A Discussion of George Grant

As I’ve mentioned before, I think TVO is one of the best broadcasters in Canada [I started watching it when I lived in Toronto during grad school] and I wish we had more of this sort of broadcasting on our local Knowledge Network station. A case in point is a recent panel discussion [see below] of George Grant on Steve Paikin’s The Agenda. Grant was a Canadian philosopher best known for his Lament for a Nation. The occasion was the 45th anniversary of Lament.

Other than a few who were occasionally shilling for their candidates, the panelists seemed like a thoughtful and representative group from both the left and right, and from both academia and the media. The initial point about Grant’s old Toryism being unrecognized today certainly resonates with my own experience. Even my sharper students are always surprised to hear about a Conservatism – Red Toryism – that appears to have no bearing on today’s politics. Like most philosophies, one has to be careful of conservatism’s historical character. It’s sort of like talking about pre- and post-1991 Russia: one has to be mindful of Canadian conservatism before and after its seismic shift of the 60’s and 70’s. It also reminds me of the belief that Charles Dickens’ Hard Times is a socialist critique of capitalist industrialization; it is, however, a very Tory lament for the sclerotisation of society during the Industrial Revolution.

I found it interesting that many of the panelists emphasized Grant’s religious convictions. I remember distinctly, as an 18 year old just out of 1st year college, that when I first read Lament it felt a lot like Roberston Davies, whose novels I had started reading around the same time. I felt the old high Anglican, Loyalist spirit in both. But I was surprised by the notion, as some of the panelists contended, that Grant’s religious convictions (as on abortion) would trump all else, and that Grant supported Brian Mulroney even with the latter’s continentalism. In a recent discussion with Ron Dart, a noted George Grant specialist from UFV, Dart disputes this contention. According to Dart, Grant’s concern with continentalism could not allow Grant to side with the newer “Blue Tories”, and that Grant, in fact, supported John Turner’s (belated) economic nationalism.

One thing I never found convincing about Grant’s thesis was his equation of technology with liberal American capitalism, and I agreed with the point in the panel discussion that technology shows its alienating effects in a number of different socio-economic melieus. I guess it has something to do with coming of political age in the early 1980’s, when the scary post-war, liberal bureaucratic machine had become a punch line for the neo-conservative counter-revolution. As with Daniel Bell’s “end of ideology” thesis, the threat of liberal bureaucracy, and the technological empire it apparently constructed, seemed – dare I say – obsolete. I’m more appreciative of the issue now, to be sure, but it wasn’t my lament back in the 80’s.

In any case, the Red Tory doctrine is a fascinating part of Canada’s philosophical tradition, and has tremendous impact on other traditions, like Canadian socialism. It’s also affected Canadian politicians, including R.B. Bennett, John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark. It is an important aspect of our Canadian political heritage, and deserves our attention.

Posted by Colin Welch at 1:27 PM
Edited on: Sunday, January 30, 2011 2:52 PM


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