The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 23, 2021

It’s Thursday, September 23rd, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is the Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Liberals Hold On to Power in Canada— Lessons from the Canadian Election Reach far Beyond Canada

Canadian liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau thought he had a brilliant idea, and that was to call a snap election, an election about two years ahead of when it would otherwise be scheduled. Now, why would he do that? In parliamentary systems, the prime minister can often call an election as an early election in hopes of winning some kind of electoral victory. So timing in politics, they sometimes say is everything, but for Justin Trudeau, it turned out that this timing amounted almost nothing. He ends up after the election, almost exactly where he began. And that in essence is an embarrassment to the Canadian prime minister, or at least it ought to be. He put his nation through the entire process of a federal election only to end up basically where he had started. At the end of the day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party’s going to stay in power.

There had been even some speculation that he would lose his majority in parliament to the conservatives, but oddly enough, the conservatives won more votes than Justin Trudeau and his liberal party. So why aren’t the conservatives now holding a majority of the seats in parliament? Why aren’t the conservatives coming to power? They got more votes. Well, the reason is basically parallel to the reality of the American popular presidential votes and the role of the electoral college. So many of those votes that were won by the conservative party were votes to add to a majority or a plurality in places such as Western Canada, where basically they won. It really doesn’t matter in that sense, if you win say 60/40 or 70/30, you rack up the votes. It’s the same thing that takes place in the United States when Democrats win states like California big, but if you win the state of California, it really doesn’t matter how big your electoral margin is. You still only have the number of electoral votes that are assigned to California.

So it’s very interesting, this is a little footnote, you have the people who really want to believe, they say, in majority rule and by that they mean direct democracy, majority rule. The fact is that even as they complain about the American constitution, the Canadian constitutional order has Canadians right now in the very same situation. And I’m going to come back and say that conservatives understand that the maintenance of that constitutional system is itself a very important national priority, whether it’s the electoral college in the United States of America or the situation there in Canada, but let’s get back to the politics.

The politics is that Justin Trudeau felt himself to be riding high, not only as head of the Liberal Party, but as the head of the government there in Canada, he clearly made the call for this snap election as a crass political move, criticized, by the way, by many in his own party who actually saw the situation more accurately than did the leader of the party, Justin Trudeau. They saw that it just might be that Canadians were not ready to give the Liberal Party, a larger percentage of the parliament and thus a stronger position in power.

And as it turns out, the liberals did not win enough seats to rule alone. They’re going to have to enter into some kind of coalition with a party, probably further to their left. That raises a host of issues we’re going to be discussing today on the briefing. But one of the things we need to note, and this is just really important, is that in general, a parliamentary system means a unitary government without a separation of powers. And so, as you think of the British government, for example, the British prime minister is almost an elected despite. And by the way, not elected by the people but elected by his or her own party. It is the party with the majority of seats in parliament that becomes the ruling party. And in general, the leader of that party becomes the prime minister. The prime minister is at the head of the government and basically gets to drive the government itself, by definition.

Since the prime minister’s party has a majority of seats in parliament, or at least a coalition with the majority of seats in parliament, the prime minister can’t lose a vote, at least in theory. So you have an efficiency in a parliamentary system. Unlike our separation of powers, there are huge questions right now about just how much President Biden can get through Congress, because after all, even as president, all he can do is encourage Congress to pass legislation, and even though his party is in control, marginally so, in both the house and the Senate, it’s unclear he’s going to be able to get his agenda through.

At least in theory, the Canadian prime minister can always get his legislation through. At least in theory, the British prime minister can always get his or her legislation through. So it appears to be more efficient than the American system, but here’s the problem. The very essence of that efficiency means that there is no separation of powers. There is no inherent check on the government’s authority or on the executive authority.

But as you look at the Canadian system, there’s another issue for us to watch. When you have a parliamentary system of government, and it’s hard to explain this sometimes, but in general, what we have seen in the 20th century is that many of those parties, especially over the course of the last several decades have drifted to the left. That means the liberal parties are more liberal, but here’s the tragedy, it also means that the conservative parties are in many cases, more liberal. And a part of that is because the continuing government, the establishment bureaucrats are almost always more liberal than the general population. And they look out for the government interest and the government interest means ever increasing government funding, ever larger government budgets, ever more expansive government powers. And so that’s pretty much the vortex of how things work.

