Time seems to be going by faster than ever before. The pre-pandemic world feels like a lifetime ago, and the hectic chaos of 2016 is an increasingly distant memory. Technology has shrunk distance and a month spans an eon, leaving each of us lost in the morass of the everyday world. Daily, we are inundated with the most recent episodes of the culture war and the newest outrages imposed by cancel culture. It is a tiresome pursuit and ultimately a fruitless one. One can only spend much time being enraged at things they cannot change before anger becomes impotence.
In this environment, it is often prudent to slow down, to step away from the noise for a sober look at the larger picture. Those of us whose sympathies lie with fundamental essence rather than flux, with ‘rightist’ rather than ‘leftist’ thought, will gravitate towards conservative politics. When I speak of essence and flux I speak of the more fundamental distinction between left-wing and right-wing views in their classical categories. While modern assumptions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are convoluted to the point of uselessness, it is always useful to understand one’s belief’s independent of partisanship.
When speaking of essence, I speak of essentialism, the pursuit of the fundamental and basic elements that compose truth. It is through the truth that we can constitute that which is good. Flux, then, is the rejection of the fundamental and basic elements that constitute truth. Those who cleave to flux will deny essential categories. In doing so they will attempt to break down all distinctions. This can be observed in the post-modernist tendency to deny the legitimacy of a category in circumstances where the category is ‘socially constructed’. The idea that a category is rendered illegitimate by virtue of being constructed is obviously ridiculous, a house does not cease to exist merely because a community came together for the purpose of its construction. If the social body has constructed something, there is likely a crucial importance behind said construction. This idea and its fallacy are covered in more depth by Donoso in The Incoherence of Individualism; my topic is conservatism.
If the left is characterized by flux—by change—and the change they are invoking is undesirable, then the logical alternative is to preserve the state of affairs that existed prior to the change. The logical alternative to flux is to conserve. However, when confronted by modernity, the myopia inherent to this instinct is revealed.
When the right defines itself as conservative, there are things implicit in the definition: the conservative is conserving. This presupposes that there is something important that must be preserved. With this in mind, we should ask ourselves two fundamental questions: what do we want to conserve, and what are we practically conserving?
Within the modern right-wing tradition, the answers to the first question vary broadly. However, as I am explaining my distaste for conservatism, it is only fitting that I first outline what, in my view, is worth conserving. In the right-wing sense, what this practically reveals is what one considers to be good and subsequently worth advocating for.
I believe in Christian social teachings because they are essential to a healthy society. Their absence and decline guarantees suffering and unhappiness for whatever society rejects them. I believe in a healthy environment for my family, my friends and my children. This is not the environmentalism of abstraction, bureaucratic regulation, and urbanite imposition into the realm of the rural and the ever-receding wild. Rather, it is the environmentalism of the immediate and the real: clean rivers, healthy forests, sustainable agriculture, and food not thickened with horrible poisons. I believe that government is not a force of inherent oppression and evil that must be suppressed but rather a tool to secure safety, health, wealth, and virtue for the nation. I believe in the human-scaled economics of small and local business, whose interests are secured and defended by the state against the predations of international conglomerates and finance.
It is upon these basic principles that classically conservative right-wing thought is built. If these things existed in a real sense, they would be worth conserving. The unfortunate reality is that none of these things exist in a real enough sense to be preserved anymore. The Christian essence of our society is a shadow of its former self, with hedonism, secularism, and a despairing nihilism prevailing. Environmentalism is a collection of urbanite schemes propped up by government money, designed by those who believe in infinite growth and infinite consumption. All the while, massive globe-spanning policies are advocated for as farmland desertifies and the quality of food continues to decline. International corporations and financial conglomerates are given a free pass for their impoverishment of nations and their rape of the planet, so long as they signal conformity to the popular social crusade of the hour.
With the state of affairs understood, let us then investigate the conservative and what he practically conserves, as he claims to advocate right-wing interests.
When I speak of conservatism, I refer to the partisans engaged in electoral politics within the anglosphere who label themselves conservatives: the American Republicans, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Tories of the United Kingdoms, etc. Obviously, these organizations are divorced from the more classical conceptions of conservatism. such as those of Sir Roger Scruton, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, or George Grant. These men lived in the ruins of the Christian, and by extension, Chivalric tradition. They were raised amongst the wondrous, decaying monuments of a venerable civilization. That tradition is long dead; its last gasp breathed in the burning shell holes and corpse-laden trenches of the First World War.
