Review: The North American High Tory Tradition

The North American High Tory Tradition Ron Dart American Anglican Press (2016)

The North American High Tory Tradition
Ron Dart
American Anglican Press (2016)

What can the Tory tradition mean for us today, in this age of multinationals and American hegemony, and half a century after we were taught “the impossibility of Canada in the modern age?” What would a 21st-century Tory philosophy look like, and what would be its historically new role or vocation?

“Love,” it was written, “is inseparable from memory, which seeks to preserve what must pass away,” and it is to memory that Ron Dart turns in The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016), his fourth and most ambitious book on the subject. Memory of “an older vision of faith and society” (232), of “a large and organic view of life, … in which … religion, education, culture and politics were all organically connected” (66), of a time before the much-lamented “disenchantment of nature, soul and society” (91).

In the most sustained thesis found in these pages, Dart applies tremendous energy advancing the centrality of the Anglican faith (through a succession of figures from Bishop Strahan to Stephen Leacock) to any Red or High Tory1 historical vision of Canada; and further, states the case for the traditionalist wing within an Anglican fold too eager to sip, he argues, from the poisoned chalice of liberalism and relativism. This isn’t to suggest we have here a narrowly sectarian or theological treatise: Dart’s Anglicanism is, first and foremost, co-substantial with “a passion for the people, a concern for the common good”; and anyway, did Chesterton not teach us that the merest drop of Christianity is political enough “to boil all modern society to rags?”2

In any case, Dart’s overriding “religious” concern turns out to project an imperative which should be profoundly appealing for secular readers as well: the defence of the transcendental, of the contemplative life. This, I would argue, is simply to reaffirm the value of philosophy itself, since any philosophizing must perform at least a minimal transcendental/idealizing thrust beyond the purely empirical knowledge which forms the sick addiction of our technological society. In this world of mechanical mastery over the human and non-human, isn’t philosophy itself — the longing for a fixed system of truths and universals — a kind of rebellion?

Perhaps rebelliousness, then, is the most fitting description for this contemporary form of Toryism, pervaded as it is with Dart’s disdain for the self-satisfied bourgeois life — materialism, money, “possessive individualism” —, his hostility to U.S. imperial politics, and his defense of a distinct Canadian identity. Certainly, Dart’s voluminous work places him in that “radical” Tory tradition historically composed of the most unlikely bedfellows, from the ultramontane Bourassa, thundering against Laurier’s imperial entanglements, to the preachers of social gospel in drought-ridden Prairies.

But if Toryism is to mean anything but “a defence of class interests, attractively packaged as an appeal to the past,” then it must harbour, above all, a critique of the Enlightenment programme, and it is for the liberal philosopher from Locke to Hegel — the “bloodstained minions of liberty” — that Dart reserves his most withering scorn. At stake here is a rewriting and rebuke of the Enlightenment as the destroyer of a harmonious feudal ethos in the name of a “freedom” which turned out to be that of the “possessive, competitive, accumulating, market-driven autonomous and atomistic individual.” (198) Thus Dart has little patience for the Whig Burke (85), that eager apostle of the age of progress who exalted revolution in the colonies before recoiling in horror at its ultimate truth in the French Terror (“God,” wrote Bossuet, “laughs at the man who deplores the effect while celebrating its cause.”)

Here, a short excursion into philosophical history may be useful. In violently rejecting the “matrix of liberalism” at the root of modernity, Dart must appeal to an “older fountainhead of conservative thought,” and it’s in assembling this intellectual canon that Tory philosophers have traditionally stumbled. For doesn’t the quest for pure, unvarnished tradition miss Chesterton’s crucial insight that conservatism is always-already caught up in the dynamic of change and revolution?

All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. 3

This dilemma suggests analogies with The North American High Tory Tradition’s distinguished predecessor, Lament for a Nation, recently commemorated by Dart in a collection of retrospective essays. George Grant’s quest for a conservative canon that “predates the age of progress” was similarly Quixotic in the sense that Tories were originally compelled to mobilize their intellectual and polemic energies only in response to the abuses of Enlightenment reason: “O 18e siècle! Inconcevable siècle! qu'as-tu donc cru? qu'as-tu aimé, et qu'as-tù vénéré? Tout ce qu'il fallait contredire, honnir, ou détester.” 4 This is what accounts for the sheer scarcity of conservative texts prior to the emergence of the Enlightenment public sphere or “republic of letters,” with its great literary output of social contracts and written constitutions (in defiance of which Tory philosophy emerged). Before this shift, “conservatism” was simply the unchallenged organic texture of society, which had no need to articulate itself consciously:

The medieval world had their end discovered and their goal chartered. We build skyscrapers as a means - democracy as means - socialism as means. This [the Salisbury Cathedral] was the medieval end; they built this as their goal. We have no goal like that, no ends, and yet we cannot take theirs. We are hungry; yet we cannot eat their decayed meat. We must find something different. 5

This would seem to shed some light on the vexing question of why Grant, for a canon, could produce only shards of John Donne or Richard Hooker: conservatism, like all concrete thought, starts not with the good old days, but with the bad new ones.

So what might it mean, in these bad new days, to renew Canada’s syncretic and radical Tory tradition?

First, there’s still much to be said for a creed which compels us stand on guard against that most cruel form of “politics by other means,” which is to say war itself (whether promoted by the right — “wars on terror” — or left — so-called “humanitarian” interventions), and it’s actually against neoconservatism that Dart most vigorously preaches (237). 6 Those still tempted, after fifteen barren years of “regime change” in the Muslim world, to rally to the American empire as a propugnaculum christianitate in a supposed “clash of civilizations” will find a sobering read here.

But the most pressing lesson in these pages is that nothing can be more foreign to a Tory than an ethic of the self, of isolation from the community — an ethic whose ideologies have never been stronger, ranging from vigilantes and “self-made men” on the right to the politically-correct fear of “harassment” on the left. 7 More practically, this translates to the Tory commitment to “social policy ... as one of the foundation stones of national identity.” The central dilemma for Canada today, as for any federation, remains redistribution (which is to say socialism), from more developed to depressed or impoverished provinces, from resource rents to arts and culture. 8 Canadian and Tory politics thus remain formally bound up, if not in social democracy, then at least in some form of commitment to the social — something which, now as always, will demand sharp opposition to the laissez-faire individualism dominant in the United States.

In effect, much of Canada’s political culture is exposed here as Americanizing if not outright American — noxious to the institutions and strength of the Canadian nation (75). For Dart, all individualizing doctrines (small government on the right, anarchic activism on the left) can only weaken our collective defenses against what Grant called the “barbaric Empire that puts its faith in salvation by the machine”; as for the institutional politics of left and right, Dart naturally unleashes a plague on both houses, denouncing the “the liberal corporate and media power elite” (80) for its historic penchant for “integration with and annexation to the empire to the south” (66), while skewering the Republican-style populism embodied in Stephen Harper — “a colonial of the most worrisome and activist type.” (69) In these most politically charged passages, Dart exhorts us to surmount “the tribalism of left and right” and to “chart a middle path between communism and capitalism” (62), appealing to “that unique Canadian ability to blend both conservatism and radicalism” (71).

These political prescriptions, which also find substance in Dart’s refusal to position Tories as an auxiliary wing of the right in the so-called “Culture Wars” (258), may warrant a few well-meaning probes by way of conclusion. How, precisely, is such a virtuous balance — neither “idealizing society while denigrating the state,” nor “romanticizing the state while demeaning society” (73) — different from the usual platitudes of centrism and liberal-democratic compromise (at which Dart so rightly sneers)? Can the tremendous obstacles to the Tory vision of a harmonious society really be resolved through reasoned debate between representatives in the “marketplace of ideas?” Isn’t this wish-fulfillment at its purest — the desire to reap the benefits of modernity while brushing out the warts (erosion of sovereignty, loss of community)?

Finally, how do we go about reviving traditions which were anchored in an older way of life that has been irrevocably eroded (small proprietors, peasant agriculture, widespread religious observance)? Where Red Tories tend to bang against our own conceptual prison bars is precisely in our difficulty accounting for complex historical change, in our reliance on essentially rhetorical explanations for our defeats — “decadence,” the triumph of rotten ideas and ideologies (“neo-Marxism”), or narratives of a Fall, whether secular (Rome) or spiritual (Eden). Failure to move beyond these tropes will only validate the suspicion, long harbored by our enemies, that we are incapable of fashioning our “host of furious fancies” into a tough and solid philosophical system.

Re-immersing ourselves in the Tory tradition, then, is perhaps not where the philosophical and political hard work ends, but begins.

~Daniel Velarde

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Dorchester Review (Autumn/Winter 2016).

  1. Instead of enshrining them into distinct schools or traditions, I prefer to conceive the taxonomy of “Red” and “High” Tory as essentially rhetorical, a method of bringing into focus different aspects of an organic whole (with “Red” privileging the collective and social aspects of the Tory ethos, and “High” emphasizing its counterrevolutionary continuity with a pre-bourgeois, feudal-clerical England).
  2. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Hoddor & Stoughton, 1996), 173.
  3. Ibid., 168.
  4. Joseph de Maistre, Examen de la philosophie de Bacon (Paris: Poussielgue-Rousand, 1836), 174 : “O 18th century! Inconceivable century! What, then, did you believe? What did you love, what did you venerate? All of the things you should have refuted, reviled, and detested.”
  5. William Christian (ed.), George Grant: Selected Letters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 52. In a sort of inverted Hegelianism, Tory philosophy abolishes itself backward through time.
  6. In British history the Tories were perennially the “peace party,” shunning wars abroad while the mercantilist Whigs pursued an aggressive commercial rivalry with the French monarchy. Louis XIV survived on his throne because the Tories held Marlborough at bay; Napoleon, marching to Waterloo, gambled on a quick victory to usher in a Tory ministry that would dissolve the Coalition with a separate peace. And is it any coincidence that Marx, who so violently disdained the English Tories, experienced his own “neoconservative moment” avant la lettre, zealously embracing Whig imperial wars and the British “civilizing mission” in India?
  7. This Tory longing for a renewed community is not, of course, purely an affair of the right, and counts among several classic left-wing analogs Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization. It might be useful then to define as ‘liberal’ any position which rejects both the right-wing, idealistic (ethical, cultural, aesthetic, religious) critique of modernity as well as the left-wing, infrastructural (socio-economic, egalitarian) formulation of that same critique.
  8. Toryism must also have something to say about Quebec’s place within the Canadian federation, about which George Grant’s faith in a nationally awakened — but still Catholic and classically educated — Quebec no longer seems possible. Nor will Grant's conspicuous silence on Canada's indigenous peoples be felt, any longer, to be tenable.

“Vive le Québec libre” explained to English Canada

“Vive le Québec libre”: a thunderbolt, flung from Montreal’s city hall to an elated crowd 50 years ago today, that jumpstarted Quebec’s independence movement; to a generation of English Canadians that had paid a price in blood for France's liberation, these same words smouldered. 

“Unacceptable to the Canadian people,” Pearson seethed in a rare televised appearance. “Get out,” was the tenor of Ottawa's message to the French president.

Passions can run high, even in the old-fashioned Anglo public sphere: are we any better positioned today, from a postmodernism flush with diversity and marginalized voices, to draw lessons from this clash between two relics of history (a proud Gaullist France vs. the homogeneous WASP English Canada)?

