PDF A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J.S. Woodsworth

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James Shaver Woodsworth

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McNaught details the life, work, and principles of J. S Woodsworth and shows the powerful moral and political force that the pacifist, Methodist thinker exerted on Canadian politics.

Economy International Shipping. Special financing available Select PayPal Credit at checkout to have the option to pay over time. He was in Europe at the turn of the century, and was deeply influenced by both British and German social thought. These were his formative years, intellectually speaking. To that extent, Canadian social democracy shares the Western European heritage. Moreover, the movement emerged from the urban working class in Canada, which was predominantly immigrant.

As Mills shows, the movement did not emerge from the agrarian portion of the population, which had comparatively fewer immigrants. Woodsworth was born on the Applewood farm at Etobicoke near Toronto in However, his rural roots were less important than his urban.

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He was a bourgeois urban intellectual with working class sympathies. In this he typifies the leaders of the socialist movement throughout the world. Virtually all socialist movements were founded by people of the same background. During his early years, Woodsworth lived for a time in Manitoba, and attended Brandon College. Indeed, according to some local historians, the roots of Canadian social democracy are much less in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba. Because of the railroad, there was a strong labor movement in Brandon from the founding of the city in There is also a strong radical tradition in Brandon of very long standing.

Like Douglas and Knowles, Woodsworth seems to have imbibed some of his social democracy while at Brandon. From its earliest days, Brandon was primarily a railroad town, and to this day, is far less agrarian in mood and character than usually thought. Provincial government agencies are the basis of the economy. Too, the university, and its predecessor, Brandon College, is not as conservative as some might think. McNaught did not disabuse me of this impression but softened it somewhat.

In this, Woodsworth typified the non-conformist conscience of many British social democrats. He does not seem to have confided much that is personal in his letters and papers. Instead, he constantly focused on issues. Some socialists discourage the personal viewpoint out of a revulsion against narcissism. Despite the strong stand he took during the Winnipeg Strike and again at the outbreak of World War II, Woodsworth was anything but a man of passion.

In temperament he was reserved, cerebral—he was first and foremost an intellectual. However, he had to have more of a personal life than is divulged in either of these biographies. Both ignore the psychological dimension completely, and I would fault both on those grounds. I still do not know anything about J.

Woodsworth the man. I learned about his ideas. The view we get is two dimensional. We read about thoughts and deeds. We read little or nothing about intuitions, feelings, and the inward side. Above all, one misses the vulnerable spots, the vices, weaknesses, anxieties, failures and, above all, the sense of humour. Reading these biographies, I came away feeling that while I agreed with Woodsworth ideologically, I might have found him rather remote and difficult to know. He was a person so much preoccupied with causes as to have no lighter side. He was too sober.

He left the parish ministry, a point that is not stressed sufficiently in my view. Woodsworth was not really an adherent of the Social Gospel but a secular socialist who transcended his religious background. In this he differed from Douglas and Knowles, both liberal Protestants of the Social Gospel tradition. Woodsworth was radical in religion and politics, considerably to the left of Douglas and Knowles and far to the left of Audrey McLaughlin and Bob Rae.