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Ben Woodfinden: A Tory impulse and anti-Laurentian ideas drive Canadian conservatism

Commentary

Conservatism is not a universal ideology in the way that other political ideologies are. It is not a set of rigid dogmas that can be applied, with slight tweaks, across place and time.

Some conservative intellectuals, like Michael Oakeshott and Roger Scruton, have characterised conservatism less as an ideology and more as a “disposition.” There’s something to this, but it’s more than just an instinct that some people have. Built into this disposition are some basic fundamental assumptions about the world we live.

The first is a kind of realism about the world, a recognition of human fallibility and the limitations of what we can accomplish in this world. We should look at the world as it is, not simply as we want it to be. The second is an understanding of ourselves as inheritors of traditions, social orders, and institutions that shape our lives and that we too will one day pass on to someone else. We are both inheritors and stewards of living traditions.

This is why conservatism, properly understood, is not simply a programmatic set of prescriptions to be applied to society. It is inherently tied up in context and circumstance. It recognizes human diversity and particularity, and conservatism will look different in different places. This is not a weakness, it’s a strength, and it’s why we should resist efforts to think about conservatism in systematic ways, in the way that thinkers associated with other political traditions like liberalism or socialism do.

So instead of asking a question like “what is conservatism?” the questions we should be asking are things like “what is Canadian conservatism?” In the last few years, few people I suspect have spent as much time as me obsessing over the question “what does a distinctly Canadian conservatism look like?” It was a major reason I launched a newsletter, The Dominion, to try and think through this question.

A thesis I’ve been mulling over for a while, and one I am going to sketch out here, is that if we take the contextual and circumstantial nature of conservatism seriously, then it means that instead of talking about Canadian conservatism it may make more sense to talk about plural conservatisms. Canada is, and always has been, a country defined by sharp regional distinctions and differences. Canadian conservatism should reflect this. And it does, though in ways that are at times obfuscated by the ways that we talk about intra-conservative divisions.

We could look to academics to think and write about politics beyond partisan considerations, but conservatives are an endangered species in the Canadian academy.

My contention here is that there are two broad competing meta-narratives within Canadian conservatism that shape how conservatives orient themselves and approach politics. These two meta-narratives, that I will call the “Tory” and the “anti-Laurentian” narratives are deeper than just old PC-Reform divides and they are not really well captured by divides between blue and red Tories or any of these other labels we attach to them. They are deeper than mere ideology.

The question then, in thinking about the intellectual basis for conservatism in Canada, is how these two narrative relate to one another and is an intellectual fusion between these two camps possible?

There’s no ‘true’ conservatism tradition

If you browse through the various books written about conservatism in Canada, both for scholarly and public audiences, one thing you will quickly notice is how much of this literature is ultimately about partisan politics. Questions about conservatism end up just being questions about conservative politicians or parties. The books asking intellectual questions about Canadian conservatism tend to be books written by non-conservatives about the scary ideological and foreign influences on Canadian conservatives, but they still ultimately tie it back to partisan concerns.

The conservative movement in Canada reflects this as well. The professional conservative class in Canada is dominated by partisans, or people who work in partisan adjacent realms like consulting and government relations. We have some solid think tanks and publications, but the party looms large. We could look to academics to think and write about politics beyond partisan considerations, but conservatives are an endangered species in the Canadian academy.

The problem with this state of affairs is it means that there is very little, these days at least, in the way of thinking about first principles and intellectual questions around Canadian conservatism divorced from near-term partisan considerations or beyond public policy questions. This hamstrings conservatives, because first order questions matter in shaping how we approach the questions of the day.

The danger of a conservatism, or conservatives, divorced from a grounding in first principles and foundational thinking is that they become rigid dogmatists who mistake contingent policy prescriptions as timeless first principles.

History should matter to conservatives. It plays an important role in telling us who we are, where we come from, and is a guide to the inheritance that we seek to conserve. So the narrative we tell ourselves about about the community, way of life, or tradition that conservatives are “conserving” will inevitably shape the character and disposition of that conservatism. My argument is that conservatism in Canada has a series of different meta narratives that while not necessarily in direct conflict, don’t always sit perfectly with one another. But more basically, they tell different stories about Canada, and thus the conservatism that grows out of these different traditions looks and sounds different.

