Alan Mendelson

Non-Fiction


 

Alan Mendelson is Professor Emeritus (Religious Studies), McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. In 1965 he received an M.A. in the History of Ideas from Brandeis University, where he studied with philosopher Herbert Marcuse. His Ph.D. is from the Committee for the History of Culture at the University of Chicago (1971).He and George Grant briefly overlapped at McMaster from 1976 to 1980. Mendelson describes their relationship as distant but cordial. Mendelson has taught and published for more than three decades. Although he works mainly in the fields of ancient philosophy and religion, he believes that antiquity can inform modernity.

"This book was a revelation for me. As a Quebecker, I always thought that the anti-Semitism that used to flourish in my native province was the most poisonous to be found anywhere in Canada. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned, from this excellent book, that historically the "genteel" anti-Jewish bigotry of Ontario's Anglo elite was more vicious then Quebec's more raucous brand - and had deadly consequences. This is an important book that deserves to be widely read and discussed."
William Weintraub

 

Robin Brass Studio 2008

 

Exiles from Nowhere

The Jews and the Canadian Elite
 

Exiles from Nowhere is a compelling history of intellectual thought and cultural codes of 19th and 20th-century Canada that will shock even the most informed.

Alan Mendelson examines the times and antecedents of some of Canada’s most influential figures— a circle that radiated from the revered philosopher of Canadian nationalism, George Grant, who died in 1988. Mendelson’s dispassionate portrayal of the Canadian elite reveals an insidious antisemitism and intolerance. Because their belief system affected the actions of those in high places during what was the moral crisis of the century –the Holocaust—“genteel” antisemitism had deadly consequences.

Mendelson begins with Goldwin Smith, whose Toronto home (the Grange) was the centre of 19th century social and intellectual life. Here, Smith churned out antisemitic pieces for periodicals across the English-speaking world. His influence on future leaders like Henri Bourassa and Mackenzie King endured for generations.

In this elite society, George Grant’s grandfather, The Rev. George Monro Grant, Principal of Queen’s University, wrote that there was no need to treat Judaism as a real religion, because Judaism had been superseded by Christianity. George Grant’s other grandfather, Sir George Parkin, spread the racist and imperialist vision of Cecil Rhodes in his role as administrator of the Rhodes Scholarship program.

During WWII, the young Grant took his lead from his uncle Vincent Massey, Canada’s High Commissioner in London. Massey was part of Mackenzie King’s inner circle who conspired to exclude Jewish immigrants from Canada.

When Lament for a Nation was published in 1965, George Grant was assured a premier place as a Canadian philosopher and public intellectual. Yet it is a puzzling fact that many of his intellectual and spiritual heroes were tainted with antisemitism, including historian Arnold Toynbee, who characterized the Jews as a parasitic “fossil” race; philosopher Martin Heidegger, who refused to repudiate his Nazi associations; writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose virulent antisemitism led countrymen to call him a national disgrace; and theologian Simone Weil, a Jewish-born mystic whose denunciations of Judaism offer a strange contrast to her work for the Resistance.