So what were we looking at there in Canada? Well, you have a liberal party, Justin Trudeau, and you have a conservative party headed by Erin O’Toole. And here’s the issue. You have a liberal party, it’s predictably liberal. You have a conservative party, at least historically it’s been conservative, but here’s a headline for you, even as the New York town times ran this headline quote, in bid to unseat Trudeau, a conservative leans to the left. Ian Austin is the reporter in this story. And that’s exactly what has gone on by the way, on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain, the conservative party is not nearly as conservative as it was say during the 1980s under the leadership of the late British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. And the same thing is true in Canada. The Canadian conservative party is actually nowhere near as conservative as it was under for example, Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney

Also going back to the 1980s when you had Thatcher and Mulroney and Reagan, you were looking at a conservatism that was self-consciously conservative. When you’re looking at the Canadian Conservative Party right now, all it really means is we think we’re an alternative to the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau. Now, as you look at the platforms of the two parties, and I have read all of both of them, the fact is that there just isn’t that much difference. There’s criticism among the conservatives of the Liberal Party since it’s been in government. But basically when you look at the policies, even though there are legitimate differences, the reality is the conservatives are indeed moving left and they’ve been moving left, not only on fiscal issues and issues of government funding, they’ve been moving left on a host of ideological issues, and they certainly have been moving left on moral issues, so-called cultural and social issues.

When you look at Erin O’Toole, you will look at someone who has, at least at times, claimed a pro-life identity, but during this most recent campaign has been trying to make clear in every way he knows possible that he is not going to make any pro-life issue a priority. Not at all. He seems to basically have abandoned any kind of substantial pro-life conviction, also on both sides of the Atlantic, the so-called conservatives have largely abandoned an effort to even keep up a definitional battle over the defense of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. What you see on both sides of the Atlantic, and by the way, this is true, at least among some Republicans in the United States, there is just the evident impulse to say, you know, this is just done. Let’s get over it. Nothing to think about here. Let’s just move on embrace same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ revolution as if we never believed otherwise.

You see that impetus, you understand the social pressure, but in a parliamentary system, it seems that pressure is even stronger than what you see in the United States, in our division of powers and our two-party system.

Part II

So, Is the Conservative Party in Canada Actually Conservative?

Now at basic worldview, we often refer to the fact that Canada, even though it’s America’s friendliest neighbor and our closest ally, even though there are huge economic, political, cultural, and historical ties between the United States and Canada, when it comes to the level of culture, or even say religion and culture, there’s some vast differences. In this sense, Canada has tracked with Western Europe more than it has tracked with the United States of America. In that sense, the Canadian culture is more liberal, it is more secularized, or you might say it has liberalized and secularized faster than the United States.

The Canadians have been more on track with the Europeans, but as you’re looking at these issues, you need to recognize that increasingly what happens across the border to the north, doesn’t stay there, it comes south. The Democratic Party in the United States takes a lot of its political cues from the labor party in England and from the liberal party in Canada. So what you see in the platform of the Liberal Party in Canada today is likely to show up in some form in the democratic party platform of the future, the same thing true of the labor party in the United Kingdom. I’m looking at the Liberal Party’s platform right now. It’s entitled forward for everyone. In an entire section, it calls for an equal Canada for everyone, and yet subsections are really pretty radical. Under gender equality, “We’ve always been and will always be a proudly feminist government, but we know there is more to do to address longstanding gender inequities in Canada.”

The point here is that the ruling government actually describes itself as having always been, and as always being in the future, quote, a proudly feminist government, that’s an odd labeling for a political party. At least it would be odd in that sense in the United States, under the headline of growing a strong and diverse Canada, you have all kinds of things that are really pretty amazing. For instance, a section, “Empowering Racialized Artists and Journalists.” Just consider this, as a formal policy proposal in Canada, “Breaking down systemic barriers in our media and cultural sectors ensures that Canadians from all backgrounds have their experiences and perspectives represented.” A liberal government will move forward on supporting productions led by people from equity deserving groups, working in the Canadian audio-visual industry. I’m just going to stop there, but just consider that. Here you have the Canadian government saying we’re going to produce culture.

That’s one thing by the way that the United States government, at least constitutionally is not supposed to do, but here you have the Canadian government that shows you something of the difference of our constitutional systems. The Canadian government here committing itself to supporting productions. That means like film productions from people from “equity-deserving groups.” Now how in the world do you define an equity deserving group? Well, that just tells you how much the ideology of critical theory and other kinds of progressive ideologies have infused the liberal government there in Canada. It’s a form of identity politics in a Canadian verbiage and guise.

But there’s some other amazing sections. For example, on page 36 of the liberal party platform under the heading supporting LGBTQ2 people, and you say what’s the 2? That is the native American LGBTQ designation as two-spirit. And you have it showing up here labeled as indigenous peoples in Canada: “We believe in a Canada where everyone can live as their true, authentic self, in every aspect of life, improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two spirit communities is essential to building a Canada where everyone is able to participate fully.”

