Red Toryism

The Red Tory sounds like Margaret Thatcher in a Che Guevara beret, just as the distributist sounds, to someone unfamiliar with the term, like a redistributionist, or a communitarian might be confused with a collectivist. (It would not hurt the third-way Chesterbellocians to update their nomenclature.)

Zach Dundas describes Red Tories this way:

The Red Tories argue that modern free-market capitalism poses as potent a threat to individual liberty and communities as Big Government. Red Tories lump big-box stores, industrial agriculture, and high-finance shenanigans together with heavy-handed bureaucracy and high taxes: all, in their view, undermine the rock-ribbed Conservative values of local autonomy, strong community, diverse traditions, and decentralized power. The Red Tories view themselves as defenders of grassroots community against both the free market and the State.

Writes Patrick J. Deneen:

The brainchild of Phillip Blond, the “Red Tory” movement attempts to move beyond the well-rutted Left-Right positions of our time, instead seeking to combine a more Left-oriented concern for the depredations of concentrated wealth in advanced industrial economies with a more conservative defense of “virtue, tradition and the idea of the good.” Invoking the likes of Benjamin Disraeli and G.K. Chesterton, Phillip Blond has become something of a political force in England, even recently providing counsel to the likely future Prime Minister of England, David Cameron.

Here is Rod Dreher:

By advocating a localist, communitarian, distributist, anti-statist form of conservatism, Philip Blond gives us American conservatives something useful and important to work with. The GOP is a zombie party now; the conservatives to watch are Cameron’s Tories.

The term Red Tory originally comes from Canada, where the Tory color is blue and the Liberal color is red, and a Red Tory was a conservative whose platform contained some planks that could be regarded as liberal or progressive. Note that conservatism means different things in America and the British Empire: the preservation of classical liberalism and individual liberties here, and of monarchy and social order there.

Writes Shawn Summers at the Frum Forum:

On the one hand, Red Toryism is a reactionary conservatism. Distrusting the “atomized individualism” of the last half-century as leading ironically to ever-greater government as local civil society broke down, Red Tories emphasize the importance of local institutions – church, family, school boards, etc. – as a counterweight to excessive intrusion from an ever-prying state. However, Red Tories can also espouse traditionally leftist shibboleths like anti-corporatism with a fervor that would make Michael Moore blush.

Red Toryism, which really hasn’t had an equivalent here in America, strikes a chord among Front Porchers, who heard the philosophy’s leading spokesman speak at Georgetown and Villanova recently.

David Brooks writes:

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.

Writes William Chellis at Regno Christi:

First, the Red Tories remind us that civil society matters. We are all in this together. Theologically we calls this the principle of solidarity and it reminds us that a cold libertarianism can never replace authentic, family and community based conservatism. Second, the Red Tories remind us that markets must be moral. A humane economy is the purpose of our economic freedom. Third, the Red Tories remind us that small is beautiful. Too big to fail is too big to exist. Fourth, the Red Tories remind us that localism can save democracy. Power is responsive to the people when exercised by folks you see at the grocery store. Finally, the Red Tories remind us that conservatives conserve. Our communities, our schools, our traditions and our environment. If Phillip Blond can help us recover these things, his trip will be welcome indeed.

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12 responses to “Red Toryism

  1. How odd. I was just puzzling this very thing, but in a less high-minded way, and without the fancy words, because I was asking myself why my humble little not rich and not poor state of New Hampshire keeps ranking as “safest” in the nation. It’s not because the governor funded a few more police. It’s not the “enforcement,” it’s not needing enforcement in the first place because we obey the law. I think we do that because we have enough jobs and are not desperately poor, but even more importantly because our “system” is working pretty well.

    This Red Tory local autonomy, strong community, diverse traditions, and decentralized power is traditional New Hampshire (if you count smelt fishing and Old Home Week as “diverse traditions.”) I believe it really boils down to autonomy and decentralization, the small units of government with budgets, and (direct) control of those budgets. This structure creates/ forces all the other good high-minded stuff the Red Tories want, without the morality reminders.

    In NH this structure (though changing in not-good ways) is basically that our own individual residential and commercial property taxes fund police, fire, school, most roads, library, parks, recreation, even some social welfare in our own town. Very local, very decentralized. Easier to understand the issues, easier for competing interests to make their cases without outside influence and funding because the elections and budgets are small potatoes, and easier to get involved on committees and boards and in elected positions (none of which pay much if anything) and develop the habits of civic engagement, self-government, civility (to the extent you won’t get what you want if you are not civil), and a mature weighing of costs and benefits, wants and needs, because you have real limits on how much money you can tax out of people (and no ability, or desire) to borrow money that the neighborhood kids will be paying back till they are grandparents.

