Lament for a Nation
By Mark Wegierski
George Parkin Grant (1918-1988) was Canada’s leading traditionalist philosopher. The main expression of George Grant’s thought occurs in four major books: Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965), Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America (1969), English-Speaking Justice (1974/1985), and Technology and Justice (1986). Philosophy in the Mass Age (1959), and Time as History (1969), are his two major earlier works. Grant was a complex philosophical critic of technology and of America.
Lament for a Nation is one of Grant’s more accessible books and it has remained almost continuously in print in Canada. It expresses a profound pessimism, and certainly does not offer any pat answers in regard to what is to be done to redeem Canada. Lament for a Nation mourns what George Grant sees as the end of real Canadian independence in the 1960s. As Grant tells the story, Canadian Tory Prime Minister John Diefenbaker refused to accept U.S. nuclear weapons on Canadian soil. In the 1963 Canadian federal election, accordingly, all the instrumentalities of the North American managerial capitalist classes were turned against him. Diefenbaker’s lost campaign is characterized in the book as “the last strangled cry of his pre-modern Loyalist ancestors”. Liberal Lester B. Pearson won the election.
Grant was prescient in mourning the passing of a more traditional Canada, although his focus was not exclusively on the impending destruction of social conservatism. Rather, he was concerned with the threat of corporate liberalism and corporate technocracy, emanating from America, to undermine a more traditional Canada. Grant’s outlook lay somewhere between that of a traditionalist conservative and a “social conservative of the Left”. There are a number of illustrious figures who embraced the latter outlook, notably John Ruskin, William Morris, Jack London, George Orwell, Christopher Lasch, and, in Canada, the noted constitutional scholar and union adviser Eugene Forsey.
Certain sectors of the Canadian Left, including George Grant’s close friend Gad Horowitz, considered Lament for a Nation a clarion call for the creation of infrastructures of a “more compassionate” society in Canada. In the 1960s, Horowitz had criticized the onset of multiculturalism in Canada, arguing that it would undermine the sense of nationhood that he saw as a prerequisite for a real social democracy in Canada.
Grant, who sometimes called himself a “Red Tory”, gave to that term one of its most positive and philosophical interpretations. Unfortunately, shallow Progressive Conservative party operatives subsequently used the term as an excuse for opportunistic policies. They became “socialists” without embracing true community and “liberals” without embracing genuine individualism and freedom of speech.
Before the 1960s, all the major parties had partaken of a “traditionalist-centrist consensus”, i.e., they were all socially conservative, while differing in regard to economics. The adoption of the new flag, the Maple Leaf Pennant, also sometimes dubbed “the Pearson Pennant”, in 1965, indicated that massive social and cultural change was in the offing. It is a longstanding idea in political science that a change of a country’s flag is a marker of “regime change”.
With the arrival of “Trudeamania” in 1968, the country was thrust into ever more massive social and cultural change, which continued unabated for the sixteen years that Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau held the Prime Ministership.
A society that in 1965 was generally regarded as socially conservative was transformed by 1984 into one of the most “progressive” societies on the planet, especially with the incorporation, in 1982, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian constitutional structure. The Charter enshrined virtually the entire Trudeau agenda as the highest law of the land. It was backed up by an increasingly “activist” Canadian Supreme Court, in which one would have been hard-pressed to find even one designated conservative.
Since the late 1960s, a new “Trudeau consensus” or “left-liberal consensus”, has enveloped Canada. The term “Trudeaupia” is shorthand for the various structures that Trudeau created. The patterns of current-day Canadian society, politics, and culture were evidently established some five or so decades ago. The futility of “small-c conservative” efforts since the 1960’s endorses Grant’s thesis that as early as 1963, traditional Canadian conservatism had been defeated.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher