George Grant (philosopher)

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George Grant

George Parkin Grant

13 November 1918 (1918-11-13)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died27 September 1988 (1988-09-28) (aged 69)
Alma mater
Notable work
Lament for a Nation (1965)
Sheila Allen (m. 1947)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
ThesisThe Concept of Nature and Supernature in the Theology of John Oman
Main interests
Notable ideas

George Parkin Grant OC FRSC (13 November 1918 – 27 September 1988) was a Canadian philosopher and political commentator. He is best known for his Canadian nationalism, political conservatism, and his views on technology, pacifism, and Christian faith. He is often seen as one of Canada's most original thinkers.

Academically, his writings express a complex meditation on the great books, and confrontation with the great thinkers, of Western civilization.[citation needed] His influences include the "ancients" such as Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine of Hippo,[citation needed] as well as "moderns" like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss, James Doull, Simone Weil, and Jacques Ellul.[4]

Although he is considered the main theoretician of Red Toryism, he expressed dislike of the term when applied to his deeper philosophical interests, which he saw as his primary work as a thinker.[5] Recent research on Grant uncovers his debt to a neo-Hegelian idealist tradition, Canadian idealism, that had a major influence on many Canadian scholars and Canadian political culture more broadly.[6]


Grant was born in Toronto, the son of Maude Erskine (née Parkin) and William Lawson Grant.[7] He came from a distinguished Canadian family of scholars and educators. His father was the principal of Upper Canada College, and his paternal grandfather George Monro Grant was the dynamic principal of Queen's University. His maternal grandfather was Sir George Robert Parkin, also a principal at Upper Canada College, whose daughter Alice married Vincent Massey, the Canadian diplomat and first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada.[citation needed] Both of his grandfathers were vehement proponents of the bonds between Canada and British Empire, and this greatly influenced their grandson.[8] His nephew is public scholar and former Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons, Michael Ignatieff.[9] On 1 July 1947 he married Sheila Allen[10] whom he had met at Oxford.

Education and teaching[edit]

Grant was educated at Upper Canada College and Queen's University from which he graduated with a history degree.[11] He attended Balliol College at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, a trust his grandfather, George Parkin, had headed at one time.[12] Upon winning the Rhodes Scholarship, he enrolled towards a degree in law at Oxford,[13] but after the Second World War ended, and Grant had experienced a deeper personal bond with Christianity, he decided to change studies. His Doctor of Philosophy research was interrupted by the war, and he was already teaching in Dalhousie University's philosophy department when he completed his thesis, The Concept of Nature and Supernature in the Theology of John Oman, during a year-long sabbatical in 1950. Grant was a faculty member at Dalhousie twice (1947–1960, 1980–1988), York University (1960–1961; he resigned before teaching) and McMaster University's religion department (1961–1980), which he founded and led in the 1960s and early 1970s.[14] In 1977, he became an editorial advisor of the journal Dionysius,[citation needed] which published his essay "Nietzsche and the Ancients: Philosophy and Scholarship" in 1979.[15]

In George Grant: A Biography his struggles as a self-taught philosopher are highlighted.[14]

Grant was not readily accepted into the traditional academic community of scholars in Canada. Resistance was provoked by some of Grant's less 'progressive' stances, most notably the definition of philosophy he published in 1949: "The study of philosophy is the analysis of the traditions of our society and the judgment of those traditions against our varying intuitions of the Perfections of God". Especially angered and upset was Fulton Anderson of the University of Toronto's philosophy department. Grant's definition is telling, in that it marks his unique take on the philosophy's human perspective, which did not necessarily include assumptions regarding the objectivity of science, or the blind acceptance of the Enlightenment's fact–value distinction.