This isn’t a bad thing, per se. As I’ve already said, conservatism should reflect the particular and contingent facts of a political community and thus in Canada conservatism should reflect our regionalism. But this poses a serious challenge to the idea of there being a single, unified, or “true” Canadian conservative tradition.

The Tory impulse

The first tradition I’ll loosely term the “Tory” tradition. This is the older tradition of Canadian conservatism and even though in many ways as an organised political movement it has become something of an eastern Canadian rump, the meta-narrative and instincts endure. This tradition traces back to pre-Confederation Toryism in Upper Canada and is associated (though their role is sometimes overstated) with the loyalists who fled the United States after the American Revolution. It has its roots in the Family Compact and what has been called the “high Tory” tradition in North America and Upper Canada especially.

Another version of it is George Grant’s “Tory touch” thesis. Grant argued that Canada was founded and built around a common intent that brought the two founding peoples of Canada together because of on “an inchoate desire to build a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow.” This is the intent for a nation that built Canada, and Grant saw it reflected in our founding Constitutional Acts in both 1791 and 1867. This is ultimately that basis for Confederation and the impetus for bringing the British North American colonies together.

This basic impulse, a natural conservatism and desire for peace and order, and dedicated to the protection and preservation of Canada’s British institutions and heritage is at the heart of this Canadian conservative tradition. You can associate it with people like George Grant, Donald Creighton, John Farthing, Eugene Forsey, and to a certain extent key founding figures like Macdonald. It is much more comfortable with the state and while not always explicitly anti-American, is dedicated to preserving Canadian sovereignty and distinctiveness in the face of expansive American cultural and political hegemony.

A child waves the Canadian flag during Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa on Friday, July 1, 2022. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

This kind of Toryism was a politically dominant force in Canada in the decades after Confederation, and very much represented the governing ideology, but it has undoubtedly been reduced to a rump or at least has evolved substantially into something quite different. You can think of the kind of British North America that this Toryism sought to preserve as English Canada’s version of the ancien regime.

While many of these institutions endure, they have gradually been eroded and in the postwar period the governing ideology of Canada shifted away from a Laurentian Toryism towards a Laurentian liberalism. New symbols and institutions like the Maple Leaf flag, the Charter, multiculturalism, and bilingualism became the hallmarks of a new Canadian identity, and these old Tories were reduced to a rump.

The triumph of the new Canada led to a schism in this tradition. Some of this tradition was essentially absorbed into the new Laurentian liberalism of postwar Canada. The desire for a peaceful and more orderly society remains, but that impulse has been transferred to preserving the symbols and institutions of the Liberal Canada. The rest of this movement, though it has largely been reduced to a rump, remains committed to varying degrees in preserving the older ancien regime vision of Canada.

But what is crucial about this tradition is that basic impulse, the commitment to order and restraint, and the general desire to preserve Canadian unity and the understanding of Canada as a union of two founding nations, remains an animating impulse and one that shapes and orients conservatives who draw from this tradition. Even if the explicitly British aspect of this tradition has faded, the basic impulse endures.

The anti-Laurentian tradition

The second conservative tradition in Canada, and the one that is now the dominant tradition, is what I’ll call the “anti-Laurentian” tradition. This tradition is much younger, and has its contemporary roots in Western Canada but in many ways is a tradition that dates back to pre-Confederation and the Reform movement.

Donald Creighton in his important 1937 book The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence popularised what is called the “Laurentian thesis.” Creighton was definitively not “anti-Laurentian” but the basic thesis that Canada was that Canadian development followed an economic pattern that was built around the St Lawrence river, essentially most of Upper and Lower Canada and where the majority of Canadians live.

This commercial empire, was essentially a staples and commodity colony for the imperial motherland and was the basis for Canadian development. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway enabled this project to begin a westward expansion.

The rapid expansion and growth of the West coincides with the Laurentian shift away from traditional Toryism and towards liberalism.

The Laurentian elite begin as the Family Compact in Upper Canada and Chateau Clique in Lower Canada. Confederation is a project primarily about protecting the material interests of this elite, and enabling westward expansion. The formal allegiances and partisan preferences of these elites have evolved and shifted since Confederation but, even if they go by a different name and partisan stripe, they remain a central Canadian, Laurentian-based elite that dominates Canadian institutions and public life.

