Northern Spirits

Northern Spirits: John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor - Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Northern Spirits
    Book Description:

    The recovery of Watson's thought is particularly valuable. Sibley shows that Watson, an internationally respected philosopher in the early twentieth century, discussed idealism and support for imperialism in ways that are particularly relevant in our new age of empire. A consideration of Grant's relationship to Hegel illuminates what led Grant to declare that Canada was "impossible" in the age of technology. Sibley's comparison of Grant and Trudeau is both unexpected and intriguing. So, too, is his analysis of the "illiberal strands" in Taylor's "politics of recognition."

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7499-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Spirit in Canada
    (pp. 3-12)

    Hegel did not have much to say about Canada. In fact, Canada is rarely mentioned in his writings, and then only in passing. There is a reference in the posthumousLectures on the Philosophy of World History. In a comment on the War of 1812, Hegel says that the inability of Americans to conquer the Canadian colonies was due to their poor organisation. But looking to the future, he says Canada and Mexico “present no serious threat” to the United States. This will serve the United States well because, unlike most European countries, it will not need to maintain a...

    • 1 Reconciliation, Freedom, and the State
      (pp. 15-19)

      Iris Murdoch once remarked that knowing what scares a philosopher offers insight into his deepest aspirations: “It is always a significant question to ask about any philosopher: what is he afraid of?”¹ The observation certainly applies to Hegel. He applauded the French Revolution in its initial stages as a legitimate assertion of human freedom, but turned away in horror when the pursuit of unlimited freedom became a justification for Robespierre’s Terror.² “The fanaticism of freedom, put into the hands of the people, became terrible,”³ he writes.

      Hegel’s fear of disorder is evident in the preface of his 1807 bookPhenomenology...

    • 2 Spirit and Sittlichkeit
      (pp. 20-28)

      Spirit, orGeist, is the concept that overarches Hegel’s philosophic enterprise.20Hegel reveals the concept’s importance in a typically abstruse passage: “That the True is actual only as system, or that Substance is essentially Subject, is expressed in the representation of the Absolute asSpirit– the most sublime Notion (or Concept) and the one which belongs to the modern age and religion. The Spiritual alone is theactual; it is essence, or that which hasbeing in itself; it is that whichrelates itself to itselfand is determinate,it is other-beingandbeing-for-itself, and in this determinateness, or in...

    • 3 The Dialectic of Self and State
      (pp. 29-38)

      Hegel has often been criticised for fetishising the state. Such criticism misses his concern for individual freedom. Hegelian individuals are deeply political. They are not only self-interested competitors in the marketplace, but also willing participants in an overarching political order. The state, as the manifestation of Objective Spirit, is an organic totality that includes the government, other institutions, and the social culture. The state provides the arena where, under the rule of law, reconciliation is sought between the universal and the particular, the community and the individual. The rational state can bring humans to consciousness of their freedom. Concomitantly, in...

    • 4 Idealism and Imperialism
      (pp. 41-47)

      Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian leader who forged the German Empire, remarked that the most important thing to know about the twentieth century was that Americans spoke English. The point was obvious: an alliance between the British Empire and the United States, the world’s largest English-speaking states, would create the most powerful political entity on the planet. Bismarck’s remarks proved prescient. When he died on 31 July 1898, the Spanish-American War was coming to an end, delivering the last remnants of the Spanish Empire to the newly emergent American empire.

      Others made similar...

    • 5 Watson’s Political Problem: The Individual and the State
      (pp. 48-58)

      The destructiveness of the First World War shattered the reputation of Hegelian Idealism, particularly its notion of reason manifesting itself in historical events and in the existence of an ordering intelligence.32By 1919, the Idealist view of the state, along with liberal political economy, was under siege.33If there is one thinker who best exemplifies this hostility toward the Hegelian view of the state, it is the English philosopher L.T. Hobhouse. Toward the end of 1918, with the First World War having ended in an armistice, Hobhouse published a study of theories of the state,The Metaphysical Theory of the...

