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View From The North
September 2, 2008

The Paleoconservative-Social Conservative Coalition in Canada
by Mark Wegierski

[The mainstream fringe]

Are there, in fact, any substantive differences between paleoconservatism and social conservatism?

A proposed definition that embraces both includes those outlooks upholding and valorizing traditional nation, family, and religion, as well as a strong work ethic and strict approach to law and order. It could be argued that differences between the groups are matters of degree rather than of substance.

One of the main elements of paleoconservatism is its robust emphasis on nationhood. This emphasis is akin to most Canadian social conservatives’ criticism of multiculturalism, excessive Aboriginal claims (a major issue in Canada), and uncontrolled immigration. The paleoconservatives are usually more willing to say and write openly what most social conservatives believe.

A second element of paleoconservatism is its pointed critique of the so-called “managerial-therapeutic regime” in contemporary Western societies. One could look to Paul Edward Gottfried’s After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (Princeton University Press, 1999), or any recent issues of the eclectic scholarly journal Telos (New York) for analyses of the situation. A constant preempting of discourse against social conservatives in the mass media and mass-education systems, the state bureaucracies and social services, and the courts is perceptible. Social conservatives are well aware of the various powerful structures arrayed against them.

Some “ultra-moderate” centrists maintain that the belief that government serves the interests of the chosen few is some kind of crypto-Marxism. Nevertheless, many books and articles written by Canadian commentators across the political spectrum describe Canada’s perennially ruling Liberals as a highly arrogant and self-serving elite.

Many theorists argue that the existence of elites in any society is inevitable and that it is the quality of the formal or informal elites that determines much of the tone of society as a whole. While social conservatives pay homage to “the common sense of the common people,” they are also somewhat aware of the iron law of oligarchy. A naive populism is rarely fully embraced by any party or political grouping.

Thirdly, although some paleoconservatives may tend to define themselves in terms of culture and politics rather than religion, this does not mean that they are hostile to religion. One can uphold religion very strongly for cultural and political reasons. Among the most prominent Canadian social conservatives who are also highly religious are Ted Byfield, Link Byfield, Ted Morton, Michael Coren, Paul Tuns, Rory Leishman, and Peter Stockland. The Byfields were for many decades the owners of Alberta Report, (published in British Columbia under the name B.C. Report and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as Western Report).

This was Canada’s main conservative newsmagazine, which at its height had over 80,000 subscribers, most of them in Alberta. Ted Morton is an Alberta professor highly critical of what he has called “the court party” (the activist judiciary). Michael Coren is a famous conservative media personality. Paul Tuns is the editor of The Interim: Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper. Rory Leishman is a prominent conservative columnist, who has been especially critical of judicial activism. Peter Stockland is a conservative-leaning editor (formerly of such major newspapers as The Calgary Herald).

Paleoconservatives are probably more sharply in opposition to globalization than social conservatives. However, the exaltation of globalization has grown increasingly prominent among the “broader Right” as a result of the ascendancy of the neoconservatives. Surely, social conservatives are also aware of many negative aspects of capitalism. Most of the mass media cultural industries often criticized by social conservatives (for example, Hollywood, television, advertising, rock and rap music, pornography) operate on a strictly free-market, for-profit basis. The huge, bureaucratic, transnational corporations can simply be seen as part of the “managerial-therapeutic regime,” which are also at war with what social conservatives esteem. There is today the unfortunate tendency to label the most carefully-voiced criticisms of out-of-control technology, capitalism, and globalization as “Marxist,” “fascist,” or “neo-Luddite.”

A careful look at paleoconservative and social conservative outlooks, especially in the Canadian context, shows that they do indeed hold much in common. Unfortunately, these outlooks exist in a form of “internal exile” in Canadian society today.

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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas, Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.

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