Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism by George Grant

lamentforanationAn old joke I heard a few years ago goes something like this: “Talking about the differences between America and Canada is like contrasting Germany and Austria. At the end of the day, only the Austrians notice or care.”

So I expect that only Canadians will bother to read this review of one of the finest books in their national canon.

Canadians themselves don’t seem to understand what separates their nation from the U.S., as evidenced by the constant whining from their left about how Stephen Harper is “Americanizing” their nation. Sorry ladies, but that ship has long since fucking sailed. The leftist, Handmaid’s Tale conception of Canada as an enlightened, progressive, multicultural refuge in opposition to those Bible-beating rednecks south of the border is a fiction invented by Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson.

Indeed, the reality is the reverse: Canada is innately a conservative country and America is innately progressive.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone steeped in neoreaction, but Lament for a Nation is an excellent primary source detailing precisely how these ideas work in real life. George Grant witnessed the Cathedral assimilating his country before his eyes and produced not only an excellent summation of what separates America and Canada, but elucidating first principles that could guide reactionaries in the future. Despite this edition’s flaws, it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s library.

And believe you me when I say that this edition (the 40th anniversary McGill-Queen’s University edition) is flawed. The main text of Lament must have been sourced from a half-finished Word document, because it’s full of basic typos and grammatical errors that are simply unacceptable in a published work. Additionally, the use of the Maple Leaf Flag on the cover is a slap in the face to Grant’s Red Tory, anti-continentalist beliefs. Nonetheless, this book is important enough that I’m willing to overlook misplaced quotation marks and missing periods:

And there ends the argument of Lament for a Nation. Canada makes sense only as a conservative country and Diefenbaker’s stand was the last political gasp of conservatism in the face of the ineluctable fact that conservatism is not possible in an age of progress. Canada’s disappearance was inevitable. You can’t fight necessity, because “fate leads the willing, and drives the unwilling. The debt we owe the Liberals is that they have been so willing to be led. The party has been made up of those who put only one condition on their willingness: that they should have personal charge of the government while our sovereignty disappears.”

Reviewing Lament for a Nation is difficult without explaining the context in which Grant wrote it. The book was largely a reaction to the Canadian elections of 1963, in which the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker was voted out of office in favor of Lester Pearson’s Liberals, who were openly being supported by Washington. Indeed, President Kennedy actually sent his top pollster, Lou Harris, to work for the Liberals in both this and the previous election in 1962.

Why did Kennedy want to take down Diefenbaker so badly? Because the latter didn’t ask “How high?” when Washington told him to jump.

Under the terms of NORAD, Diefenbaker had been pressured into allowing American nuclear weapons to be stationed on Canadian soil, a decision which he repeatedly waffled on. Additionally, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Diefenbaker refused to immediately go along with Kennedy’s diktats, delaying a DEFCON 3 order to Canadian forces and requesting that representatives from neutral countries be sent to Cuba to verify Kennedy’s claims. This combined with Diefenbaker’s other failures led to the downfall of his government and, as Grant saw it, the end of Canada as an independent nation:

Diefenbaker’s confusions and inconsistencies are, then, to be seen as essential to the Canadian fate. His administration was not an aberration from which Canada will recover under the sensible rule of the established classes. It was a bewildered attempt to find policies that were adequate to its noble cause. The 1957 election was the Canadian people’s last gasp of nationalism. Diefenbaker’s government was the swan song of that hope. Although the Canadian nationalist may be saddened by the failures of Diefenbaker, he is sickened by the shouts of sophisticated derision at his defeat. Those who crowed at Diefenbaker’s fall did not understand the policies of government that were essential if Canada was to survive. In their derision they showed, whether they were aware of it or not, that they really paid allegiance to the homogenized culture of the American Empire.

The average idiot will no doubt chafe at Grant’s assertion of Canada as being a fundamentally conservative country, what with their expansive social welfare state and liberal social policies. This analysis ignores the very reason how Canada came into being: as a refuge for English- and French-speaking peoples who did not want to become part of the United States.

