Red Tory?

Red toryism claims to be re-defining the political landscape, moving beyond the old hegemonic debates as to whether the best kind of government is socialist and statist or liberal and individualistic. In the context of English politics, Philip Blond and others have advocated a new type of conservatism different from big business, big government conservatism. They have argued that localism, community action, ethics and environment should be the first concern of true conservatives.

The choice of the name ‘red tory’ would appear to be an attempt to situate these ideas outside of the usual ideological categories. It signifies approval of a bottom up conservative culture combined with a dedication to social justice. The political label ‘red tory’ is imported from Canadian political culture. There its usage has been somewhat varied, and given its intellectual pedigree I have wondered if that history is what Philip Blond wants it to be. As I have some sympathy for this movement and its attempt to leaven the dough of our technological and hegemonic society, I would like to relate a little of the history of this term in Canada.

George Parkin Grant is the conservative Canadian philosopher who was most often identified as the quintessential red tory because his ideas were not easily categorized within normal party politics: he was a friend to the left while being a conservative, and hated the liberal party for its toadying to big business and American power, and bringing forth an alliance of government and market forces that he thought had seriously weakened constitutional government. But he said a number of times that he was not a red tory.  He was a tory or conservative, simply, but more than that, a philosopher.

I believe that he thought that the label red tory inadequately described what he was about, which was to place before his readers a philosophical critique of modernity, not a plan for practical politics. He did not advocate political solutions, but rather taught his students to think more deeply about how to live well, and to think outside of those ‘isms,’ those paradigmatic categories that dominate politics. So not only did he dislike liberalism, which identifies the primary good with the making of money, and marxism, for its utopian dream of dominating both nature and human nature through technology, but he disliked all easy ideological solutions to the problems of the day.

This latter point is important — it was Gad Horowitz, the socialist professor of political science at the University of Toronto, who first called Grant a ‘red tory’ in an article published in 1966, entitled “Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism in Canada.” In so doing Horowitz gave intellectual respectability and explanatory power to a theory which attempts to account for why conservatives in Canada shared some practical political goals with socialists on some matters of public policy.

In this article Gad Horowitz following the American socialist (some might say liberal) political historian Louis Hartz, author of The Liberal Tradition in America, argued that the political culture of North America was shaped by ideological fragments carried in the thinking of European immigrants when they came to the new world. The American colonies were settled by people who were for the most part adherents of an English brand of whig-liberalism, and this became more pronounced after the Revolution of 1776 when the loyalists, who had a ‘tory streak’ to their thinking, left the country.  Thus all politics in the United States falls within a whig-liberal paradigm. Canadian culture was influenced in part by the loyalist ‘whigs with a tory streak’, but also by whig-liberals, and eventually by English socialists, hence giving it three distinct political parties.

According to this theory, tory-loyalism is organic-corporate-hierarchical in nature, it is sympathetic to government corporations that promote national unity.  For example, Conservative Canadian governments had been friendly to the creation of national institutions supported by tax money, such as the CBC, because such institutions strengthen the organic unity of the nation. In legislating these institutions Canadian conservatives had allied with socialists who are egalitarian-rationalist-corporate in their thinking. This common corporate and organic bias made the red tory the friend to the socialist against the individualist, free market liberal, or so the theory goes.

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