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Stephen Leacock: Walking the Tightrope Between Nationalism and the Market Economy

“Stephen Leacock was part of that curious and perhaps indigenously Canadian species which has been given the name of “Red Tory”                        

– Alan Bowker     

“Many writers have asserted that there is a common ground between conservatism and socialism; perhaps the most frequently cited similarities are an organic view of society, distrust of pure individualism, and a willingness to use the state to assert the rights of society, as distinct from the interests of powerful individuals. When both ideologies have legitimacy within a political culture, a  ybrid known as the Red Tory may emerge.”                

– Ian Robertson   

“At McGill, as at Ottawa Collegiate, I was blessed with exceptional teachers. Stephen Leacock, head of the department of Economics and Political Science, was one of the most brilliant men I have ever known….He was an ardent Conservative (though, also, like Sir Sam Hughes, a fierce Canadian nationalist.”

-Eugene Forsey 

“Leacock was a great writer—one of the greatest we have ever  possessed.”

-Robertson Davies

 

Leacock’s Historic Context  

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) lived through a period of Canadian political and economic history in which two economic theories dwelt both in tension and in a confrontational mode. Canada was still very much part of the British Commonwealth ethos in Leacock’s maturing years, the notion of free trade was waxing, Canadian nationalism was emerging and many were the Canadians that supported closer economic integration with the United States. Where did Leacock stand in these conflicting theories (and their application) and why?

Leacock is mostly remembered in Canada and beyond for his many compact books laced with humour, political commentary ever present. But, Leacock taught in the Department of Political Economy all of his academic life at McGill University. The larger economic questions were front and centre for Leacock in his maturing years, hence it is quite apt and significant, when doing his PHD at University of Chicago, his thesis was entitled The Doctrine of Laissez Faire and completed in 1903. Needless to say, Leacock’s use of “doctrine” made it abundantly clear, that the economic battle had become a new religion of sorts, forms of orthodoxy, heterodoxy and heretical positions the new sacred reality for many.

Leacock’s PHD weighed, judiciously so, varied notions of laissez faire (lingering with a more nuanced version of Adam Smith), economists further right of centre than Smith and “the Counter Current” to the dogma (in its diverse variety) to such a doctrine. The leading thinker in Toronto at the time who held high the “free trade” argument and closer economic ties with the USA was Goldwin Smith (1823-1910). Smith was a prolific writer (authoring nearly fifty books and hundreds of articles), he settled in Toronto in 1871 and his commitment to the liberal notion of the market economy contra the state, consciously so, was in decided reaction to where, he perceived, England slipping too leftwards. The publication of Smith’s controversial Canada and the Canadian Question (1891) clarified his views on free trade, his historic pro-American vision and why Canada should annex with such an emerging liberal economic vision of manifest Destiny. Leacock’s older Tory roots (not to be confused with Red Toryism which I will discuss later) meant an inevitable collision was in the making. Leacock had explored and examined various ways and means of lauding the notion of laissez faire in his PHD thesis, objections to it and alternate ways forward. The thesis did not, though, ponder such economic wars within the Canadian context. The turn by Leacock to the Canadian context and why Canadians should not heed and follow Smith (and acolytes) became a core focus of Leacock in his years as an academic and activist.  

Walking the Tightrope (1906-1911)

Leacock emerged on the academic scene in 1906 with a tightly pondered and well written book (that became a best seller for him) that was used in many universities: Elements of Political Science.

The combination of Leacock’s engaging lecture style and the rigor of Elements of Political Science meant he was soon to emerge from the wings onto front stage in Canadian political and economic life—Leacock the humourist was still waiting birth at this period of time. The years 1906-1911 brought to the fore Leacock, in many ways, as one of the more prominent public intellectuals in Canada. Leacock contributed generously to “The Makers of Canada” and “Chronicles of Canada” series that assisted in the defining the uniqueness of Canada as distinct from England, the Commonwealth and the United States. There was a decided Canadian nationalism being articulated at this time. Leacock was inching beyond his earlier “Imperial Federation League” and “Canada First” commitments and his April 1907-March 1908 tour of England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and across Canada clarified much for him but unsettled both the Canadian pro-British and pro-American ideologues. Leacock’s classic fable, “John Bull, Farmer” (in which England was the aging John Bull, farmer, who had to let his children—USA and Canada run the farm as they saw fit) so offended Winston Churchill, he called it “offensive twaddle”. But, there could be no doubt Leacock’s post-colonial thinking was waxing and the notion of free trade, Smith style, was not on the agenda.

