John Ralston Saul's Reflections of a siamese twin: an exchange.
Saul's most recent book, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, is his take on "the trajectories of Canadian history." In mid-January, Montreal's Le Devoir published a review of the book, by Gerard Bouchard, noted Quebec historian and brother to Premier Lucien Bouchard. A week later, Le Devoir published Saul's response. We thought Inroads' readers would be interested in the exchange.
John Saul's "Siamese" vision
by Gerard Boucharde
("La vision `siamoise' de John Saul," published in Le Devoir in two parts, January 15 and 17, 2000. Translated by Anne Michele Meggs.)
Siamese logic: that which has the property of affirming logically and simultaneously the truth and its opposite, depending on whether the subject is referring to himself or his double.
JOHN SAUES BOOK, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, received almost unanimous critical acclaim from the Quebec media. One might be justifiably astonished by this. To be sure, the author has everything it takes to appeal to many Quebecers. Here is a highly respected English-Canadian intellectual, who has expressed considerable interest in and curiosity about the francophone fact, who would like to break down the "two solitudes" equitably and with good will, and who claims to object to the "simplifications" which up to now have passed for realistic views of our mutual realities. On top of these eminently favourable and welcome predispositions, the author reveals a social-democratic sensitivity and an adherence to the noblest of humanist traditions. These qualities, I hasten to add, are reflected in his treatment of several of the issues he tackles. This book is also set apart by the very important, even predominant, place accorded historical references. To a large extent, these references provide the basis for the book's reasoning, which is not often the case in this type of essay. It is precisely this aspect which is most compelling. Imagine our surprise, therefore, in discovering a rare accumulation of errors, distortions, untruths and, yes, simplifications.
Canada's origins: a "Socratic" approach?
According to the author, Canada's creation in the 19th century was inspired by a grand humanitarian ideal: democracy, freedom, inclusion of "otherness," respect for differences, a spirit of dialogue, and, above all else, a spirit of liberal reformism. The 1867 Confederation embodied "Canadian" liberal values, was born in the cradle of democracy and tolerance, thanks to the enlightened initiative of reformist minds and in spite of opposition from conservatives and Ultramontanes. Moreover, this country was apparently founded on a triangular pact (anglophones, francophones, First Nation peoples). We learn that "[...] if there is a characteristic proper to Canada, it is that [it has not] rigorously set out to eliminate differences" (page 438(1)). More than anything else, the activity of the Northwest Mounted Police represents "the practical application of the more restrained, cooperative Canadian approach, which had been developing since the eighteenth century, if not before" (p. 109). As for the spirit which guided inter-ethnic relations (the "triangle"), John Saul sees it as "an illustration of the Socratic" and "humanistic" approach so typical of Canadians, as opposed to most Western countries which preferred rather the "Platonist" approach, that is to say, pure reason, order, authority (pages 110-111). The Socratic approach is open to doubt and is not overcome by the desperate need "to tie things down." It makes room for "complexity and for the oral" and rejects the domination of the written word. For this reason, according to the author, Canada offers the very rare example of a country where a great democratic sensitivity has led the majority to accept "to be willingly led by the minority:" one sees it in the "facility with which anglophones cede power to francophones" (pages 329 and 341). Furthermore, "Canada is, above all, an extremely nuanced place" (page 323), and the "continuing theme" of its entire history is "reconciliation" (page 327).
A few recalcitrant facts
Obviously, it is impossible, in the space of this too brief commentary, to rectify properly the statements we have taken as samples (there are many others which readers may discover on their own). We will confine ourselves to a few general ideas supported by well-established facts, which should suffice in raising some doubts about John Saul's historical reconstructions.
The suggestion that Confederation was brought about by liberal reformists is an astonishing untruth as anyone opening any history textbook in Quebec or Canada could see. In Quebec, it was precisely the Ultramontanes and the clergy who were the main political allies of Conservative leader Georges-Etienne Cartier's, along with the great Montreal business bourgeoisie. The Liberals (the rouges), including a young politician named Wilfrid Laurier, vehemently opposed the idea. On the anglophone side, John Macdonald was himself a Conservative and supported a very centralized constitutional regime which took little interest in the diversity of the colonies. George Brown, the Liberal leader of Canada West (Ontario), did an about-face and broke with many of his political allies to join Macdonald and the Conservatives in support of Confederation (which drew accusations of treason from his friends). Moreover, as for the idea that these founding fathers were inspired by a generous, humanistic and Socratic vision of building a great country for the public good (page 12), that remains to be proven. On the other hand, proof assuredly exists that the plan ensured their material interests as they associated themselves closely with big bankers who saw in Confederation huge potential for railroad development and land speculation. Non, les visionnaires de M. Saul n'etaient pas des reactionnaires; c'etaient des actionnaires. (Mr. Saul's visionaries were not reactionaries; they were shareholders.)
