I have been meaning to discuss the topic of the myth of political diversity for some time. In Canada, we have three major parties, the NDP, The Liberal Party, and The Conservative Party. These are the only parties that remain capable of forming government. It has been my personal contention for a great deal of time, that these parties all represent in some ways the liberal currents of our society, in fact, we are all liberals now.
This is a site about political opinion, and I am by no means, an authority at the present time, but having recently completed significant research on political philosophy, I am going to offer a tentative definition, of what exactly defines politics. I hope though personalised my definition is adequate for my own analysis: I contended that politics is the application of ‘ethics’ to the organisation and pursuit of the well being of the community. This is not far off how Aristotle conceived of politics: politics being the communities’ rational pursuit of excellence and the authoritative good, and like Aristotle, I contend that politics is both natural and based on the community as the unit of analysis.
In contrast to the current paradigm, Aristotle conceived of politics in a teleological fashion. Teleology essentially states, that everything in existence has an identifiable Telos or end, which may be discovered through rational inquiry about its nature. For example, an Acorn's Telos is to grow into an Oak. Teleology, which was later adopted by church thinkers, was rejected by the English liberals, particularly Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and it is these two thinkers which define how we conceive of modern politics. It’s not that Lockean and Hobbesian thinking is the only paradigm that currently exists, but rather that socialism and anarchism, and other political movements derive their frame of reference from the initial premises of the English liberals. By basing our political considerations off the work of the English liberals we all fall victim to the trap of liberalism in a fashion, and this is unsurprising in a democracy, whereby individuals easily succumb to the notion that they are entitled to self-actualization through a conception that places the utmost value on materialism or commodity and autonomy.
In modern politics, the first error, of which all are guilty, is the notion that the individual is the unit of analysis when thinking politically, and our relation to the community is firstly defined and conceptualised as a part of the framework of individualism and autonomy. The individual precedes the community.
In the classical political understanding of the Scholastics, the community precedes the individual and our identity is formed and fostered in such as way as to be inseparable from our obligation and duty as well as natural affiliation to the Commonwealth. The state of nature theorists, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau directly refuted this concept by asserting that we are pre-political and independent, we can and do thrive or fail on an independent basis and engage in politics as an instrumental calculus whereby benefit to the individual and their prosperity is the measure of political value.
Our modern conservative party considers politics this way. It induces us, by virtue of our democracy, through incentives such as more direct representation, reduced taxes, child care subsidies, and greater criminal enforcement (to protect our lives and estates); this is not controversial thinking instead it is thinking based on the minimal amount of individual inconvenience, and the maximum amount of freedom, while avoiding value judgments that might impinge upon the autonomy of the voter. Rarely now do we hear of backbenchers rallying to condemn abortion, prostitution, drug reform, or support marriage reform in any significant sense, not only because these issues are toxic to the mind that considers individual autonomy the predominant political value, but also because they cannot make such claims and have realized the limits of their political philosophy within the modernist framework (more on this later).
Meanwhile, our liberal party needs very little examination. We already know that Canada’s liberal party is and remains hostile to tradition in this country: it abolished the Dominion’s Red Ensign; it continues to liberalize social policy; it brought us closer to the United States at the expense of the British and French connection, and facilitates multiculturalism hostile to the history of this country. The liberal party likewise, will not countenance the restriction of freedom, but rather, through John Kekes’ liberal faith, advocates for the idea that human nature is essentially good, and therefore any behaviour that seems patently evil cannot occur as a result of individual irresponsibility.
The NDP follows the same script. It deviates however due to its economic prescriptivism, the one area, where political value judgments can be made: the sphere of economic inequity. Economic inequity, however, is a concern not of justice in any ethical sense, but rather derives its significance from the emphasis placed on acquisition that found its initial voice in both Hobbes and Locke, who in absence of considerations of virtue, saw property and commodity as the definitive ends of politics.
Finally, and critically for any considerations of legitimate political conservatism, the modern political conception, cannot abide ethical judgments, our politics experiences a paucity of value. This is a direct consequence of both pluralism and relativism, which have their direct antecedents in the rejection of both natural and theological teleology and Platonic considerations of eternity. These prior classical models of politics understood that humanity could, and indeed should, determine what is best for the community. Such judgments now are verboten, at least in any substantive sense.
Certainly, conservatives still maintain that we have, and may continue to have a sense of right and wrong, but how do we make such a case in the political sphere? Locke’s materialism worked, according to Irving Kristol, because it was built upon a foundation of Republican Virtue derived from scripture. Scripture in much of the early modern era still remained a potent moral guide and authority in the lives of westerners. But without this broad adherence to the same value structure, individuals cannot agree to the constitution of the good in a political community. Only a natural teleology can inform us of how to direct ourselves in political life with any authority, but this is an antiquated idea.
What does that leave for conservatives then? It leaves tradition, but this creates a considerable issue because traditions are both localised, subject to evolution, and necessarily interpretive. Conservatives are beholden to a shifting anchor. They must strategize about what traditions to advocate for, but this historical traditionalism is rootless and subject to generational change. Those who reject this, or long for a specific era, are simply not conservatives, but reactionaries. Therefore, if politics is not reactionary or classical it is liberal.