The publication of “Greater Canada: An Appeal” in 1907 had the same tone and texture as other writings and public lectures at the time Leacock was giving. Leacock’s nationalism had a decided bite to it that offended many. He was decidedly moving away from the British colonial model but unlike the Smith pro-American types, Leacock articulated clearly that Canada’s future was never to be southward in some form of annexation with the United States. Much of Leacock’s thinking, writing, lecturing and activism culminated in the 1911 Federal election in which Laurier’s liberal free trade became the distinctive position of the Liberal Party. Leacock was the leading public intellectual at the time (thoroughly committed to the nationalist position of the Conservative Party of Robert Borden) who opposed Laurier (“Knight of the White Plume”) and his free trade Liberals. Borden won the election and remained Prime Minster from 1911-1920 (war time years, in many ways, his undoing). But, such was not Leacock’s undoing. Leacock was very much in the waxing phase of his political journey, his role as political theorist and activist, academic and literary critic emerging and maturing, his humanist vision of what “Greater Canada” might be being articulated through a variety of genres and means. Leacock worked closely, at this time, with the Canadian Manufacturers Association and was partially funded by the Canadian Home Market Association. Both these organizations had many an affinity with Sir John A. Macdonald’s earlier nationalist “National Policy”.

I might also add that Leacock contributed ten articles to University Magazine at McGill between 1907-1920. University Magazine had an unusually large circulation for the time of about 6,000 and Leacock’s missives on education, “Literature and Education in America” and “The Apology of a Professor: An Essay on Modern Learning” (1909-1910) lamented the way the business mind and funding was consuming and redefining, like some ravenous beast, the nature of public education and the humanities. There is an obvious sense in which Leacock saw, ever so clearly, the drift and direction of public education as it lost its deeper and more formidable classical and cultural grounding. Leacock and Andrew MacPhail (1864-1938) worked closely together with University Magazine to make it a flag ship of a form of education that, like some King Canute, stood against the incoming tide was to wash the traditional notion of education away. It should be noted, MacPhail, like Leacock, had become leading public thinkers and activists in their ethos, University Magazine one of the most significant at the time, articulating a deeper Tory vision with a substantive social and economic, military and medical conscience.

The Balancing Act (1912-1920)

The fact that Borden’s Conservative Party won the day in 1911 was a great source of joy for Leacock, given the fact he assisted in such a victory and in his home riding of Orillia-Brome the fledgling politician he supported unseated a Liberal Cabinet Minister. But, Leacock was acutely aware a pyrrhic victory was just that. The publication in 1912 of Leacock’s classic Canadian literary short story, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town must always be situated within the clash of ideas at the time. Leacock, in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, highlights, all too clearly, how the big city seeks to woo, wed and bed the values of small town Ontario. Can imperfect Mariposa resist the temptations of the urban ethos and, more to the point, the lure and baiting of the Carnegies and Rockefellers to the south? This is the question that hovers and broods over Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. The final chapter in this mildly satiric Dickensian missive sums up, in a graphic manner, the tensions in this Canadian epic of Toryism. Those who have been to the city and done well are caught between two different and contradictory ways of life. The train back to Mariposa is, also, a trip into the depths of the human soul and the tracks it chooses to run along and to which destination. John A. Macdonald is held high in Sunshine Sketches and the ambiguous and imperfect world of Mariposa is ably and intricately probed. It is essential, also, that Sunshine Sketches be read alongside Arcadian Adventures of the Idle Rich (1914). The latter book pulls no punches about how the rich live, their indulgent ways, the way they undermine education, meaningful politics, religion and meaningful social interaction—Leacock depicted, in not to be missed detail, the fate of the poor and destitute, his Swiftian satire not to be missed. The short novella of sorts has many an affinity with Disraeli’s Sybil and Gaskell’s North and South. Arcadian Adventures was such a stinging rebuke to the captains of industry that it became a popular manifesto for the emerging left of centre class. The question that troubled Leacock in Arcadian Adventures was this: how could the goods of a growing country like Canada be distributed in such a way that the world of the idle rich did not win the day?           