Creighton was very much a member and defender of this elite class, as were many of the Tories described above, like Grant. They may have looked on with horror and despair as the Britishness of the Canadian elite faded, but the Tories of pre- and early-Confederation were very much Laurentians.

This anti-Laurentian tradition is born of different roots while accepting the fundamental thesis. The Manitoban historian W.L Morton, a conservative himself, observed of the inherent expansionist and exploitative nature of this Laurentian empire, and it is this impulse that is at the heart of the anti-Laurentian tradition. The West is of course much younger than Central Canada, and historically a home for populist movements. The West was settled by not just British and French settlers, but plenty of other European settlers, and was much more dependent and comfortable with closer relations with the United States.

The rapid expansion and growth of the West coincides with the Laurentian shift away from traditional Toryism and towards the liberalism (and progressivism) it is today associated with. As Western consciousness grows, a sense of discontent grows too. Frustration with the dominance of central Canadian concerns, especially the Laurentian obsession with Quebec fuels a sense of alienation and consciousness of the west as a distinctive region and place and not just the resource rich peripheries of the Laurentian empire.

This of course grows into the Reform movement led by Preston Manning and the proclamation that “the West wants in.” Conservatism becomes the natural oppositional home for this sentiment, and its conservatism is rooted in a distinctive sense of place, both in terms of geography and climate and also place in relation to Central Canada. The West is younger and newer, and visitors who come (myself included) find the kind of future-oriented nature and spirit of the West alluring.

As an intellectual tradition of conservatism, anti-Laurentian conservatism is really given substance and form by the so-called Calgary School and the various academics and intellectuals associated with it like Barry Cooper, Tom Flanagan, Rainier Knopff, and Ted Morton. The Calgary School has played an enormous role in shaping contemporary Canadian conservatism, and incorporated new conservative intellectual trends from elsewhere including figures like Leo Strauss and Freidrich Hayek into the Canadian lexicon. Its detractors may accuse this School of simply importing and Americanizing Canadian conservatism, but what they were actually doing is taking these influences and Canadianizing them by incorporating them into this anti-Laurentian tradition and impulse.

Ted Morton (left) listens to former leader of the Reform Party Preston Manning as he responds to a question during a news conference on Jan. 22, 2014 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.

Another key intellectual source of inspiration for this tradition was Peter Brimelow’s 1986 book The Patriot Game that borrowed the concept of the “new class” from Irving Kristol to describe the Laurentian elites. Brimelow gives form to this anti-Laurentian narrative and describes how this new class manufactured a new national identity that both rejected our heritage and replaced it with a self-serving and contradictory ideology that serves the interests of this New Class. The strategy of the Canadian New Class throughout Canada’s history has been “to concentrate rents from a resource-based economy in Central Canadian hands.” This was done especially to placate Quebec and keep Confederation together at the expense of the West.

The artificial and hollow national identity constructed by the Laurentian new class served Laurentian interests and erased and excluded Western Canada. Opposition to Laurentianism was not simply focused on the Liberal Party, it was also aimed at the Progressive Conservatives who were on this account merely a flip side of the same Laurentian, central Canadian coin.

Conservatism’s messy Venn diagram

These two traditions are the dominant narratives that animate Canadian conservatism. The pluralistic nature of Canadian conservatism means there are even more distinct conservative traditions in Canada than just these two traditions. Quebec conservatism is the most obvious example and even in Quebec there are some very different and competing traditions you could call conservative. This argument isn’t mean to exclude those, the focus here is just on anglo conservatism in Canada.

These deeper narratives shaping and orienting conservatism in Canada do not just map on to conventional ideological intra-conservative divides. This divide isn’t just old Reformers versus Progressive Conservatives. It isn’t just an east versus west thing. It isn’t a simple Red Tory versus Blue Tory. There might be some overlap between these divides and these competing narratives, but it isn’t exclusive and you’ll find people from different narrative traditions on different sides of this.

Former Ontario premier Mike Harris (right) and Reform Party founder Preston Manning chat before speaking at the Fraser Institute roundtable dinner in Toronto on Nov. 1, 2005. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press.