Throughout his career Grant was seen as a unique voice within academic institutions, and thus had strong appeal beyond the strict "community of scholars". In fact, Grant criticized the trend in universities to move away from the "unity" of the traditional academy to a "multi-versity" comprising separate hives of undergraduate students, graduate students, professional faculties and professors (years before the American Allan Bloom would become famous for similar themes).[16]

Politics and philosophy[edit]

In 1965 Grant published his most widely known work, Lament for a Nation, in which he deplored what he claimed was Canada's inevitable cultural absorption by the United States,[17] a phenomenon he saw as an instance of "continentalism". He argued that the homogenizing effect in current affairs during the period when it was written would see the demise of Canadian cultural nationality. The importance of the text is reflected in its selection in 2005 as one of The Literary Review of Canada's 100 most important Canadian books. Grant articulated a political philosophy which was becoming known as Red Toryism. It promoted the collectivist and communitarian aspects of an older English conservative tradition, which stood in direct opposition to the individualist traditions of liberalism and subsequently neo-liberalism.[18]

The subjects of his books, essays, public lectures, and radio addresses (many on CBC Radio in Canada) quite frequently combined philosophy, religion, and political thought. Grant strongly critiqued what he believed were the worst facets of modernity, namely unbridled technological advancement and a loss of moral foundations to guide humanity. He defined philosophy as the search for the "purpose and meaning and unity [of] life".[19] What he proposed in place of the modern spirit was a synthesis of Christian and Platonic thought which embodied contemplation of the 'good'. It is a synthesis that was given form by his neo-Hegelian Canadian idealism, which had been a part of his upbringing (his grandfather had been student of John Caird and a close friend of John Watson) but only really took explicit form when he was introduced to Hegel's work by James Doull.[6]

His first book, Philosophy in the Mass Age (1959), was his most explicitly Hegelian book. It began as a series of CBC lectures, and in it he posed the question of how human beings can reconcile moral freedom with acceptance of the view that an order exists in the universe beyond space and time. He applied a neo-Hegelian concept of history to the modern dilemma of reconciling freedom and order.[20] He saw history as the progressive development of humanity's consciousness of freedom and argued that Canada's unique combination of British traditional institutions and American individualism put it at the forefront of this final stage of history. In 1965, furious that the Liberal government had agreed to accept nuclear weapons, he published Lament for a Nation. At this point, Grant had been influenced by Leo Strauss and his neo-Hegelian conception of historical progress became more restrained, losing the hope that we had reached or were on the verge of reaching the fullest consciousness of freedom. Lament for a Nation created a sensation with its argument that Canada was destined to disappear into a universal and homogeneous state whose centre was the United States. The idea of progress had lost its connection to our moral development and had been co-opted into a utilitarian mastery of nature to satisfy human appetites. Technology and Empire (1969), a collection of essays edited by poet and friend Dennis Lee, deepened his critique of technological modernity;[citation needed] and Time as History, his 1969 Massey Lecture,[21] explained the worsening predicament of the West through an examination of the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Grant's works of the 1960s had a strong influence on the nationalist movement of the 1970s, though many of the New Left were uncomfortable with Grant's conservatism, his conventional Anglican Tory beliefs, Christian-Platonist perspective, and his uncompromising position against abortion.[22]

Grant's last work was Technology and Justice (1986), which he prepared together with his wife, Sheila Grant. His three-decades-long meditation on French philosopher Simone Weil's works led to the conclusion that there were fundamental moral and spiritual flaws in Western civilization, consigning it to a fate of inevitable collapse. Nevertheless, Grant affirmed his belief that a better civilization could eventually replace it.[23]


In 1981, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for having "become a major force in Canadian intellectual life"[24] and was also awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Pierre Chauveau Medal. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

In 2005 Grant's book Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism was voted one of The Literary Review of Canada's 100 most important Canadian books.


