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April 08, 2004


An email and its response make important observations about conservatism. A Daily Dish reader praises Andrew Sullivan for taking an unexpected position on gasoline taxes and thereby affirming the value of personal responsibility. Sullivan replies:

Conservatism should include conserving things, like the environment. Just because the enviro-left is loopy doesn't mean that taking care of our environment is somehow a bad thing, or that animals don't deserve better treatment from human beings, that what is now being done to the earth in China isn't an appalling scandal, or that a higher tax on gas doesn't make sense.

There is an interesting point here to be made about conservatism and more generally the coherence of any political viewpoint. The Shotgun is about to be reloaded as it transforms into a proper blogging platform (and thankfully, a moderated forum) and as a result the dispute of the last couple days will be erased. The causes of the dispute shall remain. Superficially, that disagreement was grounded in differences between libertarians and people describing themselves as Christian conservatives on the subject of "homosexuals," "homosexuality" and an amendment to include sexual orientation (alongside religion) as a protected category under Canada's "hate speech" laws. There was a shared opposition to the legislation but a difference was evident between libertarians opposed to such legislation in general and others opposed to "homosexuality" in general.

I am not certain what room there is for compromise between these positions. Christian views that disagreed with the "orthodox" (their term) view of gay people were dismissed as unChristian with one writer dismissing an entire denomination. The bile directed toward gay men was grotesque, enough that I had to question associating my name with The Shotgun. I imagine Andrew Sullivan's mailbox is full of just such spite as much for his Catholicism and for being gay. I can only imagine the fireworks had conservative Catholicism or Evangelical Protestantism been approached with the disrespect accorded to the United Church (liberal Protestants derived from Presbytarianism and Congregationalism). Claims to "dissent against homosexuality," charges of "Christophobia" and agonizing at a purported silencing of "Christian" views were difficult to take at face value. This was not only because those claims sat alongside arguments to prevent gay people being afforded the protection under the same legislation as so-called religious conservatives. It was because these same Christian conservatives, so concerned their views might be silenced under the proposed legislation, were the first to dismiss any Christian view they do not share as a form of heresy.

Well, which is it to be? Are religious viewpoints to be treated with respect? Or is only one or another fundamentalism to be accorded that respect? Despite the religious character of the disagreement, however, I believe the real dispute is not between religious conservatives and libertarians. My faith was not accorded the minimal respect in conversation the anti-gay exponents demanded Canadian law afford to theirs. But my viewpoints are no less grounded in my faith. The difference lies elsewhere and I believe its cause lies in the same dynamic that renders Andrew Sullivan's position on gas taxes surprising to some American conservatives. I quote the email Sullivan published today:

One of the things that's always surprised me about many supposed conservatives is their refusal to acknowledge what I've always believed in, and what strikes me as the essense of classical liberalism, i.e. personal responsibility, which applies to environmental concerns as well. Yes, it is your free choice to drive a Humvee, but with that freedom comes the responsibility to pay for the consequences of your choice: increased dependence on Middle-Eastern oil and increased air pollution.

Quite right. I was taught a profound respect for the environment by my conservative parents well before environmentalism had been taken up as a cause of the left. And no matter how wooly-headed my faith appears to some at The Shotgun I see concern for the environment as part of the stewardship of Creation spoken of in the Book of Genesis. I have often thought along the same lines as Sullivan's reader in my highway commute between Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario. Most of Ontario's highways are freeways supported by the tax-payer but it may be we are about to move to more user-fees such as those charged currently on Highway 407. The mere prospect of toll highways generates outrage among some drivers and all-too-often those drivers are people claiming to be conservatives. I am not about to comment on the particulars of the gas tax Sullivan supports, the merits of Highway 407 or the prospect of any particular toll-road in Ontario. It is the principle of the disagreement that interests me.

