This is the last of three essays in which I review Canadian author and thinker George Grant’s work Lament for a Nation, and consider its relevance for reactionary thought in Canada and the West today. In the above work, Benjamin West – an American colonial who left for England before the Revolution – depicts Britannia receiving the Loyalists, with Religion and Justice accompanying her. In reality, Parliament was stingy about rewarding Loyalist refugees, and it was in Canada that they would make their new homes.
In parts one and two of this series, we examined George Grant’s thesis that Canada has faced a long erasure of its distinctive political heritage, founded in the Tory and Loyalist worldview which it defended against the Republican vision to its south. Part 1 presented Grant’s thesis that it was the Canadian business and political elite itself which was instrumental in this erasure. Part 2 explored various facets of this tradition: valuing competent over “small” government, acknowledging distinctions between peoples and cultures, and the institution of the Crown itself. In this final essay, we will explore the fate of the Canadian tradition and what its ultimate destiny might be as Liberalism faces its crises.
One of the first things we must note is Grant’s own opinion: that Canada’s sovereignty was doomed and integration into the American sphere was nigh inevitable.
Canada has ceased to be a nation, but its formal political existence will not end quickly. Our social and economic blending into the empire will continue apace, but political union will probably be delayed. Some international catastrophe or great shift of power might speed up this process. Its slowness does not depend only on the fact that large numbers of Canadians do not want it, but also on sheer lethargy. Changes require decisions, and it is much easier for practising politicians to continue with traditional structures. The dominant forces in the Republic do not need to incorporate us. A branch-plant satellite, which has shown in the past that it will not insist on any difficulties in foreign or defence policy, is a pleasant arrangement for one’s northern frontier. The pinpricks of disagreement are a small price to pay.
Pessimistic as this view is, it is also quite understandable. How is it possible to resist the might of the Republic with its population an order of magnitude greater than Canada’s own? If a strong France or Germany could maintain a measure of independence in the American alliance, is this realistic for a country whose position is – to use Pierre Trudeau’s phrase – like sleeping beside an elephant? And after all, the sacrifice is not without payoff.
Perhaps we should rejoice in the disappearance of Canada. We leave the narrow provincialism and our backwoods culture; we enter the excitement of the United States where all the great things are being done. Who would compare the science, the art, the politics, the entertainment of our petty world to the overflowing achievements of New York, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco?…This is the profoundest argument for the Liberals. They governed so as to break down our parochialism and lead us into the future…A way of life shaped by continental institutions will produce political continentalism. Young and ambitious politicians will arise to give tongue to it.
From our perspective – decades after Grant first wrote Lament – it is necessary to point out that many other countries have faced and are currently facing this same decision. These are the countries which have to greater or lesser extents been members of the American alliance. From at least the time of Woodrow Wilson, the ideology of Liberal internationalism has been a powerful and explicitly American-backed force in Europe. The European Union – whose vision has clearly been a United States of Europe – has formally promoted the same ideology of individualism, the global market, and the need for national and religious traditions to take a backseat to the faith of progress. One cannot deny that its elites have benefited. They have seen economic gain, increased access to their counterparts across the world through educational and cultural exchange, and a breaking down of borders which they view as obstacles.
And of course, this phenomenon is not unique to Europe. The Liberal world order still stands on an American military and corporate foundation, but its elite is increasingly a reflection of its global ideal. We might visit international and American schools in India, Dubai, South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, and other countries and discover there the children of elites across the globe embracing identical values regarding sexual freedom, democracy, secularism, and a borderless world.
The growing number of Third Culture kids – raised outside of their parental culture, often growing up in several countries – might well embody the ideal child of the borderless and global society. While acquainted with many cultures and usually multi-lingual, they are unified by the same worldview Canadian elites embraced long ago. American soft-power might well infiltrate even those rivals most committed to their own sovereignty: here we can point out the Western values and lifestyle of many Iranian elites, or the growing numbers of future Chinese politicians whose education takes place at Harvard.
Yet at the same time, they have become alienated from their own countries. The recent Brexit vote revealed the level of disdain and even hatred with which England’s educated and wealthier classes view their working class countrymen (not to mention the elderly, or the inconvenient numbers of immigrant Brexiters). Even pro-immigration arguments frequently voice the desire of educated individuals to associate with their class counterparts from across the world, rather than those in their own country who differ from themselves. While elites have always maintained ties across borders, this ascendant class is a historical anomaly in that many don’t seem to realize their status as an elite at all. As the transnational elite itself embraces identity politics and victimhood as a status symbol, its own fracture points become increasingly apparent. Rich Black American Harvard Students vs Rich White American Harvard Students, Global North UN-interns from the LSE vs Global South UN-interns from the LSE, and so on.
On the flipside, those disadvantaged by this project grow to despise their elites and even distrust each other. As societies depend on trust for everything from cooperating with law enforcement to engaging in business to raising families, this has dire consequences for the future. Perhaps the burgeoning elites can successfully unite against this populism – but in doing so, they will likely have to dispense with many of their democratic and egalitarian pretenses. On the other hand, the new elite’s own fracture lines may prove overwhelming, as each new global level of connection exposes another multitude of tensions ready to be exploited – the result of the very ideology which guides them.
