Political philosopher George Grant, author of the 1965 book Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, is among the few Canadian thinkers of the 20th century who continue to command the attention of Canadians, says York Professor Arthur Davis, co-editor of the recently published Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 4, 1970-1988 (University of Toronto Press).
Canadians continue to examine Grant’s arguments about what has happened and is happening to their country, and they are still learning from his skepticism regarding the age of technology, says Davis, a professor in the School of Social Sciences in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. In Lament for a Nation and again in his 1969 book Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America, Grant warned that technology could change our politics and religion, our sense of justice, and even put the future of our country in jeopardy. Grant’s work is still relevant today, Davis says.
Davis began working on the four-volume collection in 1990, two years after Grant’s death. Davis co-edited the Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 1, 1933-1950 with Peter Emberley, a professor of political science at Carleton University, and was the sole editor of the Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 2, 1951-1959. Davis was co-editor with Henry Roper, Inglis Professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, of the Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 3, 1960-1969 and the Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 4, 1970-1988.
The fourth volume contains Grant’s writings from the last period of his life, including unpublished lectures, interviews and excerpts from his notebooks, along with broadcasts, published interviews, articles, reviews and the three books he published during this period – Time as History, English-Speaking Justice and Technology and Justice. Volume 4 also contains his writings on Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Simone Weil and Louis-Ferdinand Céline which Davis says were central to this later phase of Grant’s thought.
Davis’s fascination with his subject began when he was an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “I was first drawn to Grant because he was an exciting and passionate teacher of philosophy at Dalhousie in the late 1950s and a public figure who appeared regularly on “Fighting Words”, a popular CBC Television and Radio panel show, and delivered talks in the CBC Radio “Architects of Modern Thought” series on Sartre, Dostoevsky and Jung,” says Davis.
Left: Arthur Davis
"We students saw Grant leaving the library every night with armloads of books piled up to his nose covering a bewildering sweep of politics, religion, science and technology, economics and business, poetry and novels. We saw the same fire that drove him to read so widely in our classes. He showed us how our own struggles and plans mattered in the new changed world that was emerging around us in the late 1950s.”
Later, Davis studied as a graduate student under Grant, attending his seminars at McMaster University in the Department of Religion. Davis wrote his PhD thesis on Heidegger under Grant’s supervision in the early 1970s.
Davis is not alone in his continued interest in Grant’s work. “Every now and then we hear from readers here and there who have read these volumes from cover to cover and been enormously grateful for the chance to learn by thinking along with Grant about so many important questions,” he says. “We hope these volumes will make it possible for future students, teachers and citizens to learn to think deeply about justice, religion, philosophy and technology, subjects that haven’t disappeared since Grant’s death and obviously aren’t going to disappear any time soon.”
Grant’s wife Sheila, 88, also devoted time to the collected works. Together with Davis, she spent countless hours over several summers deciphering Grant’s handwritten manuscripts, notebooks and lectures.
The four-volume Collected Works of George Grant is a way for “readers to get as close as possible to Grant’s intellectual and spiritual quest through the medium of his written works,” says Davis.
Davis is also editor of George Grant and the Subversion of Modernity: Art, Philosophy, Religion, Politics and Education.
By Sandra McLean, YFile writer