The Faces of Reason: An Essay on Philosophy and Culture in English Canada, 1850-1950

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview

ELEVEN
REASON, REGIONALISM, AND SOCIAL POLICY

Wilfred Currier Keirstead, John Macdonald, and Herbert Leslie Stewart

IDEALISM IN CENTRAL Canada remained, in its academic dress, very much the idealism of Watson and Blewett. Its central problem, even when the authors were writing directly about politics and morals, remained the problem of informing religion with reason. From the relative prosperity and security of central Canada, a thoughtful man might still make salvation his central concern.

But as the doctrine took root in the Maritimes and in the prairie west, the emphasis tended, as one might suspect, to shift. Indeed, where Watson's federation of the world is a kind of heaven on earth as it might have been envisaged by a United Church theologian, Keirstead's criticisms of the social order are pointed, directed at particular and limited issues, and conveyed in something less than Watson's magisterial tones of certainty. Where Blewett worries about the perfection of the human soul, Macdonald, evidently, is more concerned with establishing a democratic social order out of the ranks of frequently embittered farmers and businessmen, and with establishing a practical school system capable of sustaining the openness demanded of a democratic society and, at the same time, inculcating the values necessary to maintain a working social order.

The Maritimes have had periods of great prosperity but they have suffered since their settlement from political manipulation by outsiders, from the economic uncertainties which beset producers of raw materials who must compete in world markets, and from a climate and a geological heritage which places severe limits on agriculture. In the end, one could say much the same of the prairie west. The promise of endless prosperity in the wheatlands ended in the dust-bowl of the thirties. The oil of Alberta and the potash of Saskatchewan did not become significant counter-balances until after World War II. Even when crops were good, prairie farmers were tied to a world price which fell just because crops were good. Yet the price of farm machinery made in Ontario rose if the crop was good and farmers needed more machines to harvest it.

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