The war of 1914-1918, for the moment, deflected Leacock from many of the preoccupations mentioned above and yet, in an important manner, the war helped him clarify the answer to some of his pressing questions. The accepted wisdom of classical liberal economists before the war was that the state should stay out of the market and economy. The unseen hand of Adam Smith, so the creed affirmed, would bring plenty to one and all. But, WWI saw the state, increasingly so, engaged in financing all sorts of industries. Employment was not a problem, social solidarity increased and state and society were worked, in a symbiotic way, for the greater good. Leacock reasoned that if all this could happen for the purpose war, why, in a time of peace, could not the state become equally engaged in the economy and social issues? There was, of course, the Keynsian tradition that seemed to justify such a perspective on embodying the much older notion of the commonweal or commonwealth, the later 1942 Beveridge Report reflecting the same concerns. The period between 1914-1919, therefore, clarified, in a poignant manner for Leacock, the state must and should become more involved in a variety of basic and fundamental social and economic issues. How was this to be done, though? There was the Soviet experience of 1917 to be avoided but an uncritical attitude to the market contra the state was also a glaring problem.

The publication in 1920 of Leacock’s The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is a classic text in the High Tory vision of the common good and the role of State and Society working together for such a good. Leacock was fifty-one when this timely text and the middle way between right and left was subtly yet distinctly articulated. It is appropriate to compare/contrast The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice with W.L.M. King’s Industry and Humanity (1917). Leacock went much further than King in insisting the State had a necessary role to play in ensuring employment, assisting the infirm and elderly, providing education for children and addressing the issue of property rights. The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice launched a frontal assault on Malthusian economics, the limitations of laissez faire economics and communism. The via media charted by Leacock held high both the responsibilities of the State and Society rather than them being opposed to one another for the national good. The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, delicately and deftly, pondered both the good of the market yet its tendency towards economic injustice and the good of the State yet refusing to go too far down the socialist and communist path.

I should mention at this point, in a response of sorts, to the initial quotes by Bowker and Davies at the beginning of this essay, Leacock was not a “Red Tory” no more than George Grant was a “Red Tory”. The language of “Red Tory” emerged in the 1960s as a result of Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Lament for a Nation became a manifest of sorts for the New Left and Waffle movement within the NDP of David Lewis at the time. The leadership of the Waffle movement argued the NDP had waffled too far to the right and those like Laxer, Horowitz, Mathews, Watkins and others attempted to steer the NDP more to the nationalist and socialist left. Horowitz and Laxer were drawn to Grant and Lament and it was Horowitz that called Grant a “Red Tory”. Grant did not want such a term pinned on him as he was not a nationalist in the socialist sense in which the State took over the means of production. Leacock, like Grant, was a High rather than Red Tory and the difference hinges on the delicate yet necessary balancing of State and Society. The political right has a tendency to demote the State and uphold Society whereas the political left tends to hold high the role of the State and subordinate Society. Leacock, like Grant, was a nationalist like the Waffle group but a High Tory nationalist rather than Red-Socialist nationalists. Needless to say, there were many other issues that separated the liberal left from High Toryism in Leacock and Grant’s day in the areas of social, religious and educational areas, but Leacock (no more than Grant) can be called a “Red Tory”. Sadly so, the term has been much used and abused these days, its more significant historic origins (and meaning) almost forgotten in the culture wars of our ethos.

The Tightrope Walk Continues (1920-1944)

There has been a way of interpreting Leacock that splits his life into an early phase of more focused political and economic thought, than as his writings on humour waxed publically, his interest in politics waned. This approach to reading the layered life of Leacock is flawed but many Canadians, mostly, know Leacock as the best and finest of Canadian humourists, his merging of Dickens, Swift and Twain, in a unique style, making for a unique approach to literature, culture and the Canadian soul. But, of course, Leacock remained committed to the larger issues of politics, economics, education and culture, in an integrated manner, until his death in 1944. The first biographer of Leacock, Ralph Curry, called Leacock a humorist and humanist and that he was, is and ever shall be.

