Ron Dart has written a timely, informative and perhaps for many, a provocative book. Canadian political pundits currently seem to have trouble discerning Tory characteristics; I have heard both Kelly Leitch and Brian Mulroney labeled as “Red Tory” recently. Dart in his book clearly sets out the historic credentials of the historic Tory. The present federal Conservative party in Canada is largely Blue Tory, nary a Red Tory in its midst. Mulroney is declared a Blue Tory, a conservative aping the dominant republican ideology of the USA. The book is informative describing in depth the history and the content of the true Canadian Tory mind, a tradition which seems to have become an endangered species in politics. It is timely in helping Canadian politician and voter alike to possibly find an alternative tradition of political philosophy to that which is dominant today.
The content of Dart’s book addresses the need for a sound grounding of political though for responsible action that does justice for the common good. Ideas have consequences, it is asserted, and contemplation and discernment are necessary. Current political practices desperately must find a grounding to rely on deeper and higher source than simply nice photo ops, pragmatic election promises, and nasty rhetoric and attack ads which result in in division and public apathy. In a chapter entitled, George Grant and Gad Horowitz: the Red Tory Dialogue, Dart summarizes the dialogue which revealed points of convergence between Red Toryism and socialism. It is a middle way between capitalism and socialism that keeps its eye primarily on the commonweal of the nation. Dart notes that clarity is necessary when we speak of party labels and designations. He concludes, that with a lack of clarity, misunderstanding and false expectations are raised,”…this is the last thing that is needed if we ever hope to educate Canadians about what it means to be an active citizen in the public place.”
This book contains 25 chapters, organized into 5 sections. It sets the tone with a concise ten-point Tory Manifesto. There are extensive bibliographic end notes, and bibliography; a wealth of resources to guide the reader to further study on Canadian political philosophy and on the Red or High Tory tradition. The book contains personal stories of Dart’s conversations and connections with some of the significant scholars of the Canadian Red Tory tradition giving the book the tone of a memoir in places. Some chapters have been published before in different contexts so there is some repetition, but one is rewarded learning a new nuance with every reading. This book will be a valuable resource for both student and casual reader.
Dart describes how the classical High Tory tradition antedates liberalism. Toryism respects the ancient wisdom of both Athens and Jerusalem as an indispensable source of guidance for current political thought, and it affirms the state as agent to facilitate the common good. He distinguishes the classical Tory tradition from the Liberal tradition. From the time it arrived on Canadian soil with the loyalists Toryism has had a quarrel with American republicanism and resists being absorbed by America’s ambition of annexing Canada as another state. It is a tradition that does not bow to the modern Zeitgeist of modernist, Hegelian, liberalism, which preaches the gospel of progressivism and the sovereignty of the individual. Point three of the Tory Manifesto insists that ethics and economics may not be separated. George Grant, Dart suggests, understood very well he corrosive nature of modern liberalism, and that its deeper premises, presuppositions and prejudices, that impinge on us all, and must be discerned by all. A society biased by the assumption that individual economic self-interest will naturally serve the needs of the common good, and that the market forces know best, will be challenged by this ancient Tory way of thinking, guided by a higher, deeper, organic view of what is good than merely individual freedom.
Besides explicating the works of George Grant, Dart features insights of many Canadian Tory authors of the past century. We do not need to look south of the border or overseas for our political edification. Canada has a rich tradition of political philosophy, history, and, literature written from a Red Tory perspective. George Grant’s important political philosophical works in the mid to late 20th century is prominent. However, Dart also features the work and influence of Stephen Leacock. Leacock was influential until 1944 and was critical of free enterprise, alarmed that the roots of liberalism were setting into the political fabric of Canada; the Blue Tories were beginning to take root and the diminishment of the Red Tories began. Besides Leacock and Grant, many others have written to keep Canada on its classical Tory course over the last century. Dart features Donald Creighton and Robin Matthews, and refers to many others. George Grant’s insights came later in his acclaimed Lament for a Nation of 1965 and intimates, among other things, that Canada is in danger of being absorbed by the totalizing American positivistic thought. Grant featured John Diefenbaker, admittedly not perfect, as the last political champion to stand up to American liberalism and imperialism. Canada’s celebrated philosopher Charles Taylor is given a mixed review and a failing grade. With Taylor the Canadian Hegelian liberal tradition would blossom and bloom. Procedural liberalism has won the day notes Dart; and its generous hermeneutic leads to a paralysis of action.
With the ascendency of liberalism in Canada a vacuous political malaise has developed with all thought and action enmeshed in the pervasive matrix of liberalism. The book makes it is clear that liberalism is pervasive today, not only in all the political parties in Canada, but also in Church and society, with global implications of a “gospel” of individualistic freedom and liberty. It is suggested that the role of the Protestants of the reformation has been as handmaiden to modern liberalism; the Reformation was as much economic as theological. Ron Dart’s book equips us with insights to discover an alternative way, or to rediscover the Classical High Tory way, and to question the absolute unquestionable things of the liberal way. The primary task suggested is to think outside the box, or matrix, of liberalism; to begin to raise the unspeakable possibility that modern liberalism has serious weaknesses and has perhaps gone to seed.