What with Vickileaks, robocalls, Bill C-10, and the usual Ottawa shenanigans, the Tories have been much in the news of late.
I thought of all this when a Conservative friend complained that the current government isn’t truly Conservative and, thus, media have no business referring to them as Tories.
I researched this word, and got a surprise.
Tory, found in English since 1646, is the Anglicized spelling of the Irish toraidhe. Literally, toraidhe means “pursuer,” but as used in Ireland, it meant “bandit.”
The English version of this word originally referred to those Roman Catholic renegades who preyed on English settlers in Ireland. Later, tory meant any Irishman who sympathized with England. Still later, it was applied to any Irish Catholic.
We get an inkling of the depth of anti-Catholic sentiment when we discover that tory also signified the most rapacious and despicable Irish of that time.
In 1679, Tory, now spelled with a capital “T,” became attached to the “Exclusionists” — those who opposed Roman Catholic succession to the throne of England. A mere 10 years later, in 1689, Tory was applied to the English political party which had grown out of the Royalist/Cavalier movement of that time.
None of this history makes Tories sound appealing, but it does get better.
During U.S. revolutionary times, a Tory was anyone loyal or sympathetic to England. Our United Empire Loyalists were called Tories. As Canadians, we can’t really take offense at that.
Eventually, Tory was the label for anyone with a political viewpoint coinciding with English (British) Tories.
Since 1797, according to the OED, the meaning of Tory has been modified yet again to mean “anyone with conservative principles.”
Conservative, spelled with a small “c,” refers to the tendency to favour preservation of the existing order and to mistrust and oppose suggestions for change — let alone actual change.
With an upper case “C,” Conservative refers to certain political parties of Canada and the United Kingdom. It also is applied, strangely enough, to Conservative Judaism — that branch of Judaism which is flexible about accepting liturgical and ritual change.
Conservative is derived from the Modern Latin word conservativus (the act of conserving, of preserving). As we see, conservative, conservation, conservatism, and conserving, all have to do with keeping the status quo.
Because of this conservative resistance to change, the term “Progressive Conservative,” has been called an oxymoron. Oxymoron, from the Greek oxumoron (pointedly foolish), means that a seeming absurdity or contradiction exists in the pairing of certain words. That is, the separate words apparently mean different — even opposite — things.
If a progressive person seeks to move ahead, and a conservative balks at change, how can they possibly be linked? I’ve never heard any satisfactory answer to that question.
Neither, apparently, has Canadian comedian Don Harron. Remember his delightful alter ego Charlie Farquharson?
Charlie invariably referred to Progressive Conservatives as “Retrogressive Conservatives.” Since retrogressive means “a return to an earlier, less complex situation,” Charlie might just have been on to something.