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The Tory Touch: True North and Old South

The Tory Touch: True North And Old South

Introduction 

It seems a very propitious moment to think about Canadian and Southern history in conjunction given the recent and more or less concurrent bicentennial of the War of 1812 and  sesquicentennial of the American Civil War respectively.  These commemorations point to the timeliness of some political theorizing about the constitutive elements of North American political culture. The War of 1812 and the political experiment south of the Mason-Dixon line involved two attempts to resist the power of the United States and therewith the political values and ideology that accompany it. North of the Great Lakes the resistance campaign succeeded and thus Canada has remained a political entity distinct from the American Republic to this day. In the South the resistance failed and so its effort at independence is sometimes as the “Lost Cause.”  But despite these differing outcomes the two political entities had each adhered to a social vision that differed from that of the United States for the sake of which war making was justified. The purpose of the discussion which follows is to examine the possible overlapping premises of these two alternative rejections of the “American Ideal.”

The Great Refusal: North and South

The distinguished Canadian historian Frank Underhill describes Canada’s historical rejection of the temptations to join United States as “The Great Refusal.”

“Our forefathers made the great refusal in 1776 when they declined to join the revolting American colonies. They made it again in 1812 when they repelled American invasions. They made it again in 1837 when they rejected a revolution motivated by ideals of Jacksonian democracy, and opted for a staid moderate respectable British Whiggism which they called “Responsible Government.” They made it once more in 1867 when the separate British colonies joined to set up a new nationality in order to preempt [American] expansionism” (Underhill 1960,6-7).[1]

Professor Underhill’s conclusion from all this is that Canada’s “Great Refusal” explains what he sees as the abysmal level of political thought in Canada where it is not absent altogether. Underhill’s basic argument is that there is a connection between the lack of a modern revolutionary tradition and an absence of general political ideas (6-7). English Canada was founded by men “who were fleeing from the practical application of the doctrines that all men are born equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (12). As a result Canadian politics has not “been periodically revived by fresh (intellectual) drafts from the invigorating fountain of eighteenth century enlightenment”(12). This has meant that the “liberal and radical movements” in Canada have worked at a disadvantage because in the final analysis all such movements “have had their roots in this fertile eighteenth century soil”(12).

The problem with Underhill’s thesis of “The Great Refusal” is that it presents the Canadian-style attitude to the rationalism of the 18th Century as not itself connected to an intellectual critique of this rationalism.  It is interpreted as “anti-intellectual” approach to politics pure and simple.  A refusal of the Lockean-Jeffersonian Enlightenment is taken by Underhill as prima facie evidence of an absence of intellectual content.  For Underhill, Canadian political philosophy should mean, and mean only, an articulate “version” of the liberal democratic ideal, adapted to Canadian circumstances, but not at odds with the philosophy of liberal democracy as it has been seen throughout history and the world.

It seems fair to say that if it wasn’t for his ideological bias Underhill might have had a sense of Matthew Arnold’s estimation of the impact of Burke for example. Arnold said of the great Irishman: “On the whole…what distinguishes (Burke’s) writings is their profound, permanent, fruitful, philosophical truth…Burke is so great because…he brings thought to bear upon politics, he saturates politics with thought.” Arnold more or less inverts Underhill’s thesis in claiming that the real “intellectual draft,” at least as far as the politics of 18th Century England is concerned, was to be seen on the side of “The Great Refusal” rather than on the side of the “liberal and radical movements” of the time (Arnold 1975, 2005). And there is no dispute about the power of Burke’s influence in Canada. S.F. Wise says that Upper Canada was the inheritor of a conservatism which “was not merely the somewhat creaking intellectual edifice of Blackstone and Warburton, but a conservatism freshly minted into a fighting creed through Edmund Burke’s philippics against the French Revolution” (Wise 1967,20).

