An Acceptance of Paradox: Essays on Canadian Diplomacy in Honour of John W. Holmes


202 pages
ISBN 0-919084-39-7




Edited by Kim Richard Nossal
Reviewed by W.M. Dobell

W.M. Dobell was Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, London.


John Holmes has long been the doyen of that small but able group of academics recruited from the Canadian diplomatic corps. Holmes revitalized the Canadian Institute of International Affairs in the 1960s. For a dozen years he taught graduate and undergraduate courses and supervised theses in the field of Canadian foreign policy. His grateful students, friends, and admirers are legion, in every age group and in many countries. Few academics on their retirement are as deserving of tribute and recognition on the part of their former students as this tireless and selfless man who has made an incalculable contribution to the formulation, execution, understanding, and appreciation of the foreign policy of this country.

A recognition by his former students is what this collection represents. It is not a tribute on the part of his former diplomatic colleagues, nor of diplomats of other countries, nor of his academic peers. Any or all of these elements might have combined in a testimonial, but it is his students who took the initiative and who brought this Festschrift to completion. There are seven essays culled from Ph.D. theses, all of which have appeared in fairly similar form as articles in periodicals, chapters in books, or papers presented to conferences. These specialized studies of different aspects of Canadian foreign policy are all copiously footnoted and illustrate the meticulous care Holmes always showed as a supervisor.

Copious footnoting, however, has not been characteristic of Holmes as a writer. As has accurately been written elsewhere, seldom has a greater reputation as a scholar been erected on such a light foundation of footnotes. His innumerable articles arc lucid, stimulating, entertaining, and penetrating; the argument builds not upon an array of citations but upon knowledge, logic, and plausibility. So well have his essays and addresses been received that they have been periodically assembled in book form.

The contribution to this collection under review that is most like Holmes’s own style of writing is the sparkling and insightful analysis by Denis Stairs entitled “The Pedagogics of John W. Holmes.” Stairs quotes Holmes’s earlier observation that the besetting sin of ex-diplomats is creeping paralysis, adding that Holmes is ultimately a conservative and that his humane scepticism could drift into a quiescent fatalism. This disturbing thought no doubt crossed Holmes’s mind as well, accounting perhaps for the impatient and accusatory tone of his recent Life with Uncle. Holmes was never one to accept type-casting. Accepting paradoxes is much more his line, and An Acceptance of Paradox is itself a Holmesian paradox. A collection intended to repay a generous supervisor for his inspiration and counsel largely depends for its sales and circulation on the reputation of the man being honoured.


“An Acceptance of Paradox: Essays on Canadian Diplomacy in Honour of John W. Holmes,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,