George Grant and C.S. Lewis, by Ron Dart (Friday Feature)

I keep meaning to highlight one of Canada’s most important public intellectuals, George Grant, and his connection to C.S. Lewis. I just never seem to get to the task so I will let Prof. Ron Dart lead us in that direction for this week’s Friday Feature.

George Grant was an intellectual gadfly, in conversation with the intellectual class in Canada and philosophically influential but whose conservative political leanings made the elite uncomfortable. He seemed to work well in that tension, arguing for a particular vision of Canadian nationalism and intellectual culture in the university. His own establishment of a department of religion at McMaster remains unique in Canada, and his Lament for a Nation (1965) is one of our most important works. I encountered Grant first through his essay collection, Technology and Empire (edited by Canadian poet Dennis Lee, author of Alligator Pie and the Fraggle Rock theme song). Intellectually challenging, stimulating for the curious, frequently offensive or problematic, the essays are breathtaking in scope and helped in my academic formation.

Grant frequently made media appearances, including the CBC’s Massey Lectures (in 1969–I have some doubts that a thinker like Grant would be given time like this on CBC today; perhaps the strange camps forming behind and against Jordan Peterson are evidence). He received the Order of Canada and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Intriguingly, as part of Grant’s formation, he attended the Oxford Socratic Club, which was chaired by C.S. Lewis. Grant came from high intellectual stock in Canada, and found his way to Oxford to study law as a Rhodes scholar. Disturbed by the war and the failure (in his view) of the English neoliberal project, Grant turned to philosophy to explore his Christian faith.

Although he was very shy about talking about his faith as a Canadian intellectual, Grant’s religious perspective was important to his entire project of thought. This project was partly formed by C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, as Ron Dart discusses in this video. Ron Dart’s name has been popping up for me recently, and I thought his short note on George Grant and C.S. Lewis captured an idea I haven’t managed to get to–despite links to Grant’s work brought up in reader comments on this blog. For a longer treatment, see Dart’s short paper, “The Orthodox Tradition and Canada’s Most Significant Public Philosopher: George Grant” (2012). Grant’s work is disturbing–not simply because he occasionally offends our comfortable ideas, but because he imagines dystopian aspects of the future while rejecting Orwell’s violent world built on radical change. In some aspects, Grant’s future is now.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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25 Responses to George Grant and C.S. Lewis, by Ron Dart (Friday Feature)

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    What a Grant Fest – thanks! (Ron Dart has all sorts of interesting looking videos and online articles – I should at least browse him, more!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Watching a couple more in Ron Dart’s Anglican series has given me context for some details, here – it’d be enjoyable to discuss things with him, and I think we’d variously ‘cross swords’, but they seem worthwhile, and very much part of the Inklings-Grantian continuing discussion (so to put it).

    I also started enjoyably browsing Hugh Donald Forbes’ Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry on Grant, linked from the Grant Wikipedia article – it has some vivid details and quotations, and looks well worth reading in its entirety (though it’s full enough that that will take a while!).

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    • It is probably worth noting that Ron Dart’s conservativism is of a Canadian nationalistic bent, so is set up as distinctive from Americanization and a bit more aligned to the UK.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        That is a Grantian aspect! There’s a lively little Grant contribution to The New Romans: Candid Canadian Opinions of the U.S, ed. Al Purdy (1968)… (Check out the cover at Amazon, if you don’t know it!)

        I suspect (as far as I’ve watched) Ron Dart and I would ‘cross swords’ about aspects of ecclesiology and (Patristic) theology, and Church history more generally. But I also think we agree about a lot of matters Anglican!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting that Grant uses the term “Techniqe” which is a word used extensively by Jaques Ellul to define the science and the scientific elimination of teleology from modern thinking through technology.
    “The problem arises, when ‘MEANS’ and ‘ENDS’ are separated, so that ‘TECHNICAL’ means no longer have any end except absolute, rational efficiency and they are no longer subject to objective value judgements. … “the one best way” is always the self-selecting and self-justifying end. At this point individual people no longer have a choice because technology has chosen for them, and all other proposed ‘ENDS’ become superfluous. In Christ, the ‘MEANS’ and the ‘END’ are joined, they are One, they can never be sepatated.” [Jaques Ellul]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have just downloaded “Beyond Good and Evil” and “Will to Power” which confirms that I have not read any Nietzche . I have, however, read many other authors who quote him frequently and was wondering if anyone who reads your blog could point me at the work that contains the quote, allegedly made by him, that Christianity sowed the seeds of it’s own destruction by elevating “TRUTH” to the highest virtue.

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    • One of my weaknesses is my inability to appreciate Nietzsche. Perhaps because I started with Thus Spake Zarathustra in its biblical language tones which didn’t resonate with me (though sometimes funny).