For some people, conservatism means that the interests of people in big cars are interests that are to be protected. For others, conservatism is a conviction that the freedoms and duties of individuals - and not governments, classes or categories of people - are interests to be protected. We are left with a question for the future of conservatism, and the Conservative Party, in Canada. I want to see an alternative to the corrupt kleptocracy that has run Canada for the last decade. I hope for a viable NDP as much as a viable Conservative party because Canada's de facto one party system replaces representative government with toadyism as the first principle of governance in the Liberal party and in its state-sponsored propagandists. For these parties to offer viable alternatives they must espouse convictions about what government is for and therefore how policy should be made. There is a legitimate difference between those advocating personal responsibility in contrast with collective responsibility and these have reasonable correlates in views toward business, health care, trade and so forth. Political views formed solely on the basis that a particular religious or secular worldview should predominate do not meet this test. The Americans got it right at the start in their understanding a constitution should be formed which in a real sense prevents government (as a verb as well as a noun) and in so doing upholds liberty by impeding narrow factional interests. Truth, justice and the American way rely on preventing any single group dictating to the rest.

Peace, order and good government are the Canadian alternative. So is the virtue of compromise. This means we must find a way to protect the freedoms of religious conservatives in a secular society that is all too often dismissive of the faith that forms the core of their lives. It also means those religious conservatives have to acknowledge the righteousness of their views cannot displace the freedom of those who disagree with them.

And then... Laurent observes the tactical nature of the alliance between "classical liberals" and religious conservatives.

For the time being, the antistatist convictions of the former and the antileftist convictions of the latter make them objective allies, because the powers of the State have largely been used for left-of-centre ends in the last decades. But if the Right came in and took power, the divergence of opinions between antistatists and antileftists will increase.

I think there is a strong correspondence between classical liberalism and what is now called neoconservatism. Or am I thinking like a Gladstonian? That's more-or-less Wilsonian to you folks south of the border.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 8, 2004 09:23 AM

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C-250 + Shotgun = BOOM from Le blog de Polyscopique
It looks like civil war broke out at the Shotgun on the topic of Bill C-250 which seeks to criminalize "hate propaganda" against homosexuals. This skirmish began when it was claimed that this proposed bill was anti-Christian and suggested that... [Read More]

Tracked on April 8, 2004 12:23 PM

Personal Responsibility from Being American in T.O.
Apr. 8 - Ghost of a Flea has written an insightful analysis of a recent political debate and how it revealed the need in Canada to define Conservative.For these parties to offer viable alternatives they must espouse convictions about what... [Read More]

Tracked on April 8, 2004 05:55 PM


The gay marriage issue is a thorny one for me, as well. Although I am a Christian and a conservative, I recognize that the vast majority of people in this country are not. I do not think that the calling of Christ compels us to force our secular neighbours to live by Christian standards of conduct. But on the other hand, if we let this matter go and simply accede to a change in the core definition of marriage, then is our faith informing our actions at all?

My take is that the Bible's stand against homosexuality set a personal standard of conduct for individuals. I don't think the context of the Bible's warnings against homosexuality indicate that they are meant as an instruction for governments. But I am not happy with the idea of permitting gay marriage and thus altering the traditional definition of marriage, either.

Personally, I am undecided about the right course of action in this particular situation, and I am not uncomfortable with leaving it a great unknown. It is not a hot-button issue for me, because anyone who reads Revelation will know that the world gets a whole lot worse before it gets better, and there are more important things to think about in these times.

First defeat the 7th-century mindset we're at war with, who would have all Westerners killed as unbelievers. Then we can sit around and navel-gaze about whether or not gays getting married will disturb our social and moral fabric.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at April 8, 2004 11:56 AM

P.S. As for The Shotgun, I think a certain amount of personality conflict was inevitable at the outset. You're all well-known independent bloggers, and do not have any significant financial stakes in the Western Standard. Unlike the Corner bloggers, who are regular NRO columnists and thus depend on the company for their livelihood. You're all accustomed to having your own 2 cents worth on your own personal blogs, not having to moderate your comments for the sensitivities of others such as superiors, peers or investors. If another blogger disagreed with you in an especially acrimonious way, or insulted you, you could de-link them or ban them and thus banish them from your electronic worlds. But you can't do that there.