If so, the first irony to be noted about this saga is its sheer anachronism: De Gaulle's blow against the “British conquest” of 1759 arrived at a time when the Liberal policy elites in Ottawa were busy mothballing every relic of “Britishness” from Canadian cultural life, stripping the Dominion of its name, its monarchical honorifics (Royal Mail, Royal Canadian Air Force and Navy), and tossing its Red Ensign onto the trash heap of history. (See C.P. Champion, The Strange Death of English Canada).

Conquest, mon général, what conquest?

And De Gaulle, at 76, was himself a relic, having achieved ideological maturity under the Catholic monarchists of prewar France. The euphoric crowds acclaiming him in Montreal had more in common with those which, ten months later in Paris, rose up in revolt against his decaying regime: young, irreverent, flush with confidence in a utopian future and enthusiasm for all things modern. De Gaulle's romantic longing for a bygone feudal Quebec, captured in his symbolic trek up the “Chemin du Roy” (the old colonial road linking Quebec City and Montreal), would have seemed utterly alien and outmoded to the  people thronging this very road, hoping to catch a glimpse of the great man.

The question which then imposes itself is: fifty years on, in an unrecognizably transformed Quebec, how would De Gaulle assess the souvereigniste project he set in motion?

The “inconvenient truth” facing a French Canadian nationalist today is that French culture in Canada was finally uprooted and destroyed not by the “Anglo-Saxon colonizer,” but by our own technicians and modernizers of the Quiet Revolution — crushed under the heel of an American consumer culture welcomed as a “liberation” from our supposedly stifling and archaic Catholicism (“la grande noirceur”). This was the paradox which George Grant discerned at the heart of Quebec's nationalist aspirations: “Nationalism can only be asserted successfully by an identification with technological advance, but technological advance entails the disappearance of those indigenous differences that give substance to nationalism.” In other words, French Canadians were compelled to modernize if they wished to overcome their economic subordination, but to modernize was to give up their cultural distinctiveness — a prophecy verifiable today by driving along a highway stretch dwarfing the Chemin du Roy, now lined with the mammoth architecture of the Wal Mart, Best Buy, and fast-food chains which seem to have fallen from the sky, eradicating all that was there before. In one of history's cruel twists, the siren call of independence — bound to be fictitious anyway in an era of multinationals and superpower blocs — opened Quebec to a cultural dependence from which escape now seems impossible.

Speaking of George Grant, I have often wondered whether, as a patriot for Canada and tireless defender of its federal power, he ever found cause to retract his appraisal of De Gaulle as “the living politician I admire most.” (In private correspondence, Grant had expressed the desire to dedicate his magnum opus, Lament for a Nation, to the Frenchman in 1965.)

Somehow, I doubt Grant felt much sting from “Vive le Québec libre”; even when faced with the notorious Bill 101, widely viewed as an intolerable infringement of individual rights, he proved capable of remarkable sympathy for the French perspective: “They could make people speak their language. That may not be ‘independence,’ but it is something and any political goods are to be welcomed in such an era.” And, incredibly for an English Canadian patriot (a patriot, too often, being someone who not only denies his country’s flaws, but refuses to see them), Grant found the moral courage to turn the lens on his own culture, admitting that “southern Ontario is becoming such a poor, dim, American imitation that one admires the French [Canadians] to want to be their own,” even if “on the other hand one is sad for Canada as a whole.” (George Grant: Selected Letters)

This is the sense, I think, in which De Gaulle was well and truly entitled to ruffle English Canada's feathers. For what’s at stake in our understanding of this historical quarrel is ultimately the legacy of Gaullism itself as a rich and inspiring blueprint, not for Quebec, but for Canada’s independence. After all, De Gaulle's revolt against the American world system, against the “exorbitant privilege” of its dollar and the cruelty of its imperial wars, could not be more starkly contrasted with the eternal complacency and cowardice of Canada’s political elites.

Lester Pearson once mused whether Canada was especially vulnerable to Americanization because it took place through “seduction instead of rape.” “If the answer must be yes,” he concluded, “why not relax and enjoy it?” (Globe and Mail, July 29, 1969) This imagery reveals the mentality of the people entrusted with defending Canada’s higher interests. This was the man who, vaulted into power by Washington in what has been described as the most blatant U.S. meddling in any Canadian election, now declared foreign interference in Canada's political life “unacceptable.”

So instead of re-hashing all the old indignant clichés (“How dare this petulant Frenchman disrespect our...?!”), what if we acknowledged the radical truth (Canada is not free) contained within De Gaulle’s superficial half-truth (Quebec is not free)?

Was the potential loss of Quebec not, in a sense, the price to be paid for failing to establish a truly independent Canada in the window of opportunity between the Balfour Declaration and the immediate postwar?

Can we imagine how De Gaulle, champion and defender of non-aligned and insurgent nations, might have comported himself while visiting a different Canada — upright, self-respecting? If, instead of a “defrocked Priest of Peace” grovelling before his American masters (a tradition upheld today by Chrystia Freeland, odiously begging after the favour of “the Indispensable Nation”), Canada had produced political elite worthy of itself?

(John A. Macdonald’s legacy has taken considerable punishment recently for his settler-colonialist policies and racially supremacist views, but in fairness, he was also first to complain about “over-washed Englishmen” butting into Canadian affairs, and displayed supreme political courage in telling London to get stuffed when pressed to join the British-imperial war in Sudan.)

Then, and only then, would we be entitled to any respect from the old general, a respect I believe he would have been all too willing to extend: “Vive le Canada fort et libre?”

~Daniel Velarde

Review: The North American High Tory Tradition (2016)

Full text will be published in The Dorchester Review, Autumn/Winter 2016.

What can the Tory tradition mean for us today, in the age of multinationals and American hegemony, and half a century after we were taught “the impossibility of
Canada in the modern age?” What would a 21st-century Tory philosophy look like, and what would be its historically new role or vocation?

“Love,” it was written, “is inseparable from memory, which seeks to preserve what must pass away,” and it is to memory that Ron Dart turns in The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016), his fourth on this subject. Memory of “an older vision of faith and society” (232), of “a large and organic view of life, … in which … religion, education, culture and politics were all organically connected” (66), of a time before the much-lamented “disenchantment of nature, soul and society” (91).

In the most sustained thesis found in these pages, Dart applies tremendous energy advancing the centrality of the Anglican faith (through a succession of figures from
Bishop Strahan to Stephen Leacock) to any Red or High Tory historical vision of Canada; and further, states the case for the traditionalist wing within an Anglican fold
too eager to sip, he argues, from the poisoned chalice of liberalism and relativism.

This isn’t to suggest we have here a narrowly sectarian or theological treatise: Dart’s Anglicanism is, first and foremost, co-substantial with “a passion for the people, a concern for the common good”; and anyway, did Chesterton not teach us that the merest drop of Christianity is political enough “to boil all modern society to rags?”

In any case, Dart’s overriding “religious” concern turns out to be something profoundly appealing, even for secular readers: the defence of the transcendental, of the contemplative life. This is simply to reaffirm the value of philosophy itself, since any philosophizing must perform at least a minimal transcendental turn away from the purely empirical knowledge which forms the sick addiction of our technological society. In this world of mechanical mastery over the human and non-human, isn’t philosophy itself — the longing for an eternal system of truths and universals — a kind of rebellion?

Maybe rebelliousness, then, is what best defines this form of Toryism, pervaded as it is with Dart’s disdain for the self-satisfied bourgeois life — materialism, money, “possessive individualism” —, his hostility to U.S. imperial politics, and his defense of a distinct Canadian identity. Certainly, Dart’s voluminous work places him in a “radical” Tory tradition historically composed of the most unlikely bedfellows, from the ultramontane Bourassa, thundering against Laurier’s imperial entanglements, to the preachers of social gospel in drought-ridden Prairies.

But if Toryism is to mean anything but “a defence of class interests, attractively packaged as an appeal to the past,” then it must mean, above all, a critique of the Enlightenment programme, and it is for the liberal philosopher from Locke to Hegel — the “bloodstained minions of liberty” — that Dart reserves his most withering scorn. At stake here is a rewriting and rebuke of the Enlightenment as the destroyer of a harmonious feudal ethos in the name of a “freedom” which turned out to be that of the “possessive, competitive, accumulating, market-driven autonomous and atomistic individual.” (198) Thus Dart [...]

- Daniel Velarde

The North American High Tory Tradition by Ron Dart

The official release of Professor Ron Dart’s new book, The North American High Tory Tradition, is scheduled for this Saturday, 20 August 2016.
Ron Dart of the University of the Fraser Valley is a leading authority on the subject of Canadian High–Red Toryism, and some of its most significant thinkers, including Stephen Leacock and George Grant. His new book is joined by a foreword from Jonathan M. Paquette of the University of St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History.
The launch of the book will be celebrated with a public event sponsored by American Anglican Press and the George Grant Society ( in Ottawa, 20 August 2016, details for which may be found by following this link:
For more information on the book, please visit our online webstore,, which is to begin taking sales, along with other online outlets, this Saturday. 

Five Canadian Nationalist Poems

"La victoire de Châteauguay", Joseph-David Mermet (1775-c. 1850)

La trompette a sonné : l'éclair luit, l'airain gronde ; 
Salaberry paraît, la valeur le seconde, 
Et trois cents Canadiens qui marchent sur ses pas, 
Comme lui, d'un air gai, vont braver le trépas. 
Huit mille Américains s'avancent d'un air sombre ; 
Hampton, leur chef, en vain veut compter sur leur nombre. 
C'est un nuage affreux qui paraît s'épaissir, 
Mais que le fer de Mars doit bientôt éclaircir.

Le Héros canadien, calme quand l'airain tonne, 
Vaillant quand il combat, prudent quand il ordonne, 
A placé ses guerriers, observé son rival : 
Il a saisi l'instant, et donné le signal. 
Sur le nuage épais qui contre lui s'avance, 
Aussi prompt que l'éclair, le Canadien s'élance... 
Le grand nombre l'arrête... il ne recule pas ; 
Il offre sa prière à l'ange des combats, 
Implore du Très-Haut le secours invisible ; 
Remplit tous ses devoirs et se croit invincible. 
Les ennemis confus poussent des hurlements ; 
Le chef et les soldats font de faux mouvements. 
Salaberry qui voit que son rival hésite, 
Dans la horde nombreuse a lancé son élite : 
Le nuage s'entrouvre ; il en sort mille éclairs ; 
La foudre et ses éclairs se perdent dans les airs. 
Du pâle Américain la honte se déploie : 
Les Canadiens vainqueurs jettent des cris de joie ;
Leur intrépide chef enchaîne le succès,
Et tout l'espoir d'Hampton s'enfuit dans les forêts.

Oui! généreux soldats, votre valeur enchante :
La patrie envers vous sera reconnaissante.
Qu'une main libérale, unie au sentiment
En gravant ce qui suit, vous offre un monument :
« Ici les Canadiens se couvrirent de gloire ;
« Oui! trois cents sur huit mille obtinrent la victoire.
« Leur constante union fut un rempart d'airain
« Qui repoussa les traits du fier Américain.
« Passant, admire-les... Ces rivages tranquilles
« Ont été défendus comme les Thermopyles ;
« Ici Léonidas et ses trois cents guerriers,
« Revinrent parmi nous cueillir d'autres lauriers.»

