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Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 [Paperback]

Ian McKay
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Book Description

Nov. 15 2008
In Reasoning Otherwise, author Ian McKay returns to the concepts and methods of “reconnaissance” first outlined in Rebels, Reds, Radicals to examine the people and events that led to the rise of the left in Canada from 1890 to 1920. Reasoning Otherwise highlights how a new way of looking at the world based on theories of evolution transformed struggles around class, religion, gender, and race, and culminates in a new interpretation of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

As McKay demonstrated in Rebels, Reds, Radicals, the Canadian left is alive and flourishing, and has shaped the Canadian experience in subtle and powerful ways. Reasoning Otherwise continues this tradition of offering important new insight into the deep roots of leftism in Canada.

Reasoning Otherwise is the winner of the 2009 Canadian Historical Association's Sir John A. Macdonald prize.

Ian McKay teaches at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. His previous books include Rebels, Reds, Radicals, For a Working-Class Culture in Canada, and The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia.

Frequently Bought Together

Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 + Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada's Left History
Price For Both: CDN$ 54.36

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"A first-rate history that deserves a wide readership. The American historian Jack Hexter once said that some books should be authorized to put on their covers: "Pay attention! Listen to me! Follow along! Have fun!" This is such a book."
Winnipeg Free Press

"Like many books that are able to come up with some really key, wide-ranging insights, Reasoning Otherwise is both interdisciplinary and accompanied by an innovative and original methodology....acts as incitement for other scholars and students to delve deeper into the complicated construction of the left."
Canadian Literature

"Essential reading for historians of labor and the left as well as of North American history more generally. It is one of those rare books that inspire you to throw out your undergraduate lecture notes and to start anew."
American Historical Review

"A fascinating and comprehensive account that will undoubtedly become the benchmark for studies of the period ... it has greatly enhanced both our understandings of the Canadian Left and of Canadian cultural history more broadly."
—H-Canada, H-Net Reviews

"This is no misty-eyed nostalgic romp; McKay writes openly of the sexism, classism, and racism that plagued the left during those years and to which many on the left were obviously blind. In retrospect we can see how socialism has taken on more humanist values in response to the changing of the lens through which we view social problems.

This is all good to know. For the next time."
The Voice Magazine

"Reasoning Otherwise is an excellent resource for anyone interested in left politics before the First World War, whether in Canada or internationally."
International Socialist

"...Reasoning Otherwise is a substantial achievement. It is provocative, original, and contains numerous flashes of insight that will provide scholars and students of the left with many questions to ponder and points to challenge for years to come."
Labour/Le Travail

“As Ian McKay effectively demonstrates in this sweeping and incisive reconnaissance into the era, a rich, first formation socialism (to use his term) set itself against the emerging liberal social order and attempted to ‘reason otherwise’. . . We [need to sharpen our own analytic tool to understand the multiple and varied ways in which liberalism creates its opponents. McKay’s book is a crucial contribution to this task.”
Canadian Historical Review

“At once erudite and accessible, shrewdly critical and generously inclusive, Ian McKay shows a deep admiration for and a profound understanding of all those activists who railed against the liberal mainstream and sought to make their societies more egalitarian and democratic. . . just the kind of critical analysis and inspiration that students of the Canadian left have long been seeking.”
Ian Radforth, Professor of History, University of Toronto

“A superb study of dedicated, intelligent men and women, their engagement with important issues, and their remarkable success at helping to shape working-class struggles. A must for anyone interested in Canada’s political traditions and contemporary movements on the left.”
Craig Heron, Professor of History, York University

“This book tells you all you want to know about the genesis of Canadian socialism. . . ReasoningOtherwise will become the definitive text for the foreseeable future.”
Gregory S. Kealey, Provost & Vice President Research, University of New Brunswick



“A study admirable in its balance of past and present, reflection and urgency.”
Canadian Literature

“A necessary project of historical retrieval, but ... also a brilliant call for the renewal of public discourse on the Left ... it should be of interest well beyond academic circles.”
Canadian Historical Review

“The strengths of the book are the passion of the author and his ability to move across time with a remarkable range of examples. He is also right in his willingness to open up the debate, and to see that broader social and political movements—for women’s rights and Native rights, for example—should in fact be understood as part of the broad family of change.”
Literary Review of Canada

“A stunningly clear and politically committed work.”
Socialist Worker

“I would recommend Rebels, Reds, Radicals to young readers and established scholars alike, as the imperative of social justice is all too often lost in the abandon of postmodernist speculation. ...If Rebels, Reds, Radicals is any indication of the quality of scholarship which will follow in the multi-volume work, we should all look forward to an influential contribution which will have implications for sociologists, historians, and political scientists.”
Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

“McKay’s promised three volume reconnaissance of the Canadian Left ... will allow socialists to understand the processes that created and undermined the Lefts of the past. The result will be new insights and, undoubtedly, new disagreements and new debate. The Left can only benefit.”
New Socialist

“This book is intended as the first volume in what will probably end up being a fairly massive multi-volume history of the Canadian left by this author, and I will read them eagerly as they are released.”
— “A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land” (blog)

“A book brimming with big ideas about the history of the Canadian Left that raises issues about the nature of the Left itself. It is also an introduction to... McKay’s forthcoming multi-volume history of the Canadian Left, an ambitious work that, on the evidence provided by this book and other writings, will be a very important contribution.”
Labour/Le Travail

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reconnaissance of Canadian Socialism July 11 2009
From one of Canada's pre-eminent historians Ian McKay, this is the first book of a multi-volume history of Canada's leftist tradition. Rather than a monograph or a biographical approach, McKay prefers to call his research, a reconnaissance of the hegemonic struggle of the left.

As such, the book is written in an academic format. Instead of a linear narrative of the "great man" figures of Canadian socialism, the book is divided thematically beginning with the theoretical framework which is then succeeded by McKay's reconnaissance into the fundamental questions of class, religion, gender, and race. Finally, McKay brings all of it together into a detailed analysis of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, the crescendo of the movement and the immediate aftermath.

Throughout the book, McKay underlies his analysis using the evolutionary theories of Darwin and Spencer, intertwined with Marxist dogma. It's interesting to see the parallels of the many debates within Canadian socialism with other international movements like Bolshevism. The debates over class-consciousness, nationalism, and free-love to name a few. And while Canadian socialism never garnered the attention of the great thinkers like a Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, or a Debs, or Emma Goldman; it's challenge to the liberal order fundamentally changed the political landscape such that Canada's socialist tradition was not simply an ephemeral phenomenon as it was in the United States but instead had a long-lasting impact of which much of its effects can still be felt today.

"Reasoning Otherwise" is a nuanced academic exploration of Canada's left. McKay's writing is engaging as usual and as always, his work always leaves you more "enlightened" then before you began.
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