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I think Grant’s Massey Lectures, ‘Time as History’, give some great glimpses of Thus Spake Zarathustra – it got me to search them up in context (and then in German) – though I have yet to read it right through. (I also read bits of it, wondering about how similar and different some things in Charles Williams might be.)

        There seem to be some battles among Nietzsche lovers and scholars which I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion on – but Grant thinks highly of Heidegger on Nietzsche, and as in continuity with him (not that he agrees with either, deeply or broadly!), while Walter Kaufmann (whose translations I’ve read) seems very scornful of Heidegger’s understanding of Nietzsche (!).

        I can’t place that quotation, but I’ll try to look out for it!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for introducing me to George Grant. I look forward to getting to know him a little better. I think that Lewis’s Abolition of Man is a seminal text for our time.

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  6. And having just listened to Ron Dart’s short talk I am even more interested in Grant and Lewis as Anglican theologians and philosophers especially in relation to medieval thought. My own instinct is that in a time of great change it is essential to pay attention to the foundations. That, apart from the sheer quality of their writing, is what draws me to the Inklings. Their project seems so much more important and enduring than that of the modernists.

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    • You may already be deeper than me! But I do find Grant to be an intriguing thinker.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      As I remember it, in English-Speaking Justice, Grant gives examples of a sort of English tradition of thought reaching back before ‘the Age of Progress’ and continuing despite it, including Richard Hooker, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I was trying to look up a famous quotation by T.S. Eliot the other day, about being “a classicist in literature” (as I was thinking about ways he was connected to the Romantic and mediaeval – such as in his plays The Rock and Murder in the Cathedral), and encountered online a 1989 centenary lecture by Russell Kirk, “The Politics of T.S. Eliot”, in which he writes, “Both in his early essay on Charles Whibley and his late lecture on the literature of politics, Eliot comments on four political writers, masters of literary style, who clearly have influenced his own views: Bolingbroke, Burke, Coleridge, and Disraeli . […] Eliot’s political thought, in considerable part, is descended from those great conservatives; it more nearly approximates that of Coleridge, whom Eliot recognizes as ‘a man of my own type.’ ” And, earlier in the talk, he says, Eliot give us “wisdom after the mode of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Henry Newman.” Now, Barfield has written quite a lot about Coleridge – which I have not read, yet. I am really feeling my ignorance of Coleridge more sharply of late (beyond poems, and bits of Biographia Literaria I love) – maybe I’ll finally do something about it…

      Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I just ran into a wonderful quotation from Dom Gregory Dix at Fr. John Hunwicke’s blog which seems very Lewis- and Grant- (and Tolkien-) compatible, in this context: “‘There is one human race in which the mysteries of God are fulfilled’ [Irenaeus]. It has been said that the problem of our generation [1944] will be the motive of civilisation. But in fact that is the problem in one form or another of all generations, the theory of human living. It has only been made more acute for us by the progressive apostasy of the liberal tradition in Europe for the last three centuries. The dream of the self-sufficiency of human power has haunted the hearts of all men since it was first whispered that by slipping from under the trammels of the law of God ‘ye shall be as gods’ choosing your own good and evil. The shadows of that dream renew themselves continually in fresh shapes even in the minds and wills of those who serve God’s kingship. Where that kingship is unknown or consciously denied that dream rules men, who are in the apostle’s terrible phrase ‘free from righteousness’. In its crudest form, in the politics of our day, the pagan dream of human power has turned one more into a nightmare oppressing men’s outward lives. That will pass, because it is too violent a disorder to be endured. But elsewhere and less vulgarly, as a mystique of technical and scientific mastery of man’s environment, it is swiftly replacing the old materialism as the prevalent anti-christianity of the twentieth century. In this subtler form it will more secretly but even more terribly oppress the human spirit”. (He does not give details as to source and context, but does end, “To be continued”!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Dom Gregory is a prophet of the 21st century! The absence of a motive for civilisation is clear in the political life of our times. In my own blog on The Lord of the Rings I recently reflected on the fall of Saruman in terms of Wordsworth’s sonnet, The World is Too Much With Us. Saruman is one who lays waste his powers giving them away to the things that he makes. Wordsworth looks out over the sea wondering whether a sight of pagan deities might be preferable to his own (and ours?) dying culture. I can’t help but be reminded of the scenes in Prince Caspian in which the deities are Aslan’s allies against Miraz and his ilk. I am not sure whether human power is a “pagan dream”. It is most certain godless. This is Ellul’s central argument in The Meaning of the City and probably elsewhere too.

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  7. “We should be very sure that the ruined soul is not one who has missed a few more-or-less important theological points and will fail a theological examination at the end of life. Hell is not an “OOps!” or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. “Outer Darkness” is for one, who, everything said and done, want’s it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God, and therefore, against how the universe actually is (Reality).” [Dallas Willard]

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