“What Shadows We Are, and What Shadows We Pursue”: A Study of Edmund Burke’s Influence on Canadian Political Culture

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Cain, Matthew




This historiographical study explores the influence of Edmund Burke on Canadian political culture. In the mid-twentieth century, conservative nationalist English-Canadian historians popularized the notion that Burkean thought had a formative influence on political traditions and government institutions in Canada. That claim has persisted to the present day despite its veracity having never been demonstrated by historical evidence. To address that oversight, this dissertation tests for the influence of Burke in a person and time that were critical to the formation of Canadian political culture, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Confederation project. Using an intellectual history methodology, it finds that Macdonald's letters and speeches, the Confederation debates, and the BNA Act do not offer definitive proof of the Burkean claim. Macdonald and Confederation are then analysed through a political economy lens to demonstrate that the explanatory power of the Burkean claim is comparatively weak. The dissertation then focuses on the mid-twentieth century figures who made the claim, locating its origins in their responses to political and intellectual issues of their times.


Canadian Studies
Canadian History
Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797




Carleton University

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Canadian Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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