The Contaminating Effects of Reaganite Conservatism as Imported into Canada from the United States


by Anthony J. Hall

17 Feb. 2011

The conservative revolution initiated when Ronald Reagan became the US president in 1981 is going off the rails. Reagan’s mantra of business deregulation set loose such kleptocratic excesses among Wall Street insiders that, almost three decades after the Hollywood president’s inauguration, taxpayers woke up to find Big Brother had put knives to our throats. We were informed that the global economy would collapse unless we handed over trillions of dollars of our own and our descendant’s future earnings in order to finance the transfer of trillions of dollars to the very white-collar criminals that caused the economic debacle in the first place.

So far we have not been informed by our governments that the derivatives boondoggle that got us into this mess extends far beyond the securitization of subprime mortgage packages.  Much of the derivative smoke and mirrors involve speculative bets on bets on bets concerning the outcomes of drug deals, cloak-and dagger regime change, as well as the locating of future pipeline routes to extract oil and gas from the Caspian Sea Basin in Eurasia.

Caspian Pipelines
Caspian Pipelines

This history of fraud in the name of so-called national security extends through the corruption of the Pakistani-based, Saudi-financed Bank of Credit and Commerce International all the way through the privatized terror economy to the 9/11 Wars.

The religious spin justifying the 9/11 Wars has grown to such dizzying extremes of aroused extremism that we must deal with proliferating displays of Islamophobia throughout North America. In recent months, for instance, we have lived through many realized or threatened ritual burnings of Korans by Christian evangelists, the repeated but chronically underreported bombings of American mosques, as well as an ongoing series of anti-mosque demonstrations not only in New York but also in many smaller urban centers. These spectacles of channeled hatred are all-too-reminiscent of the preludes to earlier episodes when the demonization of targeted minorities led to lethal tragedies on an enormous scale.

The close identification of Islamophobia with the aggressive patriotism of some factions of the so-called Tea Party movement is especially troubling in a country where the Klu Klux Klan boasted over 4 million members in the years before the Second World War. The so-called Tea Baggers claim as their iconic moment the event in 1773 when some Anglo-Americans marked their hostility towards the British imperial government by disguising themselves as Mohawk Indians and heaving shipments of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.

The Klu Klux Klan boasted over 4 Million members in the years before the Second World War
The Klu Klux Klan boasted over 4 Million members in the years before the Second World War

The Tea Party movement provides a venue in which the disoriented, fragmented and highly factionalized array of constituencies who call themselves conservative can regroup. This job of trying to find the basis for new forms of conservative coalition-building is highly demanding, especially after the debacle of George W. Bush’s two-term presidency followed by the elevation to the country’s top job of an extremely poised, photogenic and highly-intelligent African-American.

George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The crisis of conservatism extends into Canada, a polity that emerged from the conservative side of the civil war in the British Empire that gave rise to the creation of the United States after 1776. Rather than embrace the indigenous conservatism rooted in the Red Tory tradition, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has moved his party farther to the right, replicating the positions of the US Republican Party on many issues including hostility to gun control, aggressive military engagement in Eurasia, and massive spending on the building of new jails.  Harper’s infatuation with the allure of conquistador conservatism, as promoted by the weapons cartels that dominate the national security state, is reflected in his sacrifice of the instruments of Canadian sovereignty to a corporate-controlled North American Union. The EU Times recently described the outcome of the stealthy negotiations between the executive branches of the Canadian and US governments as the world’s first “superstate.”

The preemption of the indigenous conservative tradition in Canada by the very different conservatism embraced by most right-wing activists in the United States has been widely noted. For instance, Canadian journalist Lawrence Martin recently called attention to the fact that the most empowered ministers and advisors in Harper’s inner circle “could all serve comfortably under Dick Cheney.” On the other hand, so silent and invisible have the so-called Red Tories become in Harper’s regime “that they might as well be in cement shoes at the bottom of Lake Nipigon.”

