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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


February 25th, 2001.

"The In Crowd"

William Hazlitt:

"A Tory [Hazlitt's description of a Tory is to be applied to both the liberal and the conservative parties as they have long existed in Canada; or, indeed, any person with connections to the political party in power] is one who is governed by sense and habit alone. He considers not what is possible, but what is real; he gives might the preference over right. He ... is ever strong upon the stronger side -- the side of corruption and prerogative. He says what others say; he does as he is prompted by his own advantage. He knows on which side his bread is buttered ... He is for going with Sancho to Comacho's wedding, and not for wandering with Don Quixote in the desert, after the mad lover. ... The Tory is sure to be in the thickest of them. His principle is to follow the leader; and this is the infallible rule to have numbers and success on your side, to be on the side of success and numbers. Power is the rock of his salvation; priestcraft is the second article of his implicit creed. He does not trouble himself to inquire which is the best form of government ... He does not, like a fool, contest for modes of faith; but like a wise man, swears by that which is by law established. He has no principles himself, nor does he profess to have any, but will cut your throat for differing with any of his bigotted dogmas, or for objecting to any act of power that he supposes necessary to his interest. He will take his Bible-oath that black is white and that whatever is, is right, if it is for his convenience. He is for having a slice in the [commercial life] ..., or for standing well with those who have. He is not for empty speculations, but for full pockets. He is for having plenty of beef and pudding, a good coat to his back, a good house over his head, and for cutting a respectable figure in the world. ... He is styled in his prejudices -- he wallows in the mire of his senses -- he cannot get beyond the trough of his sordid appetites, whether it is of gold or wood. Truth and falsehood are, to him, something to buy and sell; principle and conscience, something to eat and drink. ... He treads the primrose path of preferment; "when a great wheel goes up a hill, holds fast by it, and when it rolls down, lets it go." He is not an enthusiast, a Utopian philosopher or a Theophilanthropist, but a man of business and the world, who minds the main chance, does as other people do, ... The "servile slaves" of wealth and power have a considerable advantage over the independent and the free. How much easier is it to smell out a job than to hit upon a scheme for the good of mankind! How much safer is it to be the tool of the oppressor than the advocate of the oppressed! How much more fashionable to fall in with the opinion of the world, to bow the knee to Baal, than to seek for obscure and obnoxious truth! How strong are the ties that bind men together for their own advantage, compared with those that bind them to the good of their country or of their kind! For as the Reformer has no guide to his conclusions but speculative reason, which is a source not of unanimity or certainty, but of endless doubt and disagreement, so he has no ground of attachment to them but a speculative interest, which is too often liable to be warped by sinister motives, and is a flimsy barrier against the whole weight of worldly and practical interests opposed to it. He either tires and grows lukewarm after the first gloss of novelty is over, and is thrown into the hands of the adverse party, or to keep alive an interest in it, he makes it the stalking-horse of his ambition, of his personal enmity, of his conceit or love of gossipping; as we have seen. An opinion backed by power and prejudice, rivetted and mortised to the throne [governing tradition], is of more force and validity than all the abstract reason in the world, without power and prejudice. A cause centered in an individual, which is strengthened by all the ties of a passion and self-interest, as in the case of a king against the whole people is more likely to prevail than that of a scattered multitude, who have only a common and divided interest to hold them together, an "screw their courage to the sticking-place," against an influence, that is never distracted or dissipated; that neither slumbers nor sleeps; that is never lulled into security nor tamed by adversity; that is intoxicated with the insolence of success, and infuriated with the rage of disappointment; that eyes its one sole object of personal aggrandisement, moves unremittingly to it, and carries after it millions of its slaves and train-bearers. Can you persuade a king [read a politician in power] to hear reason, to submit his pretension to the tribunal of the people, to give up the most absurd and mischievous of his prerogatives? No: he is always true to himself, he grasps at power and hugs it close, as it is exorbitant or invidious, or likely to be torn from him; and his followers stick to him, and never boggle at any lengths they are forced to go, because they know what they have to trust to in the good faith of kings to themselves and one another. Power then is fixed and immoveable, for this reason, because it is lodged in an individual who is driven to madness by the undisputed possession, or apprehended loss of it; his self-will is the key-stone that supports the tottering arch of corruption, steadfast as it leans on him: -- liberty is vacillating, transient, and hunted through the world, because it is entrusted to the breasts of many, who care little about it, and quarrel in the execution of their trust. Too many cooks spoil the broth. The principle of tyranny is in fact identified with a man's pride and the servility of others in the highest degree; the principle of liberty abstracts him from himself, and has to contend in its feeble course with all his own passions, prejudices, interests, and those of the world and of his own party; the cavils of Reformers, the threats of Tories, and the sneers of Whigs." (Preface to Political Essays)

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Peter Landry

February, 2001 (2011)