Leacock continued to teach at McGill in the 1920s when Montreal was very much the cultural and cosmopolitan centre in Canada. Toronto was still, in many ways, the Belfast of the North and a solid and form balliwick of the WASP way. Vancouver, at the time, seemed to be on the edge of civilization, although University of British Columbia was finding its footing in spite of having just emerged from under the watchful eye of McGill. WWI was over, the quest and hope for a more prosperous, peaceful economy was the desired dream and McGill was front and centre in the hot button issues of the time. Leacock was in the midst of all this ferment as head of the political economy department at McGill and one of the best known Canadian literary and political thinkers-activists of the time.

It is important to note and remember that Leacock and Andrew MacPhail were the mainstays of University Magazine, probably one of the finest Canadian magazines at the time that dealt with the larger public issues. University Magazine came to a publishing end in 1920. The 1920s did bring to McGill a mix and blend of post WWII political thinkers that must have delighted and challenged the aging Leacock. The rise of the McGill Movement, led by such worthies F.R.Scott and A.J.M. Smith was a force to be reckoned with. The publication The McGill Fortnightly Review in 1925 ushered in the modernist movement in Canada that included politics and literature. How did Leacock-MacPhail respond to those like Scott-Smith and the McGill Movement? The modernist movement sought to move beyond both the Romantic and Victorian ethos and create a new poetry in which the artist spoke to the people in their own language. This was a turn from idealized nature and accepted Victorian social conventions to social realism and hard hitting leftist political thought. There were issues to be faced in post WWI Canada and the artist should and could not retreat from the fray into solitude, the life of the soul or affinities with nature as had some of the Confederation poets. It was men like Scott and Smith that founded the League for Social Reconstruction (LSR) and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), both forerunners of the NDP.

It should be remembered that F.R. Scott’s father, F.G. Scott (1861-1944), an Anglican priest and canon in Montreal was the padre and chaplain to many Canadian soldiers and he sided with them in the Winnipeg Strike of 1919. Canon Scott also joined soldiers and workers in the Besco Strike in the Maritimes in 1923. Leacock and Scott were of the same age, both Anglicans and both stood by the side of the returning soldiers and labourers contra the capitalist class after WWI in Montreal—such was their High Toryism and such a position aligned them with the emerging leftist tradition and ethos of F.R. Scott, Smith and others of LSR-CCF and The McGill Fortnightly Review magazine.

Sandra Djwa, in her biography of Frank Scott, The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott (1987), said “The first issue of The McGill Fortnightly Review appeared in mid-November, with faculty members Eugene Forsey and Stephen Leacock contributing articles” 5

The magazine was accused of being radical, leftist, Bolshevik and many other names. It is significant to note that Leacock, a member of the Conservative Party, an Anglican and the chair of the political economy department at McGill, suggested the magazine be started and contributed to its emergence and maturation in a financial and literary way. This is certainly not the type of conservative we think of when we hear the word “conservative” in these times.    

It did not take long for the 1920s (Leacock ever the prolific writer and lecturer at the time) to walk both Canada and the larger world into the depression of the 1930s. Was the market economy and a lighter state the best way out of such a quagmire? If the state should become more interventionist, how so? Many, of course, blamed the doctrine of unregulated capitalism for the depression of the 1930s but most, in the West, were firmly opposed to the Soviet answer and implications of it.

R.B. Bennett was the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada from 1927-1938 and Prime Minister of Canada from 1930-1935. John Boyko’s biography of Bennett, Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed A Nation (2010) is a thoughtful and finely tuned overview of Bennett’s political and economic positions within Canada and much of the 1930s depression decade. It was, though, Bennett’s 1935 public lectures, The Premier Speaks to the People, that highlighted, in the clearest and most telling manner, Bennett’s criticism of capitalism and his, at the time, considered a leftist approach to overcoming such difficult and dark years. The point to be noted is that Leacock wrote, in a telling and not to be missed manner, the lead article and introduction to Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People. There are obvious affinities between Bennett’s public lectures, Leacock’s introduction and Leacock’s much earlier The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. It was this economic middle way between an uncritical approach to both the market (liberal capitalism) and Marxism (excessive ownership of the means of production and distribution by the state) that Leacock and Bennett held high as a way and means out of the depression. Bennett’s lectures do, though, lean much more in a definitive need of the state to intervene in the economy, hence Boyko’s title of the biography, Bennett, The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed A Nation.

