Peace, Order and Good Government – this tripartite motto lays the ground-work and expresses the mind-set of the founders of the modern state of Canada. What is striking about this tripartite motto is that taken together, the vision of government formed is directly opposite that of the United States of America, which is – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Now the foundational principles of each respective country may not exactly line-up to negate the other nations’ principles, but taken into account each sides’ principles one may notice a historical dichotomy of what each nation held to be good for man and his political flourishing.
One may ask why this dichotomy exists, with the United States on one hand unabashedly advocating a concept of Man free from all constraint to pursue his whims without limitation. On the other hand, the principles of a more sober system, emphasizing a society that seems to be based on social responsibility and the positive role of government. This dichotomy, as any earnest student of American history can attest, is no accident. The roots of such an opposition stem from the aftermath of the American Revolution, in which thousands of colonial loyalists (Tories and conservative Whigs) fled persecution by the victorious dissenters and ended up founding the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick. The effects of the American Revolution, such as the vicious rhetoric and actions of discontent radicals such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry frightened many loyalists who believed that mob rule would soon ensue within those former colonies now constituted as the United States of America.
Just as the French Revolution help create a new-found appreciation of the traditional social order, the same happened within the area of North America that was still loyally British. Were once it was derisive to call someone a ‘Tory’, it became a badge of honor and showed a strengthening attachment, during the 19th century, to an older social understanding that had embodied the old Traditions of the Tory faction in England, which was composed of High Church nobles and yeoman farmers who resisted the power of the commercial elites known as ‘Whigs’, to whom the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness belonged. Though many Canadians were by habit much closer to the Whigs than the Tories, there was still an underlying sentiment that seems to be embodied and that harkened back to a political order that had grown out of an Aristotelian and Scholastic world view. The rest of this essay will examine these values – Peace, Order, and Good Government – and seek to give a perspective of contrast between two ways of ordering politics, one more ancient, and one more modern.
The first pillar of this political order is Peace. Peace means that there is domestic tranquility so that a civic life may take place. Aristotle gives us a further insight into the importance of the human need for a civil society:
man is by nature a political animal. And therefore, men, even when they do not require one another’s help, desire to live together; not but that they are also brought together by their common interests in proportion as they severally attain to any measure of well-being. This is certainly the chief end, both of individuals and of states. And also for the sake of mere life (in which there is possibly some noble element so long as the evils of existence do not greatly overbalance the good) mankind meet together and maintain the political community. And we all see that men cling to life even at the cost of enduring great misfortune, seeming to find in life a natural sweetness and happiness. (Politics, Bk. 3, Ch. 6).[i]
It is interesting to note that this social cohesion is ordered towards, but also encompasses, the Whig principles of Life and Happiness. Unlike the Whig conceptions of Life and Happiness, however, Aristotle defines a clear means to which man can find happiness. It is within man’s participation in a social organism that opens up for man a level and mode of satisfaction that cannot be experienced by a lone individual. This specification of the condition needed for Man’s flourishing makes a world of difference in terms of how one interprets one’s end and the world around them. Hence, peace only makes sense as a value if man is seen to be naturally inclined towards a harmonious social existence.
The second principle is Order. Now, as a typical American I am personally inclined to interpret Order as an imposition of another’s will upon myself. However, this is a faulty concept of Order. What order really means is the recognition of one’s role and limits within nature. This concept is grounded within an understanding that man has a cosmic link to a greater end. He may have freedom, but his own freedom is seen to be tied to something beyond himself, which puts limits on his autonomy. This concept of Order is seen within the Thomistic tradition, as summarized by Fr. Edmund Waldstein, O. Cist. in his web-log Sancrucensis:
one of the most mis-understood principles in Thomistic philosophy is this: “The good is that which all things seek, insofar as they seek their own perfection.”… St Thomas teaches that there is an order of senses in which this can be taken. At the summit of this order is God Himself: that perfection in which my perfection is a participation (partem-capio). Since creatures have being by participation in God their own perfection is found more in Him than in their individual substantial existence. It is thus natural for creatures to love God more than themselves…
With this basis in mind, Waldstein goes on to note:
At the next level one’s own perfection is found in the common good of the whole universe, that good which most fully reflects the divine perfection. At yet another level it refers to the angels who are one’s universal causes. At another level it refers to the common good of the human species. At yet another level it refers of the common good of a “perfect” human community–that is the common good of “civil society.” As De Koninck shows at great length in his masterpiece On the Primacy of the Common Good my own perfection is found more in the common good of the city than in my individual substance. The common good of the city is more lovable than my particular good because of its place in the order final causality.[ii]
It is clear that within the concept of Order, there is a sense of being tied to some ‘Other’ and ‘Others’ to which we are bound, to which our own well being cannot be realized without. Since man is by nature a social being, as noted previously in Aristotle’s Politics it is fitting that he must know and accept his role within a society to truly flourish. In addition to this, one could note the diversity of talents, personalities, and insights of each individual.
Some may excel at carpentry or smithing, while others may be capable of applying the principles of Justice more thoroughly. Each takes up a role and fills a place in society, hence computer programmers do not fly airliners, and airline pilots do not program computers for a living, but each can complement the other within a civil order. This is simply because one cannot perfect their inclinations as a monadic individual, but must excel in a participatory role.
The final value within this trio is Good Government. Building on what had previously been said about the two other values; let us examine a quote from St. Thomas Aquinas in the Prima Pars of his Summa Theologica:
But a man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man, for two reasons.