In the years since Underhill made his case a closer examination of Canadian intellectual history has shown quite the opposite to his claim, which is to say it has found an intellectual vitality behind the “Great Refusal”  and that the Canadian political arena was “intellectualized” to a greater degree than Underhill had assumed. There is plenty of evidence that Canadians were influenced by writers such as Bacon, Baxter, Blackstone, Burke, Brougham just to mention a few of the B’s. In the view of one scholar the Loyalists were “Anglo-American liberals” in the sense of adherents of the great liberal principles extending down through Locke, Bolingbroke, Hume, Burke, Blackstone and Paley (Potter 1983,85-106). Terry Cook says of the “conservatism” of early Upper Canada that it “was by no means a non-ideology which was conducive to identity crises and non-nations.  Rather it was a positive creed, steeled by American and French experiences, which venerated the assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs of Warburton, Blackstone and Burke” (Cook 1972,81).

Underhill’s prejudices against the intellectual culture or lack thereof of colonial  Canada was echoed with respect to the South by Lord Charnwood who claimed that “sound instruction and intellectual activity were markedly lacking throughout the South.” During the ante-bellum period the “learning and literature of America…centered round Boston and Harvard University in the adjacent city of Cambridge” not Charleston and Richmond (1920,57, 60). How Charnwood could have written these words when a few years before H.L. Mencken had said the following is hard to comprehend.

“Down to the middle of the last century, and even beyond, the main hatchery of ideas on this side of the water was across the Potomac bridges…in the South there were men of delicate fancy, urbane instinct and aristocratic manner-in brief, superior men-in brief, gentry. To politics, their chief diversion, they brought active and original minds. It was there that nearly all the political theories we still cherish and suffer under came to birth. It was there that the crude dogmatism of New England was refined and humanized…The Ur-Confederate had leisure. He liked to toy with ideas” (Mencken 1917).

For Mencken the Old South was a civilization of “manifold excellences” and it may well have been “the best that the Western Hemisphere had ever seen-undoubtedly the best that These States have ever seen” (Mencken 1917; see Allitt 2009,37). It is our assumption in this discussion that Mencken’s correction of Charnwood’s claims about the South may be extended to those of Underhill so with respect to the intellectual culture of  Canada.[2]

The Tory Touch: North and South

Louis Hartz follows Mencken in rejecting Charnwood’s assumption that the South was as intellectually deficient as was Underhill’ colonial Canada. Certainly Hartz rejects the notion that if a figure’s values are at odds with those of men like Hamilton and Jefferson then that figure must almost by definition must be “non” or “anti” intellectual. Hartz rejects this idea even though he is himself very much a modern, “progressive” thinker. The paradoxical concept of the “Reactionary Enlightenment” which Hartz uses to explain the brilliance of the ante-bellum southern culture is not even broached by Underhill in connection with Canada (Hartz 1952, 31-50). Hartz’s premise is that a “Tory” or “feudalist” may well be wrong in their “Toryism” or “feudalism” but for all that a “Tory” or a “feudalist” could in fact be a brilliant thinker and serious philosopher and greatly superior to a “liberal” thinker who is more “correct” politically speaking.  Thus from Hartz’s perspective, Upper Canada’s great Anglican Bishop John Strachan might well prove himself to be a greater thinker than the republican rebel William Lyon Mackenzie when one got down to examining the core of their respective intellectualizing and philosophizing.

Hartz makes his case by arguing that the Old South “was the great imaginative moment in American political thought.”  The South’s “Tory revolution” represents “one of the great and creative episodes in the history of American thought”(32) It was a moment when America almost got out of itself, as it were, and “looked with some objectivity on the liberal formula it has known since birth.” “Here was a time when a group of major thinkers…dared to insist that life can be lived in an utterly different way from the way that Hamilton and Jefferson both agreed to live it”(49).  Hartz says that the American liberal community imposed “the final punishment” on the dissident dreamers of the South for daring to attempt an “escape from its confines”(47). In Hartz’s portrayal then the Civil War was about an attempt to break from the “grip of Locke” on the part of the South.