  • The Empire, Yes or No? Ryerson Press, (1945).
  • Philosophy in the Mass Age. CBC, (1959)
  • Lament for a Nation : the Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. McClelland & Stewart, (1965).
  • Time as History. CBC, (1969).
  • Technology and Empire : Perspectives on North America. Anansi, (1969)
  • English-speaking Justice. Mount Allison University, (1974).
  • Grant, G.P. (1976). The computer does not impose on us the ways it should be used. In W. Christian & S. Grant (Eds.), The George Grant reader. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press
  • Technology and Justice. Anansi, (1986).
  • George Grant : selected letters edited, with an introduction by William Christian. University of Toronto Press, (1996).
  • The George Grant Reader. William Christian and Sheila Grant (editors). University of Toronto Press, (1998)
  • Collected works of George Grant. Arthur Davis (editor). University of Toronto Press, (2000)



  1. ^ Grant 2009, p. 265.
  2. ^ French, Orland (12 January 2002). "Lives of the Intellectual Saints". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  3. ^ Heidebrecht, Paul C. (2006). "A Prescription for the Ills of Modernity? Understanding A. James Reimer's Approach to Theology". The Mennonite Quarterly Review. 80 (2). Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  4. ^ Forbes 2011; Kinzel 2009, pp. 10–11, 15.
  5. ^ Christian 2006.
  6. ^ a b Meynell 2011, pp. 107–108.
  7. ^ Forbes 2011; Rigelhof 2001, pp. 18, 156.
  8. ^ Massolin 1998, p. 4.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Forbes 2011.
  11. ^ Meynell 2011, p. 108; Rigelhof 2001, pp. 18, 160.
  12. ^ Rigelhof 2001, pp. 15, 41, 160.
  13. ^ Rigelhof 2001, pp. 41, 160.
  14. ^ a b Christian 1993.
  15. ^ Grant 1979.
  16. ^ Grant 1950.
  17. ^ Forbes 2007, p. 19.
  18. ^ Grant 1995, pp. 57–63.
  19. ^ Grant 1998, p. 34.
  20. ^ Meynell 2011, p. 117.
  21. ^ Cayley 1995, p. vii.
  22. ^ Mathie 1998.
  23. ^ Christian 2013.
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 25 January 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)[dead link]

Works cited[edit]

Cayley, David (1995). George Grant in Conversation. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press. ISBN 978-0-88784-553-6.
Christian, William (1993). George Grant: A Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
 ———  (2006). "Was George Grant a Red Tory?". In Angus, Ian; Dart, Ronald; Peters, Randy Peg (eds.). Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant's Theology, Philosophy, and Politics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2013) [2009]. "Grant, George Parkin". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada. Retrieved 22 February 2018.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Forbes, Hugh Donald (2007). George Grant: A Guide to His Thought. Toronto: University of Toronto. ISBN 978-0-8020-8142-1.
 ———  (2011). "Grant, George Parkin". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. 21. Toronto and Quebec City: University of Toronto and Université Laval. Retrieved 22 February 2018.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Grant, George (1950). The Teaching of Philosophy in English-Speaking Canada (draft copy). Hilda Neatby Papers. University of Saskatchewan Archives. II. 93.
 ———  (1979). "Nietzsche and the Ancients: Philosophy and Scholarship". Dionysius. 3. ISSN 0705-1085. Retrieved 22 February 2018.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (1995). Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Ottawa: Carleton University Press.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (1998). "What Is Philosophy?". In Christian, William; Grant, Sheila (eds.). The George Grant Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 33–39. doi:10.3138/9781442681361. ISBN 978-1-4426-8136-1. JSTOR 10.3138/9781442681361.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2009). "English-Speaking Justice: The Josiah Wood Lectures, 1974". In Davis, Arthur; Roper, Henry (eds.). Collected Works of George Grant. 4. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 190–268. doi:10.3138/9781442687677. ISBN 978-0-8020-9930-3. JSTOR 10.3138/9781442687677.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Kinzel, Till (2009). "Metaphysics, Politics, and Philosophy: George Grant's Response to Pragmatism" (PDF). Cultura. 6 (1): 7–21. doi:10.5840/cultura20096115. ISSN 1584-1057. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
Massolin, Philip (1998). "What's Past Is Prologue": Canadian Intellectuals, the Tory Tradition and the Challenge of Modernity, 1939–1970 (PDF) (PhD thesis). Edmonton: University of Alberta. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
Mathie, William (1998). "Abortion and the Crisis of Liberal Justice: George Grant on the Meaning of Roe v. Wade" (PDF). Life and Learning. 8. pp. 59–69. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
Meynell, Robert (2011). Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom: C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3798-9. JSTOR j.ctt815fz.
Rigelhof, T. F. (2001). George Grant: Redefining Canada. Montreal: XYZ Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9688166-8-4.

