In the forthcoming election campaign Canadian voters intent on preventing a Conservative government will once again be told that they must choose between two progressive parties, the Liberals and the NDP, as if the ideological and policy differences between them were not of much significance. Even Nathan Cullen, MP, one of the leading lights of the NDP, tweeted at the end of March 2019, “Fool me once … tell me if you’ve seen this movie before. Liberals … steal progressive/NDP ideas … fail to enact them while in power.” This implies that the most important difference between the two “progressive” parties is that New Democrats are sincere and trustworthy while the opportunistic Liberals cannot be trusted to put into practice the ideas espoused by both parties.

In an essay entitled “What does ‘Progressive’ Mean? The Political Theory of Social Democracy and Reform Liberalism in Canada,” David McGrane, Saskatchewan political science professor and erstwhile president of the Saskatchewan NDP, decries the habit of referring to both parties as “progressive.”1 While acknowledging the partial similarity of the NDP and Liberal projects, he writes that progressive is “too broad and imprecise a term and its use by both parties has led to confusion about their respective ideologies.” It would be better for both parties to recall and reinvigorate their distinctive intellectual foundations: social democratic and liberal reform. This “might help the NDP in its deliberations on how to revitalize the party after its disappointing electoral defeat, and aid the now-governing Liberals in defining their direction.”

McGrane appreciates the distinction between the ideological and policy levels of political orientations, a distinction which I emphasize in my recent essay on “The Deep Culture of Canadian Politics”:

Deep culture ought not to be conflated with the explicit positions taken at particular historical moments on matters of public policy. The magnitude of the policy differences among political parties waxes and wanes relative to changing local and global circumstances … Political actors frequently converge on policy while underlying deep cultural legitimations continue to diverge, more or less subliminally.2

However, McGrane does a superb job of showing that in Canada, Britain and Europe, there has been a steady continuity of substantial policy differences “undergirded by differences in values.” McGrane’s resources are the writings of theorists such as John Rawls the reform liberal and Anthony Crosland the social democrat, together with a detailed comparison of the Canadian Liberal and NDP election platforms of 2015.

For social democrats, “the individual’s place in society is as part of a greater whole and the interests of the collectivity come before those of the individual.” For reform liberals like Rawls, on the other hand, society remains, just as much as it was for classical liberals, an association of naturally free and autonomous individuals entering into a social contract for their mutual benefit as self-seeking individuals. For social democrats, says McGrane, the free market, not “human nature,”

is the main barrier to a more caring, altruistic, and cooperative society. The … unfettered free market forces people to pursue their own selfish interests … For reform liberals in contrast, cooperation is good, but it is founded upon mutual self interest … The free market, property rights and wealth accumulation are fundamentally good things … A rising tide lifts all boats.

Liberals are in theory devoted to equality of opportunity. That is the basis of their justification of the welfare state and of limited state intervention in the economy. Social democrats, on the other hand, believe that the purpose of the welfare state should be not simply to advance a phantasmagoric equality of opportunity but to secure a real, basic equality of condition, a basic level of “material well being … for all citizens regardless of merit.”

These fundamental differences at the level of deep culture give rise, according to McGrane, to significant differences at the level of public policy and party platforms between social democrats like the NDP and reform liberals like the Liberals. Social democrats are much more favourable to “a mixed economy … of public, cooperative, and private ownership … a more comprehensive and generous welfare state … decommodification of certain essential goods and services which should lead to greater economic equality.” Child care would be one such service. Social democrats also favour higher taxes and “a higher level of coordination of the free market.”

People who consider themselves to be the True Left frequently criticize social democrats by saying, “You don’t want to abolish capitalism. You just want to reform it – you are just like the liberals.” To which I sometimes respond, “Liberals want to reform capitalism in order to save it. We want to reform the hell out of capitalism. When we’re done, you’ll hardly recognize it.”

