the catholic mcluhan


Critics like Miller are dead accurate on one point: the absolute centrality of Catholicism to McLuhan’s intellectual life. McLuhan was born in Edmonton to a generically Protestant family. His father, a good-natured but unsuccessful businessman, was a Methodist, while his mother, a strong-willed public speaker and actress, was a Baptist. He grew up in Winnipeg and would later claim that much of his personal life was shaped by his horrified reaction to that industrial city, which led him to search for a more humane culture in Europe. In a 1935 letter to his mother explaining his increasing interest in Catholicism, McLuhan noted that “I simply couldn’t believe that men had to live in the mean mechanical joyless rootless fashion that I saw in Winnipeg.” The young McLuhan was a romantic anti-industrialist who came to conclude that Protestantism was to blame for the ills of the modern world. His thinking was much influenced by the Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton, who advocated “distributist” politics that sought to restore the guild ideals of the Middle Ages as a counterforce to both capitalism and socialism. In the same letter to his mother, McLuhan noted that “I need scarcely indicate that everything that is especially hateful and devilish and inhuman about the conditions and strain of modern industrial society is not only Protestant in origin, but it is their boast(!) to have originated it.”

more from Jeet Heer at The Walrus here.