Further reading[edit]


  • Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant’s Theology, Philosophy, and Politics. Angus, Ian, Ronald Dart and Randy Peg Peters (editors). University of Toronto Press, (2006)
  • George Grant: A Guide to His Thought. Hugh Donald Forbes. University of Toronto Press, 2007.
  • O'Donovan, Joan E. (1984). George Grant and the Twilight of Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-5637-5.
  • Schmidt, Larry, ed. (1978). George Grant in Process: Essays and Conversations. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. ISBN 978-0-88784-064-7.
  • Modernity and Responsibility : essays for George Grant. Eugene Combs, (editor). University of Toronto Press, (1983).
  • George Grant: A Biography. William Christian, University of Toronto Press, 1994.
  • George Grant in Conversation. David Cayley. Anansi, (1995).
  • Two theological languages by George Grant and Other essays in honour of his work. Wayne Whillier, (editor) E. Mellen Press (1990).


  • Andrew, E. (1988). George Grant on technological imperatives. In R. Beiner, R. Day, & J. Masciulli (Eds.), Democratic theory and technological society. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.
  • Angus, I. (1987). George Grant’s Platonic rejoinder to Heidegger. Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellon.
  • Athanasiadis, H. (2001). George Grant and the theology of the Cross. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
  • Badertscher, J. (1978). George P. Grant and Jacques Ellul on freedom in technological society. In L. Schmidt (Ed.), George Grant in process: Essays and conversations. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Anansi.
  • Barros, J. (1986). No sense of evil: Espionage, the case of Herbert Norman. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Deneau.
  • Cayley, D. (1995). George Grant in conversation. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Anansi.
  • Christian, W. (1993). George Grant: A biography. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
  • Davis, A. (Ed.). (1996). George Grant and the subversion of modernity. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
  • Ellul, J. (1965). The technological society (John Wilkerson, Trans.). New York: Vintage.
  • Flinn, F. (1981). George Grant’s critique of technological liberalism. Doctoral thesis, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.
  • Horowitz, G. (1990). Commentary. In P. C. Emberley (Ed.), By loving our own: George Grant and the legacy of Lament for a nation. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Carleton University Press.
  • Kinzel, T. (1999). George Grant - ein kanadischer Philosoph als antimoderner Kulturkritiker. In Zeitschrift für Kanada-Studien 36/2 (1999), 185-200.
  • Kinzel, T. (2009). Metaphysics, Politics, and Philosophy: George Grant’s Response to Pragmatism In: Cultura : international review of cultural philosophy and axiology (June 2009), 7 - 21.
  • Kroker, A. (1984). Technology and the Canadian mind. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: New World Perspectives.
  • Lee, D. (1990). Grant’s impasse. In P. C. Emberley (Ed.), By loving our own: George Grant and the legacy of "Lament for a Nation." Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Carleton University Press.
  • Mathie, W. (1978). The technological regime: George Grant’s analysis of modernity. In L. Schmidt (Ed.), George Grant in process: Essays and conversations. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Anansi.
  • McHughen, A. (2000). Pandora’s picnic basket: The potential and hazard of genetically modified foods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rigelhof, T. F. (2001). George Grant: Redefining Canada. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: XYZ Publishers.
  • Sibley, Robert C. (2008). Northern Spirits: John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor - Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Siebert, J. W. H. (1988). George Grant’s troubled appropriation of Martin Heidegger on the question concerning technology. Master’s thesis, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.
  • Umar, Y. K. (Ed.). (1991). George Grant and the future of Canada. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: University of Calgary Press.

External links[edit]