If we extend Hartz’s argument in a northerly direction to the War of 1812 this conflict can be seen as Canada’s attempt to escape the intellectual confines of the American Union. We are then led then to pose the basic question: “Why would any “sectional” population reject an invitation to join the United States or choose to take one’s leave of it at any point?”  After all the United States of America more than any other country has been committed to the vision of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” One might even say that only a madman would turn his back on such a prospect, whether as a potential “recruit” as in the case of Canada, or as a disaffected team member as in the case of the eleven seceding southern states. Is not the “American Dream” what all humans have been seeking, whether fully conscious of it or not, since the Dawn of History? And yet here we have two peoples, both very “advanced” and enlightened by any standard, saying “No thanks” to this “American Dream” and at the same time being prepared to back up their “No thanks” with blood and treasure should the beckoning “American Dream” become insistent. Certainly this strange behavior north of the Great Lakes and south of the Mason-Dixon line requires some explanation.

Hartz has pointed us in one direction at least in our quest for a variable explanatory as to why Canada and the Old South offered their regrets to the USA. He does so when he insists on what he calls the “Toryism” of the Old South. For Hartz the “agon” between Southern Toryism and the Lockean Whiggism to which it was issuing a challenge constitutes the high point of the American intellectual experience (49-50). Hartz quotes Virginia’s George Fitzhugh who on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg spoke of the “Revolution of 1861” as raising “the banner of Tories everywhere.”  Indeed, this revolution saw college professors “rush to the Tory standard from all sides”(31). The question of “Toryism” has been a major consideration in the debate concerning the Canadian experience not least because of Hartz’s own influence north of the border.  The “Tory touch” thesis has been a question near the heart of the Canadian academic debate about the nature of Canadian political culture for decades now (See Pearce 2015; Ajzenstat, 2009, 2007, 2003, 2002, 1995; Bannister 2009, 123-128; Beiner and Norman, 2001; Bell and Tepperman, 1979; Christian, 1978; Christie, 2009 Forbes, 1987; Hartz, 1966, 1964; Horowitz, 1978, 1977, 1966; Leuprecht, 2003; Wiseman, 2002, 1988; Campbell and Christian, 1996; Lipset, 2001, 1990, 1988; McKillop, 2009; McRae, 1964; Preece, 1977; Saul 2012).

The historical thesis around which the idea of the Canadian Tory-touch has been constructed is that what would subsequently become the nations of Canada and the United States initially shared a Tory-touch descended from their shared origins in colonial times when they were comprehended in the term “British North America.” But in the course of the American Revolution this primal Tory-touch was hunted from the New Republic into the “Great White North.” Thus the differences between English-Canadian and American political culture are explained in terms of the weak Lockeanism of the former and the pure and strong Lockeanism of the latter. In this way the Tory-touch thesis could be used to explain the Canadian “resistance movement” of 1812.[3]  Canada was to some degree or another “anti-Lockean” and this ultimately led her to strike out for a separate national future. The use of the Tory-touch thesis to explain the Canadian core of Canadian history prompts us to wonder whether it might do the same for that of the South. The evidence suggests it can.

Organicism North and South vs. “The False Philosophy of the Age”

The southern thinker George Fitzhugh says that his theory of the origin of society is “identical” with that of Aristotle while the philosophy which animates modern social reformers “is the opposite of Aristotle”(Fitzhugh 1988,81-82,107). For Fitzhugh the “standard authors” for the reformers and the erroneous views of William Paley, Baron Montesquieu and William Blackstone are those he undertakes to refute on Aristotelian grounds (82-83;84-85).  In the South we find explicit rejections of Locke’s State of Nature, the doctrine of “Lockean” equality and property rights, and the passages of the Declaration of Independence which would endorse such principles.  Figures such as George Fitzhugh (see Woodward 1988,vii-xxxix), John C. Calhoun (see Read 2009)  George Frederick Holmes (see Gillespie 1972), and William Gilmore Simms (see Guilds 1995) amongst others come to mind here.

