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An introduction to the thought of George Parkin Grant (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted April 16, 2012

One way of understanding George Grant's view of the political spectrum is to use some of Marx's categories for the different types of societies -- feudal, capitalist, and socialist. The conservatism of George Grant may be seen as rooted in ideas somewhat reminiscent of feudalism, which are of course at odds with capitalism. Aristocracy, priesthood, kingship, honour, virtue, and so forth, are clearly in opposition to the values of the bourgeoisie -- rationalism and functionalism -- the supremacy of the cash-nexus. (For example, an aristocrat or gentleman who believed in high culture and self-cultivation would probably find it very soul-deadening if he were forced to work as a modern corporate manager -- or computer programmer.) Individualist liberalism and capitalism are virtually identical, and are opposed to both feudalism and socialism. The argument further becomes (in the so-called Hartz-Horowitz thesis) that socialism (this word is generally used by Gad Horowitz with the meaning of "social democracy", not of a Soviet-style regime) is a kind of modern "replacement" for feudalism, Toryism, conservatism, or what could be called premodern communitarian values. (If these latter terms are employed, in an implicitly Grantian fashion, to mean largely the same thing.)

Where Canada comes into the picture is in the fact that it was established as a "Tory-touched remnant" society, i.e., it was founded by the Loyalists (or Tories -- supporters of the Monarchy), who were driven out of America as a result of the American Revolution. The English-Canadian Tories effectively made common cause with the Catholic French of Quebec, who were even more deeply organic.

The Hartz-Horowitz thesis is that Canada, which was founded as a more feudal society than America, has the chance of a transition to socialism, as, under the impact of industrial progress, Toryism is "translated" into socialism. America, on the other hand, was founded as a pure individualist liberal society [1], and therefore is likely to remain purely liberal. Looking at the historical evidence, there have been no successful socialist third parties (or successful third parties of any kind) in America [2], unlike in Canada.

George Grant would observe that it is rather ironic that today, America is considered as a bastion of conservatism, while Canada is considered as a more liberal and socialist oriented society. For a long period of Canadian history, it was the United States that appeared as the more liberal society, while it was Canada that was seen as the more conservative one. The War of 1812, for example, could be seen as the defence of a conservative and British-centred society against a more liberal American republicanism.

Gad Horowitz, taking note of the fact that both real Tories and socialists share an opposition to liberalism-capitalism, suggests an alliance between the remnants of true Toryism in Canada, and the socialists, against the liberal, pro-American, pro-capitalist, "middle" grouping. Ultimately though, only socialism will have the strength to keep capitalism at bay, Horowitz believes.


[1] The partial exception to American individualist liberalism was the South – an exception that eventually was expunged by a savage, fratricidal war.  However, it could be argued that traditional Canada was a more genuinely conservative society that (to a very great extent) avoided entanglements with slavery and racism.

[2] That is, after the emergence of the Republican and Democratic "duopoly" whose ultimate origins can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century. Although the ideological configurations of the two parties have obviously been subject to highly drastic shifts since that time, the U.S. has continuously remained a two-party system.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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