Now just think about that. That’s amazing language. First of all, the statement that it is a government policy, now just consider this, this tells you something about how conservatives and liberals concede the role of government in radically different ways. Just consider what it means to think that government can accomplish what is claimed here. “We believe in a Canada where everyone can live as their true, authentic self in every aspect of life.” How in the world can a government promise that? Any government anywhere? How can a government promise its people that it’s going to guarantee that everyone can live as their true, authentic self in every aspect of life? Who even knows what that means? The government comes out against so-called conversion therapy. And then there is this statement, quote, support implementation of federal LGBTQ2 action plan. One heading is this, “Pathways to parenthood for everyone.”

Oh, you got to pay attention here. The statement is this, quote, more and more Canadians are becoming parents via adoption or surrogacy. For LGBTQ2 people, it is often the only way they can have the family they have always wanted. But, says the liberal party, there are still many barriers these couples face, end quote. Now, again, just to consider the statement that some kind of a reproductive technology is the only way that some LGBTQ2 people “can have the family they have always wanted.” That’s another way of saying something that you already know, and that is that it takes a mother and a father to make a baby. It takes a male and a female, but that’s the kind of language that’s entirely avoid in this particular party platform. So instead the liberal government says that it will, if reelected, and it appears that it has been “ensure the cost of in vitro fertilization becomes an eligible health expenditure under the assisted human reproduction act.”

It goes on to say, expand the medical expense tax credit to include costs that have been reimbursed to a surrogate mother for her IVF expenses. Now this proposal is actually more radical than you might think. This is calling not only for the authorization of surrogacy and IVF and all forms of modern reproductive technology that are cited here. It is also the fact that the government is pledging to pay for them. The government here is explicitly saying that it is going to assume the responsibility to make sure not only that everyone everywhere can be their authentic life in every dimension, but that also they can have babies. That’s an astounding statement. It tells you about the expansive power of government. And I guarantee you, there are people on the left in the United States who are poised to make the very same arguments in our own national discourse.

So let’s consider this, the Canadian conservative party, or at least as led by its current leader, went into this election cycle deciding that the way to win was to be let us, well, conservative. The New York Times article by Ian Austin says this, “Mr. O’Toole, 48, the son of a former provincial legislator has made remarkable progress since last month when the prime minister unexpectedly called the elections in part by repudiating several of the traditionally conservative stances he championed to win his post.” So he ran as a true blue conservative to gain the leadership of the conservative party. But now he is considerably less true blue conservative than he was then. Later in the article, we read this, “Before this campaign, he”–meaning Mr. O’Toole–“reversed his vow to never introduce carbon taxes and rejected the position of social conservatives on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.”

Mid-campaign, says the New York times, quote, he rolled back a promise to repeal Mr. Trudeau’s ban on about 1500 assault style rifles, though it is an approach that seems to be working, it also has risks. One observer said this, “The biggest challenge every conservative leader has is figuring out how to balance the members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with the kind of people they need to get to vote for the Conservative Party.” That was according to Ken Boessenkool, former Conservative campaign strategists from the province of Alberta, “Those two groups of people live on different planets.”

Part III

History of ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ in the Midst of Changing Political Spectrum — And What About The ‘Left’ and The ‘Right’ in Politics and Culture?

But next it may be that there are many Americans or people in other lands than Canada who say, why in the world do I care about the Canadian election? Why do I care if the Conservative wasn’t all that conservative? Why do I care if in a parliamentary system, it seems so many of these center right parties are becoming more center than right. Why do I care?

Well, it’s because you care about culture. You care about society. You care about American culture if you’re in the United States and conservative Christians need to understand the use of these terms, the process of change taking place around us and how the political spectrum is changing. So let’s talk about that for a moment. How is the political spectrum changing? Let’s talk about something that many American Christians just often don’t consider. Where do these terms come from? Well, interestingly, the term left and right, go back to the French revolution and to the revolutionary assembly, it turned out the conservatives were on the right, therefore they became known as the right and the liberals were on the left, the more radical revolutionaries were simply known as the left. But as you think about it now, the right and the left are at least two major considerations when you think about the political spectrum,

But we also need to understand the words liberal and conservative. The word liberal in it’s modern context often means the party that defines itself in terms of human liberty. Well, so good so far, but liberty from what? Liberation from what, and in most cases, the modern use of the word liberal means liberation from the constraints of a traditional culture. That’s basically what it means. It means moral expressivism that is basically defined in liberating people from the constraints of social structures and all the rest. The conservatives by definition represent the opposite. They’re seeking to conserve, in society, the order and structure that makes society flourish. That’s what makes conservatives conservatives. That’s why conservatives are far more concerned with tradition because tradition is the accumulated wisdom of the community over time. That doesn’t mean that the tradition is always right.

