A New Defence of Hartz-Horowitz

In Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom, C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), Robert Meynell acknowledges his debt to Louis Hartz and Gad Horowitz and concludes, as they do, that Canada’s political culture is deeply imbued with a salutary inclination toward socialism.

Hartz and Horowitz contend that in British North America John Locke’s robust idea of individual freedom was modified by a communitarian philosophy originating with the United Empire Loyalists; thus Canada, in contrast to the United States, has the potential to develop a strong socialist or social democratic party. (Gad Horowitz, “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, 1966.)

(In other words, Red Toryism is Canadian, par excellence. Harper Toryism is not.)

The thesis was never well supported; it appeared at a time – the 1960s – when Canadians were losing interest in study of primary historical documents. But it had a huge readership and is still influential.

Meynell departs from his mentors in one respect. He draws his evidence not from history, but from the philosophical and political writings of twentieth-century Canadians, Macpherson, Grant, and Charles Taylor. It is a long, dense book, the work of years. No student of Canadian political thought should ignore it.

It’s angry tone is a surprise. Meynell is scathing on the subject of Janet Ajzenstat. All my books are flawed, he says. I make the mistake of looking for Canadian-American similarities. I should be looking for differences! To understand how, why, and whether we should love our country we must see how we differ from our neighbours.

His criticism of Robert C. Sibley’s Northern Spirits, John Watson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor, Appropriations of Hegelian Political Thought (McGill-Queen’s, 2008) is equally harsh: “[Sibley,] like Ajzenstat concludes that Canada is not substantially different from the United States and argues for the surrender of Canadian sovereignty to the global liberal empire led by the United States.” I was so astounded by this last assertion that I wrote Sibley. He denies saying anything that would allow such an interpretation.

He added: “The Hegel I value is the one who sought to balance the claims of freedom with the claims of community by means of institutional order. In any case I’m sure [Meynell’s] book will appeal to those nostalgic for a Canada that never was.”


16 Responses to “A New Defence of Hartz-Horowitz”

  1. 1 James W.J. Bowden August 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I just ordered your book “Canada’s Origins: Liberal, Tory, or Republican?” for one of my courses, and I imagine that it will answer most of my questions relative to your blog entry here. But in general, I agree more with your interpretation; especially after having lived in the United States for five years, I also emphasize the similarities more than the differences between Canada and the United States. And why? Because ultimately, both Canada and the United States are branches of the the British oak; the United States simply branched off earlier than did Canada. The two countries are similar because they share the same fundamental Whiggish, liberal origins.

    Meynell has fallen into the same anti-American trap that has ensnared so many Tory-Loyalists and Canadian nationalists over the past 50 years or so, probably because this school of thought fails the acknowledge that both countries share this British origin. They use our Loyalist heritage as an excuse to make pejorative statements toward the United States, rather than looking at the Tory-Whig divide *at the time* in the 18th century.

  2. 2 John August 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Macpherson, Grant, and Taylor – all great students of Canada’s Confederation debates.

  3. 3 horowitz@chass.utoronto.ca August 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    actually, hartz and horowitz see English Canada as a “liberal” or “Lockian” fragment, very similar to the U.S. So we are not simply advocating a focus only on difference. But there is a difference: the founding of English Canada ( which by the way is not a LOYALIST monopoly) involves a “tory TOUCH’ or “streak” in a dominant liberalism,which makes possible the later emergence of a British style socialism which has been totally lacking in the MONOLITHICALLY liberal U.S.
    Both those who praise the Hartz-Horowitz fragment theory and those who would bury it should take the troublew to READ the relevant works of Hartz and Horowitz so that they have a better idea of what they are going on about

  4. 4 Jack August 17, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Harper Toryism is usually condemned as “American” or neo-conservative. In view of the reconstitution of the Royal Canadian Navy and RCAF, is Harper Toryism still to be stigmatized as “American” I wonder?

  5. 5 janetajzenstat August 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I like Jack’s comment! What’s coming next? Could we get Dominion Day back?

    And I like James Bowden’s note. We need more people thinking about primary documents. We especially need a study of comparative foundings.

  6. 6 Robert Meynell August 22, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Professor Ajzenstat,

    Thank you for recommending Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom. Also, I appreciate this opportunity to comment on your blog entry.

    You say that the purpose of my study of Canadian Idealism and the works of three twentieth-century thinkers is to provide “a new defence of Hartz-Horowitz.” That is not so.

    As stated in the introduction, the purpose is to identify and verify the intellectual tradition of Canadian Idealism, its roots in Hegel’s political philosophy, and to engage in a general critical assessment of its political prescriptions. In particular, I focus on the work of Macpherson, Grant, and Taylor and the philosophy of freedom.

    It is my hope that awareness of Canadian Idealism will improve our understanding of Canada’s political culture as well as the rich insights of the idealist philosophy of freedom. I believe that with this understanding people will be equipped to make better decisions about our political future in a number of areas, including multiculturalism, nationalism, and the role of government in the economy.

    In the book I do take the Hartz-Horowitz thesis to be correct and I build upon it, but I don’t devote much space to defending it or, for that matter, criticizing your work. I mention you only briefly as representative of those who mistakenly refute Hartz-Horowitz.

    The reason I disagree with your work is not because you look for similarities rather than differences between the political cultures of Canada and the US, but because you try to deny the differences that are so evidently there – and my claim here is entirely supportable drawing on primary sources in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (including the complete versions of the texts you selected for your collection, Canada’s Founding Debates). Not only are those differences present, they are too important to overlook for anyone interested in understanding what makes the two countries tick.

    Though I have written on your work elsewhere, I chose not to include my analysis in Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom. Instead, I deferred to a number of excellent books that have come out in recent years that do an excellent job of defending Louis Hartz’s thesis. I would also like to say that I’ve just reviewed my mentions of your work in the book and I can’t see where any of it comes off as angry. I wonder why you feel that it does?

    As for Robert Sibley, I invite him to respond more completely to my arguments. But here is a quick teaser: after stating that Canadian nationhood is a “fiction” with “little of national substance,” Sibley writes, “If the Western world truly believes in freedom and democracy for everyone, and not just for itself, then an American empire is warranted.”

    Finally, James Bowden, this fall when you are reading Ajzenstat I encourage you also to read Hartz, Horowitz and Meynell. When you have send me an email. I’d be interested to learn whether your assessment has changed. At the very least, I’m sure you’ll want to revise the statement that we fail to acknowledge that both countries share British roots.

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