"To the Canadian Patriot", William Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918)

This is the land of the rugged north; these wide
Life-yielding fields, these inland oceans; these
Vast rivers moving seaward their wide floods,
Majestic music; these sky-bound plains
And heaven-topping mountains; these iron shores,

Facing toward either ocean; fit home alone
For the indomitable and nobly strong.
In that dread hour of evil, when thy land
Is rent with strifes and ground with bigotry,
And all looks dark for honour, and poor Truth

Walks cloaked in shadow, alien from her marts;
Go forth alone and view the earth and sky,
And those eternal waters, moving, vast,
In endless duty, ever rendering pure
These mild or angry airs; the gladdening sun

Reviving, changing, weaving life from death,
These elemental uses Nature puts
Her patient hours to; and then thou shalt know
A larger vista, glean a greater truth
Than man has put into his partial creeds

Of blinded feud and custom; thou shalt know
That Nature’s laws are greater and more sure,
More calm, more patient, wise and tolerant,
Than these poor, futile efforts of our dream;
That human life is stronger in its yearning

Than those blind walls our impotence builds between
And underneath this calloused rind we see—
As the obedient tides the swaying moon—
A mightier law the whole wide world obeys;
And far behind these mists of human vision

God’s great horizon stands out fixed and sure.

"Memories", William Henry Drummond (1854-1907)

O spirit of the mountain that speaks to us to-night,
Your voice is sad, yet still recalls past visions of delight,
When 'mid the grand old Laurentides, old when the earth was new,
With flying feet we followed the moose and caribou.

And backward rush sweet memories, like fragments of a dream,
We hear the dip of paddle blades, the ripple of the stream,
The mad, mad rush of frightened wings from brake and covert start,
The breathing of the woodland, the throb of nature's heart.

Once more beneath our eager feet the forest carpet springs,
We march through gloomy valleys, where the vesper sparrow sings.
The little minstrel heeds us not, nor stays his plaintive song,
As with our brave coureurs de bois we swiftly pass along.

Again o'er dark Wayagamack, in bark canoe we glide,
And watch the shades of evening glance along the mountain side.
Anon we hear resounding the wizard loon's wild cry,
And mark the distant peak whereon the ling'ring echoes die.

But Spirit of the Northland! let the winter breezes blow,
And cover every giant crag with rifts of driving snow.
Freeze every leaping torrent, bind all the crystal lakes,
Tell us of fiercer pleasures when the Storm King awakes.

And now the vision changes, the winds are loud and shrill,
The falling flakes are shrouding the mountain and the hill,
But safe within our snug cabane with comrades gathered near,
We set the rafters ringing with "Roulant" and "Brigadier."

Then after Pierre and Telesphore have danced "Le Caribou,"
Some hardy trapper tells a tale of the dreaded Loup Garou,
Or phantom bark in moonlit heavens, with prow turned to the East,
Bringing the Western voyageurs to join the Christmas feast.

And while each backwoods troubadour is greeted with huzza
Slowly the homely incense of "tabac Canayen"
Rises and sheds its perfume like flowers of Araby,
O'er all the true-born loyal Enfants de la Patrie.

And thus with song and story, with laugh and jest and shout,
We heed not dropping mercury nor storms that rage without,
But pile the huge logs higher till the chimney roars with glee,
And banish spectral visions with La Chanson Normandie.

    "Brigadier! répondit Pandore
    Brigadier! vous avez raison,
    Brigadier! répondit Pandore,
    Brigadier! vous avez raison!"

O spirit of the mountain! that speaks to us to-night,
Return again and bring us new dreams of past delight,
And while our heart-throbs linger, and till our pulses cease,
We'll worship thee among the hills where flows the Saint-Maurice.

"New Paths", F. R. Scott (1889-1985)

Child of the North, 
Yearn no more after old playthings, 
Temples and towers and gates
Memory-haunted thoroughfares and rich palaces
And all the burdensome inheritance, the binding legacies, 
Of the Old World and the East.

Here is a new soil and a sharp sun.

Turn from the past, 
Walk with me among these indigent firs, 
Climb these rough crags
And let the winds that have swept lone cityless plains, 
Gathering no sad tales of past endeavour, 
Tell you of fresh beauty and full growth. 

"Dat ol' man river", Eric Nicol (1919-2011)

Roll on, O mighty river
of U.S. dollars, majestic currency
coursing northward into Canada,
holy Ganges of gold
which, even as we defile thee,
(emptying our bladder of self-assertive
sound and fury,
voiding Canadi-anal matter),
yet do we drink of thee
like thirsty geese a-gargling,
and carry thee to the banks
our modest urnings,
and reverently strew upon thee ashes
of identity.

Hail! fructifying effluence,
whose every flood is our good fortune,
depositing the silt of safe investment
wherein we grow our crop of shares,
irrigating the plain
of the world's second highest
standard of living, wherefrom we glean
our simple harvest
of hi-fi and freezer, Jag and yacht.
(Consider the telies, how they grow.)

Let us call thee Jordan,
most capital of flows, whose apostles
have witnessed thy wonders
in the Wall Street Journal,
and upon whose bounteous bosom
is born each wave of prosperity.
Be not dammed by the eager beaver
building his watery cache
of what's Canadian,
but inundate us yet and
yet again, and farther still,
pouring in the pelf until at last
this land is totally submerged.
"Bless thee!" cries our nation.
"Drowning is a pleasant sensation." 


Introduction to the thought of George Parkin Grant

by Mark Wegierski

Originally published at Enter Stage Right, 9 April 2014

George Parkin Grant (1918-1988) is one of the rarest of birds -- a conservative Canadian nationalist philosopher. George Parkin Grant (who usually called himself George Grant) is virtually unknown outside Canada, and should not be confused with the American conservative writer of the same first and last name. The exploration of the combination of the four words used to describe George Grant – conservativeCanadiannationalistphilosopher –will be the backbone of this essay.

George Grant is not a narrowly partisan politician confined to the day-to-day mud-slinging and hurly-burly of "practical politics" -- rather, he is a political philosopher who looks at society from a high and abstruse standard which may fairly be termed as "world-historical" in its perspective. Although Grant did endeavour to write to be widely understood, his writing is far more abstract and abstruse, and far less crudely biased, than that found in "practical political" discourse.

George Grant is also not an analytic philosopher (i.e., Grant loves broad vistas rather than minutiae); nor is he a political scientist (in the narrow sense of the kind of person in political studies who aspires to put on a lab coat to lend themselves prestige); nor is he a student of international relations; and certainly not an administrative or management theorist. By his preference for political philosophy, Grant has set himself against the rising tide of these disciplines today, which are proceeding – despite some exotic postmodern fraying at the edges – in the direction of analytics, the scientific model, a mathematical modeling of international relations, and administrative and managerial approaches. Grant does not care about the "micro" of politics and society (such as that expressed in interminable statistical analysis), but about the "macro", the really big picture. Specific historical instances are used by Grant to illustrate his "macro" thesis, rather than analyzed in themselves. Grant does not care about quantitative analysis of picayune events, but rather looks at why, rather than how, certain things happen.

George Grant, like all political philosophers, derives his views of all human societies from a carefully defined set of first principles. These most noticeably include a conception of human nature which differs from that of most modern thinkers.

To Grant, there are deep and fundamental distinctions between pre-modern and modern societies, which transcend the particular features of individual societies. This assertion of a distinction between the pre-modern and modern (and an explanation of what these terms mean in a philosophical sense) could be seen as the core of Grant's political philosophy. The pre-modern and modern viewpoints or "world-views", make different assumptions about human nature, the purposes of human existence, and the place of humankind in the world, and therefore determine the type of society in which we live. In particular, Grant pays an enormous amount of attention to what technology, and the interaction of humanity and technology, means. Because of the negative conclusions which he reaches about technology and the "ideology of technology", which he identifies with the modern world-view, Grant is generally critical of modernity and modern societies.

The second crucial point to be made is that the term "conservatism", as used by George Grant, has almost nothing in common with its various current, conventional meanings and definitions. He uses the term in a special sense, which emerges from his "holistic" view of human history and social development. Today, most people associate "conservatism" as a political term mostly with "neoconservatism", the advocacy and espousal of the so-called free market (i.e. of capitalism), with tax-cuts, budget-reductions, big corporate profits, etc., as well as with a certain harshness, rigidity, and anti-idealism. In Canada, neoconservatism is often seen as an American import.

To George Grant conservatism, properly defined, is almost the exact opposite of these -- he is, in fact, vociferously anti-capitalist, because capitalism is seen by him as identical with that dominance of technology to which he is opposed. His own definition of "conservatism" is a highly eclectic one, which portrays it as a highly positive, life-affirming viewpoint, rooted in traditional philosophy and religion, especially Platonism and Christianity, as he sees them.

It should also be noted that meaning of the word "Tory", as which George Grant could in some sense be described, has undergone an incredible evolution throughout history. Like the word "conservatism", this word has an extraordinarily large number of different meanings, virtually all of which have nothing to do with the way the word was being employed to describe the "Tory" government and party of Brian Mulroney in Canada in 1984-1993 – roughly meaning "political fat-cats and friends of big business".

A better term to describe Grant would be "Red Tory" or "radical Tory". However, one must be careful to include the reflective component in it, as many unreflective Progressive Conservative party hacks in Canada, who simply wanted to adopt a left-liberal program to gain votes, have also been called "Red Tories". Another term which could be applied to Grant is "high Tory", the word "high" connoting both the sense of the philosophical and the religious.

The third point to be made is that George Grant calls himself a Canadian nationalist. This is clearly at odds with the conventional contemporary definition of conservatism in Canada as pro-American, pro-capitalist, and pro-Free Trade, but is, of course, entirely consistent with the definition of "conservatism" which George Grant adopts for himself. George Grant's view of himself as both a conservative and a Canadian nationalist is rooted in a certain view of modernity, modern history, and the development of Canada and the United States on the North American continent, which will be explained further below.

The fourth point to be made is that, in the same way that there are many definitions of "conservatism" and "Toryism", so too there are many definitions of nationalism. Nationalism is often a principle which virtually all persons in the national community, regardless of other political beliefs, can agree to. For example, in the Polish Second Republic, virtually all Poles believed in the necessity of a strong Poland, an effective military, and the strengthening of Poland's place and position in the international order, regardless of party affiliation. Many of the minorities of the Second Republic, however, were against the Polish national consensus – although they were also citizens of the Polish state. There can be various types of nationalism, which usually fall somewhere along a continuum based on “ethnicity”, to an identity based purely on “state”. All the Anglo-American societies (including Britain and the United States) have heavily tended in the direction of “state” nationalism – which should have theoretically made them more tolerant and less exclusivist – although this in practice has not always been the case. And, as is discussed below, the prevalent form of Canadian nationalism today actually attacks the traditions of the British-inspired state, and of “the two nations” (English and French), in Canada. Grant’s version of Canadian nationalism, however, is as a truly conservative, traditionalist tendency. According to Grant – in contrast to some political theories that usually see nationalism as something modern -- some types of nationalism can indeed be the expression of a pre-modern ethos or its residues in modern times.