Confederation, born out of democratic ideals? Liberals opposed it, along with those who campaigned for universal suffrage, the secret vote, and the election of senators, judges, senior civil servants and legislative advisors, in line with republican thinking. For the political regime of 1867 was conceived with the precise aim of restricting the power of the people and avoiding the "democratic excesses" of the American constitution. It was with this in mind that the executive level of the federal government was granted very significant prerogatives that authorized it to appoint the Governor General, senators, federal court judges and some provincial court judges, as well as the lieutenant governors who themselves had the power to disallow laws adopted by the provincial parliaments. The way in which negotiations leading up to Confederation were conducted are also eloquent in this regard. During the famous preparatory conference in Quebec City in 1864 (held in camera), the Liberal Party of Antoine-Aime Dorion was the only one of all the political parties of the day not to be included in the discussions. It was also the only party to be excluded from the great coalition government created that same year. As for the plebiscite (or referendum) promised several times to the Quebec population and called for persistently by the Dorion Liberals, it was never held. It was only at the general election of 1867 that the people finally had a chance to have their say. But they were faced with a fait accompli: Confederation was already in place (by virtue of a British law) and was not the primary issue of the election. Finally, if it is true, as John Saul claims, that this constitutional agreement is a symbol of democracy, where are the grand underlying documents that would demonstrate this? Where are the archives of the great fundamental debates on democracy, freedom and citizenship which could inspire posterity from time to time (today, for instance)?
In the current context, it is not without interest to note that among the primary factors leading to the Act of 1867 was the will of the Ontario Liberals to break with the Unionist regime and separate from Quebec (then known as Canada East). Confederation, born out of a separatist movement?
With regard to the RCME whatever its recognizable virtues in other respects, one must not lose sight of the fact that one of its first missions was to deport the Indians who occupied lands ceded to the Canadian Pacific Company to allow it to build its railroad -- an 1881 commitment of the federal government. Is this an application of Canadian values?
Among all the Western countries, Canada stands out in the way it preserves differences? This statement cheapens the entire history of relations with Aboriginals up to the middle of the 20th century (one need only point to the Indian Act of 1876, a veritable assault on this minority community). It ignores the racist machinations of the Orange Order, the various attempts or determined efforts to assimilate the French Canadians and the setbacks they suffered outside Quebec with respect to their linguistic and educational rights, in particular between 1871 and 1912. At the end of the Quebec City conference in 1864, when agreement was reached on a plan for Confederation, it was again the Liberal George Brown (noted for his anti-francophone sentiments) who declared, "Is it not wonderful? French Canadianism entirely extinguished!" Neither do the conscription crisis of 1917 and the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 demonstrate a great sensitivity to difference and democracy. Similar examples abound: the exclusion that women, Jews, Blacks and Asians have endured; the longtime discrimination against certain categories of immigrants; the eugenic laws of some of the anglophone provinces during the first half of the 20th century, etc. All these facts have been carefully recorded by many Canadian historians.
