This book is regarded as some sort of theoretical underpinning of the variety of conservatism for which John Diefenbaker, Canadian Prime Minister 1957 to 1963, stood. It stands in contrast to 'Rogue Tory', the magisterial biography of Diefenbaker by Denis Smith, which I have reviewed for Amazon elsewhere.
Both books are absorbing, though in rather different ways.
Neither of them make complete sense to me.
Frankly, in various of the actions of Mr. Diefenbaker I do not see some sublime, conservative analysis at work: the firing of Governor Coyne from the Bank of Canada for doing his job; the raging of Diefenbaker against his colleagues during his long, enforced retirement; the refusal to help the Kennedy Administration during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the creative arithmetic in which he indulged when talking with British ministers, to his colleagues' consternation, and the British ministers' bemusement. Accident prone, is, rather, the phrase that comes to mind. Smith's book's great strength is the very detailed way in which he presents Diefenbaker's life, peppered with high entertaining anecdotes; but a strong sense of cynicism seems to pervade the book; as if to say that the conservative, God-fearing families of mainly English Canada which elected Diefenbaker should have no voice. But, then, Grant isn't really identifying himself with that strand of opinion, either.
But Grant does have a point in saying that liberal-minded managers in large, North American corporations have a lot of power; in other words, what may be convenient for large corporations need not necessarily be regarded as automatically best for Canada. Written in 1965, this has plenty of relevance now. Except that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with his warning of the power of the military-industrial complex, would have agreed with a proportion of Grant's analysis, if one can use that word. Because, in Lament for a Nation, one can figure what George Grant is against. But top marks to anyone who can really figure what practical measures he is advocating by way of response to what he is against. Because I can't see what they are.
Maybe one of the biggest backhanded tributes to George Grant was paid by John Turner, Liberal leader during the Free Trade debates of the 1980s; it is as if Turner had rejected the Reciprocity arguments of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1911 (deniably) in favour of latent, Conservative, nationalist ideas, not only of Borden and Meighen, from many decades previously, but of a man whose book most self-respecting Canadian Liberals would not want to talk about, either.
But Grant is also right to highlight the sheer disdain that many in 'polite' circles in 1960s Canada showed towards the Progressive Conservative leader from Saskatchewan.
Maybe, just maybe, one can just about discern distant voices if one looks at what, in practical terms, caused Louis St. Laurent's Liberals to be dumped in 1957, admittedly coupled together with Diefenbaker's defence attorney rhetoric: the Union Nationale of Quebec chose to side with the Progressive Conservatives in a bid to carve out more clout for that Province than they were getting under the previous 22 years of Liberal rule. It may be too simplistic to say that Grant's Roman Catholicism in conjunction with traditionalist Quebec's support behind the Union Nationale present an odd way to define the conservatism of English Canada, of which Diefenbaker's government was supposed to be an expression. But it is the nearest I can get to figuring what Grant's programme for Canada, if indeed he had one, was.