Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom

Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom: C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom
    Book Description:

    Twentieth-century Canada fostered a range of great minds, but the country’s diversity and wide range of academic fields have led to their ideas being portrayed as the work of isolated thinkers. Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom contests this assumption by linking the works of C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor to demonstrate the presence of a Canadian intellectual tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8663-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-2)

    Readers of this book are fortunate; they will be exploring the tradition of Canadian philosophical idealism. I was at least as fortunate, years ago, because my initial contact with the subject was first-hand and personal, and had a profound impact on me.

    The year was 1968 – a time of bold ideas and new directions. From the Vietnam War, to student and worker demonstrations in France, to the violence of the Democratic National Convention; from the prisons of South Africa, where apartheid was being challenged by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, to the rise of nationalism in Quebec; and...

  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    What does it mean to be free? How have Canadians answered this question? What does this tell us about Canada’s political culture today? These are the themes addressed here, and for answers I examine a Canadian intellectual tradition that offers an original formulation of the question of freedom, community, and history, one that combines the common purpose of the community with individual self-realization. This tradition is Canadian Idealism, and its members share a vision that is deeply indebted to the political philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. I identify and verify the existence of this tradition, provide an account of its central...

  6. 2 A Brief History of Canadian Idealism
    (pp. 14-24)

    In the nineteenth century, German Idealism caught the attention of philosophers throughout the West, including the United States, but in Canada it became an integral part of the political landscape. The path that brought Hegel’s thought to Canada wound through the universities of Britain. Though the German Idealists were renowned among European philosophers in their day, their work did not threaten to depose the supremacy of Enlightenment realism which adopted various guises in social sciences such as economics, sociology, and psychoanalysis. In Britain, idealism did not win a substantial following until the latter half of the nineteenth century. And then...

    • 3 Hegel’s Political Philosophy
      (pp. 27-58)

      When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, Hegel was an eighteen-year-old theology student at Tübingen University’s Protestant Seminary. He chafed against that institution’s staid scholastic approach.¹ The American Revolution had already produced a new state with a constitution based entirely on liberal principles, and Hegel, like many of his peers, was swept up in the passion for ridding Europe of its oppressive and corrupt regimes. He considered the revolutionary fervour for individual freedom a wonderful advent of modernity, and yet as a student of the classics he also yearned for the social cohesion of the ancient Greek polis. Concerned...

  8. Part Two
    • 4 Making Sense of Macpherson’s Liberal Marxism
      (pp. 61-82)

      C.B. Macpherson’s influential critique of the ontology of possessive individualism continues to shed light on how capitalism and neo-liberalism result in social inequalities. But at the same time Macpherson’s ideological identity remains a source of confusion for critics and admirers alike. The result is that commentators on both sides of the liberal-communitarian divide misinterpret him. The clearest account portrays his political philosophy as a blend of T.H. Green’s ethical liberalism and Marx’s political economy.² He looked to Green for his ontology and his notion of human fulfillment, and to Marx for his empirical analysis of the relationship between the property...

    • 5 Macpherson’s Third Way
      (pp. 83-102)

      By recognizing the influence of Hegelian idealism, we are better equipped to respond to Macpherson’s critics, resolve the confusion about whether he is too liberal or too communitarian, and evaluate the arguments of those who defend him. Where Macpherson left aspects of his arguments undeveloped, we can draw on Hegel’s political philosophy to pull the pieces together. In this chapter, we look at critics who contend that Macpherson’s understanding of community is too liberal. Next, we see that two of Macpherson’s defenders turn to Hegel to support their arguments without recognizing Macpherson’s debt to Hegel. These defences, I argue, become...

    • 6 Grant’s “Hegelian Book” and Dreams on the Cusp
      (pp. 105-125)

      Interest in George Grant has been sustained by the writing of his admirers, especially his biographer William Christian who has also co-editedThe George Grant Reader, and more recently Donald Forbes who has publishedGeorge Grant: A Guide to His Thought. Unfortunately, this interest has been accompanied by a misreading of Grant’s intellectual development. Consequently, the core elements of his arguments are rendered obscure. This chapter aims to establish that, contrary to the depiction of Grant as a Christian Platonist who briefly flirted with Hegelianism, Hegelian principles provided the foundation for his arguments from the beginning of his career to...