First, because man is naturally a social being, and so in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one. Wherefore the [Aristotle] says, in the beginning of the Politics, that wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them. (ST, Bk. 1, Q. 96, A. 4).[iii]
In these two paragraphs above, Aquinas answers the question “Whether in a State of Innocence Man would be Master over Man?”. Aquinas answers in the affirmative, and one should note that since one is ordered to a common life that allows us to attain a greater degree of perfection (as noted before), it makes sense that someone must lead. This leader is task with overseeing the whole life of a community, while a merchant or a chemist may be concerned with matters that concern their immediate work, such whether one may need to keep a cleaner shop, or whether certain chemicals make a better cleaning agent, they would not have the concentration to look over all the matters of a civil society: Do we need more arms to fend off an invasion?; Is our drainage system sufficient?; or, Are the least advantaged citizens able to provide for their needs? These questions are all questions that cannot be solved by self-interest, but need cooperation and direction from someone who can understand the whole needs of a community and has the foresight to take measures that bring harmony to the social life of a community.
One final point about good government that should be emphasized is that government is Good. One can contrast the statement about Angels between St. Thomas Aquinas and James Madison:
Madison states Federalist Paper #51 that “If men were angels, there would be no need for government”.[iv] Yet, Aquinas notes that:
The condition of man in the state of innocence was not more exalted than the condition of the angels. But among the angels some rule over others; and so one order is called that of “Dominations.” Therefore it was not beneath the dignity of the state of innocence that one man should be subject to another (ST, Bk. 1, Q. 96, A. 4).
These two views could not be more far apart and have embodied in them not only two different anthropologies, but two different ontologies of nature. Madison asserts a very nominalist view of nature, in which the things of the universe do not have an intrinsic relationship with each other but each thing is autonomous and only bumps into a seemingly similar being by accident. Aquinas embodies a view that man is intrinsically ordered toward something. This makes a world of difference: in the United States we tend to take the view that we determine our own happiness, and even if what Aquinas had said was true, we naturally are inclined to doubt that it is something that is universally true. We would seek to point out exceptions and particulars, which is not far off from making ourselves ‘Exceptional’ as a body-politik. This is a problem that even the liberal de Tocqueville thought would be our downfall; our natural Cartesianism.
Canadians, up until the 1960s were considered as a whole a more traditional society than the United States, with Canadian political culture placing a strong emphasis on communities (British and French) and their cohesion. This explains why Canada still sees it as essential to be linked with a European Monarchy and even have a Governor-General to (in theory) represent the Queen and to act as an agent of political accountability. This could also explain why Canadians tend to look like they are listening, while Americans tend to look like they are asserting themselves in a conversation – one culture is based on social consensus and the other on socially detached and unlimited initiative.
One question may arise that can be summed up as such:
“So if Peace, Order, and Good Government are to be valued as more sound as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, then why is Canadian society just as bad, if not worse, than American society?”
This question can be addressed with an insight from George Parkin Grant, a philosopher who wrote a book in the 1960s about the roots of Canadian decline as a civil society in the truest sense. It was titled Lament for a Nation, and in it Grant laments that the influence of the more liberal, more populous, and economically powerful United States became more intrusive following the Second World War. Such an invasion of ideology could not be stopped by a nation enshrined in the doctrines of unlimited liberty of pursuit. Power, not limits, nor heritage, were seen to be the only thing this force recognized. Is it not ironic that the very protest against the abuse of power and authority itself, when embodied within a nation-state, becomes the very thing it had protested. Thus, the assertion that Liberty against the powerful became Liberty for power and to become powerful – it is the natural end of an idea of Liberty de-contextualized from a purpose.[v]
What inevitably happens when one society exerts its ideas on the world, as the United States did at the end of the Second World War and still today, is that other nations of people are either enticed or coerced into giving up their roots, usually in the name of economic and social progress. This is the universe of McWorld, which sees any appeal to life in a different way as regressivist, backwards – even as Jihad against its own sacred values of commerce and individualism. In the end, the forces of Liberalism made another acolyte for its values – perhaps Samuel Johnson was right to say that “The Devil was the first Whig”. Eve just could not resist the fruit of Whiggery, but to what cost – abortion, big business, big government, broken communities – all aimed at dissolving what even a less-radical Whig like Edmund Burke could appreciate – those little platoons of people who are bound to one another naturally – though Burke stopped short of forming companies and battalions.
It is necessary then for both societies to rediscover a certain social ontology embedded within an earlier way of seeing the world, that is to say without negating certain aspects of scientific and technological progress, but at the same time developing a course to which society can once again find coherence and rootedness while moving away from the cultural structures and forces that make man lonely, restless, even ostracized in the world. Perhaps delving deeper into the principles of Peace, Order, and Good Government can help us to re-evaluate our way of living in this post-modern age, where Whig-liberalism has declared victory, yet for some reason this sharing in this victory has brought about strange sense alienation.
[i] Aristotle. “Aristotle: Politics, Book 3.” The Constitution.org. The Constitution Society. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.constitution.org/ari/polit_03.htm>.
[ii] Waldstein, O. Cist., Edmund. “Integralism.” Sancrucensis. N.p., 16 Jan 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2014. <http://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/integralism/
[iii] Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica, First Part: Question 96.” New Advent. New Advent. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1096.htm>.
[iv] Madison, James. “The Federalist No. 51.” The Constitution.org. The Constitution Society, 31 Oct 2013. Web. 19 Jan 2014. <http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm>.
[v] A good reference to George Grant’s thought is the selection of his writing compiled by William Christian it The George Grant Reader, which contains excerpts from Lament for a Nation:
Christian, William, and Sheila Grant. The George Grant Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. 76-83. Print.