ACCORDING TO JOHN SAUL, TWO TYPES of nationalism have dominated the Canadian scene since the 19th century. On the one hand, there is the Canadian or federal nationalism. This nationalism is positive, open and progressive; it promotes "Canadian" values, the great humanitarian ideal. On the other hand, there is Quebec nationalism; alternately described as ideological (so the other is not?), negative, colonialist, narrow, sectarian, backward-looking, etc. It perpetuates the legacy of Monsignor Bourget, Abbe Groulx and Duplessis (pages 312-313,453, passim). It has been dominated by Ultramontanism (an ultraconservative ideology, which in the second half of the 19th century in Quebec, affirmed the presence of the Roman Catholic Church over the state in many "worldly" matters) right up to the Quiet Revolution. According to the author, it was precisely the spokespeople of this ideological nationalism who passed on completely distorted interpretations of Canadian and Quebec history. This was particularly the case of the "Montreal School" (G. Fregault, M. Seguin, M. Brunet). These historians practised a historical method which "was invented and perfected in Moscow" (page 340). In its extreme version, as used in the Soviet Union, it consisted of "the cutting and pasting of group photos and documents to eliminate individuals no longer in favour" (page 340). John Saul also explains how the Montreal School passed on the thinking of fascist Paul Bouchard and "was tied to the old clerical nationalism" (page 19) having inherited the Ultramontane thinking and the "agricultural dream" (page 189). It shaped the famous "victim psychosis" and gave the current sovereigntist movement its "intellectual foundation" (page 19).
Contrary to all these "masochistic nationalists" who have devoted themselves to an "ideological cleansing of the public memory" (on the Soviet model), the author reminds us of certain truths. The idea that them was a "conquest" in 1760 is a "delusion" (pages 20, 22). The Union of 1840, with its plan to assimilate the French Canadians, inspired by the Durham Report, was an initiative from London with which the English Canadians disagreed (pages 335, 336). For various reasons, the French-Canadian (negative) nationalists refused to have anything to do with the grand Socratic enterprise that was Canada and, to justify their own failures, resorted to creating a fiction which consisted of painting themselves in the role of victim (pages 25, 26, passim). This is a well-known strategy used by the weak to elicit a feeling of guilt from their counterparts.
First, the issue of the Conquest. For generations, despite many very learned works, this subject has continued to divide historians, in English Canada as much as in Quebec. Mr. Saul, nevertheless, immediately saw the truth. There was no conquest and the disastrous consequences of the 1773 Transfer are the fruit of the minds of "sectarian" nationalists. However, the theory that the Conquest had destructuring effects has also been affirmed by English-Canadian experts (for example, historians A.R.M. Lower and S. Trofimenkoff, or political scientist John Meisel, a liberal-minded specialist whose opinions are considered authoritative in Canada). A word on the Durham Report which paved the way for the Act of Union in 1840 and with which the Canadians supposedly disagreed: John Saul seems to be unaware of the existence in English Canada of a vigorous historiographical tradition (dominated by William Kingsford) which praised the Durham Report as the founding text of Canadian history. Other contradictory facts: the English Canadians did not inquire as to the position of the Chambre d'Assemblee of Lower Canada regarding the plan for Union and they were more than content with the unfair advantages it conferred upon them (transfer to Lower Canada of a large part of the Upper Canadian debt, creation of a fixed number of electoral ridings without regard to demographic numbers).
The Montreal School of history of the 1950s was tied in to the old clerical nationalism and its rural thesis? But almost all the academics who have published on this subject saw the Montreal School as an important break and the birth of neonationalism. The Parti Quebecois, heir to Ultramontanism and Lionel Groulx? In the opinion of most historians of religion, Ultramontanism had become a marginal movement by the beginning of the 20th century. As for Groulx, he dissociated himself from neonationalism and took a stand against the independentist movements which gave birth to the Parti Quebecois. Finally, one would have to admit that the accusation regarding ideological cleansing along Moscovite lines goes beyond what can be called reasonable and falls far short of what can be considered proper. In fact, such an accusation says more about the person making the statement than about the subject under attack.
There are many other passages of the same nature which space constraints prevent us from itemizing. For example, referendums such as those held in Quebec are apparently antidemocratic exercises; the natural economic flow in Canada seems to be east-west rather than north-south; a particularity of this country is apparently how well it has redistributed the national wealth, giving rise to an imposing middle class, characteristic of Canada; Quebecers, it would seem, have yet to break with their servile habit of reproducing French models ...
In the final analysis, it is worth noting that a contradiction lies at the heart of this work. All-in-all, we are told, what Canada has achieved as a country is good, very good even, starting with its emancipation from its ties with Great Britain and its emergence as a sovereign state, free to promote its values. Nevertheless, when Quebec expresses these same aspirations, suddenly they have none of the redeeming values which, elsewhere, render them legitimate.