The board at McGill tended to side with the political right and business sector in the depression and many was the attempt to remove professors in a variety of departments that did not march as they were taught to step. This tale is well told in Michiel Horn’s Academic Freedom in Canada: A History (1999). Leacock, as might be expected, had to sail his ship through the thick of the storm. The Principal of McGill at the time (and a friend of Leacock) said, to appease those who paid to him, “I do not think anybody need be alarmed about socialism in this University” or “I am gathering quite a file of things said by Professors Scott and Forsey”. Scott and Forsey had been former students of Leacock and when McGill attempted to remove Forsey from his position, Leacock came to his defense. So did, as a matter of interest, George Grant’s father, William Grant. After King Gordon and Eugene Forsey had returned from a trip to the USSR, many were yet more committed to see Forsey gone. Leonard Marsh came to McGill in 1930, and he took a leading role in the Social Sciences Research Group. It was this group that strongly urged the Federal government to become more involved in a variety of social programmes rather than leaving the fate of many to the vagaries of the market place. It was again Leacock who turned up on the scene to recommend that Marsh be given a raise in salary for his work. It was those like Marsh, Forsey, Scott and Gordon who went on to form The League for Social Reconstruction (LSR) The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and The League for Social Reconstruction became forerunners of the New Democratic Party. Many of the students of Leacock’s were members of both the LSR and the CCF. David Lewis (chair of the NDP for many years) was also active in Montreal in the turbulent years of the 1930s. We can see, then, that Leacock’s bent as a High Tory was quite at odds with a form of conservatism that had an uncritical attitude towards the market as the silver bullet to solve economic woes and, correspondingly so,  animosity towards unions and an interventionist state.

We can see, though, that Leacock’s position in the 1930s, as a Conservative, did not just emerge at the time to face the challenges of the depression decade. Leacock had read much, researched deeply, lectured widely and published much on this issue from his PHD at University of Chicago on The Doctrine of Laissez Faire, through The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice up to and including his poignant introduction to Bennett’s The Premier Speaks to the People. Such a moderate and middle of the road position stands very much at odds with much of economic conservatism since the Mulroney, Reagan and Thatcher years. But, between the years of 1930-1935 when Bennett was in power his economic vision ever moved to the left and Leacock supported such a decided turn as a means of overcoming the depression.

Bennett lost the Federal election of 1935 to King (1935-1948) and Leacock saw only too clearly the direction King was taking the country, Rockefeller, Roosevelt and American manifest destiny his north star. This was, for Leacock, a return to the liberal ethos of Laurier and Goldwin Smith. The historic liberal notion of Canadian economic integration and annexation with the United States was a position that Leacock opposed as a historic Canadian High Tory. I will linger at this point, briefly, to highlight the differences between what has come to be called “Red Toryism” (a term Gad Horowitz applied to George Grant in the mid-1960s after his publication of Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism) and the Anglo-Canadian High Tory way of Stephen Leacock. The distinction is essential to make and understand.

Leacock, like Grant, was suspicious although he did respect some aspects of the American political journey but his High Toryism meant his more moderate economic vision was more aligned with the British Tradition that was committed to the role of the State and Society (French and English) for the greater good of Canada. But, his respect for the USA was clearly articulated in Lincoln Frees the Slaves (1934) and their contribution to liberty contra fascism and communism in Our Heritage of Liberty (1942).