You’ll find progressive and “moderate” conservatives out west and in the anti-Laurentian camp. You’ll find social conservatives and neoliberal free market types in eastern Canada in the Tory camp. On top of these alternative narratives different ideological positions can be imposed, and new ideas can be imported from elsewhere, but these narratives will still shape our orientation towards politics and it is in these narratives that we see the distinctly Canadian grounding of conservatism in Canada.

These traditions exist only here, because they reflect our distinct history and development and mean that even when we import conservative ideas from other countries like the United States, they are still filtered through a Canadian lens.

But if these traditions orient conservatives in different ways, what effect does this have on the character of the conservatism that emerges out of them? Tory conservatism has its roots in a very British Toryism and the kinds of virtues that go along with that, and sees in 1867 a union of two peoples who came together to forge a society more restrained and orderly than the American republic. It is much more dispositionally deferential to power and public institutions, more restrained, and wants politicians and parties that reflect this.

Anti-Laurentian conservatism is much newer and younger, and is thus naturally more future-oriented. It has a country party disposition and is much less deferential to Canada’s governing institutions, and governing class. It is much more dispositionally populist. And in 1867 it sees a Confederation that is unfinished, one that doesn’t reflect the realities of Canada today, so it is much more small-r reform minded.

Much more could be said of these two traditions, but I think at this point you should be able to grasp the differences between these two traditions and how they orient conservatives in different ways.

Towards a Canadian fusionism

The question I am left with is whether it is possible, or desirable, to fuse these narratives together to create something resembling an overarching conservative tradition that we could call distinctly Canadian conservatism? I think so, but in recognizing our regionalism this means we shouldn’t want to completely merge them but provide some sort of broader narrative that ties these two traditions together. A distinctly Canadian fusionism.

Fusionism is a funny concept. It’s the type of American conservatism associated with National Review, William F. Buckley Jr and Frank Meyer (who coined the term) and was at its height during the Reagan years. It is a philosophical attempt to fuse traditionalist and social conservatism with libertarianism.

It was more than just an attempt to build a Cold War political coalition, it was an intellectual effort to try and provide a serious enduring philosophical basis and justification for this coalition. Fusionism for decades was the dominant strand of American conservatism and in many ways still shapes how many conservatives not just in America but elsewhere as well think about conservatism.

But the kind of fusionism I’m proposing here is not akin to the American version in the sense of being an ideological fusion. It isn’t about fusing different ideological positions together. It’s about fusing two understandings of Canada’s origins, and where Canada is going. It’s about fusing together two basic foundational myths. It’s beyond the scope of this essay, and a single person, to try and figure out what this Canadian fusion looks like and if it’s even desirable. But the rest of this piece will briefly lay out a few ideas of what this fusion could be built around.

While we tend to talk about politics in terms of left and right divides, a better way to think about political divides in Canada is the old court/country party distinction. This divide goes back to early modern Britain and after the Glorious Revolution just as parliamentary and responsible government was beginning to take shape.

Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first de facto prime minister, created stable and enduring parliamentary majorities through skillful use of patronage and corruption. He used this to consolidate power during a period in which there was a burgeoning growth of a fiscal-military state based on public credit and insecure financial institutions.

An opportunity is emerging for conservatives to reclaim patriotism, or at least make a serious claim to it that they haven’t in a long time.

Opposition to this “court” party came from figures like Lord Bolingbroke, who denounced this regime as corrupt and undermining the national interest, instead serving the interests of a cabal of self-interested elites who had built a regime to consolidate their power. Opposition to this regime could only come from patriotic agrarian and countryside forces who were sceptical and suspicious of this emerging bourgeois merchant class. It would take public spirited and patriotic opposition to eventually tame the country party and restore the constitutional settlement of 1689 that people like Bolinbgroke felt had been corrupted by Walpole and his supporters.

I said already that the anti-Laurentian conservatism has a country party disposition, but it makes sense to think of Canadian conservatism as a whole as being in essence the contemporary country party, in opposition to the Laurentian court party. But where there is opportunity and potential in a fusion is in thinking of this not simply as opposition, but as a patriotic movement that seeks to overthrow an increasingly less self-confident Laurentian elite that has abandoned the traditional patriotism that animated it.

A problem with Canadian conservatives is that at times they seem not to like Canada very much. In some ways this is understandable. Modern Canada was reshaped by Laurentian liberalism, and conservatism (especially anti-Laurentian conservatism) exists in opposition to much of this. But increasingly, an opportunity is emerging for conservatives to reclaim patriotism, or at least make a serious claim to it that they haven’t in a long time.

