Note: To all those hopelessly ideological liberals out there, you might want to skip this post.
Those significant political challengers to liberalism – communism, fascism, for example – have all receded into history, except for one – conservatism. It’s called “conservatism” for a reason: the desire to conserve a way of life – the nuclear family, traditional faith, financial holdings, or of a sentimental past. These are noble views whether people agree or not. The problem for current conservatism is that the world seems to move perpetually onward and outward. We live in a modern era, largely empowered by liberalism; that’s just a reality with which conservatism has had to come to terms.
These traditional values within conservatism form part of its appeal. It’s voice has something of a prophetic quality. Yet calling for more nostalgic times when society itself has moved on helps it run the risk of being superfluous as a result. Understanding this, conservatives end up adopting the mantra: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” It’s a difficult transition but successful conservatives make the journey by grafting on the more popular parts of liberalism. Politically this is done to reach or maintain power; philosophically or socially it is accomplished just to survive.
All of this is historic reality that should be accepted. Conservatism has shown its relevance well, for when it adapts itself to modern political realities it has displayed great capabilities as both a way of life and in governance. Which makes the present manifestation of ideological conservatism in its current political form such a conundrum for progressive conservatives.
In both the political and social order, liberals have the responsibility to fight back against the recent conservative emanation of ideologically rigid and anti-intellectual public policy. Sadly, this has sometimes led liberals, owing to the current government’s hard right turn, to paint with too broad a brush. In truth, progressive conservatives and liberals have far more in common at present than at first blush, especially in a shared collective alarm of the loose-spending, anti-evidence based policy presently on display.
Since Confederation, liberals and progressive conservatives – politically and philosophically – have established a remarkable nation, and each built upon the accomplishments of the other. By its very nature liberalism is necessarily a construct of a cross-section of Canadian society at any point in time, and much of the progressive element from both socialist and conservative sectors forms important dynamics within liberalism itself. It undermines its own prospects, then, when liberals diminish their cherished progressive values resident in other parties. If the liberal future entails the denigration of progressivism wherever it is found, that future will be disappointing.
Liberals must accept conservatism of the progressive as part of the Canadian makeup. Liberalism starts with what’s there and seeks to bring about individual and collective self-organization within society, saying, “We all have differing persuasions and convictions and we as liberals celebrate that diversity. We must now construct a workable social and political arrangements out of that diversity that permits each persuasion to flourish without seeking to rule over the others.
People, including liberals, who envision a future without that more traditional and compassionate conservatism are dooming this remarkable country in the process. It is this same conservatism that has kept liberalism from extending too far; to question liberalism is part of its function and liberals are enriched for that effort.
Stephen Harper has vowed to obliterate liberals from Canada, but he won’t succeed. But neither will liberals unless they retain the intellectual honesty to separate the fair and tolerant conservatism from the kind that would seek to pit us all against one another. It’s the yin and the yang, and liberals can never prevail when they become ideological themselves. The rebuilding of Canada following these recent years of division and decline will be a hopeless cause without our progressive friends from other persuasions in the mix. In observing that, “intolerance betrays want of faith in one own cause,” Gandhi’s words might well serve as a cautionary tale to all liberals. This country is tough enough to govern without making enemies out of those who share many of our accomplishments.