Time as History

Description

81 pages
Contains Bibliography
$14.95
ISBN 0-8020-7593-2
DDC 901

Year

1995

Contributor

Edited by William Christian
Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.

Review

George Grant was a remarkably prolific philosopher and polemicist whose
work remains virtually unknown by most people in Canada. This makes the
rerelease of two of his most accessible works, Philosophy in the Mass
Age and Time as History, an indispensable contribution to Canadian
intellectual history.

Philosophy in the Mass Age is series of eight lectures Grant delivered
on CBC Radio in the early months of 1958. Though they were intended as a
introduction to moral philosophy, what is most appealing about Grant’s
lectures is that he situates his discussion of “modern scientific
civilization” in “that vast metropolis that expands along the shores
of Lake Ontario, with the old city of Toronto at its heart.” This
local context is important to Grant because it gives a real expression
to what he calls the “mass age”—the impoverished (“dead-level,
conformist”) culture of North America, which exalts the day-to-day
activity of the businessman and devalues less pragmatic pursuits like
art, philosophy, and religion. This obsessive pragmatism, which Grant
denounces as “American morality,” has become the default position of
our educational and political institutions and it has made it impossible
for Canadians to imagine that their world could be organized
differently. His solution is that we need to introduce a dimension of
philosophy and spirituality into our thinking—“an absolute moral
law”—which would at once off-set the intellectually debilitating
effects of technological civilization and make us think more clearly
about our collective priorities.

Time as History was first published in 1969 as the text of the CBC
Massey Lectures. Here Grant frames his attack on North American
technological society within a more erudite analysis of the concept of
time. Because we tend to think of “time as progress”—that is, as
something that we fashion by acting on our wills and self-interested
desires—we deny the possibility that individual actions are governed
by any “imperial destiny” or transcendental principle. We seem to
have accepted Nietzsche’s idea that “God is dead” and that, as a
consequence, everything we think and do is “beyond good and evil.”
For Grant, this is an accurate description of the plight of modern man
but it is not an appropriate idea to live by. Unlike Nietzsche, who
tried to redeem humanity by subordinating all moral judgments to
relativistic desires, Grant believes that this nihilistic truth must be
supplemented with a more purposive, though not doctrinaire, version of
Western Christianity, one that turns the idea that humans are the
creators of their own values to the common task of achieving a better
world.

To many readers, the high-Anglican conservative morality expressed in
both of these books will sound like an obsolete remnant of the kind of
thinking that at one time dominated the Canadian intellectual scene. But
perhaps this should be regarded as an asset, since the strength of
Grant’s work is precisely that it offers a vital alternative to the
secular common sense that passes as public philosophy today.

Citation

Grant, George., “Time as History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30016.