George Grant

George Grant: A Guide to His Thought

HUGH DONALD FORBES
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 200
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttrj7
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    George Grant
    Book Description:

    Comprehensive and lucidly written,George Grant: A Guide to His Thoughtis an invaluable resource for students, general readers, and academic specialists alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8437-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction (pp. 3-16)

    George Grant was an unusual combination of public intellectual and cloistered scholar. As a young man, he made a strong impression on his contemporaries; in later life, he became a symbol of Canadian nationalism; and today, almost twenty years after his death, his major writings, though few in number and limited in scope, conforming to the conventions neither of popular nor of academic authorship, continue to engage readers and to provoke discussion.

    Who was George Grant? What did he really think? What can we learn from him? He sometimes called himself ʹa lover of Plato within Christianity,ʹ but this description,...

  5. PART ONE: POLITICS
    • 1 Nations and Necessities (pp. 19-26)

      Between 1959 and 1986 George Grant published six short books. The most widely read of these is undoubtedlyLament for a Nation, which appeared in 1965. Grantʹs reputation rests largely on this one book. It strikes most readers today as passionate and prescient – passionate because its author obviously had a deep commitment to Canada and a strong belief in its independence, and prescient because he could foresee, long before the free-trade agreements and the current ʹwar on terror,ʹ how hard it would be for us to avoid becoming an economic, political, and cultural satellite of our powerful, domineering neighbour....

    • 2 Technology, Freedom, Progress (pp. 27-34)

      The dominant spirit of all modern societies, according to George Grant, is that of modern practical science. It provides the kind of knowledge needed to overcome the cruelty and stinginess of nature and to build a better life for all mankind. The attainment of this goal, it is generally believed, depends upon the careful investigation of natural processes together with their redirection to alleviate human suffering and to increase the enjoyment of life. In the past century, modern science has made spectacular advances – in nuclear physics, for example, and molecular biology. Its effects are all around us – cheap...

    • 3 From Education to Indoctrination (pp. 35-45)

      George Grant maintained that Canadaʹs disappearance was necessary, but not that it was good. He distinguished between the necessity of events and their goodness. Yet he also maintained, as I indicated earlier, that necessity in human affairs depends on what is thought to be good: we are in a sense compelled to do what we think it would be good to do. There is no contradiction here since what is truly good may not be the same as what we think is good. The basic purpose of education, one can say, is to develop real knowledge of what is genuinely...

    • 4 Modern Liberal Theory (pp. 46-58)

      George Grant provided his most careful and detailed analysis of modern liberal principles in his 1974 Josiah Wood Lectures at Mount Allison University, which were later published asEnglish-Speaking Justice.¹ He begins by insisting that a distinction be made between our basic political practices that can be called liberal, because they protect individual liberty, and the theories of modern liberal philosophers, which are held to clarify, justify, and extend these practices. Grantʹs objections are directed, not to the practices, but to the theories. Do they clarify and justify or confuse and undermine the political practices of equal liberty or ʹpolitical...

    • 5 Varieties of Conservatism (pp. 59-70)

      George Grantʹs political thought has a complicated relationship to the standard ideological distinctions. Which distinctions? Conservatism, liberalism, and socialism – or, in other words, the familiar view of politics summed up in the idea of a left-right spectrum with liberals in the middle, between conservatives and socialists. (Communists and fascists anchor the left and right ʹextremesʹ of this spectrum.) To the extent that Grant combines a commitment to some elements of liberalism (as we have just seen) with a conservative critique of the modern urban-industrial way of life (big cities, big governments, uprooted populations, secular education, mass media, and the...

    • 6 Overcoming Nationalism (pp. 71-78)

      Sometimes it is necessary to consider Canada alone, in isolation from or in contrast to other countries, in order to understand it, but often it is better to emphasize the common features it shares with other countries, focusing on some larger whole to which it belongs, such as North America or the West. In the writings of George Grant, these two perspectives are complementary, and inLament for a Nationhe shifts from one to the other as the argument proceeds. Only with respect to nationalism and globalism is there likely to be some confusion because of the changing frames...

    • 7 What Is Worth Doing? (pp. 79-84)

      George Grantʹs lamenting is likely to strike some readers as excessive, even if they accept what he says about freedom, technology, and our current understanding of social and political progress. They may have no alternative to his analysis of the currently dominant ideas about what is good and worth doing collectively, and they may even be persuaded by what he says about the implications of these ideas for nations and nationalism, and yet they may not be inclined, as he was, seriously to ʹmourn the end of Canada as a sovereign state.ʹ They may agree with his observations about the...

  6. PART TWO: PHILOSOPHY
    • [PART TWO: Introduction] (pp. 85-86)

      We naturally look to others for the clarification of our own insights and observations. What better way is there to deepen oneʹs understanding than by comparing oneʹs own thoughts with those of the most profound and most coherent thinkers one happens to encounter?

      To whom did George Grant look? He never wrote about others as I am writing about him, but he called himself a Platonist and clearly felt a particular affinity with three contemporary thinkers of the first rank. Two of these three, Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss, will figure prominently in the next five chapters. The focus will...

    • 8 Nature and History (pp. 87-98)

      George Grantʹs first book,Philosophy in the Mass Age, the most accessible and most immediately revealing of his philosophical writings, was originally a series of radio lectures designed to provide an introduction to philosophy for a general audience.¹ It shows Grantʹs ability to relate scholarly inquiry to the broader concerns that scholars share with everyone else. An early reviewer praised it for being ʹlearned but clear,ʹ and it is full of provocative observations on the character of modern life. It is as much an introduction to a kind of sociology as to philosophy.

      For Grant, philosophy is fundamentallymoralphilosophy,...