    • 6 Watson’s History of Universal Reason
      (pp. 59-66)

      John Watson credits the Stoics with enlarging the notion of reason to make it universal. He traces this development to the collapse of the ancientpolisand the subsequent establishment of the Macedonian Empire under Alexander the Great and, later, the creation of the Roman Empire. Stoicism provided the theoretical bedrock for Roman law. The empires of the ancient world forced people to look beyond the narrow confines of thepolisand to rethink their understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the community. But the centralising nature of imperial rule excluded masses of people from the kind of...

    • 7 The State in Question: Hobbes, Rousseau, and Hegel
      (pp. 67-75)

      According to Watson, the basic political problem after Machiavelli lay in establishing the legitimacy of the nation-state. Watson’s devotes four chapters ofThe State in Peace and Warto this subject, considering the thought of Thomas Hobbes, James Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, James and John Stuart Mill, and Herbert Spencer, among others. While he acknowledges the differences among these thinkers, he argues that they share a materialist metaphysic at odds with his own Idealist view. This materialist metaphysic produces political philosophies that are fundamentally utilitarian and posit a social contract by which individuals are to be kept orderly by the state’s...

    • 8 Watson’s Theory of Relative Sovereignty
      (pp. 76-85)

      Watson does seem at first glance to grant the community priority over the individual in arguing that the individual is incapable of realising his higher potential outside a community, regardless of how inadequate that community may be in actualising the universal principle of reason. In his 1895 bookAn Outline of Philosophy, Watson states that “the true good of the individual” is identical to “the consciousness of a social good.” “What holds human beings together in society is this idea of a good higher than merely individual good. Every form of social organisation rests upon this tacit recognition of a...

    • 9 Watson contra the British and American Hegelians
      (pp. 86-100)

      Watson’s metaphysics, it will be recalled, asserts that the individual’s real or Ideal nature is that of self-conscious, active reason. Ideally, this metaphysic manifests politically as the individual’s real will reflected in the rational or general will of the community. It follows from this metaphysical position that if the individual acts in a way contrary to the rational will, then the community is justified in imposing its will on the individual insofar as the communal will itself reflects the individual’s rational will, if the individual only realised it. The state can legitimately interfere with the individual’s life, including requiring the...

    • 10 Watson’s Imperial Spirit
      (pp. 101-108)

      Watson does not accept the idea of a world-state, or any other notion of world government, that would erase the differences between nations and cultures. Certainly, a world-state based on the combination of variously differentiated states is a “possible ideal,” but a “world-state which abolishes all the differences of race and nationality and individuality is an empty ideal.”186For Watson, the true Ideal of international affairs is the uniting of love of country with devotion to the rational development of humanity as a whole. How, though, does Watson’s support for cultural and political autonomy accord with his support for British...

    • 11 Canada’s “Fate” and the Worship of History
      (pp. 111-127)

      George Grant is often credited with awakening Canadians from their nationalist slumbers. The publication ofLament for a Nationin 1965, it is said, sparked an intense period of nationalism. Spurred by Grant, Canadians began to reflect on what made Canada worth preserving. Out of this reflection came various political, economic, social, and even artistic responses to foster national identity and sovereignty.¹ This claim is at odds with Grant’s consistent denial of nationalistic motives on his part and his explicit statement inLamentabout “the impossibility of Canada.” As he recounts in the book, Grant saw the 1963 election defeat...

    • 12 Hegel’s Theology of Glory
      (pp. 128-137)

      According to Plato’sRepublic, the sanction of the gods is necessary to build a just city. Hence, Socrates demonstrates his piety to the goddess on a visit to Piraeus even before he begins laying the rhetorical bricks of his city in speech. And when Socrates and Adeimantus start to construct their city, they immediately agree that such a city requires that even speech about the gods – theology, in other words – must obey the laws of the city for the sake of justice.76But what if the city becomes decadent? What if its citizens turn away from the eternal and the...

