Liberalism and Hegemony: Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution.


488 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9589-3
DDC 971.0072




Edited by Jean-Fran├žois Constant and Michel Ducharme
Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


In 2000, Ian McKay, a professor at Queen’s University, published an article in the Canadian Historical Review which argued that Canadian history had become too fragmented in the preceding 30 years—what with ethnic, gender, intellectual, labour, legal, and social history added in to the earlier emphasis on political and economic history. What was needed, he suggested, was an overarching analytical framework to tie all this together—and his article “The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History” suggested the answer. In McKay’s view, we should revisit Canadian history “by studying what he calls ‘the Canadian Liberal Revolution,’ a phrase he uses to describe the gradual deployment of a liberal order in the British colonies of North America, and later within the Canadian federation between 1840 and 1940. In other words, McKay argues that we should approach Canada … as an ongoing ‘project of liberal rule.’”


Of course this model relies on a study of power relationships that helped establish the liberal order and it is McKay’s view that historians can best understand these relationships in light of the theories of hegemony and passive revolution first articulated by Antonio Gramsci—hence this book’s title Liberalism and Hegemony.


McKay’s article, which was recognized as the best article in the journal for the year, exploded like a bomb in the Canadian historical community, and in 2006 McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada invited ten of the country’s foremost scholars to debate McKay’s hypothesis. The papers test the applicability of the thesis to focused areas of Canadian history such as Aboriginal history, environmental history, the history of the family, the development of political thought and ideas, and municipal governance. McKay’s original article, the commentaries on it, and a chapter containing McKay’s spirited reaction to some of his critics form the content of this book.


Written by scholars for scholars the book is a serious read which assumes in-depth knowledge of Canadian history and Canadian historical literature. It will likely go down as one of the most significant titles published in Canadian history in the last decade.


“Liberalism and Hegemony: Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024,