Lipservice and Tyranny
It didn’t take long for Canadians to start taking it to the streets. The roboscam issue is something many people can easily wrap their noodle around, assuming they think at all about what it means and its consequences. Meanwhile, our Good Shepherd, Mr. Harper, has been today caught out yet again in another nefarious lie — timely, given that I penned this post on lying and lipservice hours before this news story broke.
I’m always suspicious when I hear Conservatives needing to adjectivally qualify their ideological convictions by using terms like “principled Conservatism” or “compassionate Conservatism”. Evidently principle or compassion are not inherent to conservative ideology itself if it needs to be so qualified and massaged. It’s almost invariably a sure sign that what motivates the speaker is neither principle nor compassion, but cold, steely ideology alloyed with an extravagant will to power. “Principled” and “compassionate” are appended as an after-thought with the intent to disarm or to get us to lower our shields.
This particular sloganeering about “principled conservatism” or “compassionate conservatism” strikes me as being something new in political discourse, something especially associated with neo-conservatism, it seems. It is true that the name for the now defunct party of traditional Canadian conservatism, The Progressive Conservative Party, struck many as being something of a contradiction in terms. How can one be both progressive and conservative at the same time? The name does, however, have some merit and a degree of reason to it. None of us are totally conservative (which would be reactionary) or totally progressive, or revolutionary. Both extremes would represent total nihilism. A total conservative (a reactionary of the Anders Breivik type) would destroy the future. A total revolutionary would obliterate the past.
We are typically admixtures, in degree, of both — perhaps 60% progressive and 40% conservative, or vice versa. Progressive Conservatives wished to distinguish themselves from any charge of being a bastion of political and social reaction by attempting to strike a balance between a closed-minded loyalty and obedience to the past, and an openness to innovation and the future. They were usually not adverse to political innovation where it passed the test of reasonableness — at least, in their better moments (usually, they were far too slow and too cautiously “prudent” to rise to the emergencies of the day, which in itself as a kind of imprudence).
The reactionary, on the other hand, is opposed to political and social innovation as a matter of course, whether it be reasonable or not, or even necessary. The field of reaction was left to the upstart Reform Party, right-wing insurrectionaries within the conservative ranks who eventually took over the Progressive Conservative Party and then proceeded to purge the progressives (the “red Tories”, so-called) from its ranks, and in a manner that was neither scrupulous, ethical, nor “principled” at all. And in order to show who was now running the show, it even dropped the qualified “Progressive” from the new party’s name.
The degeneracy of much political discourse today, and not just amongst Conservatives either, lies in the problem of lipservice. As social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy put it, “The disease of reaction is hypocrisy. Law and order are on everybody’s lips even where circumstances of a different truth prevail…. Lipservice is the cause of tyranny. An old order is degenerate, abusing future life wherever lipservice takes the place of shouting. The equilibrium between yesterday and tomorrow consists in the interplay between articulate namedness and inarticulate unknown-ness” (The Origin of Speech). That old student of the European Revolutions recognised the disease of lipservice and hypocrisy as the chief signal of creeping social degeneracy and decay (enervation and atrophy), which would inevitably evoke a revolutionary response.
In revolution, the future attacks the past. In the reactionary, the past attacks the future.
That observation is very useful in diagnosing the present problems of our era, too. Lipservice is not just a form of lying, but a loss of stamina. One no longer has the energy or courage for truth-speaking. Rosenstock-Huessy again: “The father of lies, the devil, is nobody else but the community of common sense which always whispers and tells us: ‘so what?’, or ‘say one thing and do the other,’ or ‘think one thought and teach another’, ‘sell one idea and cherish another’, ‘have one conviction in private and another conviction in public’, etc. Nobody today believes in the existence of the devil because nobody thinks much of speech.”
Here’s the startling fact, too: lipservice is the chief form of lying in our time. This is what former Macleans’ Magazine columnist Andrew Coyne was really lamenting in his observation on “the culture of lying” that has taken hold in Canada, and Arthur Herzog, also, in his much earlier book The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Technique of Faking It in America.