M.E. Bradford says in an essay on the thought of Richard Weaver that there is “one common denominator” which unites a wide array of southern writers and that is “a horror of atomistic man”(Bradford 1985,80 emphasis added).[4] Let us key in on this term “a horror of atomistic man” for just a moment. According to Peter C. Emberley and Waller R. Newell the Canadian founders were clear in their “recognition of the atomistic view of society implied by American liberalism” and firm in their resolve to push in an opposite, more “organicist” direction (emphasis added)() So this phrase of Bradford’s – “horror of atomistic man” – proves to have a very Canadian ring about it if Emberley and Newell are our Canadian guides.[5] In Canada it might be called “possessive individualism,” social atomism, laissez-faire, monadism or just plain “American liberalism” but certainly some of Bradford’s  “horror” is evinced in the work of Canadian thinkers such as George Grant, C.B. Macpherson, Gad Horowitz and Charles Taylor to mention only a few.[6] Intellectualized Canadians at least reject Anglo-American liberalism in its purest classic form. In Canada expressions of disagreement with, if not disdain for the principles of Locke and therewith for American liberalism and praise for Canada to the extent it has rejected such a philosophy has been the default position for numberless Canadian academics, writers and journalists such as John Kenneth Galbraith for example. We hasten to note here that anyone who takes the time to study works of 19th Century Canadian political economy will discover that they are very laissez-faire or “Adam Smithian” indeed (see Ryerson 1877) . We also hasten to add that the “Lockean” philosophy of natural rights has much less purchase on the contemporary mind wherever it may be present than it did when Canada and the Old South made their respective national “statements” of dissent (See Ajzenstat 2007).

But if we allow Bradford’s claim that a “horror of atomistic man” was pervasive in the South and then observe that this same “horror” is just as, if not more prevalent in certain Canadian circles, then one cannot really claim that Canada is simply sui generis in the total North American context. The famous “Tory touch,” or what Professors Emberley and Newell describe as “organicism” would seem to be common to the two distinct “regions” on either side side of the “United States.” But were there any differences between the Southern and Canadian versions of this “organicism”? It would seem so. Emberley and Newell point to Burke and Hegel as very much responsible for in Canadian “organicism.”  But on this point a Southerner might remark: “Yes, but where is Aristotle?”[7]

A Touch of Aristotle

The evidence suggests that the South was engaged not so much in Hartz’s “Reactionary Enlightenment” as in something of an “Aristotelian” revolution.[8] Geroge Fitzhugh believes that the world today is “sick of its philosophy” and so the lingering power of Aristotle in the Western tradition still has the potential to seduce serious philosophical minds. Thus Aristotle is destined to make a very great comeback in the near future and in so doing will return western civilization to the “normalcy” which prevailed until the modern doctrine of “Human Individuality” and “the supreme sovereignty of the individual” became so dominant (80-81).

We should note here that nowhere do the Tory-touched socialists in Canada suggest a return to Aristotle as the foundation of society.  For Gad Horowitz the goal would be a Marxist based of society not an Aristotelian one, and in the case of the grandest of the “Red Tories” George Grant it is “Plato within Christianity” to whom he appeals.[9] But however this might be Canada and the Old South share one mutual theme in the mix of their respective political cultures – a coolness or even rejection of the “Lockean” philosophy of “atomistic,” “monadic” man, of man for himself alone.

The Wrong Turn

Fitzhugh was of the opinion that all books written more than four hundred years ago are apt to yield “useful instruction” while those written since that time “will generally mislead.”[10] This “false philosophy” has been “increasing and ramifying until our day” and now threatens the “overthrow of all social institutions”(Fitzhugh  80-81). Fitzhugh draws a kind of dividing line between the modern age and all previous periods, which line demarcates a “wrong turn” or an erroneous choice on the part of western man.

