Friday, April 11, 2008

More Dress-Up Fun With Marty Rayner

His mouth is writing even more cheques his brain can't cash

Martin Rayner's bizarre behaviour of late may turn out to have a more rational explanation than it would seem.

He may be experiencing something of an identity crisis.

Rayner recently took time out of his... eh, busy... schedule to respond to this particular comment, found on a post at Return of the Trusty Tory:

"Red Tory, please, for the sake of clarity, remove Tory or any other symbol of Canada or Conservative from your name as you are nothing but a Canada hating, America bashing apologist. You would be best served in the mosque of a radical imam or the Communist party of Canada, which, it appears the Liberals have become."
For the sake of fairness, it's necessary to point out that the commenter is a bit of a nut. Mr Rayner is perfectly entitled to take issue with being accused of hating Canada.

He's said nothing to suggest to anyone that he hates Canada.

The nonsense about Muslim Imams and the Communist party clearly indicates that the commenter is more than a little unbalanced.

But Rayner's own response indicates that the commenter has managed to strike a nerve:

"Look, as long as I have preeminent ranking on Google for the term “Red Tory” and in the absence of any truly compelling argument that I am in some respect unworthy of that estimable term, I’m keeping the name. In the meantime, allow me to draw your attention to what was said by many about one of my fondest personal heroes Oscar Wilde way back when…"
Rayner's response seems to be best embodied in the insistence that "if Google says so, then it must be true". (The sad state of western society when allegedly educated individuals look to Google as the absolute arbiter of truth will remain uncommented on here -- for now.)

Beneath the inane rantings, the commenter raises an important point: how is it that Mr Rayner can justify blogging under the pseudonym "Red Tory" when so much of his behaviour strongly indicates that he has little idea what a Red Tory actually is?

In order to understand why, one needs to direct their attention to an excellent definition of Red Toryism offered by the seemingly now-defunct Deep Red Tory:

"A red tory is a compassionate conservative, driven by a concern for community over individualism, the collective well-being over personal self-interest, Burke over Mill, social responsibility over token rights, societal responsibility over state responsibility, fiscal responsibility over socialism, and responsible government over mob rule."
In particular, attention needs to be paid to the concern for community over individualism -- it's become thematic for various commentators over the last twenty years in particular, from Benjamin Barber to John Ralston Saul.

To put it most simply, Red Tories prefer strong democracy -- built around a participatory model -- to thin democracy -- built around a corporatist, negotiatory model.

Building community is at the very heart of strong democracy. But one has to keep in mind precisely what is necessary to build a community in the first place, then make it strong enough for participatory democracy.

At the very core of participatory (strong) democracy is a social compact that acknowledges that all citizens have a stake in their community. As such, all the citizens of a community have a right -- and an obligation -- to participate in the political life of their community.

But one also has to consider what kind of conditions need to exist in order for all of a community's citizens to participate in that community's political life.

Recently a farce was intentionally made of the concept of civility, a farce that Rayner himself was obnoxiously dismissive of.

Certainly, the exercise was, as Rayner himself notes, "facetious". It was less an attempt to refine the conduct of the Canadian political blogosphere and more a slap in the face to the very concept of civility.

Now, in all fairness, it's important to note that the importance of civility should be imposed to nearly all of Canada's bloggers (myself here at the Nexus included).

But civility is necessary to build the kind of environment in which a participatory (strong) democracy can prosper. Strong democracy is built on the principle that all of a community's citizens are equal citizens.

It's safe to say that someone who believes he can dismiss 30% of his country's population as "retards" is not prepared to engage in a participatory democracy on the pretenses that those so-called "retards" are his equal. Equally so for someone like Rayner who consistently condones that kind of conduct.

In fact, it's safer to say that individual will do everything he can to avoid having to "dirty his hands" engaging with such people under the pretenses of equality, and will probably avoid that by making his community's political environment as toxic, discouraging and unwelcoming as possible.

A legitimate Red Tory would stand up and oppose the behaviour of individuals like this -- not act as an apologist (or, as he himself insists, "intemperate") for them.

A legitimate Red Tory may not like the ideas espoused by their fellow citizens, but is more interested in consensus building -- Barber's metaphor of building a communal menu that reflects community tastes -- rather than fostering corporatist factionalism between "interest groups" -- Barber's metaphor of fighting over whose individual tastes the communal menu will reflect.