McGrane and I would concur that in the coming election campaign the NDP should accentuate the positive social democratic difference and eliminate the negative implication that the difference is no more than a matter of “progressive” sincerity or trustworthiness.

Continue reading “Are the Liberals and the NDP Both Progressive?”

Half a century ago I published “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation” in the Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science.1 Following Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz’s “fragment” approach to the “new societies” founded by emigrants from Europe, I argued that English Canada is, like the United States, a liberal fragment, but with a “tory touch” sufficiently weighty to give rise, in interaction with liberalism, to a significant socialist movement. My essay was for some reason given a lot of attention and soon enough reviled as the new “conventional wisdom.”

This brief sequel revisits and expands some of the main points of the 1966 essay, considers the fate of the famous “red tory” meme, pays special attention to the importance of distinguishing deep culture (the realm of fundamental ideological difference) from relatively evanescent disputes about public policy, and concludes with an assessment of the social democratic credentials of the New Democratic Party.

The English Canadian fragment

Louis Hartz had no use for the conventional bipolar spectrum approach to ideological differences which distributes them along a line from extreme conservative to extreme liberal, with socialism construed as the extreme of liberalism. Instead, his fragment approach to the “new societies” founded by emigrants from Europe is dialectical, depth-oriented and exquisitely comparative. Following the dialectic that Hartz outlined, European conservative “feudal”, “tory” ideology gives rise to its antithesis: “bourgeois”, “Lockian” Enlightenment liberalism. And so in due course a synthesis emerges: worker-oriented socialism, which fuses the “collectivism” or communitarianism of the tory with the freedom and equality of the liberal.

In the American liberal fragment, where the British tory past has been effectively left behind, there are no collectivist resources for the development of socialism. The dialectic is stymied. America is thus monolithically liberal; though it is racked continuously by ideological conflict, this is played out entirely between left- and right-wing variants of liberalism. In the English Canadian liberal fragment, the “tory touch” brought by Loyalist refugees from the revolution of 1776, and by the continuing intimate connection with Britain, is weighty enough to permit the emergence of a significant socialist movement.

Hartz often ascribed the impossibility of a significant socialist movement in the pure liberal fragment to the absence of the “sense of class” which characterizes feudalism or toryism. Tories and socialists share, in very different ways, the feeling that human beings owe their existence to the society, community, class to which they belong as members, in something like the way that members of a living body owe their existence to that body. Thus the notions of “priority of the community” and “organic society.”

Toryism and socialism agree that it is erroneous and harmful to experience society, in a Lockian or Rawlsian way, as if it were essentially a contractual arrangement among individuals for their mutual benefit; that’s the liberal assumption of “priority of the individual.” At this level of analysis, it makes no difference whether the associated individuals are thought of primarily as seekers of prosperity and personal fulfillment or – in the “republican” mode – as virtuous public-spirited lovers of country.

Toryism envisions the good society as a harmonious hierarchical order of classes under the leadership of a wise and virtuous upper class. It’s helpful to refer to the Roman Catholic and other ancient Christian churches as exemplifications of the tory model. The church is a sacred spiritual body composed of bishops, priests and laity. The Protestant revolution – the first installment of the bourgeois Enlightenment – dissolves the complex organic unity of the body of Christ, “restoring” priestly status to the individual believer. The body becomes an assembly.

The thought of abolition of classes is redundant in liberalism, which sees itself as essentially classless. It is horrifying in toryism, in which the abolition of classes is nothing other than anarchy, disorder and mob rule. But the abolition of classes is precisely the ultimate goal of socialism. Socialist equality is not liberal classlessness – equality of opportunity – but the equality of condition proper to membership in an organic community which has transcended class: the cooperative commonwealth. Of course, with the rise of capitalism and the subsequent evolution of political democracy, toryism gradually abandoned its explicit advocacy of rule by a superior upper class, while maintaining its stress on social order and “class harmony” in an organic society.