    • 13 The “Mistake” of Christianity
      (pp. 138-148)

      Reformation thinkers such as Martin Luther maintain that we cannot ultimately know either ourselves or God even though our essential desire is to have such knowledge. We cannot accept our own mortality – our fallenness, as it were – and instead seek to save ourselves through our thoughts and actions rather than surrender to the reality of our finitude and embeddedness in this world. So we create God according to our subjective image and assume our will is His. Or, to put it differently, we mistake historical freedom for biblical freedom. For Luther, though, and Grant following him, we cannot know God...

    • 14 The “Fate” of North America
      (pp. 149-157)

      According to Grant, North American mass society epitomises modernity’s history-making consciousness. Lacking any history prior to the age of progress, North America incarnates more than any other society the values and principles of progressivism, including a largely unquestioned subscription to mass production and its techniques, standardised consumption and education, and hedonistic entertainment. This makes North America “the most complete political incarnation of the modern consciousness of freedom … the true heir of the Reformation spirit.”170

      Grant identifies two basic characteristics of North America’s mass society. First, a scientific-technological epistemology and the attempt to apply that theory of knowledge to the...

    • 15 Trudeau and the Betrayals of the Bureaucrats
      (pp. 158-167)

      InPhilosophy of Right, Hegel promotes the state’s civil servants as a universal class dedicated to the service of the whole. The civil service integrates the particular and the universal, providing the basis of a workable constitutional state and the configuration of a proper relationship between the individual and the community. For Grant, though, the public service is more problematic. Grant sees the Hegelian Ideal as neither possible nor, ultimately, desirable. The idea of a universal class capable of transcending its own self-interest and functioning for the good of the state as a whole fails in the face of reality....

    • 16 Philosophy, Tyranny, and the “End” of Canada
      (pp. 168-176)

      Grant’s understanding of Canada’s political fate is captured in the phrase “the universal and homogeneous state,”242a phrase he appropriated from Alexandre Kojève. Kojève interpreted Hegel’s philosophy to be a philosophy of time as history, and with this interpretation, he originated the now famous end-of-history thesis. Kojève sees the “end of history” to be consistent with the universal and homogeneous state. And this is why Grant sees the impossibility of Canada as the consequence of the coming-to-be of the universal and homogeneous state: conservative Canada disappears with the fulfilment of the Hegelian project.

      Among the thinkers who brought Grant to...

    • 17 Recognition and the “Saving” of Modernity
      (pp. 179-190)

      Charles Taylor’s studies on Hegel and the frequently Hegelian posture he employs in critiquing contemporary liberalism are well known. Taylor consistently promotes the lessons of Hegel’sSittlichkeit, arguing that a substantive, organic, historically grounded sense of community is more fulfilling to the individual than the abstract, atomistic, liberalMoralitätthat dominates Western societies. He follows Hegel in claiming that morality is dependent on and actualised within the community, asserting that the forms ofMoralität, including rights-based, procedural liberalism, should be subservient to communalSittlichkeit.¹ In Taylor’s words: “The doctrine ofSittlichkeitis that morality reaches its completion in a community...

    • 18 A Philosophical History of Recognition
      (pp. 191-198)

      For Taylor, the most prominent feature of the modern identity is its inwardness. While inwardness was a feature in the thought of both Plato and Augustine, the identity articulated by modern thinkers such as René Descartes and John Locke is characterised by a radical turn inward for moral sources. No longer is morality grounded in a good or a god beyond us. Rather, we attempt as moderns to find our morality within ourselves. The modern idea of the individual, and, indeed, our whole notion of individualism, derives from the waning of those external horizons of meaning that provided pre-modern individuals...

    • 19 Expressivism and the Ethic of Authenticity
      (pp. 199-206)

      Taylor regards the notion of authenticity, and the various modes of recognition it engenders, as the latest development in the history of the individual. He traces the origins of this development to nineteenth-century Romanticism, which sublated the previous forms of individualism articulated by Descartes and Locke – the “disengaged reasoner” and the “punctual self,” respectively. The Cartesian and Lockean understanding of individualism reflected an instrumental attitude toward the world in which the individual, as a rational agent, is required to bring the external world under control in order to be free to decide upon his self-chosen purposes and realise them most...