One way of understanding George Grant's view of the political spectrum is to use some of Marx's categories for the different types of societies – feudal, capitalist, and socialist. The conservatism of George Grant may be seen as rooted in ideas somewhat reminiscent of feudalism, which are of course at odds with capitalism. Aristocracy, priesthood, kingship, honour, virtue, and so forth, are clearly in opposition to the values of the bourgeoisie – rationalism and functionalism – the supremacy of the cash-nexus. (For example, an aristocrat or gentleman who believed in high culture and self-cultivation would probably find it very soul-deadening if he were forced to work as a modern corporate manager – or computer programmer.) Individualist liberalism and capitalism are virtually identical, and are opposed to both feudalism and socialism. The argument further becomes (in the so-called Hartz-Horowitz thesis) that socialism (this word is generally used by Gad Horowitz with the meaning of "social democracy", not of a Soviet-style regime) is a kind of modern "replacement" for feudalism, Toryism, conservatism, or what could be called premodern communitarian values. (If these latter terms are employed, in an implicitly Grantian fashion, to mean largely the same thing.) 

Where Canada comes into the picture is in the fact that it was established as a "Tory-touched remnant" society, i.e., it was founded by the Loyalists (or Tories – supporters of the Monarchy), who were driven out of America as a result of the American Revolution. The English-Canadian Tories effectively made common cause with the Catholic French of Quebec, who were even more deeply organic.

The Hartz-Horowitz thesis is that Canada, which was founded as a more feudal society than America, has the chance of a transition to socialism, as, under the impact of industrial progress, Toryism is "translated" into socialism. America, on the other hand, was founded as a pure individualist liberal society [1], and therefore is likely to remain purely liberal. Looking at the historical evidence, there have been no successful socialist third parties (or successful third parties of any kind) in America [2], unlike in Canada.

George Grant would observe that it is rather ironic that today, America is considered as a bastion of conservatism, while Canada is considered as a more liberal and socialist oriented society. For a long period of Canadian history, it was the United States that appeared as the more liberal society, while it was Canada that was seen as the more conservative one. The War of 1812, for example, could be seen as the defense of a conservative and British-centred society against a more liberal American republicanism.

Gad Horowitz, taking note of the fact that both real Tories and socialists share an opposition to liberalism-capitalism, suggests an alliance between the remnants of true Toryism in Canada, and the socialists, against the liberal, pro-American, pro-capitalist, "middle" grouping. Ultimately though, only socialism will have the strength to keep capitalism at bay, Horowitz believes.

The world of Canadian politics has been undergoing unusually dramatic shifts. In the 1980s, the Tories or Progressive Conservatives (P.C.'s), traditionally the party of Canadian nationalism, protectionism, etc., had become a liberal-capitalist party, pushing free-enterprise and free-trade. The Liberals, whose conventional policy had always been pro-U.S. continentalism (or, so-called "amalgamation") had, in the 1980s, become Canadian nationalists. The Liberals fought against the Free Trade Agreement in 1988 under the leadership of John Turner. Turner might have in fact been more substantively conservative than Brian Mulroney on many issues. The New Democrats (New Democratic Party – NDP – Canada's social democratic party) often described themselves as the most consistent Canadian nationalists in that decade. In the 1990s, however, it seemed that all of the parties in the federal Parliament had become liberal-capitalist, with greater or lesser degrees of fervour. There have remained though, large cultural industries and structures – together commanding greater resources than some major political parties – which appear to make the persistence of Canadian identity possible. These might suggest to some that Canadian nationalism is alive and well, and that Canada – to put it in Grantian terms – has some chance of resisting the Americans.

However, it might be noted that the context of Canada today is entirely different from that of the Canada of the early 1960s when the struggle over the future of Canada between Diefenbaker and Pearson took place. According to Grant, the defeat of Diefenbaker in the 1963 election represented Canada's final integration into the American technological empire. Prime Minister Diefenbaker had refused to accept U.S. nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, with the result that virtually all of the media instrumentalities and pollster expertise of the North American managerial classes were turned against him, in the ensuing election of 1963. Despite his thoroughgoing pessimism, Grant expressed some hope for an alliance of the old conservative nationalist communitarianism (such as that represented by Sir John A. Macdonald and his National Policy), with the new nationalist collectivism of the Left, to fight for what remained of Canada – against the dynamic, technological, liberal, individualist, and capitalist America.

Today, Canadian nationalism has apparently been pushed into the position of a strong extra-parliamentary opposition. However, it should be examined closely what the messages being offered by such archetypically Canadian institutions as the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) actually consist of, in relation to Canadian nationalism.

If one accepts George Grant's Loyalist thesis, this means that Canada was, in essence, a British-inspired society at the moment of its founding -- British North America. (The Act of Confederation, which received final approval from the British Parliament, was called in full the British North America Act.) It would seem logical that the spirit of Britishness was the only force which could have resisted Americanization. Yet, post-Pearson Canada is based on an explicit rejection of the British origins of Canada.

Gad Horowitz himself has made an extraordinarily harsh critique of the current multiculturalism policies, and calls for the reassertion of English-Canadian nationalism, which he sees in political and not ethnic terms. Canada, if it is to be a country with a definable identity, can only be so as a British-inspired society, at least on the level of institutions and political culture. The denial of Britishness amounts to an embracing of Americanism, or so Gad Horowitz argues. And it is only in a British-inspired Canada that socialism can exist, because the essence of Americanism is individualist liberalism and capitalism. So, therefore, social democrats in English Canada must be English-Canadian nationalists.

In relation to Quebec, Horowitz was astutely advocating the formal recognition of its "special status" as early as the 1970s. This recognition – which might well have taken the wind out of the Quebec separatists' sails – was rejected by "the rest of Canada" in 1990 and 1992. Both the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Agreements failed.

Horowitz's argument does seem to look somewhat archaic, in the current-day context of English-speaking Canada. Like George Grant's definition of conservatism, Horowitz's definition of socialism is quite unusual. Today, the New Democratic Party is in the vanguard of multiculturalism – and no other major party has criticized it (apart from some elements of the more conventionally right-wing Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance). Horowitz's definition of socialism is more akin to that of the old, pre-war British Labour Party, or that of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.) in Canada, from which the New Democratic Party had emerged.

Eugene Forsey, a member of the old C.C.F., and a leading constitutional scholar, was someone who was conservative in regard to parliamentary institutions and Canada's political culture generally, while being social democratic in regard to economics. He was one of only a few figures prominent on the national scene who expressed reservations about the new 1982 Constitution because it weakened Parliament, and made Canada more like America, with a formal "bill of rights" (the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), subject to judicial review (or judicial fiat), as opposed to the British and Canadian tradition of the sovereignty of Parliament.

Socialism, as Horowitz defines it, simply does not exist anymore. The New Democratic Party most enthusiastically supports multiculturalism. Ostensibly liberationist social issues are also massively promoted. At the same time, consumerism, commercialism, big corporations, etc., are becoming more and more powerful, and Canada seems to be slipping into "the new economy" (where corporations make ever-more massive profits, while ever-more working people are laid off), and into the usual neoconservative budget cutbacks.

George Grant's radical critique of the current-day situation lies in the realization that there is no ultimate contradiction between social liberalism or libertinism (as typified by the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse, and the catchphrase – "if it feels good, do it"); and economic conservatism (or neoconservatism) (the dominance of the big corporations). Grant writes: "The directors of General Motors and the followers of Professor Marcuse sail down the same river in different boats." Both impulses actually reinforce each other, and both serve to shut out any communitarian ideas from playing a part on the modern scene – ideas which Grant clearly cherishes. Grant pessimistically argues that any socialism which does not question technology, technological development, and hedonism, is no different from capitalism.

Grant would be very skeptical of whether socialism can, in the long run, be any sort of alternative to capitalism. It is not that he disagrees to the idea of the alliance of true Tories and socialists (on those issues where it may be possible); nor does he want to cease to hope that socialism would somehow be able to stop capitalism. Rather, his careful, pessimistic analysis of socialism suggests that it, in fact, offers no real alternative to capitalism. Grant really suggests no positive alternatives of his own for the future – his radical analysis of the current situation suggests an attitude that the abyss is opening up before humanity and nothing can be done to avoid it. Socialism, since it is, at its roots, materialistic, non-religious, and so forth, poses no real challenge to the status-quo. It too ultimately has a modern and technological outlook. It is but a different means to the same end, or rather, a different means to no end.

For Grant, technology is seen as a total, all-encompassing world-view and force, which has its own drives and tendencies, which – although initially perhaps, very attractive-seeming – end up being contrary to human nature. The whole technological system is hurtling "forward" on its own trajectories, with human beings its captive passengers. This "drive towards mastery of human and non-human nature", this "spirit of dynamic technique", is unstoppable and not amenable to change. Grant is in the ironic and paradoxical position of effectively being a technological determinist who criticizes technology, because it will result in the end of everything that has ever had meaning to humanity. (One may conjecture it would be a world perhaps similar to that of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World dystopia.)

Canada, the neighbour of the most dynamic technological society that has ever existed in human history, is quite simply doomed to absorption into America – or what amounts to America in the current-day world. If America is said to be in moral and spiritual decline, then Canada must also be seen as disintegrating.

Grant's main thesis is that the end result of technological liberalism will be a conceptually homogenous, universal, hyper-technological, hypermodern world-state in which all sense of humanity and human ethicality will be lost. It is difficult to argue with Grant's thesis, if one accepts his description of technology and its inherent drives as valid. The only hope Grant leaves us with is the hope of Divine Providence – he ends one of his most important works (Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, 1965) with a quote from Virgil's Aeneid, "...their arms were outstretched to the further shore..." 

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.


[1] The partial exception to American individualist liberalism was the South – an exception that eventually was expunged by a savage, fratricidal war.  However, it could be argued that traditional Canada was a more genuinely conservative society that (to a very great extent) avoided entanglements with slavery and racism.

[2] That is, after the emergence of the Republican and Democratic "duopoly" whose ultimate origins can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century. Although the ideological configurations of the two parties have obviously been subject to highly drastic shifts since that time, the U.S. has continuously remained a two-party system.

The Canadian Red Tory Political Vision

What are the principles and content of historic Anglo-Canadian Red Toryism and how can such a vision take us beyond the malaise of modernity? The philosophical and political roots of historic Toryism go deep and thick into the well watered soil of western culture, and space prevents a thorough discussion of these principles, but, in brief, let me mention eleven points.

First, Tories are concerned about the time-tried wisdom of Tradition (not to be confused with traditions or traditionalism), the insights of the past and the truths learned about the human condition by those who have gone before us. Bernard of Chartres summed up this Tory way of seeing quite nicely when he said: ‘If we see further than those who have gone before us, it is because we are children on the shoulders of giants’. The eagerness of Tories, indeed generous openness of Tories, to hear and heed the past stands in startling contrast to so many in the modern world who have clear cut the past and lack any sense of direction in the present and for the future. Tories do not, though, merely see the past through glazed and romanticized eyes. History offers the alert and attentive a historic conversation and dialogue in which the wisest minds ponder the imponderables of the human journey and suggest ways the ship of the soul and state can properly sail across the water of time.

