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Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas

Author: KENNETH C DEWAR; Bob Rae
Publisher: Montreal; Kingston; London; Ithaca MQUP 2015
Edition/Format: eBook eBook : English
Database:JSTOR Books
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Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: KENNETH C DEWAR; Bob Rae
ISBN: 9780773544871 0773544879 9780773582606 0773582606
Language Note: English
Unique Identifier: 5828242578
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Contents: j.ctt13x0nt5.1 Front Matter i j.ctt13x0nt5.2 Table of Contents vii j.ctt13x0nt5.3 Acknowledgments ix j.ctt13x0nt5.4 Foreword RAE BOB xi

Frank Underhill stands in the forefront of Canada’s political activists, essayists, and historians. Ken Dewar has done us all a great favour by placing Underhill’s great gifts in the context of the rich political and intellectual history of the twentieth century.

One of Frank Underhill’s mentors, Malcolm Wallace, used a phrase that Underhill often borrowed - “Canada’s history is as dull as ditchwater and our politics is full of it.” The irony is that Underhill’s own life and work is proof positive as to how completely untrue that stereotype is. A gifted student at the University of Toronto before the First

j.ctt13x0nt5.5 Prologue 3

Frank Underhill practically invented the role of the intellectual in English-speaking Canada. Born in 1889, he spent his working life as a professor of history, first at the University of Saskatchewan, beginning in 1914, then at Toronto for almost thirty years, from 1927 to 1955. In semi-retirement, he moved to Ottawa, where he served for a time as curator of Laurier House, a kind of archive-cum-shrine of the Liberal party, and taught occasionally at Carleton University, until his death in 1971 at the age of 81. Through all these years, Underhill maintained an ambivalent relationship with his chosen profession, sometimes

j.ctt13x0nt5.6 1 Satiric Observer 15

When Underhill went to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1911, he did so partly on the recommendation, and at the urging, of G.M. Wrong (1860-1948), the head of the Department of History at the University of Toronto. Although Wrong was not (in Underhill’s later recollection) among the best, intellectually, of his lecturers and tutors, he paid close attention to the progress of his students and encouraged the best of them to pursue further study after completing their undergraduate degrees. He acted as something of a mentor to Underhill. He also regarded Oxford as the very model of an ancient university,

j.ctt13x0nt5.7 2 The Past in the Present 42

Underhill returned to the job of a university professor with a feeling of relief. In sharp contrast to the army, here he was in charge of himself (though not entirely, as he was later to discover), and the success of his classes depended on his own efforts. He immediately commenced a regime of constant reading and writing, as if the war had produced an enormous release of energy, rather than the deadening effect that one might have thought natural under the circumstances. On a more mundane level, this was, in part, simply the fulfilment of his professorial duties, which entailed

j.ctt13x0nt5.8 3 Pamphleteering to Save the World 70

The American sociologist Lewis Coser once described intellectuals as modern descendants of priests, biblical prophets, and court jesters. Surely not all at the same time, you might object. Yet, while the proportion of these different qualities might vary from one person to another, Coser’s intention was to suggest that the distinctive character of intellectuals - among whom he counted himself - lay precisely in the combination of these disparate, sometimes contradictory elements.¹ They tended to the spiritual well-being of their flocks, they thundered warnings and admonitions about the state of society and its future prospects, and they took upon themselves the role

j.ctt13x0nt5.9 4 Reorientation 97

Underhill’s most serious problems of conflict in the 1930s were not with friends or colleagues, but with authority, academic and political, and the press. Hardly a year went by that he was not called to account by the university president, prompted, as often as not, by a call from Queen’s Park or an irate member of the board of governors, or by an outraged editorial in the TorontoGlobe, theMail and Empire, or theTelegram. In 1932, Sir Robert Falconer was succeeded as president by Canon H.J. Cody, who had served the previous nine years as chairman of the

j.ctt13x0nt5.10 5 In Search of Canadian Liberalism 127

More than a decade passed before Stuart Garson’s logic worked itself out in Underhill’s own mind. Even then, he did not think of himself as abandoning his principles so much as moderating them and adopting a more practical means of putting some of them into practice in his own lifetime. In a warm and witty letter to Lester B. Pearson immediately after Pearson’s election to the leadership of the Liberal party in January 1958, Underhill congratulated his old friend (“Dear Mike”), saying that he was the only person capable of turning the party in a “liberal [small-l] direction.” He proceeded

j.ctt13x0nt5.11 6 Elder Statesman 154

Despite being slowed down by advancing age and ill health, Underhill maintained a pace of writing, teaching, and public speaking in the 1960s that might have been the envy of younger men. Now in his seventies, he suffered a series of strokes after moving to Ottawa, and his ulcer continued to bother him, but he remained active.¹ He began writing more often for the daily press - theToronto Star, theGlobe and Mail, and theWinnipeg Free Press- and commercial magazines -Maclean’sand theGlobe and Mail Magazine- than for theCanadian Forumor theNew Republic. He had written

j.ctt13x0nt5.12 Epilogue 178

The premise of Underhill’s conception of a climate of opinion was that the values and assumptions of different “climates” were more or less foreign to one another, the foreignness increasing with the passage of time. Those distant chronologically required a greater effort of the historical imagination to understand, when understanding was possible at all, than those in closer proximity, though even those that seem superficially familiar may be stranger than we think. The job of the historian was to set them in relation to each other and try to discover their connections, as well as to show how they shaped

j.ctt13x0nt5.13 Notes 187 j.ctt13x0nt5.14 Index 207

Abstract:

Frank Underhill (1889-1971) practically invented the role of public intellectual in English Canada through his journalism, essays, teaching, and political activity. He became one of the country's most controversial figures in the middle of the twentieth century by confronting the central political issues of his time and by actively working to reform the Canadian political landscape. His propagation of socialist ideas during the Great Depression and his criticism of the British Empire and British foreign policy almost cost him his job at the University of Toronto. In Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas, Kenneth Dewar demonstrates how Underhill's thought evolved from his days as a student at Toronto and Oxford, to his drafting of the Regina Manifesto - the founding platform of the leftist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation - to his support of his long-time friend Lester Pearson’s Liberals in the 1960s. Not willing to be bound by partisan loyalties, his later shift toward the political centre dismayed many of his former allies. The various issues Underhill confronted, Dewar argues, were connected by the pioneering role he played as an intellectual and by his social democratic vision of politics. Dewar also reassesses Underhill’s historical work, focusing on how it differed from the new professional history practised his younger colleagues. Intelligently written and thoroughly researched, Frank Underhill and the Politics of Ideas delivers important insights into twentieth-century political life and innumerable lessons for twenty-first century Canada.

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