A(nother) missed opportunity
The example of John Saul is important. It is worth examining because his book allows us to measure the breadth and depth of the misunderstanding between the two principal ethnic communities in Canada. For this anglophone is no second-rate thinker: on the contrary, we are faced here with an enlightened, distinguished intellectual, who is sparked by humanist values, well disposed towards Quebec and has gone to the trouble of learning its history, its political situation and its culture. In other words, we are not dealing here with some soapbox orator. But all things considered, and for this very reason, the result is all the more disappointing, and therein lies a sad realization. As a Quebecer, it is impossible for me to see myself in the portrayals and reconstructions proposed in this book. In fact, I can't see myself in either Mr. Saul's Quebec or in his Canada.
How can we not be astounded by this double vision of the world -- this truly Siamese logic -- which paints Canadian nationalism as eminently virtuous and Quebec nationalism as horribly tainted? It is a very positive nationalism indeed which can evoke a state of mind which has you seeing your country only in its Sunday best! One can easily imagine what a sovereigntist would be called who described Quebec in the same terms John Saul uses to describe Canada; no doubt, chauvinistic, ethnocentric, provincialist, etc. And would this be entirely unjustified?
That being said, let us avoid any misunderstanding. These criticisms are not meant to suggest that Canada is a country which is fundamentally unjust, racist, despotic and perverse. Such a characterization would be as much an exaggeration as the original text. The objective is not to transpose John Saul's statements; it is rather to invite greater nuance, rigour and equity Like all Western democracies, Canada has a complex, often equivocal, history, punctuated with examples of forward steps and some backward ones, dark moments and bright ones ("Canadian annals have been littered with in stances of corruption," writes A.R.M. Lower), and through it all a humanitarian tradition has taken root and prospered. Despite many setbacks, it has managed to flourish, through a complex, multi-faceted dynamic driven primarily by the aspiration of a majority of citizens to a life of equity and respect for others. But the same can be said for Quebec.
For any historian, sociologist or political scientist, this last comment may seem mundane in the extreme. It becomes much less so when viewed from the perspective of Mr. Saul's exaggerations and simplifications -- this same intellectual who claims to be an advocate of complexity determined to denounce the ideologues who distort reality (page 396) and to restore good historical methodology. But how to explain that such a book coming from so celebrated an intellectual should spark so little criticism from within the Quebec intellectual community and particularly that of the historians?
In its own way, the work illustrates in a striking manner the depth of the Quebec-Canada discord. In fact, because of his personal qualities and his apparent sympathy for Quebec, John Saul represented the type of intermediary who could have paved the way for rapprochement. The results of his essay demonstrate the distance we still have to cover.
"There is no `conquered people'"
("Il n'y a pas de peuple conquis," published in Le Devoir in two parts, January 22 and 24, 2000. Translated by Arthur Milner.)
"THE MEMORY THAT WE QUESTION," wrote the great poet Saint-Denys Garneau, "has heavily curtained windows."(2) It's not surprising, then, that we have so much trouble trying to throw into question deeply held interpretations of history or proposing new lines of argument. So why bother? Quite simply, in order to keep the debate focused on what I call the trajectories of history.
Professor Gerard Bouchard's comments leave me somewhat perplexed. He writes that, in Reflections of a Siamese Twin, "it is impossible to recognize himself in the portraits and reconstructions offered." Well, I'm afraid that I found it impossible to recognize my book in Mr. Bouchard's interpretation.
He says, in essence, that I present a rose-coloured picture of Canada and a very dark one of Quebec: a positive Canadian nationalism (in which there are no Quebecers?) and a negative Quebec nationalism; that in my "exaggerations and simplifications," about which there is "something pathetic," I "cheapen the entire history of relations with aboriginals"; that I ignore "the racist machinations of the Orange Order," the laws against French education in Ontario and Manitoba, "the exclusion that women, Jews, Blacks and Asians have endured," discrimination against immigrants and eugenic laws.
