Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Lessons from Canada for American conservatives

Our friend John von Heyking sends along this piece by Travis D. Smith, whose work was last seen here.

Smith reflects on the conflicts between conservatives and progressives in the predominantly progressive Canadian political culture, notes the role of education in creating that political culture, and offers some advice for conservatives that strikes me as equally pertinent across the border.

Here’s a snippet:

The political left enjoys a natural advantage when it comes to appealing to youth. Youth is impatient, rebellious and indignant. It enjoys fewer responsibilities and incurs lesser expenses. It loves novelty, suffers from extremes of credulity and incredulity, and likes oversimplified explanations and even simpler solutions. Conservatives cannot reckon on their ideas being favored by young Canadians so long as Canadians live so youthfully for so long. They might hope for less hostility. To that end they must continue to defy the persistent caricatures plaguing them (as angry relics, radical ideologues, loony doomsayers, merciless money-grubbers, etc.). In part, this requires cultivating a broader, historically-informed, culturally-attuned and philosophically-rich public discourse in addition to hardnosed economic analyses. This means adopting a longer view of things than an exclusive focus on immediate policy concerns allows.

It also means finding ways to encourage young Canadians to recognize, create and take better advantage of opportunities to obtain experiences in their communities or the marketplace that cultivate the qualities of character this country needs in order to remain energetic and prosperous. There are some natural conservatives among the youth in a democracy, such as those who resist the reigning prejudices of their regime and find themselves attuned to the injustices peculiar to excessive equality, admiring excellence more than fairness. Democracies need both fairness and excellence, but they invariably educate their citizens to attend primarily to the injustices derivative of inequalities. Democratic passions lead us to forget that human lives actually lived and shared are of greater significance than the comparative status between persons. For their own sake, and for the benefit of the nation, these natural conservatives need encouragement and guidance to become outstanding citizens and not simply selfish, ambitious or exploitative.


There is no reason why cultural diversity should work exclusively to the disadvantage of conservatives. In teaching the history of political thought, in contrast with home-grown open-minded Canadians whose relaxed confidence in their worldview is nearly unshakeable, I find that students who retain closer ties to various “traditional” backgrounds typically exhibit greater interest in thinking critically about the big questions, show greater concern for ethics, read texts more carefully and in a generous rather than a condescending spirit, and remain open to the possibility of learning from others. It seems to me that conservatives should in principle be more genuinely respectful of cultural diversity than secular progressives. Conservatives are practically defined by their respect for the repositories of wisdom that traditions embody. They will not, however, regard the differences among peoples as a matter of indifference. While they might not celebrate every element of every culture equally – nobody does – they show more appreciation for what makes different cultures different by taking the grounds and consequences of those differences seriously.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 2 Comments

One thing I've noticed is that college campuses have become so ideologically monolithic that conservative ideas, if taught well, often have a kind of counter cultural allure to students. Their natural defiance and distaste for authority can make then uneasy with political correctness and moral indoctrination.

On a street level, one could put it this way: Most "progressives" can't think their way out of a paper bag. Nor do they want to. Nor (I would add) do they need to, since they've been quite successful at bullying the rest of us.

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