    • 20 Herder and the “Measure” of Expressivism
      (pp. 207-215)

      Taylor credits Johann Gottfried Herder with offering a new way to express the modern identity, both for individuals and for groups. Herder, he writes, offers the idea that each person has “an original way of being human: each person has his or her own ‘measure.’”86This individual measure is embedded in a cultural framework essential for the individual’s development, but this does not imply conformity to a Rousseauean general will or an excess of unity. Instead, it points to the capacity of individuals to use reason to attain autonomy even in realising that they are rooted in a culture and...

    • 21 Freedom, Community, State: Hegel contra Taylor
      (pp. 216-223)

      Taylor places Hegel in the civic humanist tradition even though he thinks there is something “complicated, ambivalent, and double-sided,” and even “potentially dangerous,” in his contribution to modern liberalism.120Hegel can be described as a civic humanist because even though he accepts the liberal assumption that an “invisible-hand mechanism” operates at a certain level of society, he does not think that this is adequate for reconciling individual freedom and the good of the community. A humanist society, according to Taylor, is one founded on a common understanding among its individual members about the good and their shared communal enterprise. Such...

    • 22 Quebec, Trudeau, and the Crisis of Canada
      (pp. 224-238)

      The case of recognition with which Taylor is most concerned is, of course, Quebec. Taylor regards francophone Quebecers’ concerns for cultural survival and the threat that such concerns pose for the unity of Canada as a manifestation of the Hegelian struggle for recognition. As he says, “The root cause of our impending fracture can be put in one word: recognition.”142From a theoretical perspective, the problem of Quebec nationalism – the crisis of Canada – reflects an ongoing struggle between Enlightenment rationality, with the atomistic individualism it promotes, and the longed-for expressive unity of the Romantics that finds its contemporary expression in...

    • 23 Illiberal Strands in Taylor’s Thought
      (pp. 239-254)

      Taylor’s arguments on behalf of Quebec’s quest for recognition are instructive because they offer a concrete test case for his notion of authenticity. But does he coherently meld features of liberalism, as he understands them, with the politics of recognition? Or, to put the question another way, does the kind of society envisaged in Taylor’s appropriation of Hegelian thought in his quest for community satisfy the individual’s desire for belonging while, at the same time, avoiding the potential for authoritarian politics raised by critics?

      Liberalism unquestionably contains elements – individualism and egalitarianism, for example – that conflict, at least potentially, with collective...

    • 24 Taylor’s Tale of Multiculturalism
      (pp. 257-270)

      I argued at the beginning of this essay that Canada exists in tension between those factors that promote disunity and those that foster unity. The underlying narrative of Canadian political and social history has been the effort to reconcile this tension. Intrinsic to this project of reconciliation is “a passion for identity,” as David Taras puts it: “The desire to come to terms with oneself in place and time and in relation to others is itself a national instinct.”¹ Which is to say, the desire for reconciliation runs deep in the Canadian psyche. It is this desire for reconciliation that...

    • 25 Grant and the Conundrum of Canada
      (pp. 271-280)

      In their survey of Canadian philosophy,The Faces of Reason, Leslie Armour and Elisabeth Trott observe that while philosophies are not necessarily “mirrors of a national mind,” they often emerge in response to “some felt need,” “to what one thinks the world needs rather than reflections of the way in which it is.”35If we apply this view to Grant, what might we conclude about his “felt need” in the context of his appropriation of Hegelian thought? In a 1957 letter to his wife, Sheila, Grant acknowledges that Hegel possessed a “truer recognition of evil than other moderns.”36Yet, at...

    • 26 Watson and the Return to Empire
      (pp. 281-300)

      Grant’s concerns about the universal and homogeneous state are obviously similar to those of John Watson about world government.76Indeed, the arguments that Grant makes against the idea of the universal and homogeneous state being the best order closely resemble those put forward by Watson against the concept of a world-state. Where Grant speaks in defence of the love of one’s own, Watson speaks of the need to maintain “ties of kindred and friendship, family and nation.”77Watson also anticipates Grant’s fear that a universal, homogeneous state would be a tyranny when he characterises a world-state that does not maintain...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 301-368)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 369-388)
  12. Index
    (pp. 389-397)