A look at Canadian toryism vs. American neoconservatism
By Mark Wegierski
Canadian Political Culture and Spectrum in Chaos
In his article, "Neocons: Young Bucks of the New Right" (The Globe and Mail , February 5, 1994, pp. D1/D5) Miro Cernetig celebrates the coming into existence of a smart, hip group of right-wingers known as "neoconservatives" – in contrast to the "yahoo" paleoconservatives.
Cernetig's article demonstrates the extent to which the political culture and political spectrum of Canada are in chaos. As the neocons all-but-admit themselves, they are a seemingly alien growth in the Canadian social body. They are also suddenly expressing disenchantment with Brian Mulroney  and his policies – when one can point, for example, to a number of articles by David Frum  aggressively defending the Mulroney record. In the January/February 1991 issue of Saturday Night , Frum praised Mulroney's policies of high immigration – which had been raised to a quarter-million persons per year, from the 54,000 or so of Trudeau's  last year in office (1983-84). This actually puts the neocons at curious variance with Reform Party policy suggestions – where they supposedly represent the more rightwing movement-within-a-movement. Indeed the Reform Party (founded in 1987), and Canada's main right-wing party from 1993 forward, has called for decreased immigration. It can also be supposed that the neocons all probably vociferously supported the centrepiece of Mulroney policy, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, over which the 1988 federal election was won by the Mulroney-ites. It is a curious Canadian "movement" – remote-controlled from David Frum's perch in the Wall Street Journal or Forbes magazine (the former which proclaims itself the voice of Wall Street big-money, and the latter which unabashedly call itself a "capitalist tool").
Cernetig's article also probably marked the first prominent use of the term "paleo-conservative" in Canada, needless to say in a pejorative way. Cernetig's proferred short, humorous quiz set up the paleocons as the idiot-reactionaries, with the neocons as the smart-set intellectuals. Leaving aside the fact that the term "paleocon" originates in America (doesn't everything in the neocon vocabulary?), it may be instructive to intelligently comment on the paleocon-neocon distinction in American politics. In America, there actually is a paleocon political and intellectual tendency -- as opposed to the presumed country-bumpkins in the boondocks -- which is engaged in sharp battle with the neocons. Interestingly enough, American paleocons probably have more in common with certain social democratic tendencies (as evidenced, for example, by the alliance of Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the American trade unions against NAFTA). Three major thinkers representing the paleoconservative/social democratic convergence are Christopher Lasch, Amitai Etzioni, and Jean Bethke Elshtain. The anti-establishment paleocon intellectuals such as Paul Gottfried (virtually unknown in Canada) understand, as do their allies on the Left, that neoconservatism simply represents the hard, "right-wing" side of the managerial-therapeutic regime and the corporate state, which is particularly eager to carry out the retrenchments against American workers (the various cutbacks and plant-closings) necessary for the perpetuation of the system.
In Canada, the last prominent "Tory of the old school" -- somewhat similar to American paleocon intellectuals -- was the Canadian traditionalist and nationalist philosopher, George Parkin Grant, who had an abiding respect for the social democratic tradition in Canada, a respect which was reciprocated by certain thinkers of the Left, such as Gad Horowitz. It may be argued that the real problem with Canada today is that one-third of the country's political tradition and history, that is, true toryism (as opposed to liberalism and social democracy) has been lopped off from contemporary Canadian society -- removed from popular memory, from the education system, and from presence in the mass media. Social democrats today (as in the case of Ontario Premier Bob Rae ) are too busy acquiescing to the neoconservative economic agenda, establishing casinos, and running the lucrative lotteries, to take notice of what has been lost.
Thus, Canadians are forced today to perceive and take their cues from social and political vocabularies that are largely American -- America being both the most powerful system of domination in the world, as well as the centre of all the various forms of philosophical liberalism, including neoconservatism. As Canada becomes increasingly Americanized, neoconservatism is bound to gain in strength, particularly with the telling lack of a countervailing right-wing tradition native to Canada.
In any case, the neoconservative project could be seen as amounting to making the world safe for McDonald's and MTV, embracing fully the corporate, therapeutic, and consumerist technological dystopia that probably awaits us, which has been called "the air-conditioned nightmare". John Gray, a professor at Oxford , was once a classical liberal, a supporter of ultra-free-market philosopher Friedrich Hayek. Gray's recent book, Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment (Routledge, 1993) establishes Gray as a "right-wing Green", as a social – not economic -- conservative, and a full-pledged conservationist, an ecological thinker.
Unfortunately, the neocon "young bucks" are too busy plotting the rise of their "movement" -- and of ensuring their places in it -- to look at such deep issues. The fact is that the recently-deceased Idler  could have been rescued with an absolutely miniscule fraction of American neocon foundation funds. The Summer 1993 (and last) issue of The Idler was (as described in the "Foreword") dedicated to David Frum, who wrote the magazine "a generous, unconditional cheque"; while it had been Devon Cross of the Donner Canada Foundation (a foundation considered by some to be very favourable to neoconservative projects) who had brought back David Warren as editor. But in the end, Mr. Warren was probably too much of an eclectic litterateur for the neocons' tastes, and deemed not worth the money. One suspects that the subordination of literary culture to economic policy had to be total.
The prospects of a neoconservative advance into Canada could be seen as frightening in their implications for the future of social democracy in Canada, and will probably not make the rank-and-file members of the Reform Party  particularly happy (given the frictions that will doubtless arise out of the dynamics of maintaining a movement-within-a-movement), while being unlikely to impress whatever few diehard philosophical "Tories of the old school" remain in Canada today.
 The Globe and Mail is one of the large-circulation daily newspapers in Toronto, Canada's largest city, and is usually economically capitalist, and socially avowedly left-liberal.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.