Canadian High Tory tradition offers alternative to U.S.-style politics
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
Americans horrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency talk about moving to Canada. But what if Canada offered more than just a geographical solution to anybody disgusted with American politics?
In The North American High Tory Tradition, Professor Ron Dart presents a largely forgotten tradition from Canadian history. He argues it offers everybody in North America a political philosophy worth rediscovering.
Since 1990, Ron Dart has taught in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia. In the 1980s, he was on staff with Amnesty International.
Dart distinguishes the Canadian Tory tradition from both the conservatism and the liberalism dominant in America. By explaining how Canadian history once showed us there is a third option, Dart’s hope is Canada will rediscover the High Tory tradition, even if America continues on its downward political spiral.
He wants Canada to stop being influenced by U.S. politics into thinking the only choice modern voters can have is a binary one. Renewal in politics will come only if we can conceive of a politics with aspirations higher than what is usually presented to us in the voting booth.
Dart argues the High Tory tradition offers a better future for North America. The current U.S. presidential race dramatically illustrates how modern voters are consistently forced to choose between two unappealing political options.
One candidate represents a “liberal” party, and the other a “conservative” party. Did you ever wonder about how this become the dominant binary choice presented to voters? What can history teach us?
Dart’s book answers these questions by looking to the Canadian political philosopher George Grant (1918-1988). In 1965, Grant wrote Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, about how U.S. politics was eclipsing the distinctively Canadian Tory tradition.
Canada’s Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker (1895-1979) was a proponent of this Tory tradition, which looked more to Canada’s British heritage than the American way. Diefenbaker opposed allowing American nuclear missiles on Canadian soil, arguing such cooperation would erode Canadian national sovereignty.
Diefenbaker was defeated in 1963 by the Liberal Party’s Lester Pearson, who advocated for such a Cold War military alliance with America. The Liberals then went on to change Canada’s national flag from the Red Ensign (which incorporated the Union Jack into its design) into the Maple Leaf we are familiar with today.
George Grant lamented this reinvention of Canadian identity. So did Diefenbaker, who wanted his coffin draped with the Red Ensign for his state funeral. Eventually this old “Red Tory” tradition became marginalized. The Conservatives opted instead to become a “Blue Tory” party that allied itself mostly with America and the economic concerns of business.
As a result, Canadian politics now patterned itself after the American divide of “liberals” vs. “conservatives,” in which voters were presented with a binary choice between two main parties.
Dart learned from Grant how regrettable this dualistic degeneration of politics was. Ever since, Dart has worked to be a “keeper of the flame” who maintains, like Grant, an historical memory of a third option. In his new book, Dart explains how the High Tory tradition could better serve any voters who want greater things for their country.
Dart identifies 10 characteristics defining the High Tory tradition. First, there is an emphasis on the wisdom of tradition, as an antidote to the danger of “chronological snobbery” (by which our current generation considers itself to be the wisest of all).
Second, it maintains resolute focus on the common good, instead of on inflexible ideological programs. Third, ethics is considered more important than economics. Fourth, the environment cannot be sacrificed to economics.
Fifth, state and society must work together, which is unlike the approach of either conservative politics (which distrusts the state and exalts a society of individuals) or liberal politics (which uses state power to reengineer society).
Sixth, public spaces and commons can serve the commonweal in ways that complement private property. Seventh, education needs to focus on the classics.
Eighth, too much power should not be concentrated in one place, due to the fallibility of human nature. Ninth, religious traditions spanning the centuries will bring true vitality to political life.
Tenth, we must admit there are things beyond politics, higher things to which we all must aspire; otherwise, politics ends up endorsing relativism, which disastrously lowers our sights.
Although Dart’s beloved High Tory path is currently neglected, perhaps widespread disgust in the U.S. with the current system will lead some to discover Canadian Toryism. Dart’s book is most timely because it offers today’s disillusioned voters something more edifying to think about.