Second, Tories have a passion for both the commonweal and the commons. The good of the people, of the nation, of each and all is the foundation of Tory thought. The individual, community and nations find their place within the whole. This commitment to the organic nature of state and society that works together for the common good is basic to Tory thought and politics. Tories often compare the state to a body, and it is as each and all (gifts and nature discovered and lived forth) find their place within the organic life of the whole that much fruit is borne in the polis. John Donne, in Meditation 17, summed the integrative and holistic vision that Tories are committed to: 'No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind'. The Tory notion, therefore, of women, men and children (animals and earth) being connected with one another comes as a challenge to the atomistic notion of much of modern and postmodern liberalism in which the individuals should be free to make and shape their future as they see fit. The concern for the commonwealth is why Tories within Canada have created a strong Federal government—it is the essential role of the state to think about and protect the health and well being of Canadians from coast to coast (and, I might add, our global village).

Third, Tories do not separate ethics from economics. When the ledger of profit and loss becomes the dominant criteria we use for evaluating the wealth, health, prosperity and development of a people, we become moral cripples. The tendency to divorce ethics and economics runs contrary to the best of historic Toryism that grounds political life in the classical virtues of courage, wisdom, justice and moderation. The cleavage between the rich and poor is a natural product of elevating trade and commerce and ignoring or subordinating an ethical plumb line by which wealth is earned and distributed. Dante, for example, placed the greedy and idle rich in the lowest level of hell. We need not read too far in Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich or Prime Minister William Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People to get a solid fix and feel for how the best of Canadian Tories have viewed the clash between ethics and economics.

Fourth, The English High Romantics (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey) were deeply conservative, and their Red Tory conservatism led them to oppose the way the captains of industry were destroying the environment for a crude and short sighted notion of profit. In short, much of the Tory tradition has a deep and abiding respect for the land and recognizes, only too keenly, that the environment is the branch we sit on---if we cut the branch off, we will fall and experience great hurt and harm. There can be no doubt that the Green Party in Canada (and elsewhere) are deeply conservative. Those who marginalize ecologically minded groups embody a certain fusing of will-reason to dominate the earth rather than to live cooperatively with her. We should, in many ways, see Elizabeth May of the Green Party as a Canadian prophetess of sorts.

Fifth, Tories do not separate and artificially oppose state and society. The state has a vital and vibrant role to play in creating the common good as does society---the task is to define what is needful and necessary for one and all, hence the role of the state. Society has a secondary role to play in ensuring grass roots issues that are best dealt with by the family and local politics. The importance of mediating structures, sphere sovereignty, voluntary organizations and subsidiarity highlight the role of society, but it is the role of the state to ensure that many of the basics goods are guaranteed at the social, economic, environmental and cultural levels. The excessive badmouthing of the state by the political right and anarchist left tends to legitimate a lighter state and panders to a market economy and the corporate agenda and ideology--it is only a strong state that can oppose and stare down the dominance of multinational and transnational corporations.

Sixth, since Tories are concerned with the commonweal-- such a concern means a commitment to the commons. There is, obviously, a limited place for private property and possessions, but there must also be a generous amount of public space and place that we share in common. The publication of C.B. MacPherson’s The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism is a must read keeper for Canadians. There is a worrisome tendency within the liberal ideological tribe to priorize the rights and freedoms of the individual, often and insensitively, to the exclusion of others in need. It is this possessive individualism that Tories find problematic and that places them, at times, on the political left, hence Red Tory. The building of ever greater private barns and dwellings has done much to erode and undermine the commons, the public virtues—such is the liberal inheritance. It is the role of the state to ensure and protect the commons for the good of the people, those living and those yet to live. The modern liberal addiction to possessions/property and protection of such secondary goods does much to fragment and isolate people from one another into affluent and indulgent bourgeois ghettoes. 

Seventh, education is about being grounded in the best that has been thought, said and done in the past. The classics and epics are read and inwardly digested as a means of alerting and attuning students to that which is worth living for and that which is to be avoided. Education is not, in its deepest and most significant sense, about teaching some skill or techne, about amassing more facts and information so that we can understand and dominate our world and environment. The task of education is to awaken the conscience to the important things, to stir the will into action and to point to the wisdom that calls forth to be heard. Just as ethics should guide and be the north star for economics, wisdom and insight should be the mentors and teachers to those excessively attached to facts, statistics and information---such is the way a Tory priorizes the approach to education.

Eighth, according to the Tory view of human nature, we are imperfect, finite and fallible beings, prone to the best, worst and mediocre. This means, then, we must hear from those who see things differently. A brittle ideological approach of left, right or sensible centre in the culture wars panders to a form of tribalism that is hardly worthy of a thoughtful person. There is always the danger, in life as in politics, of ideology rather than dialogue dominating the day. Tories recognize that human nature can go bad, we live east of Eden and even the best of intentions can be fraught with complex motives and riddled with the quest for inordinate power. This is why Tories are suspicious of too much power being placed in any person, place or institution.

Ninth, Tories are convinced, in opposition to various forms of crude or subtle forms of secularism, that there is a longing in the human heart, soul, mind and imagination for more than the finite, penultimate and antepenultimate world can offer. This hunger for the Ultimate will not disappear or dissipate as some secularists once thought. The publication of Peter Emberley’s Divine Hunger: Canadians on Spiritual Walkabout made this plain and obvious. The religious institutions that bear and carry the ancient myths, memories and symbols of transformation past and present are imperfect, but to negate, ignore or destroy such institutions is to cut the present and future off from the deeper wisdom of the past. Anglicans have been called Tories at prayer, and there is still much to probe in such an alluring statement--just as the spirit of historic religion needs the ship of the institution to carry it through time, so the Tory vision of politics needs the ship of political parties to bring the political vision into being. In short, the position of cynicism and apathy that dominates so much culture today in the areas of religion and politics, from the perspective of a Tory, is short sighted and indulgent. Those who claim to be interested in spirituality but not religion (as do many today) fail to understand that institutional religion can provide goods that the decoy duck of spirituality is incapable of providing. When spirituality is idealized and religion demonized, another form of ideology dominates the day (and charismatic leaders and institutions are created to support such a dualism). It is much wiser to probe the depths of historic religion than reacting to it. If our journey is truly a communal one, we are as responsible for ourselves as for the greater good, and such a vision is passed on from generation to generation through communities and the institutional structures that support such communities. Sadly so, most in our age and ethos only think of their private journey (or their journey with a few others) rather than a larger and more historic and communal journey---such is the shrinkage and thinning of both politics and the religious quest of our time.    

Tenth, Tories are committed to the idea that there are levels of reality such as good, better, best and the perfect. There are also lower levels of reality such as bad, worse, worst and sheer evil. There are ideals worth being open and receptive to and there are inner compulsions and addictive tendencies that will betray and create much hurt and harm. It is in the journey of awakening to such higher goods and attuning heart, mind and will to such greater goods that true freedom will be known and lived forth. This means, therefore, that the ongoing liberal debate about liberty, equality, individuality, choice, communitarianism and other liberal dogmas and creeds at the level of principle can often become a diversion and distraction. If there is no higher good or reality beyond such principles that shape and guide such principles, liberals become enclosed in their own cage with no way out. 
Tories have a much more open view of life and the way such greater realities can give wings to the human soul.

Eleven, It would, obviously, be remiss of me, when gathering together the insights of the best of the Red/High Tory Tradition, to ignore the way the English, French and 1st Nations have contributed to both the founding and ongoing growth and development of Canada. Those who take the time to attentively immerse themselves in the insights and writings of Henri Bourassa and Lionel Groulx will be walked into the core and centre of the French nationalist-federalist debate just as an astute reading of Stephen Leacock and George Grant will reveal a deeper conservatism at the heart of Canadian political thought. The publication of Tony Hall’s two volumes, The American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl with One Spoon and Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism are must read keepers on how 1st Nations peoples have been oppressed by a callous capitalism. Hall’s earlier article (written with Splitting the Sky), ‘Red Tories, Red Power: The Protection of Indian Rights and the Security of the Canadas’ speaks volumes about the alliance between Red Tories and Red Power. The current boutique multiculturalism (that is so laden with many liberal clichés) lacks the depth that must be faced to truly engage and understand an earlier form of French, English and First Nations Red and, dare I say, Green Toryism.    

There is a blinkered ideological tendency within liberalism that prevents many liberals from seeing their blind spots. This was most clearly embodied in The Development of Political Thought in Canada: An Anthology (2005, 2011). Most of the book is a rather balanced read of the Canadian political journey, but when Katherine Fierlbeck (editor of the book) turns to what she calls ‘The Third Wave (1980s to the present) of Canadian political thought, the only authors listed are those who embody the standard and rather establishment modern liberal agenda: Charles Taylor, James Tully, Will Kymlicka and Michael Ignatieff---surely there is greater diversity in serious Canadian political philosophy than apologists for the liberal agenda. But, such are the dilemmas of those who lack the ability to seriously interrogate and deconstruct the modern liberal project. Grant made it abundantly clear that we, in North America, are enfolded within the matrix of liberalism, and such an enfolding constricts our ability to think outside such prejudices. Why are such icons of Canadian liberalism held so high and genuflected before? When the jargon and clichés of multiculturalism, diversity, pluralism and tolerance come to dominant the day, discourse from other perspectives is muted and marginalized. Grant saw this so clearly when he suggested that ‘the rhetoric of pluralism legitimates the monistic fact’.   

In sum, Red Tories of Canada need to unite. They need to shake off the comfortable golden handcuffs of liberalism that so binds and holds most in an invisible prison and cage. It is only as such chains are shaken off that the cost and meaning of freedom will be realized in the deepest and most demanding sense.  The Athens of the North awaits such a turn.   

Fiat Lux
Ron Dart

Timely Reminder: Stephen Harper was no Tory

by Terry Glavin

A longer version of the article originally appeared in The Georgia Straight, 2 February 2006

Stephen Leacock was the founding father of the Canadian sense of humour, but he was also the chairman of the political-science department at McGill University. His Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich was a bestseller in Moscow in the heady days following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Just a few steps from the plot where Leacock is buried, at Sibbald Point, Ontario, is the grave of Mazo de la Roche, who was once Canada's best-loved novelist. She authored the internationally acclaimed Jalna series, which was a sort of multivolume, epic Brideshead Revisited.

Then there was Eugene Forsey, proud Newfoundlander, socialist, Rhodes scholar, and constitutional expert. He was a founder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party.

Apart from being dead, the thing these people have in common is that they were all Tories.

Here's another Tory: Ron Dart, a prolific, polymathic, and very-alive political-science professor at the University College of the Fraser Valley. Dart, 55, is a bit of an expert on the beat poets and is a reliable go-to guy for arcana about the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton. Dart voted NDP in the January 23 election.

More importantly, for our purposes here, Dart is an authority on the "Red Tory" tradition in Canadian literature and politics. Two of his 14 books are about that very subject: The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes (1999), and The Canadian High Tory Tradition: Raids on the Unspeakable (2004).

Because of these things, Dart has a special understanding of where Stephen Harper's Conservatives fit in Canada's political culture and how they got there. That's why I spent some time in conversation with him the other day, and we got straight to the reason why most people would be surprised that a radical like Milton Acorn shared a common, bedrock political philosophy with a bluestocking like Mazo de la Roche. And that a famously funny, card-carrying Canadian Conservative was the toast of Soviet revolutionaries. And that a founder of the socialist CCF could happily call himself "an unrevised, unrepented Sir John A. Macdonald conservative".

