Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

August 31, 2009

Canada's Tory and Socialist Currents: the common good, by Andrew Taylor, Aug 31, 09




The 'common good' is a term from catholic social thought not unfamiliar to Canadian social theory. Canada was in large part established by the french catholic tradition and the english anglican tradition. We do not possess an individualistic national temper insofar as we follow those 'founding' colonial tendencies. Our early national coalescence was inflected by a paternalistic Tory collectivism. The United States is a revolutionary experiment in a land colonized by English protestant sectarians who demanded the liberty to express the spirit within them. This kind of evangelicalism remains quite isolated in Canada.

Canadian socialist tendencies did not necessarily clash at every juncture with this older Tory organic model of society. Radicals and Tories could both see clear social classes in Canada; they differed on their moral evaluation of the existing class-society .The English classist, organic ideology is evident in the verse of the popular 19th Century hymn: "All Things Bright and Beautiful":

The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate,
He made them high and lowly
And ordered their estate.


In a number of areas the workers movement would build upon the older statist ideal of the common good: "peace, order and good government". But the socialist movement in Canada as in every nation established its developed argument and organization based on working-class solidarity against the class-system; the old families, the Clergy, and the nouveau riche. In its fight against the class-system the Canadian experience is not the singular exception , but rather, the United States of America. In the USA different historic forces had created both a stridently individualistic and egalitarian ideology together with a laissez faire capitalist class society.
Because of its combination of bourgeois democratic ideology and laissez faire, America has faced formidable obstacles in forging collectivist projects against the short-term interests of the corporate class.

Canadian conservatism has been derived from the British Tory tradition, with a distinctive concern for a balance between individual rights and collectivism, as mediated through a traditional pre-industrial standard of morality — which has never been as evident in American conservatism. Red Tories supported traditional institutions like religion and the monarchy, and maintenance of the social order. Later, this would manifest itself as support for the welfare state. This belief in a common good, as expanded on in Colin Campbell and William Christian's Political Parties and Ideologies in Canada, is at the root of Red Toryism.

In distinction to the American experience where class divisions were seen as a curse of old European communitarianism, Canadian Tories adopted a more patriarchal view of government. The Crown, public order and good government — understood as dedication to the common good — preceded, moderated, and ideologically balanced a univocal individualism regarding "rights" and "freedom".

the ideal of noblesse oblige and a conservative communitarianism.

The thematic notion of "Red" Toryism was developed by Gad Horowitz in the 1960s, who made the case for the presence of a powerful Tory ideology in Canada. This social vision contrasted Canada with the US, which he saw as lacking this collectivist tradition, as it had been violently purged from the republic's political culture with the American Revolution and the exile/exodus of the United Empire Loyalists (known as 'Royalists' in the USA). Horowitz believed Canada's more formidable socialist movement and socialist ideological trend derived from Toryism, and that this is the main part of the reason why socialist/social-democratic parties have never had consistent electoral success as a bloc in the United States scene. For Horowitz this also meant that the Canadian notion of 'liberty' was more collective and communitarian, and more derivative of the English tradition, than American theory.

See for Red Torys: George Grant's Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism.
See also: Eugene Forsey, Robert Stanfield,Davie Fulton, Dalton Camp

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