Exiles from Nowhere: The Jews and the Canadian Elite.


412 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-896941-55-4
DDC 305.5'20971





Reviewed by Ian A. Andrews

Ian A. Andrews is a high-school social sciences teacher and editor of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association’s Focus.


Twenty-first-century Canada prides itself on a policy of multiculturalism that claims to have produced a more tolerant and caring society. This empathetic country is often held as an example, a place where immigrants and visitors can feel accepted, and even encouraged to promote their own culture within the Canadian mosaic. However, in Exiles from Nowhere: The Jews and the Canadian Elite, Alan Mendelson, Professor Emeritus (Religious Studies) at McMaster University, firmly and eloquently denies that these egalitarian feelings existed among certain intellectual elites during the first century of Canadian nationhood.


In a thoroughly documented treatise, Mendelson traces intellectual influences and familial relationships from educator and philosopher Goldwin Smith (whose homestead, The Grange—a National Historic Site—is within the Art Gallery of Ontario complex) to philosopher and writer George Parkin Grant, whose celebrated 1965 essay Lament for a Nation questioned the survival of his definition of Canadian nationalism. Between these influential men Mendelson describes how Smith’s ideas influenced members of the political elite like Quebec nationalist leader Henri Bourassa, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and the first Canadian-born Governor General, Sir Vincent Massey, as well as members of the educational elite like George Munro Grant and Sir George Robert Parkin (through their associations with Queens University and Upper Canada College). Promoted were the views of “Christian triumphalism”—the superiority of Christianity over other creeds. Mendelson maintains that these pro-Christian sentiments contained an anti-Semitic element that, although camouflaged as “genteel anti-Semitism” as opposed to a more virulent “gutter anti-Semitism,” were nonetheless spread through the classroom and by print.


Specifically targeting George P. Grant, Mendelson contends that he acted as an apologist for several intellectual “heroes,” from historian Arnold Toynbee and French physician Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, both anti-Semites, to German philosopher Martin Heidegger (a Nazi) and French philosopher Simone Weil (a Vichy France sympathizer). But Grant would attack Canadian Jewish poet-singer Leonard Cohen for writing what he called anti-Christian literature. In Exiles From Nowhere Mendelson challenges Canadians to investigate more critically the historical influences that both intellectual and political elites have exerted on this society.


Mendelson, Alan., “Exiles from Nowhere: The Jews and the Canadian Elite.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/26662.