Friday, March 19, 2010

On Conservative Values

There's been a bit of a discussion on the future of Conservatism and conservatism in Canada of late. Paul Well's take on it is thorough, if ultimately, I think, wrong. I think his thesis is off mark because he assumes a level of political awareness and activity that is far too generous to the Canadian public. He mistakes an apathy for issues like Rights and Democracy, and Youth for Christ, as being issue specific, a tacit approval of the CPC's actions, as opposed to a more general apathy towards any policy other than healthcare and taxes. Moreover, he makes a big mistake in assuming Preston Manning's big show last week was anything other than that, a big show. Gregg's poll in particular is a bad joke, and, to my mind as a pollster, ethically suspect.

That's not to say that I think he's entirely wrong. The problem is that, when you're talking about Conservatism, you're looking at two ideologies mashed together in an unholy alliance. The CPC is made up of social conservatives and libertarians. Despite Manning's poll, with it's carefully worded statements and bizarre 7-point scale, Canadians are not becoming more socially conservative. However, Wells is at least partially right when he suggests that Canadians are becoming more liberal.

Libertatianism is the new communism on campus. The older partisans in the CPC embrace libertarianism as a protest against taxes and the gun registry, and a reaction against what they see as a Liberal government. The younger generation of Conservatives don't see it the same way. They're classical liberals. They truly believe that free enterprise and absolute freedoms are the recipe for a better nation. In this, they're far more ideologically pure than the old guard. Issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and the war on drugs will slowly take a back seat for CPC policy advisors as this new group moves up through the ranks. I know gay Conservatives. I know modern women who are Conservatives. I know pot-heads who are Conservatives. All of them have joined the Party for one reason, because they believe that individuals are better equipped to handle problems than governments.

How this happened, I'm not entirely sure. I mean there are the Westerners, well and truly indoctrinated right out of highschool, always loud, always politically active. But I can't point to where all the anger towards government actually comes from among the rest of the younger cohort. I mean, my generation was going through highschool during the Harris years for god's sake! I could be wrong, maybe they aren't really the majority, but I'm damn sure that they're the most politically aware and active, and that's enough.

So the question for old school conservatives like me and our new found partners on the progressive side of things is how do you combat this? I don't know the answer yet. The popularity of this new liberalism is based entirely on a disconnect. Government has worked too well. We're the most comfortable population there has ever been. Canadians don't know what it is to go without healthcare, without old age pensions, without well-funded public school, and without those hundreds of government funded initiatives that make life in our cities and towns tolerable. All they know is that a chunk of each pay cheque disappears every two weeks. And the Ottawa Citizen, or the National Post just told them that the government spent $1,000 on a door bell, or an executive of a crown corporation had a glass of wine at lunch, or how those damned lazy public servants have a generous pension plan. How do you offer an explanation of such a complex system when that malformed opinion of government has already taken root in someone's head?

Friday Night Beer tomorrow. I'll be making a trip out to Vankleek Hill to pick up Beau's exciting new Sleepytime Imperial Stout.


  1. This might help you understand a few things that are going one:

    The gist of it is that the young don't know any better and the people that do know better (through direct experience of The Great Depression and WWII and humanity-as-a-whole only learns through direct experience) are either retired or dead. The Baby Boomers have been running things recently but all they know how to do is fight, argue, and rebel against their parents (the 60s for example); Gen-X does get things done but they're a bunch of nihilists (e.g. grunge in the 90s).

    GD isn't the be all and end all that Xenakis thinks it is but it does have some useful ideas.

  2. "...they believe that individuals are better equipped to handle problems than governments..."

    Which is nonsense. The genius of humanity, or one of their two or three top genii, is the ability to clump up and accomplish things in organized groups. A single person, however talented, is doomed. (Setting aside the problem of reproduction.) We aren't like cougars, solitary and territorial, we can't live that way. To give up the strength and longevity of the groups that work to our benefit, and especially government, is to handicap ourselves in the face of other groups with no such limitations or kindly goals.

  3. Anon, thanks for the link, that's essentially what I was trying to get at with my "disconnect".

    Agreed Noni. The thing about classical liberalism is that, for me, it's of a very particular time and place. It dates from a time of kings and queens and oligarchy. It was successful in that it created liberal democracy as we know it. However, the welfare state was created for the express purpose of helping solve some of the problems that still existed. To me, the essential problem is that libertarianism exists to solve a problem that isn't there, to take us backwards to a time that was a good deal worse than today. The counter claim is that there never really was a liberal society, but I think that's hogwash, we know exactly what happens when human beings are completely free without interference from government.

  4. Gen-X does get things done but they're a bunch of nihilists (e.g. grunge in the 90s).

    Heh, as a 'cusper' as the demographers would label me, I totally understand that sentiment. Curiously, Gen Xers are often labelled as slackers, but I suppose the workforce has not seen the Millenial/Gen Y come into the fore yet. WHen I was a teaching assistant, oh boy, those differences were as clear as day.

  5. I'm glad someone else is calling out that idiotic Manning/Gregg poll.

    Even Tom Flanagan found time to rip it to shreds, and in front of Preston Manning no less.

  6. I'm glad someone else is calling out that idiotic Manning/Gregg poll.

    It had me frothing at the mouth. Not so much that someone would commission it, but that the media dutifully reports it as some watershed. Numbers get journalists every time.