    • 7 Grant’s Idealist Unfolding
      (pp. 126-140)

      Contrary to the standard interpretation of Grant’s work,Philosophy in the Mass Agewas neither the beginning nor the end of Grant’s drawing from the well of Hegelian idealism. This chapter identifies continuing presence of idealism from his earliest publications to his own renunciation of Hegel and beyond. Attention is given to two of Grant’s earliest publications, “Empire: Yes or No?” and “Two Theological Languages.” When these essays are examined with an eye to identifying parallels with Hegel’s political philosophy, we see that Hegel’s influence on Grant had been established from the outset. We also are better equipped to decipher...

    • 8 Grant’s Conservative Retreat
      (pp. 141-160)

      This chapter begins with an overview of Strauss’s political philosophy, his criticism of the Enlightenment, and his explanation for why we must return to classical philosophy. We will then look at how Strauss influenced Grant, particularly with respect to the interpretation of history and the idea of progress that Grant had learned from Hegel. After reading Strauss, Grant turned away from Hegel. He formulated his re-evaluation of Hegel’s philosophy by criticizing Hegel as Alexander Kojève read him; however, I argue that Kojève’s Hegel was a straw man. Kojève was wrong about Hegel’s notion of state,Geist, and recognition. I argue...

    • 9 Taylor’s Hegelian Remedy for the Modern Malaise
      (pp. 163-177)

      Those familiar with Charles Taylor’s work will not be surprised by the claim that he was influenced by Hegel. Taylor’s highly regarded 1975 study,Hegel, and his subsequent application of Hegel’s insights to current issues inHegel and Modern Societyestablished him as a world-class philosopher. In the preface toHegel and Modern Societyhe states Hegel’s importance outright: “I try, in other words, not just to expound Hegel, but also to show how he still provides the terms in which we reflect on some contemporary problems. Perhaps I should state this aim more modestly, and say I wanted to...

    • 10 Taylor’s Hegelian Path to Autonomy
      (pp. 178-188)

      Like Macpherson and Grant, Taylor explains his political philosophy by giving us a history of philosophy. He outlines three opposing philosophies that struggle with the need to reconcile individual freedom and civic unity, and he then shows how Hegel’s conception of autonomy reconciles the contradictions inherent in each. The three contributions are Rousseau’s theory of recognition, Kant’s radical autonomy, and Herder’s Romantic expressivism. We are widely familiar with Rousseau and Kant, and both visions continue to find prominence in the dominant ideologies of our time: socialism and liberalism. But Herder’s romanticism is less familiar as a political ideology, though it...

    • 11 Taylor’s Freedom: Community and Self-Interpretation
      (pp. 189-198)

      Taylor wants to ignite in us an interest in Hegel’s work because of the perspective it offers on the social dilemmas of our time. Hegel helps to explain the alienating social consequences of instrumental reason, with its homogenizing and reifying conception of humanity. He isolates the composite elements of authentic freedom and thus gives us the means to resist its corrosion by forces that would have us scrambling blindly, governed by our basest desires. Hegel takes us beyond those criticisms of modernity and the Enlightenment that dismiss the entire project because of its reductivist empirical account of human nature. He...

    • 12 Taylor’s Political Vision
      (pp. 199-208)

      In light of what we have learned about Taylor’s idealism, we look here at how Hegel’s work has influenced his political vision. We consider his position on arguably the two most pressing conflicts in modern politics: cultural diversity and the role of religion in politics.

      Taylor’s philosophy of language and agency culminates in a very specific vision of the proper ordering of society. In a properly ordered society we can be either more moral or less since such a society would provide the institutional support that allows us to evaluate our choices rationally and to actualize those choices. For instance,...

    • 13 Conclusion: The Legacy
      (pp. 209-214)

      Canadians do not have one defining revolution or a vivid beginning that can serve as the font of the country’s national identity, a single decisive moment or founding document to be referred to in times of strife or when pausing at a crossroads. Our points of origin are many, with none obviously outweighing the rest. Was it the Battle of the Plains of Abraham; siding with the Crown when George Washington was appointed general of the Continental Army; defeating the Americans at Lundy’s Lane in 1814; the Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions; or fighting in the Second World War as...

  11. Postscript: In Response to Robert Sibley’s Northern Spirits
    (pp. 215-230)

    There are similarities between the present book and Robert Sibley’sNorthern Spirits: John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor: Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought.Sibley also looks at Hegel’s influence on Grant and Taylor and considers them to be part of a larger intellectual tradition in Canada. However, there are also crucial differences, the most important being his interpretation of Hegel as a contract theorist, and his realignment of the Canadian Idealists to fit his argument that Canada should surrender its sovereignty to a United States-led global empire.

    At first Sibley seems to praise the idealists, but he then inverts...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 231-270)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 271-286)
  14. Index
    (pp. 287-303)