Disgraceful, isn't it? Of course, the truth is, these subjects are dealt with at length in the book. The role of Aboriginals, for example, is at the very heart of my argument. You can't miss it. Mr. Bouchard forces me to quote from Reflections of a Siamese Twin:
"The idea of a triangular [Aboriginal, French, English] foundation might be difficult for many to accept because there is still little conviction anywhere that the role of aboriginals has been a central factor in the shaping of Canada. The betrayal by the anglophones and francophones of their fundamental commitments to Natives is taken to have eliminated the original pillar of the society. The gradual return of aboriginal influence, from the 1970s on, is often interpreted as a legal oddity or a phenomenon of guilt or charity or the annoying appearance of yet another interest group. Surely not. Surely it is the logic of history painfully kicking back into gear" (page 88).(2)
As for the Orangists, they form a central theme of my argument, which includes their influence on D'Alton McCarthy's movement. I deal with the problems they created at least 20 times. I argue that the anti-monolithic efforts of francophone and anglophone reformers in the mid-19th century were seriously damaged by the arrival from Europe of two ideologies with monolithic tendencies -- the Orange and the Ultramontane, each building its career on the back of the other.
As for the other omissions mentioned by Professor Bouchard, I cite one more representative paragraph from Reflections of a Siamese Twin:
In British Columbia the Chinese and Natives were disenfranchised in 1874; the Japanese in 1875; the East Indians in 1907; the Mennonites and Doukhobors in 1931. There were elements of the same racial politics in Ernest Manning's eugenics program in Alberta. Purity of race was a theory tied to your origins, but also to physical soundness (page 452).
If he's interested, he can also look at pages 42,166,310,328,333 and 334,419,431, etc.(3)
Mr. Bouchard is outraged at my suggestion that traces of Ultramontanism remain among us, as if he were troubled by an anglophone's attack against francophones. In fact, my argument is about the long-term impact of both the Orangists and the Ultramontanes. It's important to make clear that we're not entirely free of their influence.
He doesn't seem to appreciate my speaking of a "cession" rather than a "conquest." Strangely, he takes as an insult that which I admire. I'm not talking about truth here. I am simply putting myself on the side of those who believe, more or less, that there was a war between two empires and a few small battles were lost and won by either side. The war ended and the empires negotiated. Those lobbyists interested in fur wanted to keep Canada; those motivated by the sugar trade wanted control of some Caribbean islands. With support from Boston merchants, the beaver won in London while sugar won in Paris. The ceding of territory followed. The Quebec Act of 1774 and the Constitution Act of 1791 confirm, among other things, that there were no conquered people and that francophones and anglophones, if they want to move forward, must work together. Who agrees with me? Papineau and Phillippe Aubert de Gaspe! LaFontaine and Cartier! Laurier and Macdonald ("There is no paramount race in this country, there is no conquered race in this country," February 17, 1890)! In any case, Mr. Bouchard and I are on the same side. He, too, uses the term cession here and there in one of his books.(4) But perhaps he is unaware that, in general, cession is employed by those who reject the argument that there was a conquest.
Let's move on to the matter of the victim psychosis. Mr. Bouchard's implication, that I am speaking of the Quebecois in writing about this tendency, is a complete distortion of my argument. One need only read what I actually wrote:
[...]victimization is central to the emotional relationship upon which Heroic leadership is built. So our history has been peopled by men like W.A.C. Bennett, William Aberhart and Ernest Manning, Howard Ferguson and Mitch Hepburn, Honore Mercier and Maurice Duplessis. They all, as Lapalme said of Duplessis, "had the monopoly on true patriotism" (page 455).
You will notice that my reply to the hero-victim school comes from George-Emile Lapalme, a great Quebecer and a father of the Quiet Revolution. Hold on! Doesn't that suggest that my discussion of positive and negative nationalisms does not stand on a Canada-Quebec dichotomy. Moreover, the problem isn't limited to Canada.
So what is this concept of two nationalisms? In my opinion,
"Positive nationalism is a humanist movement seeking continual reform in order to improve the life of the community. This does include economic well-being, but only as a result of the more important elements -- service of the public good, aggressive responsible individualism and culture. What I mean by that is culture in the largest sense, with language at the core of it being used to further the communication of the culture [...].
Negative nationalism usually identifies a defined national crisis as the primary problem which society must first deal with in order to save itself and thus make it possible to deal with other problems. The other problems are invariably said to be unresolvable because of the national crisis. But the national crisis is usually itself unresolvable in any real terms because it is based on abstract theories of identity or power (page 300).
Obviously, it's never that simple. Often, each kind of nationalism contains important elements of the other. It goes without saying that in Reflections of a Siamese Twin I look at the phenomenon throughout Canada.