"It's language," Dart said. "Language gets into our bones and marrow, but our language has been taken away from us. A political lobotomy has taken place here."

Here's how that happened.

After the 1963 defeat of the progressive and nationalist regime of Conservative John Diefenbaker, Canada suddenly found itself spinning in an ever-tightening orbit around the United States. Television had a lot to do with it, and so did popular music, movies, literature, and art.

We'd always shared a language with the Americans, but our words often meant different things. To an American, for instance, to be "conservative" is to be right-wing, strongly suspicious of the state, and most likely some kind of Christian fundamentalist. But in Canada, conservative meant almost the opposite.

By the late 1960s, our political language was changing. It was becoming American.

Canada's distinct "Red Tory" conservatives had always been wary of American empire, firmly federalist, politically centrist, and as suspicious of antiestablishment socialists on the left as they were of the individualists and free-market advocates on the right, in the Liberal party. To be a Tory in Canada was to cleave to the principles of universality and the common good, and to welcome the progressive role of the state in nation-building.

But by the 1980s, the fog lay so thick on the ground of Canada's political language that our country's venerable old Conservative party fell into the hands of the antinationalist and neoconservative Brian Mulroney. By the early 1990s, he'd destroyed the party, leaving it with only two seats in the House of Commons.

Then, from their base in the Albertan enclave of American Christian-fundamentalist sects and American-style conservatism, the neoconservatives regrouped. By 2004, they'd reconstituted the Conservative party under economist Stephen Harper, who is, essentially, a republican - which is the antithesis of a "conservative" in the traditional Canadian meaning of the word.

After Saskatchewan prairie farmer David Orchard failed in his Conservative party leadership bid in 2003, the Red Tories were scattered. A few stayed on. Some abandoned politics altogether. Some turned to the Green party or the Liberal party (Orchard openly supported the Liberals in the recent federal election), and many turned to the NDP. Dart said he was left a "political orphan" by it all, although he voted NDP on the January 23 ballot.

But there was a warning Dart wanted me to pass on to readers of this column.

Beware the "antistate" left, he said. It may be Harper's loudest and most vociferous opposition, but listen carefully. It speaks the same language that Harper does. It cleaves to "liberal" ideas, but in the American meaning of the word. It is a "subtler imperialism" that threatens to render Canada incapable of articulating an effective, homegrown defence against neoconservatism.

Beware, in other words, else we end up with our own versions of Fox News shouting matches, and our own Al Frankens pitted against their Bill O'Reillys in the same degenerate American arguments, carried on in the same American language, and the same hoarse and hate-filled stalemate that has so horribly paralyzed and disfigured American politics.

There's a way out, Dart said, but it involves the hard work of rediscovering our own history and remembering that the very basis of Canada's distinct political culture is its remarkable capacity to integrate politics that run the gamut of Canadian liberalism, Canadian conservatism, and democratic socialism.

To rediscover these things, we have to reclaim our language, Dart said.

"That's what George Orwell understood so well, When they control your language, they control your memory."

George Grant and the Primacy of Economics

by David T. Koyzis

This article originally appeared at Cardus, 1 May 2004.

Some 25 years ago, I discovered the writings of the late George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), who during his lifetime came to be regarded as Canada's foremost philosopher. Although he is probably best known for Lament for a Nation, a passionate book written in 1965 in the wake of the defeat of John Diefenbaker's Conservative government two years earlier, Grant wrote a number of essays, most dealing in some fashion with the ongoing interaction of tradition, society, politics, and technology. Although on the surface he appears to be simply anti-American, opposing the acceptance of ideas and techniques from south of the 49th parallel, a deeper exploration of his thought reveals much more.

Grant was quietly converted to Christianity during his graduate studies at Oxford in the 1940s. He remained a member of the Anglican Church throughout his life, and his Christian commitment was evident, if in somewhat idiosyncratic fashion, throughout his writings. He styled himself a conservative and a Tory, although his ideas were picked up by various Canadian radicals and progressives who sought to claim his legacy as their own. These gravitated to his nationalism rather than to his conservatism or Christianity.


Above all, Grant is a localist. He dislikes homogeneity of virtually any type, whether cultural or political. He is a champion of local traditions against efforts of either government bureaucrats or giant corporations to subject them to forced standardization. Uniformity is something to be resisted. The stakes in all this are high because of the risks posed to all stable, longstanding communities with their own distinctive mores and ways of life. Only in a small community can that virtue necessary for the good life be nurtured and sustained. Such communities in turn flourish on the basis of particular traditions, many of which are unique to them.

This is why Grant grieves over what he perceives as the loss of the old Canada. In the 1960s, Canada, like much of the Western world, was caught up in a cultural revolution, as protestant Ontario and Catholic Québec were giving way to more secular societies. Local allegiances and religious faith were being supplanted by a liberal emphasis on self-seeking. But because self-seeking is such a poor basis for community, it must be counteracted with what the Hegelian philosopher Alexandre Kojöve calls the universal and homogeneous state. Such a state must of necessity undertake to efface any more proximate loyalties standing between itself and the constituent individuals.

Echoing the reflections of Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), Grant believes that technology is the driving force behind this homogenization. Because North America has been formed and so thoroughly driven by technology's imperatives—because it is imbued with an activist spirit opposed to the ancient contemplative traditions inherited from both biblical religion and Greek philosophy—it has become a levelling force, inexorably diluting, if not altogether eliminating, the legitimately different ways in which human communities live out their common lives.

Canada has been caught up in this, but the primary source of this levelling is the United States, with its dynamic technological culture. When we see the "golden arches" in Moscow and Beijing, we are seeing precisely the Americanization of Russia and China. The proliferation of American discount retail chains in Canada is another manifestation of this phenomenon.

This explains Grant's anti-Americanism. It is not simply that he prefers Canadian to American traditions. Rather, he distrusts a country whose very identity appears to be anchored in the repudiation of tradition.

Yet there is a central difficulty in Grant's thought, and this revolves around his tacit belief that economics drives politics. Canada, he repeatedly emphasizes, has become little more than a branch plant economy dependent on American capitalism. Our political leaders are doing little more than to receive instruction from our economic elites, who are in turn taking their cues from their counterparts in New York and Chicago.

Clearly, there is something to this argument. When the Federal Reserve Board raises interest rates, how often has the Bank of Canada been forced to follow suit? Our two economies are inextricably linked, with that of the United States obviously the more dominant. It was for good reason that Pierre Trudeau came up with his clever simile to describe Canadian-American relations: Canada is like a mouse in bed with an elephant; no matter how even-tempered the elephant, the smaller and more vulnerable mouse is wary of its every move.

Janet Ajzenstat has recently argued (in The Once and Future Canadian Democracy) that Grant's dislike for liberalism translates into a contempt for liberal or constitutional democracy. Although she unduly conflates liberalism (an animating ideological spirit based on a metaphysical individualism) with constitutional democracy (a concrete set of institutions influenced by several ideologies and providing a structural context for competition among them), there is an element of truth in her analysis.

Grant too quickly assumes that economic integration of the two countries must of necessity lead to political integration. Four decades ago, he observed with sadness that Canada had already ceased to exist with respect to control of its own economic life; it was only a matter of time before the nation itself disappeared.

In this Grant evidently reflects a common belief seen elsewhere as well. In its more radical form, Karl Marx and his followers believe that politics is little more than ideological window dressing thrown off by an underlying economic class struggle. For them, politics is something to be transcended in the coming classless society, because it is intrinsically oppressive and serves the interests of the dominant class.

Ellul takes a similarly deterministic approach, although he sees the development of the technological society as a dark one eventually ushering in the totalitarian state. Even the original architects of the European Union half a century ago were animated by the assumption that economic integration of the continent would almost naturally and benignly lead to political integration.

Yet could it be that Canada's political institutions are more resilient than Grant believed? There is no reason to think Grant disliked Canada's political constitution, which is, after all, among those distinctive elements making this country unique, particularly in comparison to our neighbour to the south.

At the same time, he clearly believed that Canada's political constitution lacked the strength to withstand the ostensibly superior force of technology and the liberalism animating it. If economics really drove politics pure and simple, one would have difficulty explaining the many secessionist movements, including Scottish, Corsican, and Basque, affecting Europe at the very moment of its economic integration. It makes no economic sense for the Swiss to stay out of the EU altogether, for Québec to leave Canada, or for Canada itself to continue to exist at all. Yet in the real world of politics, many things happen that defy what some would describe as economic necessity.

There is finally a certain irony in Grant's ruminations. On the one hand, he is a defender of the diversity of human communities with their peculiar local manners and mores. He is plainly a patriot—a lover of his own country and, more broadly, of the contemplative side of the Western civilization that formed it.

On the other hand, he has neglected to discern the distinctiveness of politics as a unique endeavour whereby state power is directed to the doing of public justice. Politics is politics. It has its own task within God's world which cannot simply be reduced to economic factors. This Grant fails to pick up on.

"Lament For A Nation" revisited

Ron Dart is, arguably, the most significant Red Tory thinker of our epoch. He is certainly the most prolific. Dart follows a path trodden by such notable Canadian political philosophers as Stephen Leacock and George Grant.

It has been fifty years since the publication of George Grant's profound, "Lament For A Nation". Nevertheless, the message of Grant's book, which resonated so deeply among my generation in 1965, has a contemporary ring to it. Dart is uniquely situated to examine "Lament For A Nation" and tie it together with our present Canadian quandary. The passing of Canadian Conservatism and its replacement by an American style neo-conservatism has gained traction and speed especially since the destruction of the Progressive-Conservative Party of Canada in 2003 was a death knell for the Red Tory Conservatism of John A. MacDonald and John Diefenbaker. Perhaps Joe Clark was its last federal party leader.

The federal election of 1963 was a milestone in this transformation. It was that election that brought many of us young people into the Progressive Canadian Party and introduced us to political action.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker had refused American demands that nuclear warheads be placed on American Bomark missiles located in Canada. Mr Diefenbaker waned to make it clear that Canada was not part of the U.S. Empire. Leader of the opposition Lester Pearson was ready to yield to American demands and the U.S. government spent millions of dollars in Canada to create a "regime change". Mr Pearson became Prime Minister; "Lament For A Nation" was inspired by this election.

Something more has eroded in Canada since that time, and this makes Dart's review of Grant's lament urgent and pertinent to our own era. The authority of Parliament has been seriously eroded by the Prime Minister's Office. We can hark back to a time when Prime Minister Mackenzie King, though a bit of a comprador himself, would respond to a demand for decisions on major issues with "parliament will decide". Today, the Prime Minister decides and his caucus is bullied into acceptance. Canadians no longer realise that in our system, we are supposed to elect a parliament, not a Prime Minister. The leader of the party with most seats in parliament is invited by the Governor General to form a government and is named Prime Minister.

George Grant's "Lament For A Nation" speaks loudly to us today, and we can be grateful that Ron Dart has invited our attention to this seminal work.

