George Grant: Selected Letters


402 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-8020-7807-9
DDC 191'.092




Edited by William Christian
Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


This collection offers veiled insights into the personal and
intellectual development of Canada’s foremost philosopher. Prefaced by
an impressive list of correspondents—Diefenbaker, McLuhan,
Trudeau—and supplemented with helpful editorial notes by William
Christian, George Grant’s letters are intensely private, yet they
provide a crucial inroad to his public persona.

The most riveting letters are those to his mother, Maude. As Christian
points out, they are “among the strangest a son ever wrote.” Grant
moves seamlessly from filial adoration to enthusiastic confessions about
his undergraduate years at Queen’s and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar,
to polemics about the war with Germany, his preference for the CCF/NDP
and Conservatives over the Liberals, and indictments of British
imperialism. Among his preferred topics is the decadence of industrial
society. London, he wrote in 1941, is “an amazing conglomeration of
desires,” but its inhabitants “seek escape in the movies, or
alcohol, or the less productive experiments of sex.”

Grant’s epistles include numerous defences of Canada’s “northern
nationality.” Some of the early letters indicate a desire to ally
Canada with the “hope of the USA” rather than the “defeatism” of
British culture, but the postwar letters display a growing sense of
nationalism. In an essay attached to a 1965 letter to Diefenbaker, for
example, Grant insisted that the government ensure Canada remain
“friendly with our great southern neighbour, but distinct and
different ... something new and unique in the world.” Five years
before his death, he wrote to Christian that “Canada’s innocence”
must be protected against the “vulgarity” of America.

A “Red Tory” in the best sense of the word, Grant consistently
defended the distinctiveness of Quebec. In 1969 he wrote to novelist
Hugh MacLennan that “the French in Quebec [must] keep their
determination not to be slowly smoothed out of existence” by
English-speaking society. Twenty years later he wrote to Gaston Laurian,
French translator of Lament for a Nation, that while Quebec maintains
“a state of being which [is] not determined by American capitalism,”
English Canada wants “American capitalism with a maple leaf flag put
on top.”

There are some gems here, such as Grant’s letter of resignation to
Murray Ross, founding president of York University, and those letters
outlining a never-written book on Martin Heidegger. What is most
impressive, however, is just how thoughtful Grant was even in his most
personal moments.


Grant, George., “George Grant: Selected Letters,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,