Herbert Spencer had an inkling of the relation of toryism and socialism. His 1884 diatribe against “the new toryism” condemned the growing number of British Liberals who were succumbing to the seduction of socialistic ideas, preparing the way for a new “enslavement” of the individual by the state.2 Spencer’s Social Darwinism was influential in Britain, but much more so in the United States. where there was no socialism capable of challenging or seducing liberals. In the United States, Social Darwinism merged with what Hartz called the Horatio Alger myth; until the Great Depression, this myth of endless individual opportunity dominated the American psyche on both left and right. For the right, the myth was simple fact; for the left, insofar as the myth fell short, “trust busting” would make it real: “The Progressive … far from inheriting the earth, all he wanted to was to smash trusts and begin running the Lockian race all over again.”3

In Canada, according to Brian McKillop, author of A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era (1979), Social Darwinism was rejected by most intellectuals, many of whom actually preferred “ideas similar to those of Peter Kropotkin”! McKillop attributes this to the “dependent” nature of Canadian economic and social life. The one notable exponent of Spencerism in Canada was Goldwin Smith, the arch-liberal and continentalist of those times.

Robert Meynell’s recent study of the thought of C.B. Macpherson, George Grant and Charles Taylor discusses the crucial influence of the “English idealists” Bernard Bosanquet and especially Thomas Hill Green – the neo-Hegelian progenitors of socialist-touched reform liberalism in Britain – on the three Canadian thinkers.4 Green, whose repute derived in part from his critique of Spencerism, made hardly a dent in the United States. According to Hartz, “Spencer flowered” in the United States “at the very moment that he was smothered abroad by the … collectivism of T.H. Green and Jaurès.”5

When the Depression ended the reign of Alger, the challenge was met without resort to any influx of alien un-American socialist ideologizing. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal could be pragmatic to the bone, boldly “solving problems,” simply updating Americanism to take account of the need for strong federal government action to stimulate the economy and to protect “the little guy” from “economic royalists.”6 These days, left-liberal American thinkers for whom pragmatism is not enough can resort to John Rawls’s reformulation of Lockian social contract theory to give priority to the “least advantaged.”

Fragment theory is depth-oriented: it does not simply study the explicit pronouncements of “founders,” intellectuals and politicians in a given fragment society; Hartz’s method focuses on ideology as deep culture, or social ontology, and it is radically comparative to an excruciating degree. Hartz was certainly interested in what political actors say, but more importantly in what they would not say, or say differently, if imaginatively displaced “as if” to a British or European setting, or to a different fragment.

For example, Franklin Roosevelt imaginatively displaced to Canada, thus forced to interact with a significant socialist adversary on his left, would lose his radical edge. He would sound like the great centrist Mackenzie King (who – as Frank Scott described him in his famous poem “WLMK” – “never let his on the one hand know what his on the other hand was doing”), defending free enterprise, counselling moderation.

Red and blue toryism

In fragment theory, “red toryism” refers to a conservatism with significant similarities to socialism, such as radical critique of capitalism, sympathy for the aspirations to greater political and economic power of workers as a class, and perhaps even an appreciation of equality that goes beyond liberal equality of opportunity toward equality of condition.7 In the United States, even far-out left liberalism like that of Senator Elizabeth Warren cannot move in that direction. Warren’s autobiography is entitled A Fighting Chance.8

The American liberal left is offended by systemic features which “stack the deck” against the little guy, making it impossible to “get ahead” or even survive. But the feeling of life as a game played by individuals, with a “deck,” is altogether shared with right-wing liberals, known in the United States as “conservatives.” Even Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the presidency, though Sanders has always labelled himself a “democratic socialist,” reiterated the themes of American far-left liberalism sounded since the founding of the republic, of the resistance of ordinary Americans (Hartz’s “petit bourgeois giant” subsuming workers and small property owners) to the domination of Federalist grandees, “vested interests”, “economic royalists” and, most recently, the “billionaire class.”