Much in the same way that Jews define themselves primarily in opposition to Christianity, Canadians define themselves primarily in opposition to America. Nobody nowadays truly understands how radical the American Revolution was: its elevation of individual rights was unprecedented in recorded history. The Quebecois and the Loyalists sought to preserve pre-existing traditions in the face of the Puritan progressives down south, drawing on pre-Enlightenment English philosophers such as Richard Hooker:

The Conservatives came to power at a time when world economics were less favourably disposed to Canada than at any time since the war. The less prosperous felt the pinches of the recession which started in 1957. Diefenbaker did not meet this situation with any co-ordinated economic plan. The government only alleviated the growing unemployment by winter works, and scarcely touched upon the problems caused by automation. Diefenbaker lost the wide support he had once held among the ordinary people of Ontario. Those who were suffering came to think his nationalism was the usual political yapping. Once more the Conservative party was associated with unemployment and recession.

Canada was founded not just on the rights of individuals, but the rights of nations: the right of English- and French-speaking communities to safeguard their cultures against American imperialism. In this sense, socialist endeavors such as the creation of the CBC and Ontario Hydro (which Grant gives as examples of how Canadian Conservative governments were unafraid to expand government as necessary) are entirely consistent with conservatism, as their purpose was to protect Canadian society from American encroachment. This concept is still somewhat present in Canadian legal theory, as shown by how the Canadian Human Rights Commission rejected freedom of speech as an “American concept” during the Marc Lemire case.

So what went wrong?

Grant traces Canada’s fall as the product of both technological progress and political necessity. World War I was the first nail in the coffin of the U.K., Canada’s progenitor and benefactor; the British progressively lost both the ability to and interest in maintaining its empire, as shown by the Statute of Westminster 1931. At the same time, the industrial needs of both World War II and the Cold War necessitated that Canada seek closer economic ties with the U.S. Capitalists, who have no loyalty to anything other than that which makes them money, were among Diefenbaker’s fiercest opponents:

The free-enterprise assumptions of the Diefenbaker administration led to actions that were obviously anti-national. In appointing the Glassco Commission as an equivalent to the Hoover Commission, the government seemed to be appealing to an element of the American “conservative” tradition. The civil service was investigated by the head of Brazilian Traction. Although such “conservatism” may be appropriate to the United States, it cannot be to Canada, where limiting the civil service in the name of free enterprise simply strengthens the power of the private governments. Such strengthening must be anti-nationalist because the corporations are continental.

Although Grant does not use the term, what he was describing was the rise of managerialism in Canada: the agglomeration of power in the hands of CEOs, civil bureaucrats and other managers who have no loyalty to anyone other than themselves. Managerialism demanded that Canada be subsumed into the American Empire, with Diefenbaker standing athwart history trying to push against the winds of progress.

Grant views technology itself as an instrument of leftism, as opposed to a “tool” that can be used for good or ill. He points out that the technological advances of the industrial era, while improving the standard of living for all Canadians, had also accelerated the nation’s decline into an American satrapy. For example, automobiles made transportation between the two countries much more convenient, allowing the U.S. to project power more easily, while television allows corporations to beam American culture and values directly into the living rooms of every Canadian family. Indeed, Grant lays the blame for Quebec’s hyper-leftist “Quiet Revolution” at the Duplessis’ government’s attempt to fuse technology with traditionalist Catholic morality, creating a generation that despised traditional values; even today, Quebec is the most atheistic and degenerate province in Canada.

While I don’t share Grant’s pessimism, his point about how technology is usually co-opted by the powers-that-be is a good one. Take the Internet as an example. Sure, the Internet has allowed thought-criminals like ourselves to connect and network in a way that would have been impossible thirty years ago, but it’s also allowed the Cathedral to extend its control over us, both directly (through the NSA’s spying) and indirectly (by enabling leftists to form lynch mobs to hunt down anyone who offfeeennnds them).

