have created a strong federal government—it is the essential role of the state to think about and protect the health and well-being of Canadians from coast to coast.
Tories do not subordinate ethics to economics. When the ledger of profit and loss becomes the dominant criteria for evaluating the wealth, health, prosperity and development of a people, we become moral cripples. The cleavage between the rich and poor is a byproduct of elevating trade and commerce, and ignoring or subordinating the ethics by which wealth is earned and distributed. Dante, for example, placed the greedy and idle rich in the lowest level of Hell. We need not read too far in Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich or Prime Minister Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People to get a solid feel for how the best of Canadian Tories have viewed ethics and economics.
Just like the English Romantics, who opposed the way the captains of industry were destroying the environment for a crude and short-sighted notion of profit, Tories hold a deep and abiding respect for the land natural environment. Those who marginalize ecologically minded groups embody a certain perverse will-to-power seeking to dominate the Earth rather than to live cooperatively with her.
Tories do not separate and oppose state and society. The state has a vital and vibrant role to play in creating the common good, while society has a secondary role in grassroots issues that are best dealt with by the family and community. The importance of mediating structures, voluntary organizations and subsidiarity highlight the role of society, but it is the role of the state to ensure that many of the basics goods are guaranteed at the social, economic, environmental and cultural levels. The excessive badmouthing of the state by the political right and anarchist left tends to legitimate a lighter state and panders to a market economy and corporate agenda and ideology—it is only a strong state that can oppose and stare down the dominance of multinational and transnational corporations.
Tories are concerned with the commonweal and the commons. There is, obviously, a limited place for private property and possessions, but there must also be a generous amount of public space and things that we share in common. There is a worrisome tendency within the liberal ideological community to prioritize the rights and freedoms of the individual, often and insensitively, to the exclusion of others in need (see C.B. MacPherson’s The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism). It is this possessive individualism that Tories find problematic and that places them, at times, on the political left—hence Red Tory. The modern liberal addiction to possessions/property and protection of such secondary goods does much to fragment and isolate people from one another into affluent and indulgent bourgeois ghettoes.
Tories believe in an education grounded in the best that has been thought, said and done in the past. The classics and epics are read and inwardly digested as a means of alerting students to that which is worth living for and that which is to be avoided. Education is not about teaching some skill or techne, about amassing more facts and information so that we can understand and dominate our world and environment. The task of education is to awaken the conscience to the important things, to stir the will into action. Wisdom and insight should be the mentors and teachers to those excessively attached to facts, statistics and information.
Tories are suspicious of power and conformity. Humans are imperfect, finite and fallible beings, prone to the best, worst, and mediocre. This means that we must hear from those who see things differently. A brittle ideological approach of left, right or sensible centre in the culture wars panders to a tribalism that is hardly worthy of a thoughtful person. There is always the danger, in life as in politics, of ideology rather than dialogue dominating the day.
Tories are convinced that there is a longing in the human heart for more than the finite world can offer. The religious institutions that bear and carry the ancient myths, memories and symbols of transformation, past and present, are imperfect—but to negate, ignore or destroy such institutions is to cut the present and future off from the deeper wisdom of the past. The position of cynicism and apathy that dominates so much culture today in the areas of religion and politics, from the perspective of a Tory, is shortsighted and indulgent. If our journey is a communal one, we are as responsible for ourselves as for the greater good, and such a vision is passed on from generation to generation through communities and the institutional structures that support such communities.
Tories recognize the way the French and Indigenous people have contributed to the founding and development of Canada. Those who take the time to immerse themselves in the insights of Henri Bourassa and Lionel Groulx will be walked into the core of the French nationalist-federalist debate, while Tony Hall’s Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism is a must-read on how First Nations have been oppressed by a callous capitalism.
~Adapted from Ron Dart, The North American High Tory Tradition