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo 

Wayne Northey reviews Lament For a Nation: Then and Now by Ron Dart


The more I learn about Grant thanks to Ron Dart and David Cayley, the more I am impressed.  This booklet, though brief, points to an urgency first heralded so brilliantly by George Grant 50 years ago upon the publication of his Lament For a Nation

Dart states in the Preface that “There is a direct line and lineage, in short, from the principles and ideas articulated in Political Realignment [written by Ernest and Preston Manning] and the form of conservatism that dominates Canada and much of republicanism in the United States.”  Grant’s Lament is committed to “an older and deeper notion of what is worth conserving”.  “Lament for a Nation is a lament, therefore, about the way a driven and ambitious form of liberalism has banished the contemplative way and enthroned the active way…” 

There are four essays: two on Red Toryism; one written ten years ago that compares and contrasts Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems with Grant’s Lament; one on the “Afterword” written several years later by Grant’s wife, Sheila.  Dart hopes that Lament’s perennial significance will be readily seen.

In the first essay, we learn that Grant lamented the liberal alliance of John Kennedy and Lester Pearson that saw Prime Minister John Diefenbaker defeated in the 1963 election.  Gad Horowitz coined the term “Red Tory” to describe Grant in this mode, though a self-designation never fully embraced by Grant. 

In short, Grant was part of a tradition that “was profoundly suspicious of the United States as an emerging empire (p. 2).”  Grant refused to allow Canada to align with American empire without raising a “lament”.  In post-World War II Canada, the United States emerged as Canada’s “north star” in all key areas of nationhood.  That said, Grant was not uncritical of Diefenbaker in his inconsistent embrace of High Toryism. 

What Grant affirmed was “a middle way between the waning of the British empire and the waxing of the American empire (p. 7).”  Grant was critical of England’s turn for guidance to the USA since World War II.  The notion of “commonwealth” had precedence for Grant over American utilitarianism. 

Will (power), liberty, and reason were America’s creed, which triumphed over an “older notion of the political good (p. 8).”  In short, “an [American] imperial ideology [had] muted an older Anglo-Canadian Toryism (p. 9).”, that Grant held out for.

Grant’s affinities with the New Left were present when nationalism was the issue, but Grant was not a socialist, and hence was suspicious of the secular New Left.  He was rather a High Tory as opposed to a Red Tory. 

In the next essay, Dart finds Grant’s arguments compelling in a globalization and post-911 reality today.  He discusses why through treating some of the key ideas: 

·         Chapter 1 laments the loss of the older Canadian nationalist vision.

·         Chapter II discusses the battle on numerous fronts fought inconsistently by Diefenbaker.

·         Chapter III shows that Diefenbaker lost the 1963 election on matters of (nationalist) principle.  He pursued a contrary vision to that of Liberal Lester B. Pearson and President J.F. Kennedy at every turn.

·         Chapter IV deals with liberalism and the Canadian Liberal Party, at one with American nationalism.

·         Chapter V goes deeper: to an analysis of the “character of the modern age (p. 17).”  It concerns the passing of the tradition of the Ancients in favour of the coming to be of the Moderns.  The liberal way favours liberty, equality, choice and freedom.  Such principles are problematic, and lead to even greater problems.

·         Chapter VI concerns the roots of the Tory tradition.  For Grant, both Liberal bourgeois and Beat protest are two sides of the same individualistic and liberal coin.

·         Chapter VII followed four chapters on Canadian history; then two chapters on political philosophy and history.  The final chapter is more theological, and names Hegel as the central figure in support of liberalism in his notion of history.  “God and liberalism are One (p. 19)”.  But for Grant, “The Classical Tradition of the Good stands in a questioning and interrogating opposition to liberalism (p. 19)”.  Grant fears in liberalism the eclipse of the Good.

In 1970, Grant wrote an “Introduction” in which he rejects cynicism, indifference and skepticism.  He refers twice to “the Moloch of the USA”.  This is the same word used by Allen Ginsberg in Howl.  In some respects, Dart allows, Grant’s piece is the Canadian version of Howl – written 10 years later.  But Grant recognized that “Ginsberg and clan used and furthered the very principles of liberalism in their legitimate criticisms of the liberal bourgeois culture… (p. 20)”  And Grant remained ever hopeful, taking the long view of the Good.

Sheila Grant wrote an “Afterword” in 1997, that Dart discusses at greater length at the booklet’s end.  She further unpacked what necessity and the Good meant.  Dart sees Grant ever vigilant about “Americans when they come bringing gifts of either the imperial, liberal bourgeois or protest type (p. 21)”, for they smuggle in, Trojan horse like, American empire ways.

The next essay was written in 2005, and it compares Howl and Lament. 

In short, they agree on what they want to be free from, but differ on what they want to be free for.  Canadian High Tory nationalism diverges significantly from American anarchism and its Canadian devotees.  Dart denotes 6 core characteristics of the (American) East Coast Bop and Beat ethos in which Ginsberg and like-minded participated, summarized on page 24.  Dart comments: “Needless to say, such a position becomes its own ideology, creed and institution that cannot be doubted and must be defended at all costs by its guardians and gatekeepers (p. 25).”  This despite its anarchism in relation to creeds and institutions.  And though Jack Kerouac for instance distanced himself from this “creed and institution”, he resolutely embraced the individualism at its core.

Grant dedicated Lament to two persons (Derek Bedson and Judith Robinson) not known to most Canadians, this reviewer included.  Dart rightly wonders at their being less well known than the Beat and Bop Americans, asking “What does this tell us about our Canadian soul and how it has been colonized by the American matrix? (p. 26)”…  Dart reprises this concern at the end of the this essay (p. 35).

“Molech (sic – Dart also uses the Moloch spelling), Molech and Molech becomes the destructive and dominant metaphor (p. 27)” for what has happened to the best minds in America, “driven mad by [a] combination of the military industrial complex, anti-communist thinking and Puritan and bourgeois ethics (p. 29).”.  And what is that?  “It is all forms of tyranny and authority that brutalize and are callous to the best minds (pp. 27 & 28).”  This all according to Ginsberg.

Dart moves to discuss five points of convergence, and more significantly, five points of divergence between Ginsberg and Grant.  Neither “offer[s] much of a way out of the problem (p. 32).”  As to the latter:

·         Grant was Canadian and was concerned about American liberal “colonization” of Canada;

·         Spirituality and religion (in their dogmatic and institutional forms) are held together by Grant;

·         Grant attempted to challenge American empire through the Progressive Conservative party. 

·         “Grant dared to question the very philosophic principles of American liberalism, and as such, hiked a different path than Ginsberg and the Beats (p. 34).”  Law, order and good government, Dart avers, “take the curious and thoughtful to different places than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (p. 34).”  The Beats simply more subtly colonize Canadians than the overt American Way.

·         Grant is a more sophisticated thinker than Ginsberg. 

The final essay discusses Sheila Grant’s 1997 “Afterword”. 

Dart states: “There is, in short, much more to Lament than merely a lament, and the journey into Grant’s distinction between Hegelian ‘necessity’ and the Platonic ‘good’ is the entrée portal – Sheila Grant, in the ‘Afterword’, pointed the way – Chapter VII is now the meditative challenge before us (p. 38).”

On that note, the booklet ends.

This is a fascinating read.  One could wish, however, that “the line that ends Lament for a Nation (p. 38).” to which Dart alludes was quoted in his booklet.  (It is, translated: “They were holding their arms outstretched in love toward the further shore.”).  One could also wish for further indication from Sheila Grant of exactly what is the “meditative challenge” of Chapter VII.  But Dart discusses Chapter VII earlier in the booklet.  One could further wish for fleshing out of what contemporary conservatism/Harperism looks like compared to Grant’s vision.  And just what is “American utilitarianism” to which Dart alludes?  In general, the book could have benefitted from more filling out of ideas that readers may not know well, to which Dart alludes without further detail.

Overall, it is highly recommended reading on this the 50th anniversary of the publication Grant’s Lament.

Sheila Grant and Lament for a Nation

George Grant always claimed that Lament for a Nation had been misunderstood.
— Sheila Grant, "Afterword," Lament for a Nation
Ron Dart with Sheila Grant at the grant home in halifax

Ron Dart with Sheila Grant at the grant home in halifax

Lament for a Nation has been called “a masterpiece of political meditation” (Peter Emberley) and it “encapsulated the difference between the Tory vision for Canada and the continentalist, mechanistic, commercialist view” (Segal). There can be no doubt that this compact political missive summed up much about Canadian politics, political theory, philosophy and theology - it has, sadly so, been misread by ideologues that shrink Grant’s grander vision of thought and action to their tribal agendas.

Sheila Grant, after George had died (and significantly encouraged by William Christian—one of the finest Grant scholars), wrote an “Afterword” to Lament for a Nation - the “Afterword” is a must read for those keen and committed to a fuller understanding of the meaning and significance of Lament for a Nation.  I was fortunate to meet with Sheila Grant a few times (both at the Grant home on Walnut Street in Halifax and when she visited her daughters in Vancouver on the West Coast of Canada) and we, also, had a lengthy correspondence when she was alive (plus some fine phone conversations) - we talked much about her journey with her husband, George Grant, and the multiple misunderstandings of Lament - Sheila’s “Afterword” succinctly articulated many of her legitimate concerns.

Sheila began her “ Afterword” by suggesting that when the “New Left”, in the 1960s, adopted Lament as their manifesto of sorts, for a revived form of Canadian nationalism, they misunderstood the more complex nature of the text. Sheila questioned the obstinate fact that many who read Lament simply ignored Grant’s more ponderous philosophic-theological insights in Chapter 7 (that dealt with the tensions between “necessity” and the “good”).  Hegel, for Grant, was the dominant philosopher that had done much to be the apologist for the liberal read of history - many follow Hegel in arguing that liberalism is the “necessary” intellectual way of thinking and being for our age and ethos. But, Grant asked, is Hegelian liberalism necessarily “good?” There is an obvious tension between these two ways of living in time and history. Should the thoughtful merely doff their caps and genuflect to the necessity of Hegelian liberalism or is there more to thinking and being than merely an uncritical Yes to Hegel and clan?     

There can be no doubt that Chapter 7 in Lament moves the discussion beyond historic events into the larger realm of liberal necessity (Fukuyama’s “end of history”) and alternate views of reality worth  being open to and living for. Was Grant a determinist and fatalist that assumed there was truly no substantive way to question or oppose the dynamo of Hegelian liberalism? Some have argued such is the case. Sheila Grant, in her “Afterword”, makes it abundantly clear that Grant was not a pessimist, cynic or skeptic - “it always matters what each of us does” he often said and “repeated throughout his life”. It would be simply foolish to assume Hegelian liberalism would have the ultimate or penultimate word. Sheila made this clear when she stated, “For one who believes, as Grant did, that the spiritual life is open to all, pessimism, is not an option”.

Sheila brought to an end her “Afterword”, reflecting yet further on  George’s use of Virgil in Chapter 7, in which those in the direst part of the underworld “beg Charon to rescue them” - their hands reach out to the furthest shore. Was Grant suggesting that, in our time, we were immersed and enfolded in a “sinister region” and did not know it? Was the reaching out of the hands to that further shore a turning against time, history and matter to a better world, a world beyond the Platonic world of shadows? Or, as Sheila suggests, was George Grant looking for and gazing at the “good” that could orient those in time to a sounder and more meaningful manner?

