Today I read a column by David Brooks of the New York Times. This is not unusual in and of itself, but the topic was far more philosophical than Mr. Brooks’ normal serving in terms of a piece. Brooks argues that there are two schools in American conservatism – traditional and economicand that the fiscal conservatives have come to run the show. His analysis happens to not deal with the rise of the social conservatives or libertarians, but I will put that aside for now.
Traditional conservatives are described as “intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.”
Reading Mr. Brooks’ column I thought he might be referring to a trans-Atlantic ideology at the founding of at least three nations (U.K., U.S. and Canada), and probably more – Toryism. Toryism is a distinctly difficult ideology to pin down. It was swept away later by more familiar clashes of ideas. Toryism in its inception was a protection of the status quo, and in particular a defense of the British monarchy and tradition from the English Civil War to the American Revolution.
Given my own background and biases I associate Toryism with the pre-Confederation leaders of Canada and our first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Tories tend to dote quite a bit towards authority and respect the rule of law. The Canadian phrase “Peace, Order and Good Government” seem the most effective synopsis of what Canadian Toryism is. The orderly structuring of a society and peaceful commerce and livelihoods of its inhabitants are of the utmost value to Tories. The school of thought developed in opposition to liberalism, which emphasizes the individual over the collective.
Toryism is a very attractive notion even in modern times. Brooks describes traditional conservatives saying “Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.” Individuals left to their own devices cannot be trusted, which is what society is for in the first place. It’s the same reason the unregulated free market is dangerous.
In Canada and other Westminster Parliamentary democracies the right-wing parties are often called Tories, but the relationship between the Conservative Party of Canada and the traditions of Toryism is quite tenuous. Tories in Canada are probably best understood as being the Red Tories of the old Progressive Conservative and Conservative Parties, but it is more than being moderate on social issues. The libertarian and social conservative factions are actively disruptive to society. Tories see a natural and fitting role for the state which cannot be said for all those who are called Tories in today’s parlance.
It might seem strange, but I consider myself a Tory and a New Democrat and have squared those ideas together. I imagine that strain of Canadian political thought or voter who is a Tory has an awkward time in the current political dynamic. All three of the major political parties are inheritors of the Tory tradition but none really embody the values anymore. So, whither Toryism, and its proud tradition?