There is no way out.

Grant also blames Diefenbaker’s incomplete understanding of Canada for the defeat of Canadian nationalism. Diefenbaker came from outside of the existing Canadian power structure; as a lawyer from Saskatchewan, he had little understanding of how central Canada had been transformed in the two decades that the Liberals had been in power. His conception of “One Canada” was entirely based around American-style individual rights, completely neglecting Canada’s historic origins.

The end result is that Canadians have become ersatz Americans without even realizing it. The Soviet-style erasure of Canada’s British heritage began under Lester Pearson, who adopted the Maple Leaf Flag and made “O Canada” the national anthem, replacing the British Red Ensign and “God Save the Queen.” The process accelerated under Pierre Trudeau, who stripped the Canadian military of its “Royal” designation (recently reversed under Harper) and plagiarized America’s Ellis Island mythology in an attempt to make “multiculturalism” part of Canada’s national heritage.

Occasionally, the puppet government in Ottawa is allowed to “defy” its masters, as shown by how Jean Chrétien kept Canada out of the Iraq war. But these little acts of resistance only underscore how subservient Canada is to the U.S. in the areas that matter: capital and culture. Canadians like Heather Mallick consume American TV and movies, enshrine watered-down American leftist concepts like multiculturalism, and want to make their country more like America; the real America, not the right-wing “Jesusland” that exists only in their nightmares.

Canada is the equivalent of a snotty teenager backtalking his parents; he might bitch about the quality of mom’s meatballs, but he still lives in his parents’ basement.

This is why Lament for a Nation is worth reading; it offers a clear, concise vision of what a non-progressive, non-leftist society looks like. Not only that, it shows how America’s cultural Marxism erodes the soul of a nation slowly but steadily. And despite being Canadian, a land that enshrines mediocrity in its art (see: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and those awful Group of Seven paintings), Grant’s prose erupts with joy and life, with countless quotable lines such as this:

When a man truly despairs, he does not write; he commits suicide.

Now there’s a saying to put on your wall.

Is the triumph of leftism inevitable? I don’t agree with Grant on this, though in 1965 it must have seemed like America (read: the Cathedral) was invincible. But a combination of idiotic diplomatic and economic blunders combined with the flagging birth rates of white leftists has endangered the progressive project. Russia and China are standing tall against our gelding of a president, and the latter have Washington by the balls economically.

New England Puritanism might be on the way out. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Click here to buy Lament for a Nation.

Read Next: A Nation of Crybabies

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  • The Man Who Was . . .

    1. Grant tended to overidentify modernity with the United States. In truth, these were universal trends.
    2. If the only tool you have to fight modernity in the form of capitalism is . . . socialism, well, you, my friend, are truly fucked.

  • John

    This article is nonsense. Diefenbaker was the biggest American patsy of all time, even scrapping 50 years of aerospace trendsetting at the behest of Eisenhower when he scrapped the Arrow program. You’re right that Canada isn’t progressive, but that’s only because we’ve progressed so far left that the only democracy in the world left of us is Sweden. Gun control, gay marriage, 50% income tax, shitty public health care, no military to speak of, rampant feminism, mass immigration. We’ve got it all. And with the exception of some parts of Alberta we swallow it by the spoonful.

  • Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/06/11 | Free Northerner()

  • https://plus.google.com/115427005513768684165 Burgess Shale

    I think it is important to note that Grant was and is the only writer to consider these issues. No other writer has produced a comparative work. Once again Canadians prefer to rest on the easy assumption that only Grant knew how to engage the issues much as they have copied other concepts without thinking through their own traditions.
    Fifty years on Canada is a different country. It has become the motel Bissoondath described in his book “Selling Illusions”. There are no common traditions or purposes except the hand-outs from government. With the elimination of “British” Canadian history only mobs of world roamimg multi-passported temporary employees inhabit the land.