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above: George Grant in 1979 (photo courtesy University of Toronto Press)

Remembering the Right

Remembering George Grant

In an age beset by anxiety over the survival of the nation-state and social traditionalism, the Canadian thinker George Parkin Grant (1918-1988) is an indispensable guide to making sense of the modern predicament. Although he contributed to the field of political philosophy, his major works feel more like the stuff of prophecy. In advancing a High Tory critique of modern ideology, Grant fully anticipated how both the modern leftist and rightist versions of liberalism would turn against true conservatism. Whatever their differences, both sides of the political spectrum had embraced the ideology of technological progress. The haunting question that his writings posed over 50 years ago is even more relevant today: Can conservatism survive the excesses of modernity?

Grant was raised in a liberal, Protestant tradition that cherished the British character of Canada and enthusiastically identified the British Empire with God’s providential design in history. He was also the descendant of Loyalists who had fled revolutionary America. In his most famous book Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965), Grant referred to the Loyalists’ “inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow.” 

Yet this ethos was fading fast in early 20th century Canada. Grant, who was born in Toronto...

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