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George Grant -- Time As History

Within the pages of George Grant's 1969 Time as History, amongst his many observations regarding the philosophy of Nietzsche, appears one very subtle – almost footnoted – analysis of Marxism and its supposed defects. In Philosophy in the Mass Age, printed in 1957, the authour once expressed that he perceived Marx's chief limitation to be that his ideology did not capture within itself the radical spirit of freedom which had already overtaken the West. As a result, he posited that Marxism, being unable to promise Westerners the degree of freedom to which they were inclined, would, within the West, be relegated to a fringe culture of intellectual dalliance.

In 1969, after his exposure to and contemplation of Nietzsche, Grant's thoughts on Marxism did not alter so much as adjust and deepen. Having found in the writings of Nietzsche, he who had “thought what it meant to be a modern man most deeply”, Grant came to perceive that he had also found the thinker who had thought most deeply about the spirit of liberty which lay in the heart of modern man. Such symbols as the will to power, amor fati, values, the masters of the earth, and the supermen, seemed to express something of the very nature of the technological dynamism of modernity which preoccupied Grant for much of his adult life. Having already, by 1957, perceived that within the modern project lay a seemingly endless quest to objectify and control the world and its contents, Grant's exposure to Nietzsche convinced him that he had found a thinker who had crystallized, in language, the purified essence of modernity itself.

Thus, Nietzsche, having been selected as the most modern of thinkers, thereby became the standard by which Grant would thereafter judge all other such moderns, including Karl Marx. Indeed, through Nietzsche, Grant may have first found the language or the confirmations of certain of his intuitions, which then allowed him to fully articulate certain grave misgivings. By 1966, Grant, through his exposure to the work of Leo Strauss, and particularly to the Strauss-Kojeve debate, had come to think that his previous trust in Hegel's philosophy of history had been gravely misplaced. In the original publication of Philosophy in the Mass Age, Grant – following along with the thought of Hegel, and apparently Marx – had expressed hope that the youth of the modern world would somehow transcend the stultifying spiritual conditions of modernity as a necessary consequence of the freedom from labour purchased through technology.

By 1966, such hope had been replaced with a profound skepticism, and a suspicion that the only product of modern, technological dynamism would be only more of such technology-fueled dynamism. By 1969, after contemplating Nietzsche, Grant apparently believed that he had found confirmation of those suspicions, particularly as he came to grasp how deeply that thinker's language (of “values” and so forth), had even, whether consciously or unconsciously adopted, penetrated the circles of North American society. The tacit acceptance of the language of Nietzchean thought, for Grant, was seemingly only symptomatic of a tacit acceptance of his ontological arguments; that man was the creator of his own values and horizons, that eternity was not a state of timelessness but endless time, and that endless becoming was the fate of all things. Herein did Grant find the purest justification of the spirit of modernity – endless tinkering and technology as the expression of humanity's will to create the illusion of meaning out of nothing.

As a result of these considerations, it seems that by the time of the publication of Time as History, Grant had come to see the extent to which Marxism had failed to capture the spirit of Western liberty. In 1957, he could only fault Marx for placing materialism and the means of production before the spirit of freedom – thus subordinating that which Western moderns would never subordinate, and assuring that Marxism could never find broad or universal acceptance within the West. By 1969, greater faults in Marx's thought were evident. Not only had that German thinker failed to award the spirit of liberty preeminence, but, by his positing – as did Hegel – of an end to history and to human struggles, Marx had failed to comprehend the drive towards endless creativity and control which had already germinated within the heart of the West. For Grant, thereafter, Marxism's chief fault was in supposing that the end, the telos, of technological dynamism and the will to power was to bring about the end of history, when, in fact, such dynamism and such willing had become the end unto itself.

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