What discourages me about Mr. Bouchard's argument is that a man of his intelligence could do better. I've read his work. His ideas on modern nationalism are not, in fact, that far from my own. On the other hand, I have the impression that he is more pessimistic than I am about the usefulness of the past. He writes that, "the history of Quebec, as we now conceive it, begins with the birth of its expression after World War II." He speaks often of "new collectivities like Quebec."(5) I would argue that we are part of a collectivity with, in some respects, over 400 years of experience, and with more than 150 years of experience within its current structures. I think we can identify great historical trajectories that span centuries. And these trajectories make apparent our strengths and weaknesses; what works for us and what does not.
In Reflections, I tried, among other things, to explain these trajectories. For example: the classic history of modern Quebec begins with Honore Mercier as protector of the people. He did, in fact, have many positive qualities. He and Oliver Mowat established mechanisms to balance federal and provincial power. Mercier also, unfortunately, wasted the great power his populism had earned him by giving Ultramontane sympathizers key positions in his government. If it was necessary to wait until the 1960s for public education, one might say that Mercier was largely to blame.
I would say that the trajectory of the great progressive governments (positive nationalism) of Quebec starts with Felix Marchand (1897-1900), then Adelard Godbout (1940-1944) and Jean Lesage (1960-66), and continues at least during Rene Levesque's first mandate (1976-1981). A lot of people might ask, "Felix who?" Others would shout, "Godbout and Levesque!" But it's an idea, an argument, an attempt to look at things differently. Am I right? That's the wrong question. You shouldn't take yourself too seriously.
A complex reality rooted in four centuries of history
WHILE READING PROFESSOR BOUCHARD'S comments on Reflections, I had the impression that someone had written another one of those books that rehash our constitutional problems, reexamine who was for and against Confederation, repeat the history of Durham, Dorion, etc.
I was troubled. Surely this could not be my book he was talking about. I looked through Reflections of a Siamese Twin and was reassured to find that I had quoted dozens of poets, novelists and painters -- Frechette, Vigneault, Hebert, Godbout, Borduas, Pilon, Proulx, Bissonette, Brault, Dubois, Laperriere, as well as their anglophone equivalents. And I invoked them as an integrated part of my discussion of our projet de societe. I noticed, too, that I hadn't quoted one author from England, France or the United States, and had, on the other hand, quoted Scandinavians, Russians, and writers from Central Europe and Latin America. This suggests, it seems to me, a somewhat unorthodox approach, a theory built out of intellectual networks and social realities. In the book, there was also an examination of what sort of mythologies might tell us something about such a society -- and, therefore, all the established mythologies were thrown into doubt. And why not? The whole point was to raise questions and stir debate.
After all, it's good to debate differing approaches, and it can't do any harm. It's better than closing oneself up in concepts of true and false that stand in the way of real discussion.
Mr. Bouchard wrote a great deal about Confederation in his discussion of Reflections -- which is curious, because I wrote very little. It wasn't the subject of my book. Instead, I wrote endlessly about the events of the 1840s; about Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin and their friends in the great Reform alliance. I wrote about the coming of democracy in 1848 and the projet de societe that motivated these reforms.
I would argue that our current historical trajectory became more discernible after these events 150 years ago. You'll notice that with LaFontaine and Baldwin there is a greater clarity of goals than in 1774, 1791 or 1837. You can already discern the beginnings of a complex society in which citizens live on at least two levels at the same time.
Mr. Bouchard seems ill at ease with the notion that francophones and anglophones might have worked together for more than two centuries (since 1791). He brings forward all the mistakes and failures of the past, and he's right to do so; we don't sufficiently discuss these blunders. That is what I would call practical memory. But to remember only the errors is a disorder of the memory. Certainly Professor Bouchard would agree with me.
Perhaps his problem with my approach comes from the following -- I quote from his own writing: "It's a matter of the writing of a national history, in the full sense of the term, as defined by professionals of the science of history"; "A national history so defined creates an "us" [...]. It is thus written and read in the first-person plural."(6)
His book is, in fact, written in the first-person, plural -- "we" this and "we" that. I wouldn't dare. I write in my own name. I don't claim to be anyone else. The idea of solidarity in interpreting the past seems to me contradictory and not very conducive to the quality of debate.
