Ambrose Bierce once defined the political concepts of conservative and liberal thusly: "A Conservative is a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."
As the duelling philosophies evolved, conservatism was kicked into overdrive as a backlash to the excesses of the French revolution. Those monarchists and bourgeoisie, who managed to keep their heads while all around them were losing theirs, retrenched and threw their support behind the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Others of their ilk moved to the New World, settled in what is now Tennessee and soothed their tattered sense of ascendance by making bourbon whiskey. Not surprisingly, their progeny became Trump supporters.
At its roots, conservatism embodies the dam in the stream of progress. Perhaps best captured by Marx—Groucho, not Karl—in Horse Feathers when, as Professor Quincy Wagstaff, new president of Huxley College, he introduced his philosophy by performing a song containing his response to the faculty's collective ideas for change. The line? Whatever it is, I'm against it.
Conservatism has always fought to enshrine the status quo, preferring the devil known to the devil unknown. Change was seen as suspect and mankind as inherently evil and in need of strict control.
Liberalism grew out of the Age of Enlightenment. I'm not making that up. Simplified, it believed in the rule of law, democracy, growth toward a better society and better life for all. It saw people as inherently good and spawned such catch phrases as life, liberty, etc.
Left wing/right wing, as shorthand for liberal and conservative also grew out of the French revolution. Blame the French; why not? The king's supporters sat on the right while those who supported the revolution sat on the left.
This brief, and admittedly simplified synopsis, is much on my mind lately because, frankly, I have no idea what those terms mean any more. It seems difficult to understand who's what.
When "liberal" university faculties become so liberal they demand their institutions boycott speakers whose views insult their own, are they not, in fact, becoming reactionary right-wingers? Seems so to me but I've already admitted to being confused.
When the (not my) president of the Untied States throws the country's European allies under the bus, along with his own justice and security apparatus, and practically blows the President of Russia in a one-on-one love fest, is that the work of a conservative or a radical revolutionary? Blowing up the post-war world certainly doesn't fit with the notion of a conservative defending the status quo.
At this point, I've become hopelessly confused over whether Trump is so brilliant none of us can even begin to perceive his grand plan or whether he's even dumber than anyone imagined a multi-cell organism could be. OK, I'm not that confused.
When a liberal Liberal leader like Justin Trudeau tells us with a straight face the only way Canada can meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets is by supporting a pipeline to bring Alberta's dilbit to tidewater, what the heck does liberal mean?
Thank God for Doug Ford. Dougie hasn't cottoned on to the new confusion between liberalism and conservatism. He's an old school conservative. Of course, the status quo Doug wants to protect isn't the one Kathleen Wynne left behind. His world is more like the America Trump wanted to make great again. The one that existed in the minds of old white men who felt more comfortable when everyone who wasn't a white man knew his or her place ... which was several steps below.
Doug doesn't like same-sex marriage, homos, trans or anyone else who fails to believe that what's between their legs is what defines who and what they are. Sex-ed? Who needs it? You can learn everything you need to know about that at your local library, perusing old copies of Playboy.
The only thing green Dougie likes is beer on St. Patrick's Day. He's announced he's scrapping Ontario's cap-and-trade regime, replacing it with a fleet of his preferred gas-guzzlers, Cadillac Escalades, SUV of choice among drug kingpins and dictators. This, of course puts the boots to JT's support-the-pipeline argument and calls his bluff about imposing a national carbon tax. When Alberta—top provincial GHG emitter—and Ontario, second largest emitter, both thumb their noses to voluntary carbon taxes, which Alberta will do the moment Thumper Kenney becomes premier, the stage is set for a national energy, oops, carbon policy that will cinch JT's place in history as his father's son.
Just to make things perfectly clear, Dougie has also done away with other green initiatives. That rebate people who signed up for Teslas were banking on to make them more affordable? Gone. The too-cute-for-words GreenOn program to subsidize homeowners who spent money on energy-efficient goodies? Also gone. You want energy efficiency? Why?
Notwithstanding bursting JT's carbon bubble, Dougie sucked up to him, promising to stand toe-to-toe in the fight against Trump's War on Trade. After all, Ontario is still the manufacturing heartland of Canada.
Perhaps to underscore Trudeau's lack of comfort with his brand of conservatism, when Dougie informed Toronto mayor John Tory the province would no longer provide support for the waves of asylum-seekers settling in Toronto, explaining it was the federal government who created the mess and who, ultimately, should foot the bill for any fix, JT responded that perhaps Dougie wasn't particularly well informed as to the country's refugee problem nor its obligations under international law.
And that—ignorance, lack of curiosity, provincialism, bubble-dwelling—may well be the new common ground for this new manifestation of conservatism. Whether it springs from what we used to think of as liberalism or old-school conservative thinking, new conservatism seems centred in ignorance, lack of understanding and indifference to both history and modern science.
All this makes it easier for me to decide to cosy up in my own bubbles and keep wondering whether the world will end with a bang, a whimper or just get so dumb we can't manage to feed ourselves.
Heck, even Tiny Town's perennial problem with housing necessary worker bees isn't the intractable problem I thought it was. In fact, the solution was so simple it totally evaded me. As Councillor John Grills explained, when voting against a modest increase in employee housing at Nesters Crossing recently, "These are some well-established companies ... there's nothing restricting them from buying ... housing ..."
There ya go, businesses. Stop whining. Just buy a house! Wait a minute. Wasn't that Nancy Reagan's solution to homelessness?