Full-blown red toryism is found in the thought of George Grant, but red tory streaks can also be found in politicians like Alvin Hamilton, Duff Roblin, Hugh Segal, David Crombie, Flora MacDonald, maybe Robert Stanfield. It can be found in Hugh Segal’s speeches invoking the name of Benjamin Disraeli in advocating a guaranteed income for all Canadians. Disraeli had pioneered discussion of this idea in Britain. Segal wrote, “One cannot understand the Conservatism of Canada without thinking of Disraeli … Canadian conservatives have a heritage much richer … than simple free market devotion … embrace … Disraeli’s view that whether rich or poor we are all one economic family organically linked to one another.”9

Of course, even in Britain, and even more so in Canada, mainstream conservatives are now mostly right-wing liberals, having largely (but not entirely) forgotten their pre-liberal heritage. In Canada this has especially been the case after the conquest of the Conservative Party by the heirs of the Social Credit, Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, and the ensuing marginalization of the former Progressive Conservatives.

Original, normative toryism, which we could call “blue,” is the traditional British Burkean affirmation of society as an organic whole, with emphasis on the duties of its members, rather than the inalienable Rights of Man. Already with Burke this was felt to be entirely compatible with free-market capitalism. Toryism also favoured strong leadership rather than simple representation of voters and taxpayers, and a strong state able to take action for the public good. In Canada this meant nation-building railways, public hydro, public broadcasting, etc.

In both Britain and Canada noticeable vestiges of blue toryism persist. This is perhaps especially evident in the persistence of monarchy. In the American fragment, Hartz observes, it was very easy to drop the monarchy without the usual British and European revolutionary parricidal guilt and backsliding because “the bourgeois spirit of the nation for years had been building up a silent hostility to the rationale on which rested.”10 Possibly the old tory stress on strong leadership survived in the unabashed leadership style of Stephen Harper; denounced as “dictatorial” by many critics, it was reminiscent of the similar styles of R.B.Bennett, Robert Borden and even the “populist” John Diefenbaker.

Red and blue toryism can shade into each other since they have in common such features as respect (sometimes approaching reverence) for the Crown and the associated general tendency to regard society as an organic whole rather than an association of individuals for mutual benefit. These red and blue tory communitarianisms continue to this day to present an obstacle to the total domination of the Conservative Party by American-style free-market liberalism.

Alvin Hamilton was John Diefenbaker’s left-wing right-hand man. His ambition for the Diefenbaker government was that it be attacked by the Liberals for being too socialist and by the CCF for not being socialist enough. Hamilton thought that my 1965 review of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation was “the most thoughtful and useful article of its kind he had read in the last twenty years.” Duff Roblin, the prominent Conservative Premier of Manitoba at the time, also approved of that essay.11

When I interviewed Hamilton in 1965, I asked him why, in view of his dislike for the Saskatchewan Liberal machine and the great strength of the CCF opposition in the province, he had chosen to join the then much weaker Conservatives. He had two short answers: the CCF tended to accentuate the conflict rather than the fundamental harmony of classes, and the CCF was not sufficiently appreciative of our monarchy.

This might be the place to validate the confusion one may feel when contemplating the cast of ideological characters in Canada. Their boundaries are notably fuzzy, fluid and ambiguous. The three deep-cultural currents – toryism, liberalism and socialism – are not to be absolutely identified with the political parties that bear their labels, nor are they to be ascribed in an exclusive manner to any individual political actor.

Liberalism, toryism and social democracy have been present to some extent in all parties. The tory streak, as communitarianism, continues to pervade the entire body politic; it cannot be simply located in one place; it is much more prominent in some places but not totally absent anywhere. We might think of the three ideologies as resources which continue to be available at some level and to some degree to almost all movements, parties and individuals. And it is important to remember that in the modern world as a whole, liberalism is hegemonic and ubiquitous. In this perspective George Grant – he wouldn’t have denied it – was liberal.

