True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada
By Michael Ignatieff
Viking Canada ($30)
Opening a book, we decide, consciously or otherwise, the filter through which we will read it. As Observer readers, those who select Michael Ignatieff’s True Patriot Love may feel torn between perusing it as
citizens of Canada or as followers of the United Church brand of the Christian faith. Don’t fret: Ignatieff, playing it safe, unveils little of himself.
Less biography and more a portrait of Ignatieff’s influential ancestors, this book draws on material of public record and includes very few personal stories. We are introduced to his maternal great-grandfather, Rev. George Munro Grant (principal of Queen’s University, influencer of prime ministers), and his grandfather William Lawson Grant (soldier, principal of Upper Canada College).
Then we meet Ignatieff’s uncle, George Parkin Grant, a conservative political philosopher. Interestingly, Ignatieff fails to identify Grant as a theologian whose principles are founded not only on a mantle of privileged patriotism, but also on a well-examined belief system. From his Second World War pacifism and his Vietnam War anti-Americanism to his deeply principled and unpopular stand against abortion, Grant said what he believed. And he believed in God and a future with God. He was much less certain about Canada, as he revealed in his book Lament for a Nation.
What Ignatieff leaves out about his uncle is significant. There must have been many meetings between the two; Ignatieff tells only of an eccentric Grant diminished by age. He wants us to know he shares neither Grant’s out-of-sync-with-the-times attitude to abortion, nor his pessimism about Canada’s future. Ignatieff carefully dismisses Grant’s conservatism, leaving the reasons for it unexamined.
But what is it that Ignatieff believes? The truth may lie in the title, True Patriot Love. Ignatieff believes in the brand of patriotism expressed in our national anthem.
What else? We are left with the sense that although Ignatieff bears an enormous burden of familial, historical and personal expectations, it is otherwise easy being Michael. But can a man with such complex intellectual acuity and obvious ambition be so easily summarized? Or is it that, as a potential prime minister, he doesn’t want us to see him sweat?
By the end of this book, there is little that will assist us in making voting decisions, either as Canadians or as Christians.
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