George Grant and Canada in process
By Mark Wegierski
This piece, written to reflect the mood of resistance to current-day trends that is said to have occurred after ‘9/11', endeavours to examine the possible place for Grantian-type traditionalism in current-day Canada. It should be remembered that Grant's profound and subtle definition of conservatism is very remote from what is its more common definition today, as mostly a tax- and budget-cutting ideology.
George Parkin Grant (1918-1988) has left behind a number of great works (such as Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965)) that continue to resonate with thoughtful Canadians. Nevertheless, Grant did not seem to offer much hope for someone wishing to be active in the social, political, and cultural arena of current-day Canadian society.
What are some of the possible variants that a more authentic traditionalism can take in current-day Canada? Perhaps a quietistic self-cultivation is the only path available today. However, is this not a problematic way of life to follow, for a philosophy that has emphasized public engagement and the importance of a social and cultural context?
Might there be any way for Grant's philosophy to have a public presence in the face of the massive technological, intellectual, and multicultural transformations in Canada since the 1960s? Is it possible to move beyond the apparently quietistic and quixotic nature of much of Grant's thinking to work out a more "practical" guide for living for those who consider themselves inspired by his ideas?
One can see a number of possible styles of life. The four main possibilities that one can see are: activism in the current federal Conservative Party; activism in the Canadian "pro-life" movement; moving out to the countryside; or becoming an independent political writer/blogger.
Activism in the current federal Conservative Party (or perhaps other major political parties) gives one a sense of immediacy and connection to so-called "real" political matters. However, one will have to accept that as a Grantian traditionalist, one will be a member of only one small part of a major party with multifarious factions, many of which may be indifferent or hostile to one's views. While one may feel that one is doing "useful" work, it may just be a drop in the ocean. Also, if one is able to hold increasingly prominent posts in a given party, the unfriendly public scrutiny one's views undergo is increased, which often results in an ever-increasing downplaying and "trimming" of one's own ideals and principles.
Activism in the Canadian "pro-life" (anti-abortion) and pro-family movement offers a considerable engagement with "real" political matters combined with an intense idealism. One can read in such publications as The Interim: Canada's Life and Family Newspaper and (the Toronto-based) Catholic Insight how the "pro-life" people are often the dynamic edge of resistance to the current late modern near-dystopia, and, indeed, how often they do suffer for their beliefs. Despite their huge importance, life and family issues are, however, not the sum-total of traditionalism. Also, a life of continual "martyrdom" may not be emotionally sustainable for some people.
Becoming involved in a minor political party or some kind of ginger group is somewhat akin to being an activist in the "pro-life" movement, although usually with less social impact likely, but also less "martyrdom" required.
The notion of moving out to the countryside represents a sort of "secession". The idea that life in more rural areas is "healthier" than in the big cities, informs the attempt to make this kind of move. Perhaps not everyone might find rural life congenial. It requires a considerable amount of quite arduous physical labour with which a person used to living in urban or suburban areas is unacquainted. If one is already living there (or will end up there), one also has to give some thought as to how one might have an impact beyond one's immediate physical vicinity.
The idea of becoming an independent political writer/blogger may be attractive if one feels one can carry one's weight intellectually – and do so with considerable grace and dignity. Having a cultural-political Internet presence today is not necessarily tied to living in a major cultural or political centre – although it might help in putting together one's writing output. If one is truly independent, one need not always hew to party and religious lines – even as one is generally in opposition to late modern society. Nevertheless, one might become prone to live increasingly as a "lone wolf" with fewer and fewer personal social interactions – "a voice crying in the wilderness".
It could be argued that Grant's thought does indeed have much to say to all persons living in current-day Canada and in so-called "late modernity" – not just to those who are actively in opposition to it. For example, one can easily elicit from Grant's philosophy a critique of the economism and the "infinite growth" mindset that are probably among the main contributing factors to the post-2008 economic crisis.
There could also be a role for Grant's anti-Americanism (or what might be less pointedly called non-Americanism) in a truly meaningful Canadian conservatism. It is little understood today that before the 1960s, Canada was actually a more conservative society than America (in the better sense of conservatism). Today, one finds that much of what is negative about current-day Canada – if one were to carefully look at its real origins -- actually emanates from the U.S. There are, for example, the trends to "judicial activism" and litigiousness, tendencies of increasing violence and anomie, and the excesses of the North American (U.S. and Canadian) pop-culture.
It looks like the best that traditionalists can hope for in Canada today is to maintain some kind of sharp niches of critique in what is likely to become an increasingly hostile society. It may perhaps be suggested that things will have to get even worse, before there can be some hope of things getting better, over the longer term.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.