Thursday, December 01, 2005

Whigs and Tory's

It is not just Harper and the Conservative Gang in Calgary that have been influenced by the neo-con Straussian ideal of Empire and the rule of the philospher king. So has Liberal Michael Ingnatieff more than even his cousin the philosopher George Grant.

Strauss’s rejection of individual rights led him to espouse political views that Rothbard found repellent: "We find Strauss . . . praising ‘farsighted’, ‘sober’ British imperialism; we find him discoursing on the ‘good’ Caesarism, on Caesarism as often necessary and not really tyranny, etc... he praises political philosophers for yes, lying to their readers for the sake of the ‘social good’…. I must say that this is an odd position for a supposed moralist to take."

As philosophy became more technical and remote, George Grant never stopped trying to reach a wide audience. In his writing and teaching, he dealt philosophically with the basic issues facing Canada: imperialism and national survival, the nature of technology, the moral bankruptcy of liberalism, and the claims of tradition in face of the modern. He wrestled with some of the most commanding figures of modern thought: Simone Weil, Leo Strauss, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. David Cayley explores George Grant's intellectual career, based on interviews with Grant himself, students, interpreters and critics.

The difference today between Liberals and Conservatives, both of whom claim to come from the liberal tradition, is that the Liberals reflect the utilitarian social democrat tradition of classical liberalism, they are in effect modern Whigs.

While the neo-cons who dominate the Conservative movement reflect the Imperialist aspirations of the old Conservative/Tory aristorcracy. America while a Republic of agrarian artisanal virtues has a ruling class that has always aspired to Empire, in mimicry of England. The Southern Aristocratic States that formed the Confederacy and their culture of 'Ladies and Gentlemen' reflect this unrepentant urge to return to the past as all conservatives do.

In accepting Empire Ignatieff is a blue Liberal far closer to the compardor politics of Harper's foriegn policy than classical Trudeau liberalism.

Trudeau liberalism is Whig politics that challenges both the rampant free market individualism espoused by the neo-cons, and its opposite socialism. His was an ideology of invidual rights and freedoms within the State, not opposed to the State. The State's function was too defend and expand these rights. So entrenched was his sense of social individualism that he was willing to trample collective political rights, those of Quebec, to create a made in Canada Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Today both these are opposed by the neo-con right and the Soveriegnists in Quebec. Ironic that the neo-cons who extoll individualism attack the Charter, Harper, Kenney, Ezra Levant, etc. but that is because it is both a Charter of social rights and Individual rights. It is Trudeaus legacy, and that is what they hate. The right in Canada has always hated Trudeau and his philosophy.

Todays Liberals embrace not Trudeauism, but Ignatieff. As one would a serpent to the breast. All is done for the expediency of power. Power for its own sake. Their ideology is messaging without content, all is platitude to retain power. Intellectually bankrupt they grab at Ignatieff as their new philosopher, when he is a mere shade of Grant or Trudeau. As a shade his bankrupt ideology cannot stand the exposure of the light of reason.

In this Ignatieff is as much influenced by Leo Struass conservative philosopher of Empire as he is by his esteemed cousin, George Grant. Ignatieff has accepted the existance of Empire and like the flawed logic of his cousin, has concluded that democracy is at home in the American Empire. Hence his extolling how he is an American. Of course in this context like Grant to be an American is to be a Continentalist, we are 'all Americans' now.

Trudeau was the philosopher politician who answered Grants lamantation. In his ideal of a New Federalism, Trudeau challenged the Red Tory ideology of acquiecence to America, and viewed Canada and Quebec as a capable of challenging America on the basis of classical traditional liberalism. Not just a rampant self aggrandizing individualism so common amongst American ideologues on the right but a social individualism. One that didn't say; I am alright Jack I got mine, but said; I am alright Jack because you got yours.

It was nearly twenty years after Grants lament that Trudeau brought Canada its constitution and Charter, that would fulfill Grants dream of a Canada different from the United States. Grant was a Whig, Trudeau was a Whig. Ignatieff is not. He is an apologist for Empire.

And the Conservatives in Canada are not Tories, they are Republicans, and not the party of Lincoln who was also a Whig, but a party of the rights of the shop keeper. Their belief in individual rights are only for those who own, not even possess, property. They would embrace America and George Grant would wail in lament from his grave. For he had warned us of these traitorous dogs forty years ago.

The major themes of Grant's interests made him, at once, a foundational thinker and an interpreter of current events. Deeply concerned with the political and social directions being taken in postwar Canada leading into the sixties and seventies, he also fiercely resisted the new, progressively functional purposes shaping Canadian universities during those years. At the root of his thinking lies his conviction that the liberal project of the Enlightenment, which has shaped life in western society for more than 200 years and is now dominating our whole planet, was a massive mistake--nothing less than a denial, through the glorification of instrumental reason and technology, of the true nature of the world and of human persons. Grant turned to Plato, to the contemporary Platonist Leo Strauss and to the philosopher-mystic Simone Weil for aid in his own intellectual transformation away from this modern view of humanity based on the primacy of will, the mastery of nature, individualism and the shaping of society essentially by market-driven capitalism.


David G. Peddle
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, MUN

Neil G. Robertson
University of King's College

In 1965 George Grant created a national debate when he published his classic text, Lament for a Nation. The central thesis of this book was captured in its subtitle, "The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism." While Grant sees the defeat of Diefenbaker's government in 1963 as emblematic of the inability of Canadians to sustain their independence from the United States, he argues that the causes of this defeat lay deeper than any particular political event. For Grant, the sources of Canada's demise lay in the philosophical and political spirit of modernity and in the technological domination it asserts. He saw in Canadian Nationalism the noble belief that a more stable, conservative society could exist on the borders of the United States, the nation which, on his view, more than any other embodied this technological modernity. In 1963, Grant argued, the folly, the impossibility of this belief had finally exposed itself.

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