Laurentian liberalism has in recent years become more overtly progressive and the intellectual north star for many Laurentian institutions and individuals is a progressive worldview increasingly uncomfortable with Canada. Filtered through this lens, Canada is an illegitimate and irredeemable settler colonial project, and as it imports more and more of the critical race inspired diversity, equity and inclusion worldview from the United States, it speaks a language increasingly Americanized and disconnected from most Canadians.

Here lies an opportunity for a Canadian fusionist conservatism.

This fusionism could become the champion of Canadianism, and become the new patriotic flag-bearers. It could reclaim the old Tory mantle and spirit that made this country and forged Confederation in 1867, becoming the unapologetic defender of Confederation. In doing so it could both emphasise the importance of the older symbols, history, and institutions that Tory conservatives remain loyal to, while also being a future-oriented and reform-minded movement that recognizes that Confederation is an unfinished project.

This isn’t about overthrowing the various national symbols and institutions that were introduced by post-war Laurentian liberalism, like the flag and the Charter. It’s about actively thinking of the conservative idea of Canada as placing these older historical moments and institutions on equal standing and as an equally important part of who we are. You could think of this first part as rediscovering Macdonald, and openly defending his legacy.

The statue of Sir John A Macdonald is about to be removed by workers in Kingston on June 18, 2021. Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press.

But in recognizing that Confederation is worth defending and also an ongoing project in need of some reform, it should also look to the ideas and legacy of another Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker, who had German origins, was the first prime minister from a non-British and French background who appropriately saw Canada as more than just two founding nations.

As a son of the West, he knew that English Canada was not simply one unitary body, and that within English Canada there were distinctive interests, identities, and histories too. Diefenbaker, a gifted orator, opened the 1957 federal election with an all-time great Canadian speech in which he called for “one Canada, with equality of opportunity for every citizen and equality for every province from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

A Canadian fusionism could channel the spirit of Diefenbaker, but in doing so recognize Canada’s distinctive regionalism and identities beyond just an English-French divide. Thus at the core of this is a recognition that in defending and preserving the union in 1867, Confederation is an ongoing and unfinished project that requires reform. The alternative that this fusionism could offer is one that could be called a “conservative pluralism” in opposition to Laurentian progressivism.

In channelling the spirit of the country party and taking up the mantle of patriotism, a Canadian fusionism could combine the reforming and anti-Laurentian opposition of one of Canada’s conservative tradition with the traditional Toryism of Canada’s older conservative tradition that was routed and turned into a rump by the triumph of Laurentian liberalism.

Former prime minister John Diefenbaker talks with Queen Elizabeth II in Ottawa on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1977. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press.

In becoming the champions of Canada as progressives abandon these values, this fusionism could be an intellectual basis for stable and enduring governance, not just opposition. And it could be future-oriented and champion a blueprint for Canadian greatness that recognizes that changes and shifts that are taking place in Canada.

This fusionism would be an authentic and distinctly Canadian fusionism because it fuses the two dominant conservative narratives in Canada while at the same time recognizing the regional and pluralistic nature of Canada and thus not seeking to entirely merge and homogenize these traditions.

The broader narrative presented here is not so much a way of unifying the traditions but a way of threading them together so that even when there are differences and disagreements, partisans from the two traditions recognize each other as kin. But if nothing else, when we think and talk about conservatism in Canada we should recognize that there is more to it than mere ideological and public policy divides.

When we think about what exactly it is we are seeking to conserve, these different traditions will continue to animate and orient how we approach politics and the country we all call home.

Sean Speer: Some of the best moments from 100 episodes of Hub Dialogues

Commentary

This week marks the hundredth episode of The Hub’s podcast, Hub Dialogues. (This doesn’t account for more than sixty dialogues that we published last year as transcribed interviews including with George Will, Benjamin Friedman, John Ikenberry, Marie Henein, and Lisa Feldman Barrett.)

Of the 100 podcast episodes to date, 14 have been our exclusive bi-weekly interviews with David Frum and another 25 are the weekly Hub Roundtable with executive director Rudyard Griffiths, editor in chief Stuart Thomson and me. That leaves just over 60 episodes with a diverse group of economists, business executives, medical doctors, legal scholars, scientists, writers, and even some politicians.

