Saturday, February 25, 2012

The George C. Nowlan Lectures - by Braeden Wiens

Braeden Wiens                        The George C. Nowlan Lectures
            George Grant has many memorable lectures but perhaps the most interesting is the series of lectures he did at Acadia University in October 1969. At this point in his life Grant was still extremely well versed in the area of philosophy and politics. Grant brings the importance of the two aspects merging as one forth throughout the lecture as a focal point. The most important aspect of politics and perhaps the most negative is the areas of ideologies and only through an understanding of philosophy can politics truly flourish.
            Grant starts the lecture off by describing the relation between politics and philosophy. This relationship is described through the practice of politics and the thought of politics (Grant, 2005). By bringing forth three questions the topic is broadened. What is thought?  What is practice?  And what is politics are three questions that bring forth an understanding of how these two areas interact. Before delving into answers it is considered by Grant to be of great importance to explain the difference between state and society. Within society there are facts that cannot be explained by the state and vice versa. Through the separation of the two and having them work functionally in a community is the true definition of the polis (Grant, 2005).

“I do not raise this complex theoretical point at the beginning of my words just to confuse, but rather to make the point- in asking the question what is the relation between thought about politics and the practice- the very centre of that question, what is the political, is not itself certain and is part of the very search of thought” (Grant, 2005, p. 606).
Through the use of analytical thought and realizing that there are no certainties in the answers, Grant goes about explaining how political practice and thought work in conjunction. Politics as a whole, according to Grant, are basic conjunctions between what is good and what is bad (Grant, 2005). Conflict arises when there is disagreement on what is good and in essence politics comes about to resolve this. Grant describes the global homogenous state as being the end of politics as we know it as man uses science to describe what is good and by determining what is universally best on our own, the use of politics disappears as there is no conflict (Grant, 2005). This is really where the difference between practice and thought appears.
            Grant describes in the socialist state the way that the ruling by many will turn into the ruling by none. Politics will cease to exist and in turn there will be rule by “state administration” and that is all. The implications caused by this are that man becomes less self-aware of the surrounding world (Grant, 2005). When this occurs, there is a loss of identity and not only politics are gone but the world is changed.  Grant describes that there would be peace on earth but also there would be the death of noble and great deeds. Much like Friedrich Nietzsche challenged the Christian perspective by proposing a Nihilistic state, the world would cease to have the “good” so strongly strived for. At this point Grant changes the direction and describes the way that politics are being taught.
“ To state clearly why the chief modern way of thinking about politics is behavioral political science, it would be necessary to go back into the history of Western civilization in the seventeenth century, and see why it was the scientists freed their science and made them independent of philosophy “(Grant, 2005, p. 610-611).
Grant discusses how this new train of scientific thought brought about the premise that to truly understand anything is to separate it from philosophy. A separation between facts and values is what occurs and on the whole any discussion on politics therefore is now based on facts (Grant, 2005). The fact that morality is no longer determined by what is good or bad but rather the assumption of facts appalls Grant (2005). “That monolithic certainty about the common good is the belief that the pursuit of technological efficiency id the chief purpose for which the community exists” (Grant, 2005, p.611). The new state in which we live lacks philosophical thought within politics and technological prowess becomes the new “good” to achieve.
            In the second lecture that Grant gives he begins to explain the lament between philosophy and politics being separated and how that in itself separates the action from the thought of politics. To start, he states how because of the technological age human actions have become ambiguous (Grant, 2005). The answers are simply no longer good enough for humanity. Progress past the point of perfection is the goal and only through action not thought is this now achieved. Grant describes how conservatism is the greatest fit in the modern era for a politician as long as it is true conservatism. This fit into the modern conservatism that is essentially capitalism is a pit that many fall into. He quotes Martin Heidegger with his “taking to heart” philosophy as the solution to this lack of thought (Grant, 2005). As a result, Grant claims that this taking to heart the true problems of society through a lens of both political thought and philosophical thought combined will eventually challenge the moral ambiguity occurring. However, this will take a long time.
            The final aspect that Grant brings up in his lecture is a warning. He delivers a strong message to the audience based on the language of ideology. Grant states that the politician in today’s age must have at least an understanding of the language of ideology as it dictates so much of political life. Individuals base their understandings and principles on ideologies, which at times do not fit the reality of situations. “As I have said, ideology is the great enemy of the virtues of the politician, courage, moderation, and common sense. The politician plus ideology equals the demagogue” (Grant, 2005, p. 628). This in essence leads Grant to state that both, thought and practice, must return to their own spheres of independence. Maintaining both in equal proximity only leads to a form of ideological destitute that cannot be dealt with adequately. Thought is not the enemy Grant says, but rather it assists the politician and philosopher to “stand together against technicians and ideologues” (Grant, 2005).
            The George C. Nowlan Lectures provide a unique insight into what it would be like to understand the mind of George Grant. Through a unique perspective of both politics and philosophy Grant explains the intricacies involved with society today and the future problems that will arise. He is careful to not give solutions but rather explain the situation so that in the future politicians and philosophical thinkers alike will have a base understanding of the issues going on in today’s social realm.
Grant, George (2005) The Collected Works of George Grant; ed. By Arthur Davis and Henry Roper; University of Toronto Press Vol. 3

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