Deep culture, more or less implicit social ontology, is what we have been concerned with in fragment theory. Deep culture ought not to be conflated with the explicit positions taken at particular historical moments on matters of public policy. The magnitude of the policy differences among political parties waxes and wanes relative to changing local and global circumstances. Policy formulations of large parties are subject to multiple pressures not directly relevant to ideology, including especially the drive to the centre imposed by the need to do well in elections. In the absence of awareness of the difference between policy and ideology, policy convergence is misinterpreted as definitive ideological convergence, as in the proclamation repeated year after year that among the parties “there’s no difference”, “they’re all the same.”

It is not readily apparent that political actors frequently converge on policy while underlying deep cultural legitimations continue to diverge, more or less subliminally. The best historical example is the important set of policies known as the Welfare State, first put in place in 19th-century Germany by Count Otto von Bismarck. For the socialist or social democrat the underlying vision or ultimate purpose is the cooperative commonwealth, all the way, perhaps, to the realization of the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” For the left-liberal – British, socialist-touched version – the welfare state “hinders hindrances to the good life” (T.H. Green); in the American version, the purpose is to remedy the “stacking of the deck” which denies the little guy a “ fighting chance.” For the tory, especially the red tory, the purpose is to meet the obligation of government to see to “the condition of the people” (Disraeli) and thus to secure the harmonious cooperation of the diverse organs of the body politic.

The fate of the “red tory” meme

The term red tory is the one and only element of fragment theory which has been selected for survival as a kind of self-replicating meme in the everyday political discourse of English Canada. Here the bipolar spectrum orientation is dominant and the distinction between policy and deep culture is close to nonexistent. Furthermore, the saturation of Canadian media by American content is approaching a peak. The strange result (strange from the point of view of fragment theory, which sees red toryism as a persisting un-American phenomenon par excellence) is that the term red tory has been given a meaning more or less identical to that of “liberal Republican” or “moderate Republican” south of the border: a red tory would be a Conservative more favourable to “tax and spend” policies and the like than her party comrades.

A July 28, 2015, Toronto Star editorial on the passing of Flora MacDonald defines “red tory” succinctly as a “Tory with a social conscience.” The implication is that a non-red Tory – that would be a right-wing, blue Tory, not favourable to taxing, spending, etc. – would be bereft of social conscience. And that’s that. So why not distinguish between red Liberals and blue Liberals? This has in fact been accomplished by the Ottawa Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein (August 2, 2015): “There are many blue Liberals who, faced with a stark choice between a Conservative and an NDP government, will vote Conservative.”

In terms of fragment theory, applying the red tory label to every Conservative who advocates “progressive” policies would be mistaken, because the underlying more or less subliminal ideological themes might very well be exclusively or partly left-liberal. On the other hand, left-liberalism of the Canadian sort is already touched to some extent by its contact with the quasi-socialism of J.S. Mill and T.H. Green and its longstanding antagonistic symbiosis with Canadian socialism. Once again, some conceptual fuzziness must be validated. The first leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, John Bracken, former Progressive Premier of Manitoba, was ideologically speaking solidly left-liberal. Not a red tory, then, but a red liberal Tory.

The term red tory is often applied to the entirety of that wing of the present-day Conservative Party which was once the Progressive Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney. Even Peter MacKay is therefore sometimes dubbed a red tory. Conservatives who disapprove of the “tax and spend” policies of other Conservatives denigrate them with the term red tory, as in this letter to the editor of the National Post by Casey Johanesson of Calgary: “Jim Prentice…the Red Tory premier lying through his teeth, taxes are going up and cuts are minuscule….I haven’t voted for the Alberta P.C.s since they replaced Ralph Klein with red Ed Stelmach.”

