This blog post, by Nick Vandergragt, on Kevin Harris’ Canadian Common Sense page, which I highlighted yesterday, speaks to our core values as Conservatives.
“Conservatives don’t lack compassion. We believe in looking out for our neighbours and helping those in need. We join groups in our communities to get things done, by working together.”
Oh, scary … it sounds almost socialist, doesn’t it? It might remind us of …
Yes, but Alphonse Desjardins, a darling of the old CCF, was a soldier, a capitalist, a businessman and, very likely, would be a Conservative, today, because he believed in people working together to help themselves, rather than relying on the government to do things for them.
The farmers who ran wheat pools and local co-ops were, usually, deeply conservative people, too … at least the ones who raised me certainly were. They believed in helping their neighbours, in sharing when times were tough, in working together, as a community, in their community, to meet their own needs. They didn’t expect or want the governments in Regina or Ottawa to intrude into their affairs and their daily lives. They expected to pay taxes to build roads and bridges, to defend the country, to dredge harbours on the far distant coasts; but they were quite able to run their own local, elementary schools and a local infirmary. Now, it’s undeniable that our communities did get bigger, the world did get more complicated and expensive, and life was never as simple or as ‘independent’ as some folks would like to believe. But their core values were the ones thatNick Vandergragt listed:
1. The inalienable right of every person to succeed or fail, based on his own talents without undue interference ~ help or hinderance ~ by the state;
2. Merit is the only viable standard when considering people for any position, public or private;
3. The best way to defend the rights of the masses, is defend the rights of each individual;
4. Mankind is the most valuable resource the planet has and
5. The first four pillars are interconnected and dependent one upon the other.
Those are still the core values of an important part of the Conservative base.
My sense is that some Conservatives are a bit shy about values … they are fine with projects and programmes and boutique tax breaks but they are reluctant to enunciate real, core, societal values. Perhaps that’s for fear of offending someone … especially the media sponsors of the Laurentian Consensus which says that our conservative values are wrong, that the “nanny state” is a good and valuable, indeed and essential thing and that it and the social programmes it runs are “defining characteristics” of Canada.
But those values are not wrong. They may be hard to apply, and they certainly are inconvenient if you live in downtown Toronto, Montreal or even Ottawa (as I do). Big government seems to work well in big cities. But, you know, big cities worked, people strove and succeeded (some failed of course) and they raised families who, generally, did better than Mom and Pop had done, and they grew old and enjoyed their twilight years without big government ~ even without big labour and, thanks to Alphonse Desjardins, without big banks, either. But Big is the indispensable ally of the Liberal Party and it serves the interests of big business, the big cities, big labour and the big banks.
Nick Vandergragt concludes that, regarding the four, interconnected “Pillars of Conservatism” we, Conservatives “must treat them as the cornerstones of a philosophy that provides the most freedom and the most opportunity for the largest number of the people, most of the time.” This is, of course,a restatement of one of the cornerstones of classical, English, liberalism: Jeremy Bentham’s much misunderstood* utilitarian creed of “the greatest good for the greatest number,” as amplified and explain by John Stuart Mill. I have said, in another posts, that one of the “greatest goods” we Conservatives have to offer is fiscal prudence which lets everyone use more of her or his hard earned money for the purposes (s)he thinks best. For me that means a smaller government, one that is less intrusive into the daily lives of Canadians and one which focuses on the (many) things that governments can do well ~ economies of scale, etc, or must do ~ because the full force of law can be applied. But another important “greatest good” is the protection of our rights and our values.
One key task for a national government is to ensure equality for all and, to me, that means protecting the fundamental rights of all Canadians. I said that those rights are:
- life, liberty and property ~ as defined by John Locke in 17th century England; and
- privacy ~ as defined by Brandeis and Warren in 19th century America.
Of course there are other rights. In a liberal democracy, for example, we cherish freedom of association and expression … many Canadians demand the right, for example, to block streets and even commit acts of vandalism to protest against government actions or inactions …
… such actions might not be tolerated in less liberal societies, but it is possible to have e.g. public order and a very low tolerance for disruption and even strong libel laws and still be a democratic state.
But, we Conservatives, must, at the same time:
- Affirm our own core values of self reliance, merit and protection of the fundamental rights of individuals, even as we tolerate the excesses (not just youthful ones) which, sometimes, go hand in hand with a very liberal interpretation of the rights to free speech and free association; and
- Protect the fundamental rights of all Canadians.
We need to be proud of our core values, we must not be afraid to advertise them, we must affirm that we stand with and for the individual against all collectives, even against the might of the very state that we seek to manage on behalf of all Canadians. It is that, constraining the might of the state, that sets up apart from the Liberals and the NDP who want to make the state bigger and more powerful and more intrusive.
Our values matter and they are valuable to us and to most Canadians.
* Misunderstood because, in the period of the enlightenment “happiness” was defined as being free to make the best use of your talents, not sitting around playing video games or vacationing in Cuba.