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Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in…

by Ian McKay

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2611740,661 (4.21)3
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.… (more)
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Ian McKay does a fairly effective job mapping out the construction of the intellectual and political transformations of the Canadian left. Operating within a consciously Gramscian framework he attempts to map out the period as a sort of historical bloc, to use Gramsci's terms, capturing the major intellectual influences, particularly the influence of social darwinist thought as well as the influence of Marxism. The text also does a good job of mapping out the shifting economic terrain of the country, and the various attempts on the part of Canadian radicals to explain those transformations. It's a valuable resource. However, I wouldn't call it an exciting read. The detail that McKay puts into describing the various debates and disputes within Marxist grouplets can often be a bit dry. I can't imagine turning to this for pleasure reading, but it certainly is a valuable resource.
  wrobert | Jan 5, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
At 600+ pages, this is by no means a quick or easy read (hence my rather tardy review) but well worth the effort by anyone interested in Canadian political history in general and the Canadian Left in particular.

The focus of Ian McKay’s multi-volume oevre has been on the complex and competing factors involved not only in the construction of the political Left in Canada but on all historical forces, movements, groups and institutions that stand in opposition to the traditional liberal order. Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 builds on the framework introduced in his earlier Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left and first formulated in his influential 2000 article “Liberal Order Framework.” While not essential as companion pieces, I found reference to these previous works enormously helpful.

Influenced by Gramsci’s historicism, McKay’s “reconnaisance” approach underscores his belief that ideas and institutions are best understood not as stand-alone entities with a clearly-defined and "value-free" historical trajectory, but in a more nuanced way, within the broader social and historical context in which they are rooted. This is not a historical account of the Canadian labour/left per se, but its historiography.

Reasoning Otherwise examines the first of five historically situated “socialist/left formations” spanning the years 1890-1919; the remaining formation groupings are 1917-1939, 1935-1970, 1965-1980, and 1967-1990. (Think of “formations” as iterations, much like first-wave, second-wave and third-wave feminisms, that involve a dialogue with and a reaction to the past as much as incremental gains or refinements of theory and praxis.) Most historical accounts view this “first-formation” socialism as profoundly tainted by Social Darwinism, racism and sexism. While this is indeed accurate, McKay demonstrates that it is by no means reducible to nor exhausted by these factors. Book chapters are structured so as to explore the thoughts and debates around race, class, gender, sexuality, and feminism in the late 19th and early 20th century and how these multiple discourses impacted the formation and shape of leftist forces nationwide.

Like his previous writings, this book combines rigorous scholarly research with an underlying political activism. Reconstructing the past in its own terms not only provides a richer, deeper, more accurate account; it is also a useful means of linking the past to present-day issues, possibly helping us to reframe contentious or divisive battlelines and come up with innovative solutions to various social justice struggles. Highly recommended. ( )
  EAG | Aug 9, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
You might think that since it has been well over a year since I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers I might not be here to write a glowing review. After all, when you're really engaged by a book you normally grab every moment to read it and only put it down under duress. Well, you'd be wrong. I loved this book. Still do really. It rests by my bedside and I sing it to sleep...

For various reasons (illness, new additions to the family), it was hard to get any significant periods of time to sit down and read. And that is the first thing you should note about this book: while it is extremely interesting and engaging, it isn't what I would describe as a light read. It is filled with fascinating information and stories, and paints a picture of early left history in Canada that few of us know much about. So while it isn't the sort of book you sit down with and read over a weekend at the beach, it is certainly the sort of book that is worth sitting down with over a couple of weeks (or a year and a half as the case may be) and really soaking up.

McKay takes a unique approach to presenting this part of Canadian history, as other reviewers have pointed out. It's unique in the respect that he approaches the period from the perspective of the major social issues and questions that faced "leftists" in Canada during this period. Rather than a tale of traditional heroic figures of Canadian history, the book looks at how these questions - the Class question, the Race question, the "Woman" question etc. - were shaped by the perspectives of those living in those times and attempting to rethink the basic liberal assumptions that others failed to question.