A legitimate Red Tory should recognize that even those with whom they disagree can serve the purposes of Red Toryism. For an example we can turn to Deep Red Tory's four interrelated principles of Red Toryism:

"1. Tradition & Incrementalism: The tory philosophy is one in which society evolves gradually, remains stable but not static, and relies on tradition as a guide for the future."
Most Red Tories don't favour social conservatism. But a committed Red Tory should recognize that, even as they personally favour progressive political values, social conservatives who would otherwise be viewed as political opponents can instead serve as a "brake" on those progressive values, preventing fast-and-hard Utopian societal upheaval, and all the instability that inevitably comes with it.

"2. Organicism & the Social Fabric: Core to the red tory ideology is the belief that society is more than a sum of its parts. It was Burke who invoked the term "social fabric" as a metaphor to describe society as a collection of individuals who, when woven together like threads, produce a much stronger and grander entity."
But in order for such a "stronger and grander entity" to be created, one has to work with the parts that are available. A strong social fabric cannot be woven without all of its members. As such, even the political beliefs and ideologies with which one disagrees or one disapproves of must have a place -- most importantly, an equal place -- in that social fabric.

The idea is to create a society wherein the bonds of citizenship and mutual obligation are so strong that efforts at accommodation are actually unnecessary.

3. Ascription & Imperfection: The very essence of toryism is rooted in the Protestant belief in human imperfection, and the existence of a ‘natural hierarchy’ in society such that only the most capable should assume positions of authority. For red tories, while the social ladder exists, it is still accessible to those with lower social status, who may climb it gradually through their lifetimes and initiative, or over the course of several generations."
Even the dissent of those who disagree with the direction in which a community serves a purpose. It reminds citizens of the imperfections in their society, and serves as the impetus for the continual -- incremental -- progressive improvement of that community.

This dissent can come from the left (typically, the engine although sometimes the brake) or the right (typically vice versa).

"4. Paternalism & Noblesse Oblige: In essence, then, toryism is a belief system that combines paternalism and collectivism through the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’. In the tory view of community, one discovers a sense of mutual obligation – of duties and privileges, rights and responsibilities – such that those in positions of privilege owe concern to those of lower social and political status, while the latter owe a certain degree of deference to elites. Labeled "tory democracy", this set of values may help to explain the ebbing of red toryism in an age of declining social and political deference."
Of course, this fourth principle is a matter of some debate. There are those that argue that low taxes allow for more money left in the hands of those who earn it, allowing for more charity (although they themselves have to remember Irving Kristol's insistence that if the market wants to be predominant, then it must accept responsibility for eliminating poverty).

Of course, others argue that only the state can manage all of a community's needs, and that the unencumbered free market rarely provides for the needs of the underprivileged. This, more often than not, has turned out to be true.

The role of a Red Tory should be to build a consensus between the two -- not overwhelmingly side with one against the other, as many people seem to think Rayner has done.

The fact that Rayner would take time out of his day to respond to a half-baked admonition from a largely anonymous individual suggests in itself that he is a little conflicted about his professed beliefs.

Either he never really knew what a Red Tory is in the first place, or has simply lost his way.

One way or the other, he should actually find it harder to justify his insistence that he's a Red Tory than simply "well, Google says so". Whether or not he's capable of being honest enough with himself to realize it has yet to be seen.


  1. Brilliantly said, Patrick.

    As a real Red Tory of long lineage, I found nothing to disagree with in your summary of this indigenous Canadian political tradition.

    Moreover, for the reasons you stated (finding ways to restrain the social progressivism from getting out of hand on the change front) I'd rather make common cause with the social conservatives than with the left, which shares the social progressivism (or so they think; actually, they prefer outright licence most of the time based on their positions and claims to date) and who don't share the fiscal conservation attributes I hold.

    This is why I have never twitted the Harper Government for anything "so-con", even when I stated my disagreements, but have and will continue to twit them for being bloody neo-liberals when it comes to finances.

    Thanks for writing this. You've made my day!

  2. But we need progressives, Bruce.

    (Well, legitimate progressives, anyway.)

    They're the ones who help indicate where a society needs to evolve. What many of them don't realize, however, is that they need us just as much. Someone has to make sure that the resources to create and maintain the society they envision are available, and that it remains feasible.

    More effort needs to be exerted on consensus-building -- and let's not forget that many of those on the right don't want to build that consensus, either.


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