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Reviewed by:
  • George Grant: A Guide to His Thought, and: Northern Spirits: John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor; Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought
  • William Christian
George Grant: A Guide to His Thought. Hugh Donald Forbes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. Pp. 200. $60.00 cloth, $27.95 paper
Northern Spirits: John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor; Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought. Robert C. Sibley. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008. Pp. 408. $85.00 cloth, $29.95 paper

When George Grant died in 1988, it was not certain how, or even if, he would be remembered. There was little doubt that historians of twentieth-century Canada would record that his little book Lament for a Nation had caused quite a stir in political and intellectual circles when [End Page 190] it appeared in 1965. Although it clearly influenced nationalist thinkers such as Mel Watkins and James Laxer, there might be debate whether it had any practical influence on the nationalist legislation introduced by the Trudeau government in the 1970s.

As for Grant as a thinker, how would he be classified? He published five small books, which, including Lament, consisted of philosophical essays. He asked more questions than he answered, and the moment he answered a question, he seemed to put his answer to the test and look at it anew. He lived by the Socratic method and he was often just as frustrating as Socrates.

There is a considerable literature on Grant's thought, including six edited books. Other than an early book by Joan O'Donovan, no one tried to tackle Grant's thought as a whole. Instead there has been a progressive deepening of understanding: The profundity of Grant as a thinker is clearer today that it ever was in his lifetime, and his reputation is finally spreading outside Canada. There have recently been conferences held on his thought in India and Russia.

What that thought is will, I think, always remain elusive. It had a core concern, which was the soul's relationship to the Eternal, and peripheral interests: What was it in the modern world, in technological civilization, or in Western Christianity that made that relationship problematic?

As Donald Forbes points out in his interesting and thought-provoking book, Grant's acceptance of the Eternal came early, as a young man while he was in England during the early stages of the Second World War. Grant sought to make sense of this primal experience, which, in itself, had no intellectual content. Beyond space and time, as he put it, there was order, but that was not a coherent and comprehensive intellectual position.

According to Forbes there were a number of problems that Grant thought that the modern world faced. They all came down, as Forbes puts it, to the idea of what is worth doing. In Grant's view, the ancients such as Plato believed that there was a Good that defined us and our actions. We measured ourselves against it. In the modern world, by contrast, it is we, the human beings as doers and makers, who define what is good.

Forbes describes his book as a guide to Grant's thought. As a description of the book's structure, it is not clear what that means, since it varies in its level and its intention. At one level, it is possible to describe it as a introduction to Grant's thought, and, if anyone wanted an introduction, this would be as good a place as any to turn. There are biographical details, most of the major developments and influences [End Page 191] on Grant's thought are covered, and the religious, philosophical, and political aspects are all treated. They are not, though, treated in a way that would make Grant fully intelligible to someone who knew nothing about Grant.

This is not necessarily a criticism of Forbes. That was not his intention. He meant to write a commentary of a Straussian sort, for those who did know Grant's thought. So this is not really an introduction for beginners, and it is a Straussian book in more ways than one. Grant did respect Strauss but thought that his...


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