It does mean that there is wisdom in the tradition that one may forfeit only at great risk. So conservatism is often a disposition as it’s defined. It’s a way of understanding there’s a reflex towards maintaining the tradition until there is justification to change it. Whereas in the liberal side, on the left, it is more the disposition that it is better to change society and the hope that something better will emerge. And so the right is more associated with order. The left is more associated with innovation. And of course, when looking at the revolutionary parties, they have been on the left by definition because an oxymoron is the term conservative revolution. Rightly understood, there are no conservative revolutions because conservatives believe that far more evil than good will come out of anything that is probably going to be described as a revolution. Now let’s put in a footnote here because some of you are already concerned.

They say, what about American history? What about the American revolution? You just need to remember that the American revolution was not the kind of revolution that you have the conservatives concerned about. Why? It is because the American revolution as it was called was not the rejection of the previous order, but was intended to be the perfection of the previous order. The Americans didn’t say that they wanted nothing to do with the English speaking traditions, even of the British government, or even of the British monarchy and the British society. They wanted every good thing that those institutions represented, but they wanted to perfect them in a constitutional order with a separation of powers. They wanted to improve upon it. Now I use the word perfection, but that’s just a contrast word because conservatives also believe that perfection can’t happen at the hands of government, ever.

There should be noble attempts to improve society, but based upon a Christian understanding of the sinfulness of humanity and the limitations of any kind of human institution, government can’t promise perfection, which is to say that a real conservative would turn to that liberal party platform in Canada and say, hey, good luck with that theory of helping everyone to live everywhere an authentic life in every respect. That’s beyond the pay grade of government.

But the other thing we need to recognize is that liberal and conservative aren’t exactly the same thing as left and right. Liberals are on the left. Conservatives are on the right, but there are people on the right who are not conservative. And there are people on the left who are not liberal. What do I mean, there are people who are radically revolutionary beyond the constitutional order. They are on the left. They are not liberals. Liberals rightly defined are still committed to the constitutional order. It’s one of the things you need to watch right now, the Democratic Party, is it liberal or is it leftist? Because insofar as its leaders call for a repudiation of the American constitutional order, they are not speaking as liberals. They are speaking as leftists. On the right, it is a mirror of the same temptation. There are people on the right who aren’t conservatives, conservatives are committed to the maintenance of the constitutional order.

We believe that changes can happen within that order, are to happen within that order, but they are to happen only within that order. If you’re calling for some kind of catastrophic cultural change, you are not a conservative. You are perhaps on the right. That’s why when you look at so many radicals, the right and the left sometimes get confused because the main thing that is true about them is their shared commitment to revolution or radicality or catastrophic change within society. If you’re committed to that kind of cataclysmic change, whatever you are, you are not seeking to conserve the goods that are earned, maintained, and preserved only over time with respect by human civilization and society.

Part IV

A Biblical Theology of Order — The Foundation for Human Flourishing In Society and Christian Preservation of God’s Design

Now, as we conclude today, I just want to bring it back to the intersection of these issues with Scripture. Let’s go to biblical Christianity just to understand that biblical Christianity begins with respect for order, beginning with the fact that God has ordered creation.

It is order that is God’s work, not disorder. It is order that is the evidence of God’s glory, not disorder. Human beings are put in an ordered universe and human beings are ordered. We are commanded by God. One of the first events in Scripture that demonstrates the difference between the animal kingdom and then human beings made in God’s image, is that God gives laws, statutes, and commandments to the only creature made in his image. That is to human beings. God speaks to us with you shall, and you shall not. Furthermore, the biblical worldview begins with respect for the basic institutions that make a flourishing civilization possible, human happiness imaginable. And that includes respect for marriage as the man and the woman come together in the covenant of marriage. And as the family is established. So marriage and the family are the basic molecular structures of any society.

The about a worldview begins with understanding that that order is not an accident. It is God’s design. Thus, one of the central Christian responsibilities is ordering society to respect God’s design, to respect the institutions that God has given us, to respect the order that is revealed even in creation self. And as I end the Briefing today, I just want to say that is why it is doubtful that any kind of secular conservatism can remain conservative for long because a secular conservative cuts off the commitment to those institutions as rooted in the reality that God has given them. If they’re just too human accidents, it’s hard to muster long term support for their centrality to human society. But following that argument, we’ll have to wait for another day and likely in some country, another election.

Thanks for listening to the Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for the Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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