Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas/Donald Creighton: A Life in History

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas/Donald Creighton: A Life in History

Article excerpt

Kenneth C. Dewar, Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas (Montreal & Kingston: McGillQueen's University Press, 2015), 232 pp. Cased. $85. ISBN 978-0-7735-4487-1. Paper. $22.95. ISBN 978-0-7735-4520-5.

Donald Wright, Donald Creighton: A Life in History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 496 pp. 41 images. Cased. $90. ISBN 978-1-4426-4947-7. Paper. $37.95. ISBN 978-1-4426-2682-9.

Donald Creighton and Frank Underhill were two of the most influential historians of their generation and both deserve good biographical studies. In fact, there already is a ver y fine study on the latter, Frank H. Underhill: Intellectual Provocateur by Doug Francis, and Dewar never really makes clear where his book revises Francis's interpretation. It is certainly not in the biographical details for Dewar is little interested in Underhill's personal life. If Dewar's book offers anything original, it is his attempt to describe the evolution of Underhill's political ideas over time, by examining ever ything he wrote from his student essays to the numerous articles, book reviews, and letters to newspapers that he published, and even the drafts of the articles and books in Underhill's private papers that remain unpublished. Dewar is particularly concerned to show how various authors from Thomas Hobbes to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. influenced Underhill, though sometimes the influences he purports to find are less than clear-cut. Dewar clearly admires Underhill and makes some exaggerated claims about his importance. Underhill did not invent 'the role of the intellectual in English-speaking Canada' (p. 3) and to compare his influence 'as the Grand Old Man of Canadian Liberalism' with that of William Ewart Gladstone in Britain is just plain silly (p. 158). Dewar also glosses over some rather important questions. He admits that Underhill's view of women 'verged on the misogynist' (p. 91), but does not examine how this attitude affected Underhill's political views. In 1915, Underhill argued that the primar y task of the British Empire was 'governing the inferior races' (p. 38), but Dewar never discusses the importance of racial attitudes in shaping Underhill's political ideas. Dewar argues that Underhill's decision to abandon the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and join the Liberal Party in the 1960s was based upon the belief that 'the great problems of economic production that had led to the CCF's birth had actually been solved' (p. 151) - an argument which in retrospect looks very naive. So does Underhill's critique of the 1960s Canadian radicals for their 'moralistic criticisms of US imperialism' (p. 156). As Dewar points out in his Epilogue, Underhill was ambivalent about his own legacy. Initially, he planned for his epitaph to declare that he had drafted the Regina Manifesto, but then decided that the Manifesto really had not been all that important. Yet, ironically, the part Underhill played in the creation of the CCF continues to be his only lasting contribution to Canadian history, for he never did write a major historical study and the articles and books he did produce have not withstood the test of time, despite Dewar's attempts to prove the contrar y.

Donald Creighton was a far more important historian and had far greater contemporar y influence than Underhill, an influence that continues in the present even though his views no longer resonate with most historians today. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.