- The Upper Canadian Anglican Tory Mind by Robert W. Passfield
As its title promises, The Upper Canadian Anglican Tory Mind is an intellectual history, reconstructing an elite vision for provincial society. Anxious about the republican and sectarian alternatives to the south, in the two decades after the War of 1812, Upper Canadian Anglican Tories proposed a society ordered by British constitutionalism, an established church, and a system of general education. Although grounded in the political history of the province, the study asks whether or not Upper Canadian Tories were “true philosophical Tories in the church-state tradition of the Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker” (ix), and it argues that they were. The “cultural fragment” of the volume’s subtitle is intended to have a double meaning. On the one hand, the book recovers a “long-lost political philosophy” that deserves a coherent presentation (xii). On the other hand, the work is itself a cultural fragment of the author’s own history: the main text is a largely unchanged reproduction of an unfinished doctoral dissertation from 1974, written under the supervision of Goldwin French at McMaster University.
The book is based on prodigious research in the printed and manuscript writings of four influential figures: Richard Cartwright Jr, John Beverley Robinson, John Macaulay, and, most especially, the Reverend John Strachan. In most cases, they are presented as speaking from a single “mind.” It begins by portraying these Anglican Tories against the backdrop of the Age of Revolutions, worrying about political upheaval, fearful of unbridled passions, and concerned about both atheism and revivalism. The three major parts to follow explore the elements they considered essential to cultivating an orderly, Christian, British [End Page 137] society in Upper Canada: a balanced constitution on the British model, an established church as moral regulator, and a “national” education system that would form character as well as mind. A conclusion of some seventy pages consolidates the comparison between the Tory philosophy of the Upper Canadians with that of Elizabethan theologian Richard Hooker.
As a historiographic time capsule, The Upper Canadian Anglican Tory Mind was originally written as a response to the “liberal-whig” historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who traced a straight line from political agitators – the “democratic radicals, religious sectarians, Lockean-liberal reformers, and anti-Imperialists” – to the growth of responsible government (xx–xxi). The author contends, to the contrary, that “the true founders of English Canada” were the Tories, despite having been “disparaged, denounced, and denigrated by liberal-whig historians” (xxi). Invoking the Canadian philosopher George Grant’s Lament for a Nation (McClelland & Stewart, 1965), Robert Passfield suggests that the nineteenth-century Tory critique of liberalism may still have something to contribute to contemporary debates about Canadian identity and polity.
As a reproduction of a text written in the 1970s, there are naturally some missed historiographic opportunities. One thinks of debates over the liberal and conservative origins of the Canadian project, of recent scholarship on the spectrum of ideas about liberty in the Age of Revolutions, and of calls for longer-view and more coherent accounts of loyalism in British North America. The intervening years since the book’s writing have witnessed the changing fortunes of liberalism in the West – from Francis Fukyama’s confidence in liberalism’s ascendancy in The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992) to Patrick Dineen’s considerably less sanguine Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press, 2018). To be sure, the author did update some notes by engaging with important scholarship on the book’s themes by William Westfall, Jeffrey McNairn, and Steven Pincus, among others.
Readers who prefer their intellectual history with a “Cambridge School” accent on ideas in context may justifiably bristle at one of the book’s central questions: whether the Upper Canadian Tory worldview was “true” to its Elizabethan original. Such essentialism is also evident among the book’s conclusions about “the timelessness of Anglican Toryism” (597), a “unified system of political thought that transcended time” (636). Yet neither Tories nor Tory ideas existed...