But even if we allow Fitzhugh’s premise that a “Great Wrong Turn of the West” had taken place between the 15th and 17th centuries, and even if we further allow that the United States of America is implicated in this “Great Wrong Turn” it does not necessarily follow that Canada’s “Great Refusal” to join the American party in 1812 and the South’s great effort to leave it in the 1860’s, were endeavors that in the long run might have saved their Canadian bacon or chicken fried steak (as the case may be). This is because the “Great Wrong Turn” of the West identified by Fitzhugh, Strauss and Grant (to say nothing of Swift and Rousseau), was made four centuries before General Brock and Stonewall Jackson’s great heroism. Generals Brock and Jackson were brave men indeed but as we appreciate today in a way they perhaps did not, that no amount of heroism on the battlefield could save Canada, the South or indeed the United States of America itself from Francis Fukuyama’s famous “End of History.” Fukuyama closed his discussion expressing uncertainty whether this fate necessarily involved the arrival of Nietzsche’s “Last Man” [11] but there is no doubt that its roots were in the mighty transformations of the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, as well as the modern scientific, economic, technological revolutions and now the postmodern counter-revolution if that be what it is.

Margaret Mitchell died in 1949 after being struck by a drunk driver and George Grant who famously lamented the disappearance of the Canada he had known himself had “Gone with the Wind” by1988 (Mitchell 1936; 1969,137-43). The candlestick   telephones of Ontario’s Alexander Graham Bell which would have been used by both Mitchell and Grant in their younger days have long since disappeared. If Bell had conceived of the telephone in 19th Century Brantford, Ontario then Jim Balsillie conceived of the Blackberry in 21st Century Waterloo, Ontario. But unlike Bell in his time, Balsillie had to compete for market share against the iPhone, the Android and other devices in a world where millions if not billions of people consider, Email, Facebook, Twitter, youtube and online streaming as indispensable to their way of life. So here we are in the 21st Century where Canadians, Southrons, and to be sure non-southern and non-Canadian Americans, and all westerners and “westernizers” wherever they might live share life in a technological wonderland unimaginable to the patriots of whatever side in 1812 or 1861.

Martin Heidegger is famous for having said that it was his country’s destiny to live out the encounter between modern man and “planetary technology” on behalf of the human race (Heidegger 2000). No doubt to Heidegger’s intense personal pain his homeland no more survived the experience than did the Old South or George Grant’s old British Canada. The evidence suggests that confrontations with “planetary technology,” if by that trope is intended a nation’s effort to be fundamentally unaffected by, or to “differ” in its purposes from the modern techno-scientific vision ultimately means a win for this vision and a loss for the confronting community. Indeed, the fate and face of Canada since its successful resistance to “The Rights of Man” [12] in 1812 provides some indication as to what might have happened even if the South had been successful in her efforts to go her own way. But is it not also the case that America itself, no more than any other country, has survived its confrontation with “planetary technology”? The North won the Civil War but is not the America of today as far removed from the America which triumphed at Appomattox as today’s Canada and today’s “New South” are removed from old “British North America” and old “Dixie” respectively? (See Strauss 1965,1-2).

Conclusion

But here we come to the deeper question. Is the “End of History” or “Postmodernity,” if that is the current phrase, a condition into which all nations and peoples must enter sooner or later? Some have argued that the founding principles of the United States are “pure Lockean,” and amongst these are some who have argued that those of Canada are “Tory touched,” and in the Old South’s “Aristotelianism. But whatever the accuracy of such abbreviating characterizations is we in the eralry decades of the 21st Century are entitled to wonder whether it is the case that whatever their founding principles may have been, modern countries are all fated over time to end up in more or less the same place, i.e. in Alexander Kojeve’s “universal and homogeneous state”?[13]

 

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Notes

[1] “Canadian national life can almost be said to take its rise in the negative will to resist absorption in the American Republic. It is largely about the United States as an object that the consciousness of Canadian national unity has grown up.”  (Lipset 1986,122)

[2] For recent comprehensive overviews of the riches of ante-bellum intellectual life in the south see O’Brien 2007, 2004; Genovese and Genovese 2005 and Pearce 2006

[3] “If there was nothing valuable in the founders of English-speaking Canada, what makes it valuable for Canadians to continue as a nation today?” (Grant 1986,63).

