English-Speaking Justice


104 pages
ISBN 0-88784-141-4





Reviewed by Alexander Craig

Alexander Craig is a freelance journalist in Lennoxville, Quebec.


Canada’s best-known philosopher strikes again. In these lectures, originally delivered in 1974, Grant sets out to examine just what justice means in a society dominated by technology. The lectures have only now become available in book form, and this edition is made possible by collaboration between Anansi and the University of Notre Dame Press in Indiana.

Grant dedicates this book “To Alex Colville and Dennis Lee, two artists who have taught me about justice.” Right from the start, then, his book is aggressively Canadian and idiosyncratic. In just the first few opening pages, for instance, he swings, in good professorial fashion, from a highly articulate defence of liberalism to summing up his central aim in these lectures: he “questions modern liberalism at its theoretical heart.”

Most of the book is taken up with Grant’s staging of a debate between himself and the person he sees as his main philosophical opponent, John Rawls, the leading exponent and defender of modern liberalism. This section will appeal mainly to the academic and those conservatives in Canada who are more inclined to philosophy than to practical politics and problems.

Yet anything written by George Grant is worth reading — for his spirited attacks, for the sound grounding for much of his argumentation, and for his thought-provoking historical surveys. All forms of ideology, for instance, he points out, “have been destructive of social moderation.” He returns again and again to the inability of contractual liberals and other modern, ideologically influenced thinkers to answer the basic questions about justice.

It’s not, to repeat, easy reading, but on the other hand, there are no easy answers to the vital questions Grant addresses. His central thesis — can technological and liberal reason maintain the mutual interdependence that has made the English-speaking empires the most powerful force in our times? — is set in a world in which, as he says, “the development of technology is now increasingly directed towards the mastery of human beings.”

Clearly, no simple solution can be offered. But anyone who wants to think about these matters, and to have his preconceived ideas really tested, should have a careful look at this book.


Grant, George, “English-Speaking Justice,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36344.