    • 9 Enlightenment and Nihilism (pp. 99-113)

      What does it mean to say that history is a higher standard than nature? What would it mean to say that history is theonlystandard from which we can judge what is good and bad, or better and worse, in human thought and action? Is Grant perhaps embracing ʹhistoricismʹ? At the end ofPhilosophy in the Mass Age, one is left pondering these questions – if one puts aside, at least temporarily, Grantʹs hesitant hope for a synthesis of nature and history.

      ʹHistoricismʹ is a troublesome word with a variety of elusive meanings, easily confused, and the most important...

    • 10 Platonic Political Philosophy (pp. 114-126)

      Among the great political thinkers of the twentieth century – Arendt, Berlin, etc. – Leo Strauss is a remote, mysterious, somewhat sinister figure. He is known as a conservative, but his conservatism is hard to pin down. He refuses to be pushed into any of the standard categories. Until recently, his most visible impact was on a few of his own students who have had distinguished academic careers in a variety of disciplines. His writings are either too simple or too complicated to reveal much to most readers. He wrote no big books on big topics that made big splashes...

    • 11 Theology and Politics (pp. 127-146)

      In 1965, looking back over all his scholarly studies and writing since his youth in the 1920s, Leo Strauss wrote that ʹthe theological-political problem has remainedthetheme of my investigations.ʹ¹ This somewhat enigmatic but still revealing statement alludes to Straussʹs first major publication, a lengthy study of SpinozaʹsTheologico-Political Treatiseand to his personal and political reasons for undertaking a detailed study of Spinoza.² It testifies to the importance that the study of Spinoza had had in giving a distinctive direction to Straussʹs subsequent scholarly work. An examination of these points may provide the best basis for a deeper...

    • 12 ʹTyranny and Wisdomʹ (pp. 147-164)

      George Grant wrote at length about Leo Strauss only once, in 1964, in a scholarly article, ʹTyranny and Wisdom,ʹ which presents unusual difficulties for the reader because of its complex background: not only is Grant commenting on comments on a very detailed commentary on a short but perplexing dialogue by a little-known ancient author, but he is also pointing to the significance of a notoriously obscure and controversial contemporary philosopher.¹ The article repays close attention, however, for it shows Grantʹs sympathetic understanding of Straussʹs thought and his appreciation of his art of writing and it also provides brief indications of...

  7. PART THREE: RELIGION
    • [PART THREE: Introduction] (pp. 165-166)

      Religion provides the ground on which the three great contemporaries I have highlighted – Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss, and Simone Weil – come together, although never in their own lives in an overt confrontation. To bring them into a more articulate relationship of mutual support and antagonism was the deepest tendency of George Grantʹs scholarship and reflections.

      Grant was clearly a religious believer, but it is less clear what he believed. He called himself a Christian, but the term covers a lot of possibilities. What really is Christianity? How should it be understood? Simply calling oneself a Christian leaves open...

    • 13 Making Sense of Religion (pp. 167-179)

      George Grantʹs family belonged to the Protestant branch of the Christian church. Both of his grandfathers were prominent members of their different denominations. As mentioned earlier, George Monro Grant was a Presbyterian minister, for many years the principal of Queenʹs University, and a prominent representative of liberal Protestantism in nineteenth-century Canada. Sir George Parkin had been raised a Baptist, but in his twenties he had joined the Church of England and soon afterwards had begun to play an important role as a representative of the laity in its deliberations. Grantʹs parents, William Grant and Maude Parkin, were married in England...

    • 14 Discovering Simone Weil (pp. 180-190)

      Sometime in the early 1970s George Grant wrote down a simple explanation for why he studied the writings of Simone Weil: ʹI learn from them. Of all the twentieth century writers, she has been incomparably my greatest teacher.ʹ¹ When Grant wrote this, he was working on a study of her life and writings intended to help others to discover her thought, despite its inherent difficulty, a difficulty increased by the fragmentary and unfinished form of much of what she had written and further complicated by the way in which some of her unpublished writings – in particular, short passages from...

    • 15 Escaping the Shadows (pp. 191-206)

      George Grantʹs papers pertaining to Simone Weil include another two-page typescript, also undated, which begins with a quotation from a letter she sent to her friend Maurice Schumann in 1942 or 1943: ʹI am ceaselessly and increasingly torn both in my intelligence and in the depth of my heart through my inability to conceive simultaneously and in truth of the affliction of men, the perfection of God, and the link between the two.ʹ This sentence, Grant says, can serve as the starting point for his exposition of her thought because it refers to several of the central themes of her...

    • 16 ʹFaith and the Multiversityʹ (pp. 207-222)

      George Grantʹs last book,Technology and Justice, was published two years before his death in 1988. It consists of six essays on diverse topics, but all related to the themes announced in its title, which connect the book as a whole withEnglish-Speaking Justice. The first two of the essays are substantially new, though different versions of both had been published previously. The first, ʹThinking about Technology,ʹ is Grantʹs most carefully qualified explanation of the misunderstanding of technology that he maintained has to be overcome in order to understand the problem it presents for politics and morality.¹ (The misunderstanding is...

  8. Some Further Reflections (pp. 223-232)

    George Grant died in September 1988, six weeks shy of his seventieth birthday. His remains are buried in a small graveyard overlooking Terence Bay, a narrow arm of the Atlantic Ocean not far from Halifax. In 1955 he and his wife Sheila had bought a small property near the lighthouse that marks the entrance to the bay, a kilometre or so beyond a fishing village, also called Terence Bay, where they and their children had spent many vacations. The graveyard lies between the village (now beginning to show signs of the cityʹs sprawl) and the cabin, hidden from the local...

  9. Notes (pp. 233-280)
  10. Bibliographical Notes (pp. 281-296)
  11. Index (pp. 297-301)

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