Leacock had served faithfully both McGill and Canada in the initial decades of the 20th century, but with the defeat of Bennett in 1935 and his formal retirement in 1936, his identification with unions and labour in 1937 in the Oshawa Strike yet again positioned Leacock in an unusual place for a conservative of the Conservative Party of Canada. It was also at this time that Leacock did a tour of western Canada and returned with his trenchant criticisms of the Social Credit Party. Leacock saw the experiment in Alberta and BC as a “fairy story” that was fated to substantively fail

I have mentioned, throughout this essay, how Leacock, from his PHD forward, argued for an economic middle road between a market economy in which the unseen hand would guide the fortunes of a state into the wealth of nations and a leftist approach to the economy in which the proletariat would overthrow the bourgeois, the state as an interim ethic would own the means of production and distribution, and, in time, via the Hegelian dialectic of history, the state would wither and a utopian classless society emerge. It was such a centrist economic position in which Leacock acutely noted both the appeal and limitations of capitalism and communism that defined his economic position. It was such a view, embedded in Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965) that had such an appeal to the New Left in Canada in the 1960s. And, just as Leacock had been willing to support the emerging political left at McGill (Forsey, Lewis, Scott, etc), Grant did much the same with the counter culture left of the 1960s such as Laxer, Horowitz, Watkins and tribe. It was Grant’s economic position as a Progressive Conservative (contra Goldwater at the time) that earned him the name of “Red Tory” by Gad Horowitz. Grant was wary of the label for the simple reason that “Red” was associated with both socialism and nationalism for the New Left-Waffle group within the NDP, whereas Grant was more a High Tory (blended the role of state-society working together for the common good). It was Leacock’s economic position that dwelt hand in glove with Grant’s, and both men emerged from an economic Tory way that was neither left nor right on the economic spectrum.

It is probably significant to note that both Leacock and Grant were students at Upper Canada College (UCC), Grant’s father Principal of Upper Canada College when he was a student at Upper Canada and Grant’s grandfather (Parkin) at Upper Canada College when Leacock studied at Upper Canada College. The Parkin, Grant, Leacock line and lineage had historic roots that antedated the left-right distinctions, both having a classical education that was grounded in Plato-More and their notions of the role of the state and economics pre-Adam Smith and the Protestant Reformation (and its view of the protestant work ethic). But, let us return to Leacock and the final phase of his journey.

Leacock was forced, much against his wish and will, to retire from McGill in 1936,  King was Prime Minister and Bennett had been ousted. There has been a tradition when interpreting Leacock that as his literary fame waxed, his economic and political commitments waned. This misread of Leacock has recently been seriously undermined and debunked by the publication of Alan Bowker’s On The Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock: Memories and Reflections, 1935-1944  (2004). Bowker highlighted, in this primer on Leacock’s political thinking and publishing between 1935-1944, in twenty-four compact and to the political point essays, how Leacock’s focus on the political and economic, public and cultural issues, remained front and centre until his death. Needless to say, most of Leacock’s short stories and multiple novels returned, again and again, to the economic, cultural and political issues of his time. Bowker’s astute editing and lengthy introduction to On The Front Line of Life makes it abundantly clear that Leacock never retreated from the larger public fray but remained, until the end, a public intellectual. Bowker’s introduction is a measured and thoughtful historic overview of Leacock pro-contra as he articulated ideas that had some convincing power and others rather thin and not convincing. But, there could be no doubt, Leacock, to the end was engaged with the fate and future of Canada and its relationship to both the USA and Great Britain.

Stephen Leacock died in 1944 but true to his prolific and creative nature, he had a few books ready to be birthed as he came to the end of his all too human journey. Two of these books, While There is Time: The Case Against Social Catastrophe and Last Leaves walk the extra mile to highlight Leacock’s abiding passion for the commonweal, the role of the state and society working together for the common good and, if such choices and actions would be made, an impending social catastrophe would be avoided. Leacock rightly noted in his Preface to While There is Time, “In writing this book I have drawn to some small extent on my previous work on the subject, such as Afternoons in Utopia and The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice….I have tried to write with honesty and fairness, not attributing mean motives to any body or to any party”6. There is a sense, in While There is Time that Leacock has drawn upon the two books mentioned, but he has also mined much of his life’s work in this social, political and economic manifesto for Canadians to heed and hear as the country moves beyond the suffering and tragedies of WWII into a more just and peaceful world. While There is Time is much more focused in intent and content than Last Leaves although many of poignant and pungent articles in Last Leaves have a decided bite and bent to them.       