The other unique aspect of McKay's approach is his use of what he calls a technique of "reconnaissance." Based on this, McKay acknowledges that this is not a politically neutral history: Its purpose is to help Canadian leftist better understand the history of their intellectual and political forebears. As McKay suggests, "a left that understands its own past, that 'acknowledges its own determination,' has a better chance of strategic determination in the present." In addition, his reconnaissance tries to be fair and honest in its analysis of the successes, failures, biases and prejudices of the early Canadian left. It isn't about "ancestor worship," as he puts it, but rather about looking realistically at the questions of history. As McKay puts it, "a reconnaissance knows itself to be but one step in a co-operative struggle to understand a contested terrain, just one step in the struggle to reclaim left history from the 'enormous condescension of posterity."

By way of conclusion I must say that throughout this book I honestly had the sense that the author loved his subject matter and that writing this book was a joy. Indeed, after being out of school for many years, this book reignited my passion for learning (in the academic, rather than the "hey, I learned how to use MS Access" sense) and study. It's hard to imagine a higher form of praise for a book such as this. ( )
  scroall | Jul 7, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When you receive a 600-plus-page book to review, one of your first thoughts is, I hope it's fascinating. Reasoning Otherwise by Ian McKay is, fortunately, fascinating and rewarding. It's an excellent example of thoughtful, open-minded scholarship about a little-known but important element of Canada's political and social history.

Reasoning Otherwise surveys the period 1890 to 1920, during the early development of Canadian socialist movements. Today the label "left" does little to suggest the range of positions it covers; in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the emerging term "socialist" had similarly wide meaning and application. A socialist might or might not support organized labour, the end of private property, public ownership, universal suffrage, or internationalism; by today's standards, many of the early socialists were sexist, racist, classist, and otherwise biased.

The author presents the groups, individuals, and relationships in minute, sometimes overwhelming detail. Unless readers are very knowledgeable about the period, this level of detail can slow down the reading and prevent the audience from seeing the larger significance of individual events. The author declares his own position up front but does not shy away from uncomfortable moments in history; his protagonists are contradictory, flawed, changeable, biased, and sometimes downright dislikeable. Yet they form an undeniably important — and regrettably little discussed — element of Canada's political and social landscape, both historical and contemporary.

The book, the first in a proposed three-volume history, does not position itself as the last word on the subject of Canada's leftist history; rather, it adopts a "reconnaissance" approach, surveying the field from new angles and trying to make new interpretations of existing but largely unknown or unrecognized information, so that future scholars may continue this exploratory work. Given the lack of scholarship in this area and the increasing difficulty of obtaining primary documents from the period it covers, the text is likely to become the standard against which future work in this area is measured. It should be a highly recommended library purchase for its reach and scope.

I genuinely enjoyed this book. It is not an easy read, nor is it light reading, but it will reward readers who commit to it. I look forward to seeing volumes two and three, and salute the author for making so accessible and so interesting a topic about which so many people are woefully misinformed. ( )
  laVermeer | Nov 3, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.php?id=24198

according to HNet online:
McKay’s book is a fascinating and comprehensive account that will undoubtedly become the benchmark for studies of the period. The historiography has gone from a paucity of work on the Canadian Left generally to a dominant text that will help spur further studies; scholars now have a base from which to work. While Reasoning Otherwise is neither an easy or quick read, it has greatly enhanced both our understandings of the Canadian Left and of Canadian cultural history more broadly. Beautifully bound and well-laid out, it is also yet another in a line of exciting offerings from Toronto’s Between the Lines press. For many readers, one suggestion is to use Rebels, Reds, and Radicals as a companion book to provide further context, but it is not necessary or required. McKay makes a convincing case that these men and women who dared to reason otherwise in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries matter to the history of Canadian liberalism, as they made sense and found meaning in their tumultuous world.
  bplma | Sep 24, 2009 |
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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.

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