THIS BOOK comes as both a challenge and affront to those who dutifully salute at different flagpoles in our present culture wars; George Grant cannot be taken captive by either chieftains or various uncritical clans or tribes in our ethos of political correctness. The introduction says Grant has been “called the most forceful voice of philosophic radicalism that Canada has so far produced;” the book shows why this is the case.
It is divided into six sections: politics and morality, philosophy and education, thinking their thoughts, reviews and essays by Grant, technology and modernity, and the beautiful and the good. The reader cannot help but be lifted up by Grant’s insights and wisdom, his refusal to be a lapdog of either a shallow and inconsistent conservatism or a trendy and uncritical liberalism. Of the latter, he said “Liberalism was, in origin, criticism of the old established order. Today it is the voice of the establishment.”
Those who have appreciated Grant’s work in the last few decades will welcome this overview of some of his more lively and controversial essays. Those who are new to Grant, or who have attempted to use him to serve their ideological agendas, will be both broadened and deepened. He was grounded in the grandeur of the Western tradition and classics, while keenly aware that they had a radical side to them that was often ignored by the neoconservatives. Grant listens to the giants of the Western tradition but also, in true philosophic fashion, interrogates them.
Grant, though, knew how to move from mountaintop thought and reflection to the hurry burly of political, economic, and social questions in the valley. He never flinched from such issues as the Vietnam war, U.S. imperialism, abortion, the thinning out and one-dimensional nature of public education, corporate greed, the meaning of justice. He saw distortion of the language of conservatism, the bully-like nature of liberalism, and the desperate need to retrieve the contemplative way.
For much of his life, Grant was an Anglican who served in his home parish. He contributed much to the life of the church, and it would have been helpful if the book had included something of what Anglicanism meant to Grant; this is a minor weakness in an otherwise superb sampling of his thoughts.
The book lays before the curious and interested George Grant’s wide ranging interests, his fully-integrated way of thinking and his passion for learning, justice, and wisdom – his commitment, in short, to the good, true, and beautiful. If both the church and the world were to truly listen to Grant, we might begin the difficult task of getting to the roots of our present dilemmas, and this, surely, is what a radical and prophetic vision calls us to do
Ron Dart teaches in the political science/religious studies department of the University College of the Fraser Valley. He is chair of the Central Fraser Valley Interfaith Coalition.