The Tightrope Walk Summarized

George Grant has, rightly so, been recognized as one of the most significant Canadian public intellectuals of the latter half of the 20th century. Stephen Leacock embodied such a role in the first half of the 20th century in both Canada and beyond. Leacock was both a humorist and humanist as his first biographer noted, and his humanist and High Tory economic vision meant he transcended the simpler and more simplistic categories of right and left politics. Leacock was too nimble and too subtle of thought to uncritically genuflect to either right of centre laissez faire economics or left of centre statist economics. Leacock was acutely aware that both ideologies were too smooth and plausible by half, and he attempted to synthesize the best of both economic theories while raising legitimate objections to the blind spots in both ideologies. The fact that Leacock lived through WWI, depression years and the initial years of WWII meant he was ever in the process of discerning how different and conflicting economic theories could wisely and prudentially be applied in the shifting sands of history. Leacock integrated in his approach, lecturing at McGill, other universities and publically, commitment to formal and informal politics and his multiple and diverse publications to get his vision of what Canada should be to a wide citizenship. There is a consistent economic vision in Leacock’s thinking from his earliest publications to his final publications and, throughout his life, he ever sanely and sensibly walked the tightrope and, in doing so, offered a meaningful model of how Canada should engage the larger political and economic questions of the 20th century and beyond. I hope, in this essay (given the limited word count), I have highlighted how Leacock walked such a tightrope in his political and public journey. Needless to say, much more could be said and has been said about Leacock and economics but this pointer and marking of an essay, hopefully, highlights the tightrope judiciously walked and balanced well.

 

 

References

Bowker, Alan (Edited and Introduced). Stephen Leacock, Social Criticism: The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and Other Essays (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973 & 1996).

Bowker, Alan (Selected, Edited and Introduced). On The Front Line of Life: Stephen Leacock: Memories and Reflections, 1935-1944 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2004).  

CBC-TV Special Feature. The Life and Times of Stephen Leacock: February 22 2000.

Curry, Ralph Stephen Leacock: Humorist and Humanist (New York: Doubleday, 1959).

Dart, Ron. Stephen Leacock: Canada’s Red Tory Prophet (Dewdney, BC: Synaxis Press, 2006).

Dart, Ron. “Stephen Leacock and George Grant: Tory Affinities” in edited by Dart, Ron, Angus, Ian & Peters, Randy. Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant’s Theology, Philosophy, and Politics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

Dart, Ron. Keepers of the Flame: Canadian Red Toryism (Montreal: Fermentation Press, 2012).   

Dart, Ron. The North American High Tory Tradition (New York: American Anglican Press, 2016).

Dart, Ron (New Introduction). Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (Abbotsford: High Tory Publishing, 2019).

Dart, Ron (New Introduction). The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (Abbotsford: High Tory Publishing, 2019).

Davies, Robertson (Selected and Introduced). Feast of Stephen: A Cornucopia of Delights by Stephen Leacock (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1970).

Djwa, Sandra. The Life of F.R. Scott: The Politics of the Imagination (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987).  

Forsey, Eugene. A Life on the Fringe: The Memoirs of Eugene Forsey  (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990).

Legate, David. Stephen Leacock: A Biography (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1970).

MacMilllan, Margaret. Stephen Leacock (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009).

Moritz, Albert & Theresa. Stephen Leacock: His Remarkable Life (Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 2002).

Spadoni, Carl (Edited). Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Toronto: Broadview Literary Texts, 2002).

Staines, David (Edited and Introduced). Stephen Leacock: A Reappraisal (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1986).

Staines, David (Selected and Edited). The Letters of Stephen Leacock (Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2006).

 

Notes

1. Alan Bowker (edited and introduction), Stephen Leacock, Social Criticism: Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and Other Essays (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), p. 37.

2. Ian Ross Robertson, “The Historical Leacock”, in David Staines, ed. Stephen Leacock: A Reappraisal (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1986), pgs. 47-48

3. Eugene Forsey, A Life on the Fringe: The Memoirs of Eugene Forsey (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 21.

4. Robertson Davies (Introduction). Literary Lapses (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1957). P. XI.

5. Dwja Sandra, The Life of F.R. Scott: The Politics of the Imagination (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyne, 1987) p. 83.

6. Stephen Leacock, While There is Time: The Case Against Social Catastrophe (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1945), Preface.

 

Ron Dart

Ron Dart is an Associate Professor of Political Science at University of the Fraser Valley and is the author of forty books.

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