It has been a great honour and joy to speak with such a fascinating group of thinkers and doers. If you would have told the 20-year-old me that I would eventually get paid to interview global opinion leaders — including some of my favourite thinkers and writers — I wouldn’t have believed you. What a privilege.

The great reward is that Hub Dialogues’ audience continues to significantly grow. Monthly downloads have increased 380 percent since we launched in mid-January. We’re enormously grateful to the Hub community for its interest, engagement, and feedback.

We’re excited for the next hundred episodes of Hub Dialogues with new and different guests, more diverse topics, better recording equipment, and hopefully slow yet steady improvement on the part of the host.

In the meantime, I thought that I’d go back through our catalogue and profile some of the most interesting ideas and insights that we’ve heard thus far. The list isn’t meant to be exhaustive — regular listeners will no doubt have others (which we would be thrilled to hear) — but instead reflects some of my most memorable moments from the first 100 episodes of Hub Dialogues.

Of course, we romanticized the West. But nothing is ever set in stone. Now 20 years later, free speech has fallen down the list of values, and freedom of assembly has fallen down the list of values. Police having the monopoly on violence and policing itself is being questioned. One set of laws for all is also being questioned in Canada, philosophically, practically, and politically. All these things have been chipping away Canada’s liberal democracy and Canadians seems to be okay with it.” – Lydia Perovic, episode #94, August 4, 2022

I think that, increasingly, the axis of politics in the West revolves around culture and not economics. It revolves around this divide between what I call “cultural socialism” on the one hand and cultural liberalism and conservatism on the other which believes in both the Enlightenment and national tradition. And because of that and because of the success of the Left in capturing elite institutions, there was almost an in-built extent to which conservatism has to campaign against existing institutions.” – Eric Kauffman, episode #91, July 27, 2022

America has been a boogeyman in Canadian politics. Lately, and for as long as I’ve been following, it’s been one that the liberals use to smear the conservatives. I think the pendulum is now shifting the other way. I think that it is Trudeau and the Liberals and the CBC who are importing American social justice ideology, who are following Americans, apeing the Americans, and so that kind of anti-American politics, which I think has really powerful potential in Canada, I wonder if we’ll see it become a conservative angle of attack and a conservative advantage in Canadian politics.” – Elliot Kaufman, episode #87, July 18, 2022

When the Charter was being drafted and designed in the early 1980s, that concept of substantive due process had already been popularized in the United States. For that reason, our framers did not use the term “due process” in Section 7. They used the term “principles of fundamental justice.” In my view and in the view of many others, the record is clear: The reason they used principles of fundamental justice is specifically because due process had been interpreted broadly that way.” – Asher Honickman, episode #83, July 11, 2022

For me, when I arrived in Nova Scotia, no one knew who I was. No one knew how I looked like, the only thing they had was my name. Like they didn’t even give them a picture of me, although I look more handsome than Leonardo DiCaprio, but that was not the thing that they cared about. What they cared about is, I think, when I reflect about the way that they have done the sponsorship, they were always caring about me being a human being seeking safety and peace. They were caring a lot about changing my life.” – Tareq Hadhad, episode #77, June 30, 2022

I’ve said this before, but the governments around the world asked young people to put a pause on their life, to make significant sacrifices for the betterment of elderly individuals and the betterment of the community. Look, we asked everybody to do this, but, in particular, it was a serious ask of young people because the virus represented a very low risk to young people. What’s the thanks that young people get? Well, after two years of this, they reemerge from lockdowns and they find that they’re now responsible for a significant amount of government debt—the government doubled the debt—and they can’t afford a house. So, I think they’re kind of frustrated. They did what we asked them to do, what the government asked them to do, and now they’re frustrated.” – Adam Chambers, episode #76, June 27, 2022

If I was grading it, I guess by those standards, by those expectations that I just set out— a responsible stakeholder in the existing international order? Looks like a failure. Economic liberalization? In fact to the contrary, China has been moving towards increased statist, mercantilist economic policies. Politically, of course, it’s become even more repressive than it was before. Arguably China is more repressive today than at any time since the Cultural Revolution. I think by all of those standards, engagement was a failure.” – Aaron Friedberg, episode #73, June 20, 2022