[4] Bradford explains that the phenomenon of the Southern Army’s electing many of its officers “below field grade” during the Civil War may have looked like “democracy” but was, in fact, evidence of “community.” (1985,59) . “By the mid-1840’s references to  German philosophy had become common in Southern discourse” (2004 1047). See also Pearce, 2011 and 2009. The South’s inherent “Hegelianism,” or “Critical Idealism” or “Romanticism” is not in doubt.

[5] Following C.B. Macpherson, Canadian historian Ian McKay says that “Liberalism begins when one accords a prior ontological and epistemological status to ‘the individual’ – the human being who is the ‘proprietor’ of him – or herself, and whose freedom should be limited only by voluntary obligations to others or to God, and by the rules necessary to obtain the equal freedom of other individuals.”  McKay (2000,623). See also McKay, 2009,389). “Ontological” liberalism may be said to go all the way back to Protagoras’s famous claim that “Man is the measure of all things” or in the more modern formulation of Descartes cogito ergo sum – “I think therefore I am.” Leo Strauss says that “The rights of man are the moral equivalent of the Ego cogitans”( 1964,45).

[6]  Grant is on record as saying in 1969 that “English-speaking Canadians, such as myself, have despised and feared the Americans for the account of freedom in which their independence was expressed” which statement can only mean that Grant’s Canadians “despise and fear” Thomas Jefferson’s  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” adapted from Locke’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.”  (Grant, 1969,17, 68; 1986,71-72). For a rejection of Grant’s whole mentality here see Underhill (1965,101-105).

[7] Richard Weaver notes that the “traditional principles” underlying the Southern “ideal of education” may be “traced to Aristotle by way of the Elizabethans” (1968 75). J. David Woodard says that   “The aristocracy of the Old South was the embodiment of Aristotle’s political animal, with an education auspicious for political leadership and a record of effective administration when called upon. …the South reached the eve of the Civil war opposed to the secular spirit of science and the leveling spirit of democracy” (2006,2).

[8] “Recent years have seen the rise of something called “neo-Aristotelianism,” in other words, a revival of interest in Aristotle, especially in what he says about moral and political matters”(Bruell 2013,17).Fitzhugh’s co-Southerner George Frederick Holmes was in agreement here. Holmes sees a bright future for those like him who look to Aristotle for guidance. He “confidently believes” in Aristotle’s “returning ascendancy” and he “patiently await(s) the rapidly approaching renovation of his legitimate authority” (1857,201).  For a case for an «all purpose »  Aristotle available for any  number of contemporary debates see Murphy, (2003,595-596) and Ragatz (2002).

[9] Aristotle is front and center for Fitzhugh and Holmes but not for Grant. H.D. Forbes says Grant turned to ancient philosophy, “particularly Plato” and found his “most important intellectual nourishment…in the ancient world, particularly in the Platonic dialogues.” (Forbes  2010) So evidently Southern thought tends to be more “Aristotelian” if Fitzhugh and Holmes are any guide while Canadian thought embodied by Grant leans more towards the “Platonic.”

[10] Fitzhugh seems to be echoing Jonathan Swift’s famous “Battle of the Books” here.

[11] “Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.” (Fukuyama,1989).

[12] As he is impressed into service aboard HMS Bellipotent upon the yardarm of which vessel he will eventually hang  Melville’s Billy Budd shouts back to his original ship “good-by to you too, old Rights-of-Man.” The date of the story is 1797, six years after the passage of the Constitution Act which established constitutions for Upper and Lower Canada.

[13] “History will therefore be completed at the moment when the synthesis of the Master and the Slave will be realized, this synthesis that is the integral Man, the Citizen of the universal and homogenous State, created by Napoleon” (Kojeve 1980, 44; See Strauss 2000,208).

Colin D. PearceColin D. Pearce

Colin D. Pearce

Colin D. Pearce is a Professor of Political Science at Clemson University. He has published in a number of journals including the Canadian Journal of Political Science, The Journal of the History of Ideas, Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Studies in Literary Imagination, The Kipling Journal, The Simms Review, South Carolina Review, Perspectives on Politics, Interpretation, Humanitas, Clio, Appraisal, and The Explicator, Quadrant.

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