George Parkin Grant, probably Canada’s best known philosopher, and the country’s most articulate pro-life voice, died at Halifax on September 27, a month and a half prior to his seventieth birthday. He had been suffering from cancer for some time.
Mr. Grant was born in Toronto in 1918, into a distinguished family, and was educated at Upper Canada College, Queen’s University, and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. On his return to Canada in 1947, he taught philosophy at Dalhousie University, Halifax, for over a decade and was chairman of the Department of Religion at McMaster University, Hamilton, for nearly 20 years.
Mr. Grant’s academic career was not without controversy. In 1960 he resigned from the faculty of the then-new York University in Toronto, at considerable risk to his financial and professional security, because, has he put it, “they were asking me to use a textbook that made fun of Christianity and of Platonism.” In 1980, he left his prestigious post at McMaster, and returned to Dalhousie, believing that the large Canadian multiversities had surrendered their responsibility to teach students to question the ideological dogmas of the day, and had been captured by a homogenizing and dehumanizing spirit of Continentalist technocracy.
George Grant first came to prominence with the publication in 1965 of his Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, an expression of sorrow at the passing of a Canada rooted in the Classical and Christian traditions of the founding United Empire Loyalists and French Canadians, which he believed had offered an alternative on this continent to Americanism. A resolute critic of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and a supporter of Canadian independence, Grant found many admirers amongst the Left Nationalists of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as among Tories of the old school.
Originally a student of the work of the nineteenth-century liberal philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, Mr. Grant increasingly turned to the thought of the ancient Greeks, particularly to that of Plato, as interpreted by the Christian mystic Simone Weil. Drawing much of his understanding of modernity form the dark visions of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heigegger, Mr. Grant was often accused of being a pessimist, a charge that he denied.
In the last 15 years of his life, Mr. Grant’s critique of modernity came to a sharp practical focus in his opposition to the social acceptance of abortion as a good, an analysis that he outlined in two short volumes, English-Speaking Justice, and Technology and Justice (co-authored with his wife, Sheila) and a brilliant essay, “The Triumph of the Will.”
George Grant’s clear stand against abortion was a logical outcome of his life’s work as thinker and teacher – a work that was deeply informed by his Christian faith. His passing will be lamented, but his work will not be forgotten. George Grant’s family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent in his memory to Alliance for Life.