Social Criticism: The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and Other Essays


145 pages
ISBN 0-8020-7799-4
DDC 300




Edited by Alan Bowker
Reviewed by David Kimmel

David Kimmel teaches history and Canadian studies at Brock University in
St. Catharines.


A generation ago, when intellectual history was more in vogue and there
was lots of money for publishing volumes of out-of-print essays, the
original edition of this book made a lot of sense. Stephen Leacock was
known then mainly as a humorist; his only recognizable social
commentaries were found in satirical novels like Sunshine Sketches of a
Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914).
Bowker’s book, therefore, intended to give new life to him as a
serious social critic. After all, he had been a prominent,
Chicago-trained political economist who had much to say about modernity,
the British Empire, materialism, and even women’s rights and

Twenty-three years later, while Leacock’s serious writings remain
all but forgotten, the history of Canadian ideas has been subsumed into
the much larger and more complex field of cultural studies. This
reprinted edition of essays, unfortunately, profits not at all from
newer approaches to studying the past. Indeed, the only thing new to
this book is a defensive postscript to the editor’s original 40-page
introduction. Rather than revising and modernizing his analysis, Bowker
merely addresses the half a dozen studies that have appeared since the
mid-1970s, continuing to dismiss Leacock’s racism and sexism by
suggesting that the later scholars who have addressed these categories
have simply misunderstood. His interpretation of Leacock has not changed
after all these years, and this is the book’s main problem. While his
central point—that Leacock’s humor cannot be fully understood
without a knowledge of his serious social criticism—is still valid,
the “holistic” study of Leacock that Bowker craves remains elusive.

That said, the lengthy introduction provides the reader with a
thorough précis of Leacock’s writing. There is no question as to his
credentials as an intellectual. The 13 essays collected here are
cogently argued and stimulating; the selected bibliography further
documents Leacock’s critical mettle. What all of this lacks is the
modern analysis. This reprint should, if nothing else, inspire a
complete and timely revision of Leacock’s image both as a humorist and
as a social thinker.


Leacock, Stephen., “Social Criticism: The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and Other Essays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 24, 2024,