Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada by Charles Taylor
Conservatism, as a movement, is at a crossroads today in Canada. With the rise of right-wing populism in the United States, conservatives have to weigh this path against the established ideals of the traditional Canadian Tory, which has its own unique history and principles. A question that will be placed on full display in the upcoming election for the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada in May.
Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada dives into the incredible history of the conservative thought in Canada from the times of Confederation up until the time of the book’s writing in 1982. Each chapter in this book follows a different conservative writer or thinker to search for what makes up the Canadian conservative tradition. The book is insightful, revealing, and at times quite funny. I rated it a 9/10 because it is an amazingly thorough exploration about the conservative movement in Canada.
I could not recommend this book enough. If you are at all interested in Canadian political history this is a must read book. The Literary Review of Canada listed it as “one of the hundred most important Canadian books ever written”. It is definitely ranked among one of my favourite non-fiction reads.
I’d also like to give some perspective on the main lessons from the book. At the time of writing in 1982, Taylor felt that the conservative movement needed to revisit some of the ideals he discovered in this book. These main tenants of Canadian conservatism, he argued, were: a love of the natural landscape and our place in it, a strong rejection of American domination, an emphasis on civic duty and community, embracing diversity, and an emphasis on a strong federal state. Taylor wrote that:
For them the words [conservative] conjure up a bloated, top-hatted capitalist intent on grinding down the poor and filling his pockets with the fruit of their toil. To the extent that he still exists, however, this character has nothing to do with our indigenous conservative tradition. Both the robber baron and his slicker successor, the “neo-conservative”, are right-wing liberals: their natural habitat is the United States…. According to Grant, this American conservatism has little connection to traditional conservatism…. Unlike the caricatured capitalist, Canadian conservatives believe in an organic society and the mutual obligations of all classes.
In this book, Taylor warned that the conservative movement was losing sight of its traditional roots and urged them to shift back from their recent “neo-conservative” trends.
After almost forty years, I would argue that the modern Conservative Party has shifted even farther away from these tenants of traditional conservatism. Conservative politics in Canada continues to increasingly mimic our neighbours to the south. A huge question that Conservative party members are asking themselves with the upcoming election.
As a person who identifies strongly with the political left, it was interesting reading about these policy positions that the traditional conservatives embraced. I could definitely see myself more strongly considering voting for a conservative party with these ideals; instead of the current party who has a poor environmental record or whose leading candidate in the leadership race wants to sell Senate seats for the highest bidder. I would argue that if the Conservative Party of Canada looked to its past to better influence its policy future, it could have a much larger appeal to a broader base of Canadians, and more specifically young Canadians like myself.