And yet, is this not simply the price of Progress? Here, Grant reveals the truly radical nature of his nationalism. He is not a nationalist out of sentimentality or purely tribal concerns. This would place his nationalism somewhere in the 19th or 20th centuries. But in fact, nationalism is not the foundation of Grant’s worldview at all. Rather, he is rooted in the Classical-Christian tradition. Grant sees the High Tory worldview which formed Canada as being itself a product of that tradition. Canada’s geopolitical conflict has been against the power of the American Republic; its intellectual conflict has been against the universalist hegemony of the Progressive faith. For the Progressive, History is the final arbiter of what is good and necessary.
For the Reactionary, this is a nonsensical view because history changes, rhymes, and repeats. Peace and war, love and hatred, life and death – all things come again and again in the realm of History. Therefore, it is values beyond History to which Man must look: the laws of nature and Revelation. Every ruler – ultimately, every person – by their actions either moves Man closer to Heaven or the Abyss.
Moreover, the economic focus of modern Liberalism is unsurprising to Grant. In rejecting differentiation within humanity, Liberalism can only acknowledge the lowest common denominator of Man’s nature: his base passions and role as a consumer. And so, the greatest treasures of the borderless world of Liberalism are outstanding corporate profits and unrestricted sexual liberation. Man “progresses” to increasingly primitive states of being. Grant believes that nation and tradition allow individuals to turn to something beyond themselves – concrete things, not abstractions.
Unlike more modern nationalisms, the Classical-Christian worldview of the Tory tradition does not reject humanity and the universal. Indeed, it gives these concepts spiritual meaning and eternal value. However, it responds that if a man is not able to go beyond himself for his own nation or tradition, then true concern for humanity is entirely beyond him. The Brotherhood of Man in each new stage of Progress becomes the excuse for the consolidation of power: the Liberal bourgeoisie, the Bolshevik urban radicals, the Social Justice agitators. The role of “humanity” in this ideology is not to bind fellow-men, but to divide them from the concrete bonds which nation and tradition impose. But in this case, Canada as Grant sees it is not merely some quaint relic of times gone by, but a bastion of hope and order against the chaotic tides which Liberalism has unleashed. Grant reflects:
The classical philosophers asserted that a universal and homogeneous state would be a tyranny…This implies a definition of human freedom quite different from the modern view that freedom is man’s essence…If the best social order is the universal and homogeneous state, then the disappearance of Canada can be understood as a step toward that order. If the universal and homogeneous state would be a tyranny, then the disappearance of even this indigenous culture can be seen as the removal of a minor barrier on the road to that tyranny.
This leaves us in a state of crisis. It seems clear that Canada was ultimately unable to resist the cultural and geopolitical power of the American Republic and the Liberal world order it created. And yet, it seems equally clear that this order has set the stage not only for great opportunity, but also great destruction. Progress casts a long and dark shadow, if the chaos of Europe, the destruction of Iraq and Syria, the violence within America’s cities, and the collapse of the family across industrialized world are anything to go by. From Grant’s perspective, it is in fact a false idol. Therefore, it must be cast down.
How can this be done? We must return to our distinction between the intellectual and the geopolitical. This distinction proves Grant is a vital resource for Reactionary thought. As we saw, Grant understood the relationship between power and ideology. He did not see the erasure of Canada’s political tradition as the result of dialectic or being on the “wrong side of history”. Rather, he found its cause in the goals and projects of the power brokers from Canada’s own elite classes. We saw Grant describe key figures in the civil service as well as the business and governing classes of Canada’s great eastern cities. He outlined their motivation and worldview. If the Republic at last conquered the Dominion, it was men – albeit, men with power, ability, and connections – which made it possible. Thus we stand in our current position: subjects of the American empire, the “international community”, the Liberal world order.
But if it was ultimately impossible to resist the American world order from without, then perhaps this gives us the beginnings of an answer.
The authentic Canadian tradition embodies a different vision of what America itself might have been – and might yet be. If its political embodiment is now a colony of Liberalism, the tradition itself still exists and runs through many of Canadian institutions, especially the Crown herself. Now, it must be recognized that this Sovereign is in our day herself subject to the Empire born of the great Republic. Whereas America actively promoted Liberalism across the globe, Canada saw its ideology as being particular to its own Dominion. Its founders do not seem to have put much stock in promoting their worldview among American elites and thinkers. And this makes sense, if for no other reason than that America believed in itself in a way Canada simply did not.
But like the Dominion, this Empire, too, is run by human beings. Grant’s days were the days of growth and ascendancy, culminating in the prosperity overseen by an elite greatly unified through war. We live in different days, and the true fruits of the Revolution are much more apparent now. The abstract economic man does not exist – humans with their differences and concrete ties do. Thus, the Sovereign power must concern itself with the classes, nations, races, and faiths which exist under it, and be sure to govern them accordingly to walk the path of civilization. Appeals against this more often than not conceal the agenda of just such factions, as George Grant realized. Debates such as “small vs large government” or “free trade vs protectionism” are cut through like so many Gordian Knots.
Here lie the seeds of what others have named Royal America. Its defenders once fled northward to preserve their way of life, and saw it cast away by their own descendants, enchanted by the promises of the Liberal world order. If the remnants of the Canadian tradition have worth, then we must radically rethink what Canada represents. We need not and must not limit ourselves to Grant’s view of a doomed outpost of Loyalism resisting the inevitable might of the Republican power.
The time of exile must come to an end. The Loyalist vision of Royal America must be called upon: a civilization restored to just, competent, and secure government, which takes up the gauntlet thrown down by Carlyle to the rulers of men:
[Editor’s note: cross-posted from Social Matter]
To see, so far as human effort under pain of eternal reprobation can, God’s Kingdom incessantly advancing here below, and His will done on Earth as it is in Heaven…