I don’t think China’s going to implode in the near future, but I think it will become increasingly shaky, increasingly unpredictable, and increasingly difficult for its citizens and for its neighbours in the world. Which brings me back to my original idea that we need a smart China policy and we need to up our China competence. It’s in our Canadian interest and it’s key to a successful Canadian foreign policy.” – David Mulroney, episode #60, May 25, 2022

It may be the single biggest threat to the development of opportunity and talent, because children born into truly one-parent families have much worse opportunities economically, but also in terms of how they’re brought up. It’s correlated with them being treated not as well. I don’t have a magic wand to wave to make all those men worthy of having a nice family, but we could do much more than what we’re doing now. Now, it’s a mix of not quite a priority, and for many people, it’s a subject you’re not even really allowed to bring up. That’s terrible, I think.” – Tyler Cowen, episode #59, May 24, 2022

I like to use the analogy of a basket, the Medicare basket of services. And right now we have this very narrow, very deep basket that covers 100 percent of hospital and physician care. And I would like us to have more of a European model, which is a much broader basket that covers everything from dental care to long-term care, and everything in between for those who need it, and that basket be a little shallower. So, some people will have to pay for private or most people would have to pay for private insurance or some out of pocket. But the key there is clarity. We’re never going to pay 100 percent of everything for everyone. So, let’s be clear on where we draw the lines.” – Andre Picard, episode #56, May 16, 2022

But you’re right to note that joy has a kind of potent and ongoing presence in the book. At one point, I actually Ctrl-F’ed to see “How often am I using this word?” And “Is it too often and are they coming too close together on a page or in a paragraph?” But the truth is, it feels like the right word to me because I think of joy as the specific kind of happiness that is connected to this sense of the cosmic sweep of things I was just talking about. It’s not mundane, in the sense of not quite Earthly. It connects us to just this wild improbability of our existence and the wonder of it all. And to me, it truly is one of the most beautiful and meaningful feelings you can experience. So yes, I think this book is, to a significant extent, about joy, which is to say about the kind of endless mystery of being here, of existing.” – Kathryn Schulz, episode #53, May 11, 2022

And I do think that it’s very easy to get bored, frankly, in a liberal society that simply offers peace and prosperity. People want to be able to struggle; they’ve got this side of their personality that seeks recognition and dignity and gets very indignant when people don’t recognize the same causes and gods and forces that they do. That’s what I think has pushed many people to reject liberalism.” – Francis Fukuyama, episode #52, May 9, 2022

I’m very interested in the idea of a celebration of North American identity as the first kind of true middle-class civilization that has ever really existed; a civilization that really begins and ends with the middle class, and whose culture has always been defined by the humility—or not the humility, the humble nature of middle-class life and middle-class luxuries, and middle-class pleasures and middle-class lifestyles. So, when I make videos about things like the history of potato chips, or the history of Christmas presents, or you know, history of Halloween, or soft things like this, it’s easy for people, I think, to be judgmental and to argue that these subjects are kind of frivolous or even materialistic. But to me, a lot of that kind of bourgeois, middle-classness is the culmination of the North American project, and something that I think really deserves celebration on its own terms.” – J.J. McCullough, episode #49, May 2, 2022

I think it’s a problem with our political discourse that we have to listen to so much, if you permit again a rather polemical formulation, so much kitschy communitarianism, which pretends that if only we could all come together, if only we found a nice form of patriotism, then, you know, all would be well. Democracy isn’t about consensus. Democracy is about conflict; conflict is legitimate. It needs to be contained. It needs to be compatible with basic democratic principles such as freedom and equality.” – Jan-Werner Müller, episode #46, April 27, 2022

So, what does it mean to be an American conservative? I think it means a defence of the particular American institutions and those institutions we traced to the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; the political thought of the Constitution, which is expressed in the Federalist Papers. The political tradition that emanates from those documents and the system they established. That’s what I think American conservatives ought to defend. And that means that American conservatism is going to be more small “l” liberal, have a larger place for freedom in it because of the nature of that tradition.” – Matthew Continetti, episode #38, April 12, 2022

