Red Tory

Posted on 31/10/2011 by


Once upon a time in the United States, there was more to ‘official’ political discourse than the two-party dictatorship which we have today. The philosophy of the ‘losing’ side in the 1776 Revolution, chased North to Canada by gunpoint, is one such example. That ethic is Toryism.

To be a Tory is not surprising in the modern world. There are many Tories, just not many with US citizenship. However, like many other political perspectives, present-day Toryism has been infected with neo-conservative notions. This is unfortunate, but beyond the interests of this article. Suffice it to say, I am not a Harper or Cameron style Tory, nor will I write about that ilk.

Tory ethics arose from the British Parliamentary system. Traditionally they were on the side of the Crown (more generically known as the State), which is why they are known more popularly as Conservatives. However, although they were supportive of the State, the Tories were, and still are, part of Parliament – or, generically, the Government.

This is a critical distinction, one which has been considerably blurred by the Presidential model seen in the United States. In the Tory worldview, the State and the Government are two, completely different institutions. To put it very loosely, the Government (as the legislative body) creates legislation, which becomes law. The State (as the judicial body) is the codified framework of those laws, as well as the body of traditions, standards, and precedents which govern all societies and cultures.

To have both the power to legislate and the power to enforce law vested in the same institution is clearly madness. It is also a madness not clearly understood. If a single institution has the pleasure of creating the laws, and enforcing them, it will ultimately create only those laws which it wishes to enforce. And even then, it will also indulge in the pleasure of enforcing those laws at its whim. The end result of this commingling of institutions is a police state: the police assume the power to make the laws which they enforce, or not, ad libitum.

Those who can purchase the allegiance of the political system which both legislates and enforces laws concurrently, will have iron control over the fate of the entire country, and all its peoples. This is the flaw which has been unmasked in the United States. The Congress and the Presidency hold the powers of legislation and enforcement. Those institutions have been bought and paid for by banks and corporations. The results are predictable; corporate personhood is not the first salvo in a new battle, it is the final nail in the coffin.

The balance which comes from separating these two institutions is critical: it can help prevent the corruption of the legislative and judicial systems by the clever and straight-forward technique of keeping them effectively separate institutions. This is precisely the opposite case in the United States: Congress and the Presidency have the power to legislate and have complete control over the judicial system. Vast corruption has, clearly, ensued.

The separation of the Government and the State is one which Toryism has hard-wired into its ethics. Simply acknowledging the separation between the State and the Government is a critical first step. By understanding this distinction, there are vastly increased possibilities for political stability and anti-corruption actions.

Because of this innate focus on the distinct structures of legislative and judicial institutions, Toryism is at its heart processual. That is to say, it is the process which is the most important concern, not the outcome. Another way to put this is that Toryism is primarily focused on the pursuit of order. Not order for its own sake, but the order which arises out of the processual nature of lawful, constitutional governance. Through the consistent and uniform application of the process of law, Toryism aims to craft the order necessary for civilised society to function.

To this end, Toryism is generally disinterested in the specifics of the laws. Rather, it is the application of those laws – the process – which is the most important. Laws are laws, after a fashion; it is their consistent, constitutional application which is important.

This focus on process is other great strength of Toryism. It means that the ethic can balance the many disparate needs of a complex pluralistic society, because it is the process, not the outcome, which is important. The modern Tory problem with finding balance in this manner is more due to creeping neo-conservativism than anything else.

However, there is a weakness inherent with simple processual focus. Toryism, like most other ‘conservative’ ethics in general, has no ideological means to discern the limits of the process of legislation. Toryism is misunderstood as having a desire to limit the realm of the law and legislation. This is highly inaccurate. Toryism can and does protect mistakes along with the good decisions.

In other words, all previous legislation generally becomes sacrosanct, and new legislation added likewise. A constitution can always be amended, reinterpreted, or otherwise manipulated so as to provide no resistance to legislative expansion. Hence, a flaw: Toryism lacks a sense of the limits of legislation.

Enter the prefix to Toryism which is the title of this essay: Red. In this context, Red means those sets of ethics and policies which elevate the needs and rights of the vast majority of people – the proverbial 99% – to the fore. The needs of workers, labourers, entrepreneurs, sole-proprietors, and small businesses to have economic power distributed to them is given priority in legislative concerns, instead of the desires of corporations and the super-rich to accumulate an increasing amount of power.

Critically, and distinctly from most strains of Distributism, the Red Tory will advocate for the prerogative of the State to be an economic actor in order to meet the needs of all the people – some examples of which being State ownership of public utilities, and single-payer health systems. Red Toryism stands as a bulwark against the excessive individualism of neo-conservatism, and the disastrous social consequences of its ‘winner-take-all’ philosophy.

To close this essay, I would not say that Red Toryism holds all the answers. The effects of political monoculture are clearly evident in the United States at present. Rather, it provides many answers to the problems which we all face, and has the potential to help plot the course to a better, more just economic and political settlement in the US. It is high time we had a real and vibrant conversation about the future.

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Posted in: Distributism, Reform