Print Edition: June 3, 2015
“The impossibility of conservatism in our era is the impossibility of Canada. As Canadians we attempted a ridiculous task in trying to build a conservative nation in the age of progress, on a continent we share with the most dynamic nation on earth. The current of modern history was against us.” — George Grant
It’s been 50 years since Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism argued that Canada was doomed, and reports of the nation’s death may or may not have been exaggerated. Canada has yet to be engulfed by the United States, but ever-strengthening economic, political, and cultural ties between the countries lend many examples to Grant’s argument that Canada is being swept away by the current of something larger than it.
Then there’s that ever-persistent question of identity: What does it even mean to be Canadian?
To mark Lament’s 50th anniversary, UFV political science professor Ron Dart has published a 38-page collection of essays titled Lament for a Nation: Then and Now, which contains four brief essays from Dart, each offering a primer to what Dart calls “the mountain range of Grant’s thinking.”
The essays explore the oft-ignored theological segment of Lament, the political and ethical stance of Grant’s high Toryism, and Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.”
Grant’s conservatism is not the kind of ideology that most people today would identify, at first glance, as conservative. Grant strongly opposed any policy that aligned too closely with American interests, and pushed for a distinct Canadian way that would serve its own interests first. It means no wholesale selling-off of Canadian resources to other countries, and an emphasis on distinct, local cultures, as opposed to a single, universal one.
“Grant was not lamenting the passing of a right-wing perspective, but a left-of-centre one,” Dart explained.
But such a perspective in Canada might not be dead. Dart says the Green Party of Canada shares many of the principles that Grant advocates.
“It’s a bizarre misuse of language when the Green Party is seen as the radicals, the tree-huggers,” he observed. “The Greens are the most conservative of all! They’re trying to conserve the physical world we live in for future generations.”
For Dart, this “bizarre misuse of language” also explains the general misunderstanding of what it means to be conservative.
“Conservatism now equals business, or using the physical world any way you want … that’s a rather extremely aggressive liberalism, in which the strongest individuals can do what they want to other people or the world for short-term profit.”
Dart hopes, especially with the federal elections approaching, that the 50-year anniversary of Lament encourages students to learn more about Canadian intellectual history. It is there that any understanding of what it means to be Canadian will be found.
“One of the greatest diseases we face in this culture is our lack of memory,” says Dart. “You cannot reclaim your culture if you have no memory of it.”