Dear Josh: So it appears that I have three things to apologize to you for, and we'll go from least-to-most important in my view.
First, I again apologize for not being as fast as I'd hoped in continuing our dialogue and this series trying to explain the history of American conservatism and its lessons for Canadians. (Those new to the series can check out the previous installments starting here and continuing in parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.) I'm still figuring out my new balance of juggling writing, editing, blogging, and family. And I must admit that the problems you have described in the political and cultural scenes you face have challenged me in how I advise you. Current events are a case in point...
Second, my deep sympathies to you and other right-leaning Canadians for this week's disappointing election results. Your post at the Megaphone summarizing the loss and "who had it coming" was thoughtful.
Third, and most important, the broader, big picture trend you identify in your previous post in our discussion -- "Why the Canadian conservative "movement" is more like a "standstill" -- showcasing the regular rise-and-fall pattern of Conservative organizations in Canada; I'm really sorry to be the one to confirm to you what you're smart enough to already know. Welcome to the losing side: most conservative political movements over the last 100 years in both our countries have failed.
But that's OK -- because winning big once can be enough to sustain decades' of future bad governance.
Of the 15 variants of conservatism in my series, only one of them in the 20th century was actually successful at electing a president who genuinely effected positive political change that had successful effects both for our country and globally. Ronald Reagan was the only genuinely conservative 20th century president -- and it took decades to nurture the conservative political coalition that would come together to elect him. (All other Republican presidents post World War II have been more corporatist and narcissist than conservative...) Today I'm going to reveal to you who did it, though -- so you know of all the failed models out there for conservatives, this is the one that's been proven to work.
Previously in our discussions and this series I've compared The Rebel and its founder Ezra Levant to the late Andrew Breitbart and his network of crusading websites. The more I watch Ezra and hear about the directions he has planned for the The Rebel the more it brings to mind another figure from American conservative history. This video of his in particular is when the comparison dawned on me of who Ezra reminded me of:
From what you've described of Canada's political culture today it reminds me in many ways of America in the 1950s, when both Democrat and Republican Parties were largely in agreement on tolerating big government at home and abroad. Republicans weren't pushing to roll back either the New Deal or defeat the Soviet Empire. I described this wing of the GOP and variant of conservatism as "The Establishment Right: Corporatist Cold Warrior Conservatives."
These were the go-along-to-get-along career politicians, mostly concerned about conserving their own wealth, power, and status. They often came from long established families who felt like they had an obligation to lead the country generation after generation. (The Bush family...) They were "cold warriors" who accepted a perpetual balancing act with the Soviet Union, rather than seeing a mortal enemy bent on our destruction.
William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and host of Firing Line is the central figure responsible for creating what's understood as the Conservative Movement today. I described his variation as "The New Right: Anti-Communist Crusader Conservatives."
Ezra's approach with The Rebel reminds me of Buckley in so many ways.
One in particular is the importance of the televised persona. Buckley was likable and could charm people into considering his way way-out-there ideas of defeating the Soviet Union, and shrinking the federal government. He utilized his interview show, TV pundit appearances, and the distinctive stylized prose of his columns and novels to redefine conservatism as fun, witty, and upbeat. Ezra's doing a great job at doing this for Canadians.
The best book for getting an understanding of the breadth of Buckley's ideas and approach is Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus Edited by Linda Bridges and Roger Kimball. The paperback edition is 500 pages' of writings from the 1950s through the age of Obama, with excursions exploring people and culture too.
(This collection was released by Encounter Books, where Kimball has been publisher since 2005. Encounter has released many books by National Review-related authors and I'll provide you with a list of all my favorites of their books in a follow-up post. Kimball's books too should also be on your reading list, his newest one The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, is a good place to start and one you'd probably enjoy.)
One of the first pieces in the omnibus is the mission statement for National Review, first published November 19, 1955. You can read it in full here at NRO and I'll excerpt a few points in particular and you tell me if the shoe fits for what you've been describing as a Canadian "liberalism" that believes in nothing:
"NATIONAL REVIEW is out of place, in the sense that the United Nations and the League of Women Voters and the New York Times and Henry Steele Commager are in place. It is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation... "I happen to prefer champagne to ditchwater,” said the benign old wrecker of the ordered society, Oliver Wendell Holmes, “but there is no reason to suppose that the cosmos does.” We have come around to Mr. Holmes’ view, so much so that we feel gentlemanly doubts when asserting the superiority of capitalism to socialism, of republicanism to centralism, of champagne to ditchwater — of anything to anything..."
Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity."
It's going to take me several posts to begin unpacking what Buckley did for America and how his work led to Reagan. But I'll try and sketch out my understanding of this corner of American political history as you and your friends continue to figure a path to retaking both your country and your party, but most importantly, your freedom.
Best wishes and looking forward to talking and brainstorming more with you soon,
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