In any case I don't think history is a science. Happily. Which is to say it's not a social science. History is a part of the humanist tradition, along with geography, literature, philosophy and the sciences properly defined. Humanism isn't a search for the truth; humanists tend to believe that societies advance thanks to doubt and questioning. Every chemist and biologist I know would more or less agree.
Let us return to what interests Mr. Bouchard: Confederation. I would argue that March 11, 1848 (the formation of the first democratic government by Louis LaFontaine) is fundamentally more important than July 1, 1867. What happened in the years between the two dates indicate not that the goals of 1848 were wrong, but that the 1840 Constitution imposed too many constraints on a non-monolithic society. 1867 represents, therefore, more a restructuring of institutions than a reformulation of objectives.
What I am saying is that the mythology of 1867 -- in the minds of Dorion, Cartier, Macdonald and the rest -- was that of the Reformers of 1848. This doesn't mean they all agreed on the procedure of the day, but rather that the social and intellectual context was that of LaFontaine/Baldwin. The same is true for the two generations that followed -- ending with Laurier. And this mythology was a celebration of complexity and of the concept of a non-monolithic society.
Mr. Bouchard exaggerates. He maintains that certain respectable and sometimes eminent people preferred a monolithic society and supported Durham's views. He's right. We're talking about a real society. There's no automatic solidarity A variety of opinion is to be expected. That's why one must follow the trajectories and not let oneself be blinded by temporary defeats.
The clarity of 1848 turned murky in the first half of the 20th century. This was, to a large extent, the result of new schools of history that were greatly influenced by an Orangist/Ultramontane groudswell. The result was a more European, more monolithic approach, one less well suited to the trajectory of this society -- which is why I stress the importance of LaFontaine/Baldwin.
In general, I am happy, not if everyone agrees with me -- that's not the point -- but if I've managed to provoke debate about a complex reality that isn't hostage to the notion that we are a new society. Quite the opposite: ours is a complex reality rooted in four centuries of history.
A note on translation
Translation always presents problems, though these are usually not apparent and, one hopes, not important. In this case, where Gerard Bouchard and John Ralston Saul's articles were translated by different people (translations were submitted to the authors for changes and approval), the problems presented are more apparent and probably more important, too. In responding to Bouchard's review, Saul, too, was required first to translate or interpret, further complicating the issue. Of course, this raises questions of interpretation that exist even in the absence of translation. In other words, different words mean different things to different people.
An example. In his review, Bouchard wrote: "... le resultat est encore plus decevant et il y a la quelque chose de pathetique." Anne-Michele Meggs translated: "... the result is all the more disappointing, and therein lies a sad realization." In his response, Saul quoted a fragment from Bouchard: "... qui ont `quelque chose de pathetique.'" I translated: "... about which there is `something pathetic.'"
Clearly, Meggs' choice is on the gentle side. She translates "pathetic" as "sad," thereby avoiding pathetic's harsh-colloquial overtones (in English more than in French), and also attaches that sadness to the general situation rather than to Mr. Saul's writing. Whereas I chose to leave in place the ambiguity and therefore the possibility of a more insulting reading.
On Inroads' behalf, I could have ensured that translations of the same original statements corresponded precisely with each other. This would, of course, have been difficult to coordinate among four writers; moreover, agreement might have proved impossible. Further, while precise correspondence might be less troubling for the reader, it would be artificial. After all, different words mean different things to different people.
(1) Quotations from Reflections of a Siamese Twin (and page numbers except where otherwise noted) are from the English version, Reflections of a Siamese Twin, Canada at the end of the Twentieth Century, Penguin Books 1998.
(2) Monde, irremediable desert -- Regards et jeux dans l'espace, Montreal, Bibliotheque quebecoise, 1993, page 144.
(3) These page numbers refer to the French language version.
(4) Gerard Bouchard, La Nation quebecoise au futur et au passe, Montreal, VLB, 1999; for example, pages 94, 113, 114, 116 and 128.
(5) Bouchard, pages 97 and 98.
(6) Bouchard, pages 83 and 87.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Saul, John Ralston; Bouchard, Gerard|
|Publication:||Inroads: A Journal of Opinion|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
|Previous Article:||What's wrong with Canada? A business view.|
|Next Article:||Toward a just and inclusive school system: defending the Proulx Report.|