An internet search discloses an interesting terminological innovation which will probably not survive as a meme. Steven Lee, a 27-year-old freelance blogger, describes himself as an “Orange Tory”: “Since becoming politically aware I have moved between two political parties, the New Democrats and the Conservatives … Red Tory is a reference to the colour red being associated with socialism but I decided an allusion to Canadian social democracy was more appropriate … My general philosophy … I believe in balanced budgets, fiscal discipline, and … a sturdy welfare state … while I believe that market solutions are often the best, I am highly suspicious of capitalism as a driving mentality and the consequences for the public good. I believe in the traditional structures of Canadian governance, such as the monarchy.”

This is actually an interesting statement, more intelligent than the pronouncements of many pundits, but notice how Mr. Lee’s “general philosophy” weaves somewhat to and fro between the levels of policy and ideology without any suspicion of a difference.

I can’t resist the temptation to contemplate the possibility of a Lemon Tory – very pretty …

To my mind, the most unfortunate consequence of ignoring the distinction between policy and ideology these days is the practice of crowning both the Liberal Party and the NDP as “progressive.” It was frequently argued before the 2015 election that because there is “no difference” or “not much difference” between them, they should “unite the left” in order to “stop Harper.” Some people even feel that the Liberals are more progressive because of their apparent willingness to spend more. What is excised from consideration is the fact of the longstanding deep-cultural difference between these two historic political institutions.

Ever since 1956, when the Winnipeg Declaration dropped the Regina Manifesto’s phraseology about “eradicating capitalism,” the CCF-NDP has been continuously, routinely described by the corporate media, pundits, intellectuals and far-left dissidents as having lost its social democratic character. Year after year, some praise the party for finally achieving sanity, while others berate it for having “sold out to the ruling class.” Of course, all over the world social democratic parties have distanced themselves significantly from their earlier statist policies and proletarian imagery, and the NDP is no exception. Still, in my opinion, 60 years after Winnipeg, in its ideological depths, and not even very far underneath its policy surfaces, the party remains as social democratic as it ever was. As a historic institution it is larger and deeper than the leadership and the policies of the day.

In 1964, Ken McRae, in his contribution to fragment theory in Hartz’s The Founding of New Societies, stated that “with the formation of the NDP … the last half realized elements of socialism seem to have been absorbed into the liberal tradition.”12 Fifty years later, it appears that the absorption is not complete, since it is still being reported as the very latest news.

There’s no denying that policy and policy debates are extremely important for the future of party and society, and there’s no doubt that over time the underlying culture can be affected by continuous policy drift. The emotional attachment to policies such as public ownership of “the commanding heights,”very heavy taxation of income and wealth, etc., can be so strong as to lead to identification of such policies with the essential ideological vision of social democracy.

Still, in my opinion, such conflation is in principle erroneous. The deep culture of social democracy is incorrigibly oriented to a vision of a future cooperative commonwealth, an egalitarian society of friends, above and beyond current party-political contingencies. This is well and briefly expressed in Adam Greene’s essay “On Canadian Education” in Social Purpose For Canada, the book that introduced the New Party (soon to become the NDP) to Canadians in 1961: “What we propose is still a scandal, however distant it may be … the vision a new city … where cooperation is not just a matter of law and taxes … where none are rich and all are leisured.” It seems to me that these words are still as close to the bone of Canadian social democracy as they were 55 years ago.

When Bob Rae abandoned the NDP and became one of Canada’s most prominent Liberals, one of the ways in which he marked the occasion was to declare that there is no better alternative to capitalism; the only question is what kind of capitalism we shall inhabit. To me, that is exactly the great middle where all liberals and all conservatives except for far-out feudalist reactionaries are gathered together. But not social democrats. They will not bring such closure to the matter. Even when social democrats feel strongly, as they commonly do and have done for many decades, that only reforms to capitalism are possible in whatever current conjuncture, the hope and the desire that these reforms will contribute somehow to a transcendence of capitalism “however distant it may be” continue to animate them, though this is seldom easy to discern and certainly impossible to prove, even by the most advanced political science.



Continue reading “The deep culture of Canadian politics”