While there is much to admire in this old tradition, it must be acknowledged that the tradition has passed, that it retains no institutional power, and that a ‘return’ to this tradition is impossible. Time cannot flow in reverse. One can be inspired by the past, but ultimately men can only march forward into the murky darkness of an unknowable tomorrow. But, having departed from this classically conservative tradition, what is it that the new conservative, the ‘neoconservative’, if you will, wishes to conserve? To answer this query we must delve into the antics of neoconservative politics.
Those of us raised in the postwar world were raised in the barren wastes of industrial consumerism. It is in this culture of hyper-consumption that the neoconservative is revealed; in this context, I speak not of the average conservative voter, though I do not doubt much of what I will say henceforth will apply to them, but rather to conservative politicians and conservative pundits and commentators—in short, the public leaders of the conservative movement. There are often execrations amongst more fringe portions of the right-wing movement (the PPC, for example) that the public face of the conservative movement is not representative of the people comprising said movement. But therein lies the rub: the people are separated from the levers of government and therefore wield no power. If we are to speak of real political change, it does not do to indulge in romantic utopianism concerning the sovereignty of the masses or the silent majority. Those with power are wielding power. It is they with whom the quarrel must be had.
What is it that the public faces of the right-wing movement are trying to conserve? While their rhetoric may, in many cases, pander to their base and to what scant quantities of sympathetic right-wing media exist, we must examine their actions to ascertain their true goals and intentions. If we examine the Canadian right-wing following the fall of Diefenbaker in 1963, then we see its true resurgence occur in the Mulroney era, following the unrivalled social changes enacted on Canadian society by Lester B Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Rather than the left-wing pushing for globalism, at least in the economic sense, it was the Canadian right-wing in the late 1980s and 1990s under Mulroney who advocated for a more liberalized trade policy. Famously, in the 1988 debate between John Turner and Brian Mulroney, Turner, then the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, accused Mulroney of selling out Canada to international and American markets. Mulroney harrumphs in outrage and makes a retort about loving Canada but offers no real refutation of Turner’s accusation. Once Mulroney’s crass hawking of Canada’s economy to foreign powers had been completed, he was replaced by Stephen Harper, under whose tenure Canada experienced record levels of immigration unmatched in decades, all in the name of economic growth.
While the neoconservatives have proven themselves remarkably efficient in the business of liberalizing the economy and facilitating the free movement of peoples and goods for the benefit of international conglomerates, their record is rather abysmal on the religious and social issues in which they claimed belief, once upon a time. The explosion of social progressivism that occurred following Pierre Trudeau’s entrenchment of the charter (legalization of gay marriage, abortion, pornography, etc.) aside, let us examine the conduct of the modern conservative politician in Canada.
In the era of Erin O’Toole, we see the social conservative—perhaps more accurately termed the Christian—elements of the party increasingly alienated and ostracized in favour of pandering to an urban progressive voter base who will never align with any brand of conservatism no matter what policies are adopted. Erin O’Toole speaks at length of his support for abortion, his desire to march in pride parades (if only they were more tolerant) and parades about in front of the media wearing high heels in complete and humiliating submission to progressive social causes.
Looking at O’Toole’s actions, we see the true goals of the neo-conservative movement: surprising efficacy in matters of economic liberalization, and complete impotence in matters of societal health. It is in this view that the second question regarding neoconservatism is answered. The neoconservative does not wish to conserve anything. The driving impetus behind the movement now called conservatism is the liberalization of markets and economies. Why, then, would neoconservatives, heralds of the free movement of capital and people have any interest in pursuing policies that would maintain distinction of essence, as described previously? The neoconservative is fundamentally a liberalizer—a liberal. I have shown that the neoconservative movement that is ascendant in right-wing electoral politics is not a force of essence but rather a force of flux, change at a slightly slower rate than their openly liberal counterparts. The neoconservative movement is not concerned with the health, the wealth, the safety, or the virtue of its constituency. While the progressives display their poisonous ideology proudly, advocating for greater homogenization and subjugation to the global mechanized system, the conservative masquerades as your ally. He will tell you he believes in all the same things as you, while repeatedly betraying you and pocketing your donations. It is for this reason that I am not a conservative, at least in the modern sense. To be a conservative in the 21st century is not only to fail to conserve anything, but to not even advocate for the things worth having.