So when you asked, Sean, if I’m optimistic about reconciliation, I say Indigenous Nations are ready to drive off the Indian Act superhighway. I believe that there are real leaders that have yet to secure a seat at the big political table in Ottawa who have the moral fortitude to sit with First Nations leadership and pave a new way forward. I think there are real leaders who understand that reconciliation is a tangible goal and not a romantic notion. I think that there are real leaders who understand that policies that promote empowerment, self and local government, and equality of opportunity will give way to greatness. And with that, my answer is I think the best is yet to come.” – Karen Restoule, episode #36, April 6, 2022

A liberal democracy must be absolutely clear, even ruthless, about the question of violence. If we’re going to have pluralism, we have to obey. We have disagreeing, we can shout at each other, but you raise a hand against a fellow citizen in a political argument, and that’s the end of it, right? We’ve got to be very tough. Liberalism is not a warm bath, and liberal democracy is not a kind of sauna in which we all sit together. It’s an argument, and our job is, if we are in politics or in media or anywhere, is to keep it civil.” – Michael Ignatieff, episode #29, March 23, 2022

I said this on CBC the other day: Canada has a nobler record in the world wars than America does, speaking as the grandson of a veteran and the great-grandson of war veterans in the Second World War and so forth. Canada was in the full time both times, so that’s its heroic and storied legacy on that front, But in the last couple of decades, Canada’s not been doing so much and it’s needed. It’s better if Canada does more on the defence side.” – Elbridge Colby, episode #17, February 28, 2022

There’s this quote from an English missionary named Leslie Newbigin, he says: “I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” And that’s true for me. The Christian is supposed to act with charity, no matter the circumstances. So, I’m not positive, not negative, I guess. I’m committed to a particular way of life and a particular way of being charitable and loving, regardless of whether people are my enemies or my friends.” – Brian Dijkema, episode #12, February 16, 2022

Unfortunately, it is controversial to be a normal dude in these abnormal circumstances. So outside of elite opinion, outside of universities and Twitter activists and all that space—where I’ll be honest, I do enjoy getting into a little bit of a back and forth with those sorts of people—but outside of all of that, when I’m like at my church, when I’m in my community, when I’m visiting my family, my friends, I’m not controversial; I’m a normal guy. And to me, when we talk about challenging the way power works in our country, where a very small number of people who are hostile to conservative values have a ton of power over our economy, over our political system, when we talk about challenging those folks, it’s not about being hard right to balance them out with some extreme position on the other side. It’s just about fighting to exist as a normal dude. If I can do that, then I think that that to me is the plan here, that normal people get to exist in abnormal situations and we’re not changed but those situations get changed. That would be the ideal way that I think we would exist.” – Jamil Jivani, episode #11, February 14, 2022

Well, as I look at national security threats that confront the United States, I think the biggest threat to the United States is the United States. Our polarization is the single greatest threat to our future prosperity, security, liberty, and if you look at public opinion polling, you’ll see a shocking percentage of Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen by President Joe Biden, which is absolutely not true. And so, this rampant misinformation, disinformation, polarization in our society is a foundational threat, I think, to this country. So, I’m really worried about it.” – Amy Zegart, episode #7, February 1, 2022

What happened with digital media is that we no longer measure success in terms of breadth of the reach. The way we measure success is by a unit called engagement, meaning how many people retweeted your article? How many people commented on it? How many people posted it on Facebook? How many people angrily shared it with a scathing commentary? And of course, the secret of digital media is that the most extreme readers and viewers are always going to be the most engaged, meaning that you had all of these outlets starting to cater to their most extreme readership.” – Bayta Ungar-Sargon, episode #5, January 25, 2022

Which raises, I guess, a final point in this, which is, I think conservative intellectual muscles atrophied in the 1990s, partly because they won a lot of fights, and they got lazy. And partly, they won a lot of those fights with the sledgehammer of the deficits. “We can’t do X or Y because we can’t afford it” became a very simple, one-size-fits-all answer to a lot of different questions. And it might have won the argument in the short-term, but at the cost of people going away grumbling, saying, “Well, is it the only reason we can’t afford it. What about when we can afford it? Well, what should we do with them?” So, rather than making arguments on the merits of what is the appropriate role of the state, what should it be doing, and what shouldn’t it be doing, it just became this kind of exercise in accountancy.” – Andrew Coyne, episode #1, January 18, 2022