Practising Grant’s Philosophy
by Mark Wegierski
2018 marks the centenary of the birth of George Parkin Grant. Thirty years since his passing, he remains Canada’s most prominent traditionalist philosopher. But is there still a place for Grantian-type traditionalism in current-day Canada? First of all, it should be remembered that Grant’s conception of conservatism is very remote from what is its more common definition today, as a predominantly tax- and budget-cutting ideology [Editorial note, see ‘In Memoriam, George Parkin Grant, 1918-1988’, QR, July 9, 2018]. Despite his impassioned writing, Grant did not offer much hope for someone wishing to be active in the social, political, and cultural arena. Perhaps a quietistic self-cultivation is the only path available for a traditionalist today. However, this is surely problematic for a philosophy that emphasizes public engagement and civic-mindedness.
In theory, four main possibilities are available today; activism in the current federal Conservative Party; activism in the Canadian pro-life movement; moving to the countryside; becoming an independent political commentator. Activism in the current federal Conservative Party (or other major political parties) provides a sense of immediacy and connection to so-called “real” political matters. However, in a major party with multifarious factions, many members may be indifferent or hostile to any given individual’s views. And while one may feel that one is doing “useful” work, it may merely be a drop in the ocean. Also, if one achieves a prominent position in a major political party, the unfriendly public scrutiny one’s views undergo is increased, which often results in an ever-increasing downplaying and “trimming” of one’s ideals and principles.
Activism in the Canadian pro-life and pro-family movement offers a considerable engagement with “real” political matters combined with an intense idealism. Perusal of such publications as The Interim, the Toronto-based Faithful Insight and the Hamilton-based Convivium and Comment, shows that pro-life and pro-family people are the dynamic edge of resistance to the current late modern dystopia, and, indeed, that they often suffer for their beliefs. However, what appears to be a demand for a life of continual “martyrdom” may not be emotionally sustainable for some people.
Moving out to the countryside represents a sort of “secession”. The rationale is that life in more rural areas is “healthier” than in the big cities. But not everyone finds rural life congenial. It may require a considerable amount of arduous physical labour with which a person used to living in urban or suburban areas is unacquainted.
The idea of becoming an independent political writer/commentator may be attractive if one can carry one’s weight intellectually – and do so with grace and dignity. Having a cultural-political internet presence today is not necessarily dependent on 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”.
Grant’s thought has something to say to everybody in current-day Canada and America, and in so-called “late modernity” – not just to those who are actively in opposition to it. For example, one can extract from Grant’s philosophy a critique of the materialism and the “infinite growth” mindset that were 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 more accurately be called “non-Americanism”) in a truly meaningful Canadian conservatism. It is not generally appreciated that before the 1960s, Canada was actually a more conservative society than America (in the better sense of conservatism). Today, much of what is negative about current-day Canada – if one looks carefully at its real origins — ultimately emanates from the U.S. There are, for example, the trends to “judicial activism” and litigiousness; tendencies to increasing violence and anomie; and the excesses of the North American (U.S. and Canadian) pop-culture.
The best that traditionalists can hope for in Canada today is to maintain niches of critique in what is likely to become an increasingly hostile society. Things will doubtless have to get worse, before there can be any hope of things getting better.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher
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