Throne, Altar, Liberty: “Conservatism and Neo-conservatism”

Throne, Altar, Liberty: Conservatism and Neo-conservatism

red ensign

A very interesting discussion of one of the most — arguably *the* most — influential political philosophies of the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, Neoconservatism, from the perspective of an “old-line,” Tory Conservative in Canada.

“In my country, Canada, conservatism was originally about much more than this. Canada is a country that was founded within the British Empire in the Victorian era and which developed her national sovereignty within the British family of nations without severing ties to the Crown and Britain, the way our republican neighbour to the south had, and as such inherited from the older country, the older kind of conservatism known as Toryism. Toryism was about monarchy, the institutional church, and government for the common good of a national society envisioned as an organic whole that includes past and future generations, not merely those present among us today.”

Would that we had more of that kind, and less of the other, in the United States today! That said, one thing that I am not sure many Canadians grasp is the fact that, just as the second child in a family benefits from the mistakes the parent made in raising the first, Canada benefited, greatly, from the American revolution in the sense that the Crown was more accommodating with respect to political autonomy in the 19th century, having seen what the iron-fist approach did with the Thirteen Colonies in the 18th. Had the Crown and Parliament simply been willing, in the 1770s, to extend to her American subjects “the rights of Englishmen,” for which our Founders were initially contending, British North America might be significantly larger, and a great deal more populous, than it is at present!

That said, there are things we could and should learn from Canada (and from the Mother Country as well), such as the fact that “the older ‘throne and altar’ Toryism, ought to be regarded as being more favourable to small government and low taxes than contemporary North American conservatism. Toryism was born out of the defence of royal sovereign authority against those who wished to wrest it away from the Crown and to vest all power in elected legislative assemblies. The opponents of the original Tories declared themselves to be on the side of ‘liberty’ against tyranny, but the history of the last four centuries tells us another story. What that history tells us is that the more the Crown’s authority was limited and the power of the elected assembly augmented, the larger and more intrusive government became, while taxes grew both exponentially and astronomically.”


“Anyone who happens to think that the liberal doctrine is more conducive to personal freedom than that of the Tory it is invited to look around him today. The idea of freedom as individual sovereignty is now being taken to the nth degree, with even such constraints on that sovereignty as those of nature and reality itself no longer recognized as valid. Thus, for example, gender is now being declared to be something that the individual decides for himself – or herself – or itself – or whatever! By consequence, liberalism is now declaring such self-determination of gender to be a right of the individual, which is to say something that belongs to the essence of the individual’s sovereignty. Since in liberal theory, the rights of the individual are what law and government exist to protect, the consequence of this will inevitably be that the legislatures and courts, will impose legal restrictions on what we can think, say or do, in order to protect such a “right”. The more the individual is declared to be sovereign, the more new “rights” are discovered, the more laws restricting our thoughts, speech, and actions are passed, so that what is called “freedom” today, often resembles a soft form of totalitarian tyranny.”

These are uncomfortable truths for Americans, steeped in the lore of republicanism, representative democracy, and its putative equivalence to freedom and self-determination, but they are truths which we ought to be willing to hear, for both our social and our spiritual health!


QOTD, by Charles I Stuart, King and Martyr

“No man in England is a better friend to liberty than myself. But I must tell you plainly that the liberty of subjects consists not in having a hand in the government, but in having that government, and those laws, whereby their lives and their goods may be most their own.”

Or, as explained by James Kiefer in his excellent Christian biographies series, “That is to say, one may reasonably ask of a government that it establish justice in the land; so that judges do not take bribes, so that innocent men are not convicted of crimes, while the guilty are convicted and punished, so that honest men need fear neither robbers nor the sheriff. One may further ask that taxes be not excessive, and that punishments be not disproportionate to the crime. Charles would have said, ‘Do not ask whether the laws were made by men whom you elected. Ask whether they are reasonable and good laws, upholding justice and the public weal.'”

Charles I of England and Scotland, King and Martyr (30 January 1649)

C.S. Lewis On Old Books


“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” ~ C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books”

Is it time for Kings to replace Democracy? Four arguments from a Christian viewpoint.

Is it time for Kings to replace Democracy? Four arguments from a Christian viewpoint.


I am, I have to admit, a complex and at times somewhat contradictory-seeming individual! One of the ways in which this plays out is my love of and devotion to the Constitutional, representative Republic established by our Founders (despite the fact that its government has diverged in many ways from what they originally intended), combined with my appreciation and admiration for Monarchy, in principle if not always in practice. Our present election cycle seems to be making the monarchic option look even better!

As my friend Ryan Hunter has put it,

“I believe, and thousands of years of history have shown, that a man or woman instructed from youth in the art of government, a person who is trained from childhood to see their rule as a sacred duty, a solemn service, and a public stewardship rather than an earned right, governs more benignly, sincerely, capably, and nobly than someone who has either taken power through brute force, violent revolution, or contested elections. Democratic elections are an extraordinary thing in that they propose that, upon being elected, a politician who has previously been partisan, divisive, and factious will somehow, almost magically, cease to be partisan, divisive, and factious upon taking office. I believe it is the very height of naivete to believe that a popularly elected, partisan politician can somehow serve as a supra-political, unifying figure.”

While I do not agree with all aspects of the linked essay’s critique of current society — and I disagree rather strongly with his negative assessment of Freemasonry! — this is nonetheless a very interesting consideration of the Biblical and theological arguments for (and in one case, against) monarchy, from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Needless to say, if you do not come from that tradition, you may not find them convincing! Or, for that matter, even if you do… but you may still find them interesting.

In particular, I found the author’s counter to one of the most commonly-cited Biblical texts against monarchy very much in line with my own thoughts on the subject:

“… those who use I Samuel 8 to argue against monarchy certainly cannot use it to argue for democratic republics as we know them today. The system under Samuel was a theocracy, a nation under specific laws from God. Whatever is argued for today, whether it be democracies, republics, loose confederations, or pseudo-anarchism, to argue that Israel before its monarchy modeled the ideal government is to argue for something even more radical for today’s sensibilities than monarchy. A few actually do this, but everyone else needs to chill a little bit.”

And as he points out, “these four arguments set forth here are not expected to win the day politically any time soon. I’m not even willing to say that I am a monarchist. However, I do believe that the case for democracy is not air tight, if the starting point is the Scriptures or church tradition. And the way things are going today in the U.S. and the west, every idea, however old or shocking, needs to be reconsidered as an option.”