    It needs a catchy name like Sustainable Government. Tax local, spend local. Ship a few bucks off to Washington for national defense.

  2. Amy, “sustainable” is word often used these days and in this case it would be appropriate. Forget the Red: isn’t this approach a “Green” one in the best sense?

    I am reminded of Burke’s “Little Platoons,” and of the Catholic notion of subsidiarity, in which the preferred form of government is that closest to the people.

  3. Subsidiarity, another big word. But I love what it is, and I didn’t know Catholics were into it. The hierarchy is emphasized, as seen from the outside anyway.

    Speaking of what is replacing the little platoons, this is so true. I have seen it in action, up close, drew the same conclusions but didn’t know anyone who agreed with me. Dressing Up Standards, Dumbing Down Schools.

    Excerpt: Let us imagine an author at his craft, say, Herman Melville while writing Moby Dick, or Jane Austen working on Pride and Prejudice. Now assuredly what these literary artists hoped above all else was that a century or two from their own time students in high schools would be using their great works not better to understand love or honor or revenge or nobility or happiness, but to “analyze how multiple themes or central ideas in a text interact, build on, and, in some cases, conflict with one another”; as well as to “analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).” We know that this sort of innocuous thing is what the authors had in mind because that is what our teachers told us in school. We remember the drill: the plot graphs—rising action, climax, falling action (or denouement)—the cast lists of main characters and outlines of “main ideas,” the possible literary techniques—foreshadowing, alliteration, onomatopoeia. What we do not remember is one dad-gum thing about these stories: what insight they gave us into the human condition, what they portray as heroism, villainy, love, or self-deception. We do not remember any of these life-ennobling themes because those matters never came up in our English (what are now called our “Language Arts”) classes.

    And now we’re going to nationalize “standards” like this. We’re trending in the wrong direction everywhere!

  4. Some call this progress.

    Mr. Scott-King, the classics teacher, after his tour through Evelyn Waugh’s Modern Europe, comes back to school, and there the headmaster suggests that he teach some popular subject, in addition to the classics — economic history, perhaps, for the classics are not popular. “I’m a Greats man myself,” the headmaster says. “I deplore it as much as you do. But what can we do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ anymore. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the public world. You can hardly blame them, can you?” “Oh yes,” Scott-King replies. “I can and do…I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

    ~ Evelyn Waugh, R.I.P., by William F. Buckley Jr.

  5. Are people reconciled to the lower (economic) standard of living that would be a result of going after Walmart and such? This would hurt the poor, and most especially the immigrant poor.

    Hard to match that up with Catholic social teaching, I’d argue.

  6. John, that may be one of the reasons that distributism, while sounding wonderful in theory, has yet to be put into practice in the modern world.

    The question is raised of what constitutes a high standard of living, or a humane way of living. Walmart is cheaper than the local mom-and-pop hardware store. The crunchy con or Red Tory would argue the former contributes to a soullessness in society. But there is a lot to be said at the end of the day for cheap groceries.

  7. Marc-I certainly do favor localizing government to the maximum extent possible. Alabama isn’t New York, why should they be run the same…and from DC, for that matter?

    It’s the collapse of behavior- influencing local institutions, mostly private, that causes much of the social decay we see around us.

    Also, I think it (localizing) might well reduce the rancor of national politics.

  8. Let’s get small.

  9. Amy, you’ve hit on the winning bumper sticker!

  10. It’s a wild, wild drug.

    I wish the Think Globally, Act Locally bumper sticker was referring to government.

    How about a new ecology movement? Government ecology. Healthy governing ecosystems. The greening of government would be about sustainability, reducing waste, conserving precious human resources like civility, maturity, standards (in the old sense of the word). “Grassroots” would actually be taking place at a grassroots level.

  11. Thanks to Philip Blond’s ResPublica site for the link.

  12. Red? Sounds like it is getting a little into my kind of territory, where black (or better, blue) is the color of my shirt!

    I am all in favor of localizing government, too: the Party can appoint the local bosses who can run things locally with the heavy hand of Leader backing him up.

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