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.