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Like George Grant, Donald Creighton and W.L. Morton, I am one of those professors that celebrate the Red Tory tradition of conservative governance in Canada. In 1965 in Lament for a Nation, Grant outlined his view that the electoral defeat of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative Party in 1963 marked the end of indigenous conservatism as the basis of a viable system of pan-Canadian governance. Diefenbaker’s indigenous conservatism, Grant claimed, was swept aside by the forces of continental integration as epitomized by the policies and ethos of the Liberal Party of Canada. Gone was the kind of vision that had guided the Tory oversight of, for instance, the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, or the establishment of the CBC as Canada’s public broadcaster, or the development of Ontario Hydro as a Crown corporation.

Martin points out that Harper’s Conservative Party has no high-profile figures ready, willing and capable of carrying on the political legacy of the old Progressive Conservative Party, one of the primary agencies whose leaders were responsible for negotiating with the government of Great Britain the terms that brought the Dominion of Canada into existence in 1867.

Before he was betrayed in 2003 in the political machinations that enabled Stephen Harper to replace the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada with an extension of the US Republican Party, David Orchard did make a significant attempt to revive a left-leaning version of conservatism as outlined in his manifesto, The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansion.

Sir William Johnson is my personal nomination as the quintessential founder of the Red Tory tradition in North America. Before he passed away in 1774, Johnson had played an instrumental role in the imperial expansion of British North America much like that played in the Middle East by T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. While Lawrence encouraged pan-Arab unity among Indigenous peoples to push back the influence of the Ottoman Empire, Johnson attempted a similar strategy during the Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War as it is remembered in the United States. Johnson’s objective was to lure Aboriginal support away from the French imperial project in the contest to control the colonization of North America.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763
The Royal Proclamation of 1763

A speaker of several Iroquoian dialects and the parent with Mohawk matron Molly Brant of several mixed-ancestry children, Johnson pioneered that facet of British imperial policy proclaiming that Indigenous peoples should be incorporated into the British Empire on the basis of law, alliance and consent rather than conquest and coercion. Hence Johnson helped forge a form of indigenous conservatism whose touchstone in Canada would become the recognition in the Constitution Act, 1982 of Aboriginal and treaty rights. This affirmation brings forward principles first injected through Johnson’s advice into King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763. The Royal Proclamation forms the legal basis of the complex of Crown-Aboriginal treaties that is still being extended to this day to British Columbia and Quebec.

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The United States was founded in opposition to Johnson’s Red Tory policies encouraging treaty federalism with Indigenous peoples. The hostility of the founders of the United States to the indigenous conservatism of Johnson and his associates was marked by the stinging condemnation of King George in the American Declaration of Independence. By following Johnson’s advice, the British sovereign stood accused by the founders of the United States of “bringing on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” This seminal instance of racial profiling in one of the world’s most influential political manifestos pointed towards the kind of conquistador conservatism that would make the war machine of the United States by far the world’s largest and most aggressive apparatus of military conquest.

The original Tea Baggers who really did hurl shipments of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 were hostile to the kind of cultural pluralism implicit in Johnson’s brand of Red Tory conservatism. The preemption of indigenous conservatism in Canada is lamentable not only for my country but for the rest of the world as well.

The Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party
Sir William Johnson

Rather than the divisive preachings of conservative Islamophobia, we need credible North American emissaries of peaceful relations through treaties of friendship and reciprocity with domestic and international representatives of the Arab and Muslim worlds. We need to cultivate egalitarian relations with civilian governments based on the self-determination of Indigenous peoples rather than on the crony capitalism of the repressive militarists gathered around the likes of Hosni Mubarak. We need to develop contemporary conceptions where the heritage derived from the more enlightened facets of Red Toryism merge with the green requirements of ecological conservatism.

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Anthony J. Hall is the author of Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism, which is new on bookstands this autumn. Earth into Property is the second volume of a larger project, The Bowl with One Spoon. The first volume is entitled The American Empire and the Fourth World. Both texts are self-contained. Each and can be read independently from the other. Both are published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.


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