The final couple of paragraphs in the “Afterword” bring the reader to one of Grant’s favourite places - Terence Bay where coast, rock, weather and water mix and intermingle. I have had the privilege of spending time at the Grant cabin at Terence Bay and sat on the time worn rocks that overlook both the Bay and ocean. Sheila rightly suggested that it was the “austere and unchanging beauty” of Terence Bay that became for Grant “an image of the timeless: a holy place. From a cabin he built on a hill, he would look across the ocean inlet to the towering rocks on the further shore, and quote the line that ends Lament for a Nation”.

Chapter 7 in Lament, as Sheila rightly suggests, is central to Grant’s political, philosophical and theological jeremiad and masterpiece - those who ignore Chapter 7 will misread the deeper purpose of Lament and distort Grant’s larger questions and concerns. There is, in short, much more to Lament than merely a lament and the journey into Grant’s distinction between Hegelian “necessity” and the Platonic “good” is the entrée portal - Sheila Grant, in the “Afterword”, pointed the way - Chapter 7 is now the meditative challenge before us. 


Fiat Lux

Ron Dart

Why care about George Grant?

This article originally appeared at Pith and Substance, 3 June 2006.

The literatus, long-time devotee of doomed nationalist causes, writes:

‘Sweird I never really encountered George Grant. He seems like my patriot species and so on. Just at fourth hand, I’m troubled by his Lamenting for a Nation he seems to have already coffin’d round the time you and I were born.

The literatus has a point. How can Lament be of contemporary interest if Grant gave up the struggle before either of us were born? It is, however, a point that invites an essay, so the literatus has no cause for complaint if that's what he gets. 

It all depends, I think, on how we interpret Grant's dictum that "the impossibility of conservatism in our modern era is the impossibility of Canada". The dominant interpretation, present in Lament, but which Gad Horowitz really deserves the blame for, is that Canada, as originally conceived, was at least partially conservative in the pre-modern, throne and altar, anti-liberal capitalist sense. Horowitz turned this "Tory touch" theory into an apologia for NDP-style socialism, and it was quickly picked up my every manner of Trudeau-era statist paternalist. Canadians were supposedly natural social democrats because of the Loyalists' and Family Compact's alleged Jacobite hostility to the society of contract. 

This narrative has the plot arc of a bodice ripper. The original virtue of organic conservatism is always threatened by the liberal individualism of the United States. With the collapse of pro-British anti-American Conservatism, Canada's collectivism loses its maidenhood to nasty capitalist America. Somehow this maidenhood repeatedly revives itself, to be ravished not only by the unlikely figure of Dalton Camp pointing out the onset of Mr. Diefenbaker's dementia, but then by the Free Trade Agreement and finally, most farcically, by the dim Peter Mackay tricking the still-dimmer David Orchard into letting the liquidation sale of the old Progressive Conservative party go forward. 

It is a highly demeaning story for any red-blooded patriot, and while I cannot acquit Grant of responsibility for it entirely, that narrative is not why I would ask anyone interested in theorizing Canada's current crisis to pay attention to him. We are much better off recognizing that the Fathers of Confederation, especially the Anglo ones, were Victorian devotees of technology and individualism. They loved railways because they were the biotechnology, the Internet stock bubble and the space race all put together. They believed the British race to be obviously superior to all others, and the contract-oriented common law to be the pearl of British civilization. They would undoubtedly have condemned Mike Harris as a dangerous radical soft on Fenianism. Macdonald read the Federalist Papers, admired Hamilton and was a conservative in a thoroughly bourgeois, Victorian sense, and alternated between supporting protection and reciprocity, caring about such economic questions no more than did Pierre Trudeau or Jean Chrétien. English Canada was always part of liberal Protestantism, and Grant knew this. He knew too that the Canadian people, including the Protestant farmers of Pictou County, while conservative enough in the value they placed on Church, work, family, order and allegiance to the Crown, were hardly enemies of social egalitarianism and making a buck.

Anyway, the "Tory touch leads to sensible social democracy" story is precisely the kind of self-congratulatory approach to the past that pushed Grant's buttons. 

So, if we reject the Tory touch theory, what does it mean to say that the "impossibility of conservatism" entails the "impossibility of Canada"? What is living in the work of George Grant? Plenty, but in order to get to it, we have to entertain (not accept, but entertain) a slightly embarrassing proposition, one that would undoubtedly put him on the wrong side of the multi-cultis, but also of Christopher Hitchens, the latest hero of the Canadian right. We have to entertain the possibility that a state needs a single public religion. 

A religion, for Grant, is not just a set of supernatural or theistic beliefs (although he, of course, believed that the true religion was Christianity -- but we don't need to spoil the ending quite yet). It is a way of looking at the world, a set of stories and of virtues and vices, held on a pre-philosophical basis and capable of being understood by the mass of humanity. A religion is what Rawls would call a "comprehensive conception of the good." But where Rawls believed that the lesson of modernity was that it is possible for comprehensive conceptions to co-exist, providing that they are "reasonable" and accept an "overlapping consensus" of political and legal institutions, Grant was not so sure. As far as Grant was concerned, what had happened to traditionally Protestant countries is that they had adopted a version of the "religion of progress" as the real ideology that "binds together." In Grant's day, that religion came in two opposing forms -- Marxism and Kennedy-style technocratic liberalism. Today, neither of these strands continue (except in the reactionary laments of intellectuals), but new forms -- a libertarian/neoconservative free-market technophilia and a feminist, "anti-racist" social constructionism -- battle it out, leaving their respective Jewish, Protestant and Catholic camp followers to pick over the inherited assets and liabilities of their denominations to see what might be useful in the "secular" battle.

And Grant may be right. It may, in fact, be impossible for religions to coexist, except if the sub-dominant ones are willing to be confined to dhimmi ghettoes, or to be private hobbies. The great weakness of liberals like Rawls occurs when it comes to education. It is impossible to teach the young without inculcating a more comprehensive conception of the good and the true than Rawls would allow in the public sphere. To take a matter of current controversy, a school system cannot be neutral about whether homosexuality or homophobia is a sin, even if the law, in principle, could.

I won't get into all of Grant's objections to the religion of progress. Some of them I share; some I don't. But one objection is important for the literatus' project of maintaining a nationalist movement in this country. To the religion of progress, which is the national religion, Canada is an embarrassment.

Why? It seems like such a progressive place, n'est-ce pas? It is because the religion of progress is ultimately a Christian heresy (perhaps in encounter with a Jewish one). From Christianity, it derives the idea that natural divisions of race (Jew or Greek), gender (male or female) and class (slave or free) are of no spiritual significance. But, unlike Christianity, it places its heaven in a future acquired without supernatural help. It therefore reacts with hostility to the particular loyalties that may arise out of these concrete situations. The leftist version of the religion of progress is prepared to accept the particular loyalties of the oppressed, since they theorize that such loyalties will ultimately lead to the overthrow of the distinction. The rightist version (neo-conservatism) is just hostile to any expression of difference at all. But either way, Canada has no reason to live. At best, it is a preparation for something more universal -- either an Anglosphere or the world federalist rule of the United Nations, depending on one's political proclivities. 

Against this is the natural reaction of normal people to love their own. Grant was a conservative in the sense that he approved of this reaction, and saw it is a bulwark against the universal, homogenizing tyranny of a global, super-state. This love of one's own does not depend on one's own having a "history before the age of progress". If it did, Canadian nationalism or the regionalist particularisms of the United States, would be absurd. Grant is complex enough that he sometimes seems to treat them as absurd. But what he notices in Diefenbaker (and in Lévesque, for that matter) is this normal, natural love of one's own and consequent willingness to put the boots to the universal super-state, however inevitable and logical its triumph might seem. 

Of course, as a Christian and an Augustinian, Grant would have seen any historical state as of only relative significance, no matter how great his loyalty to it. If even the Roman Empire must not be mourned too much, then Canada shouldn't either, if we in fact lose it altogether. But we needn't follow Grant in accepting that the battle is lost. As long as we possess a legal fiction of sovereignty, and as long as ordinary people retain their stubborn attachment to what is theirs and particular, rather than what is abstract and universal, then there is a chance to give all the social engineers a poke in the eye once in a while.

The Battle Between Two Little Books

This article originally appeared at PushedLeft, 28 April 2011.

In 1965, scholar George Grant wrote Lament for a Nation, fearing that the fall of Diefenbaker would spell the end of Canada as a sovereign state: "To lament is to cry out at the death or at the dying of something loved. This lament mourns the end of Canada as a sovereign state."

The book was an instant best seller and though written by a conservative, became the new battle cry for the left. And as an expansion of Diefenbaker's "One Nation" philosophy [however, Grant criticized the "One Canada" citizenship model of the Prairie populists and faulted Diefenbaker for ignoring the legitimate aspirations of the French Canadians - editor], it also, in many ways, became a thesis for the Red Tory.

However, at about the same time, another Canadian conservative was writing a little book, called Political Realignment: Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians. It was a bit controversial at the time, because its publication was funded by a group of wealthy businessmen, but Ernest Manning with the help of his son Preston, laid out their vision for a Conservative Canada. It became the framework for a party of the right-wing, that would be based on pure ideology and the 'will of God'.

Manning's book caught the attention of Colin Brown, founder of the National Citizens Coalition, that Stephen Harper would eventually head. In fact, it was Manning who suggested that the NCC incorporate, and he would be on the advisory board.

I've read both Lament and Realignment, and could find no common ground.

Ron Dart, professor of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC, wrote a book The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes:

The recent decision by the Progressive Conservative party [2003] and the Alliance party to fold into and become the Canadian Conservative party does raise some interesting and important questions. What does it mean to be a Canadian conservative? Who defines the term? Why, at this juncture and point in Canadian political life, is the more republican interpretation of the term trumping, censuring out and banishing the older Tory interpretation of what it means to be a conservative?

Those with little or no sense of the Canadian political journey will not even realize there was and is a Tory tradition that has, in many ways, been the backbone of Canadian conservatism. It is this High/Red/Radical Toryism that needs retrieving and remembering at this point in history. The right of centre, republican read of conservatism is before us night and day. This needs little comment or commentary.

And he also saw the clash of the books:

The 1960s in Canada (and in many other parts of the world) were an unsettling and turbulent time. Much was up for redefinition. Two important political tracts for the times were written, in Canada, in the 1960s. Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965) and Political Realignment: A Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians (1967). As we briefly unpack and unravel these missives, we will get a feel for how Canadians have, in our history, understood the meaning of conservatism in different ways. It is as these two traditions lived in tension, there was some degree of political health. It is as these two traditions have fragmented, the republican brand of conservatism has redefined Canadian conservatism in a right of centre manner.

Two Conservative visions for Canada. One Republican the other Tory. Why is the Republican version winning?

Money probably. Manning's movement has been very well financed and never changed direction. Pure ideology. While the Tory tradition was more organic, changing with the times and the needs of Canadians.

In fact, there was often little difference between the PCs and the Liberals, so elections were always about the platform.

Isn't it funny how things come full circle?

Four decades ago did either man see that their books would do battle, literally and figuratively?

I'm afraid I'm now feeling like one of those authors almost 50 years ago: "To lament is to cry out at the death or at the dying of something loved. This lament mourns the end of Canada as a sovereign state."

Republican is winning. Are we going to let it?