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Bill Kauffman on the Subjugation of Canada and Neil Young's Sanity

Bill Kauffman at The American Conservative

Photo by Jason Hafso / Unsplash

Prepping for a molasses-slow crawl up the Queen Elizabeth Way to Toronto in hopes of seeing 78-year-old Neil Young bash out “Powderfinger” and caterwaul “Like a Hurricane,” I reread two essential texts of Canadiana: Jimmy McDonough’s Young biography Shakey (2002), the best rock’n’roll bio I have ever read (admittedly, the field is fallow), and the philosopher George Grant’s Lament for a Nation (1965), the meditation of a “Red Tory” on the absorption of Canada into the economic and military sphere and “homogenized culture of the American Empire.”

Grant’s 92-page masterpiece was occasioned by the defeat of the progressive conservative prime minister (1957-1963) John Diefenbaker, a small-town Saskatchewan attorney who had defied Kennedy administration Cold Warriors by rejecting the placement of nuclear-tipped missiles in Canada. His advocacy of a “kind of neutralism, a simple refusal to accept any demand from the present imperialism” brought “the full weight of the North American establishment” down upon poor Diefenbaker.

Sophisticated Canadian liberals played the role of Uncle Sam’s lapdog in these debates while the hayseed Diefenbaker, with his rural and provincial base of support, stood manfully against the colossus. “The election of 1963 was the first time in our history,” marveled Grant, that “a government was brought down for standing up to the Americans.”

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I Heard Ol’ Neil
Politically, Young is nothing if not Whitmanesque, containing multitudes.