As Nietzsche correctly put it, it’s not really having the courage of one’s convictions that counts. It’s having the courage to attack one’s own convictions that counts. It’s simple hygiene and prophylaxis. Thus does one protect oneself from succumbing to lipservice and degeneracy; for it is true that “time makes hypocrites of us all”, and this necessitates vigilance and mindfulness for lovers of truth, especially in times of rapid change, if we are to remain faithful to life and correspondingly truthful to our fellow man which, in these days, are even matters of the survival of life on earth. Being truthful today is a life and death issue.
To lie as a matter of course, for reasons of “expediency” may have two causes. One is a simple lack of energy. One follows the easy course that requires the least expenditure of energy owing only to an inner enervation. It is easier to lie than to tell the truth because it requires less energy, especially if one is already deficient in vitality. The other reason may be to conserve one’s energy and vitality, and not be willing to squander it on trivialities. This is what “expediency” means in both cases. But in one case a man lies in small matters in order not to squander his greater energies on irrelevancies, while in another a man lies habitually on relevancies because he has no energy at all to conserve and it is easier to be untruthful. The latter describes the decadent.
Now, this has considerable bearing on our common political and social problems today, and I do not speak only of the scandalous situation in Canada and our struggle with the reactionary conservatism of the ruling party and the Harperite faction. What Rosenstock-Huessy wrote about lipservice as being a sign of degeneracy and decay is well illustrated by this neo-conservative formation. Here’s well-known conservative National Post political columnist Lorne Gunter raging against the lying Liberals in 2007 for merely paying lipservice to the environment in order to win votes. And here’s well-known “principled conservative” and syndicated National Post columnist Lorne Gunter counseling the Conservatives to pay lipservice to the environment in order to win votes in 2006. In other words, a “respected” journalist for a national newspaper publicly counsels lying for political gain and simple expediency, and suffers no penalty from his employers or charge of journalistic malpractice for doing so. There is no demonstration here at all of that alleged “principled conservatism” that is supposed to distinguish Conservatives from supposedly opportunistic Liberals, if by “principled” we mean having integrity.
(Mr. Gunter, apparently challenged on such displays of worm-tongued hypocrisy, responded with the limp excuse that, oh well, that’s politics, and it is presumably sanctioned by free speech rights — the favoured cant of the ruling party of using free speech to debase and degrade free speech. Nihilism by any other name. But if so, then contemporary politics cannot be considered anything else but a degenerative disorder of the social nervous system, and lipservice as the chief symptom of this social dementia).
John Ibbitson writes for the more or less liberal-oriented Globe & Mail. I seldom seek out Mr. Ibbitson’s articles, owing to unhappy previous experience, but here’s Mr. Ibbitson’s take on the present robo-call scandal in which he describes the scandal as a “test of Harper’s leadership“. It really is no such thing, and Mr. Ibbitson got an earful from the readership, judging by the comments (over 2,000), many of which were far more intelligent and considered than Mr. Ibbitson’s article. It’s really a test of Canada’s democracy and of the willingness and vigour of Canadians to defend their democratic and their political rights.
It’s quite remarkable how wrong-headed is Ibbitson’s spin on the issue. Only a few short months ago, Mr. Ibbitson was commending Canadians for the new “maturity” of the political discourse in Canada even in the face of considerable evidence and growing political scandal demonstrating the exact opposite and, unfortunately for Mr. Ibbitson’s thesis, now directly negated by the present robo-calls affair. Mr. Ibbitson could only perceive this ostensible political “maturity” by completely ignoring the evident falsehoods and examples of political malfeasance of the ruling party.
And, oddly enough, at the same time Mr. Ibbitson was commending Canadians on their newly discovered political maturity in The Globe & Mail, Mr. Coyne at Macleans’ was lamenting that Canadians were falling into the trap of a “culture of lying”.
Again, lipservice — if not dissociation — on Mr. Ibbitson’s part. The weight of evidence and reality is overwhelmingly in favour of Andrew Coyne.