If you were company employees like the NRO staff, the management of the Standard would probably take you guys by the ears and say "Don't undermine each other in front of the troops -- discuss and argue, yes, but do it civilly or it's your paycheque". Then there'd be less vituperative carping and stepping on toes.

You all went from being big fish in small ponds to medium-sized fish in a very large pond. Eventually you'll all settle down and figure out the boundaries of what can and can't be said to each of your peers, just like you would for any new acquaintance.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at April 8, 2004 12:12 PM

Thanks for both comments.

My solution to gay marriage is one few people endorse: take government out of the marriage business altogether. There are plenty of differences, both religious and cultural, that are masked by the institution the state is selling. Divorce, for example, is not an option in some creeds and just fine in others. But regardless of a person's religious or cultural convictions divorce is currently endorsed by the province of Ontario (for man/woman marriages, that is... I do not know if the act concerning divorce has yet to be amended to include same-sex couples). Marriage is a sacrament - sometimes called the * only * Quaker sacrament - and in that sense ordained by the Lord and not the government of Ontario. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" but keep marriage away from government. I say, civil unions all round. That way we do not have to pay for each other's convictions (gay/straight/religious/secular/etc.).

I am also adamantly in agreement that we have bigger troubles to contend with than this stuff. If anything, this is exactly the argument the Liberal government wants its opponents to get bogged down in while they get on with the business of looting this country and doing oil deals with the people out to kill us.

I think the shift to a moderated format at The Shotgun is best for everyone. I expect we will settle down when some ground-rules for discussion have been agreed. You are quite right to point out the near inevitability of clashes. We are an opinionated bunch. Once we have established our respect for each other - if not for all of each other's opinions ;) - the conversation should be interesting.

Posted by: Flea at April 8, 2004 01:09 PM

Nick, on gay marriage I agree completely that the state should, at most, act as a registrar for any two people who want to register. (More than two you might try the corporate registry.)

Your overall post is a very nearly perfect description of the position of those of us who are entirely fed up with the Liberals but who are unwilling to have the state poking about in matters which should not concern it.

Posted by: Jay Currie at April 8, 2004 04:53 PM

The `enviro-left' is no more loopy as a whole than is the `religeous-right', or any other demographic you tend to hear in these discussions (the labels are usually too weak to capture and actual person). Losing track of that simple fact is one of the greatest barriers to useful discourse I know of.

That being said, I support your take on gay marriage. The full solution (care to find a politician of any stripe with the guts to take this one on?) is to do two things: Remove the secular/legal power of all church weddings, and provide contractual binding status only through civil union (widely interpreted). Problem solved :)

Posted by: cymonk at April 8, 2004 09:42 PM

Excellent post, Nicholas,

The debate between libertarians and fundamentalist religious conservatives is nowhere near as nasty as the debate between fundamentalist Christians and Christians who reject the fundamentalist approach. Religious "heresy" is seen as infinitely more dangerous than secular libertarianism or atheism. It's as if the only choice is between fundamentalism and atheism, which is utter nonsense. (Yet this argument is echoed by many atheists, forming a natural, if unholy, alliance.)

Posted by: Eric Scheie at April 9, 2004 11:58 AM

Quite right. As much as the vitriol directed at gay men was stomache-turning it was also repetitive and predictable. Almost as if the writer was going through the motions because that is what outraged "Christians" are supposed to think. The dismissal of the United Church, a "mainstream" Canadian Protestant denomination, was far more illuminating. It is a bit like being mean to kittens. Pathological, yes. But it does not make you sound tough.

Posted by: Flea at April 9, 2004 02:18 PM

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