Sean Scallon’s “Letter From Quebec: Talking About Culture” (Correspondence, July) is an excellent report on the recent provincial elections in Quebec. As explained by Mr. Scallon, the ADQ has attempted to reintroduce the question of Quebec culture into the political arena. This emphasis on cultural identity by M. Dumount and the ADQ raises a generally ignored but highly important fact about politics in Quebec.
The Québécois can never reestablish true cultural identity without countering the Quiet Revolution of the 50’s and 60’s. This social revolution in essence destroyed the underlying threads of the identity of the Québécois (and their French Acadian cousins in the Maritimes). This goose that laid the cultural golden egg was, first and foremost, Catholicism and, second, the rural base of the Catholic population in Quebec.
M. Dumont, too young to have known Catholic Quebec, has inherited a Quebec that has killed this goose and, like the rest of deracinated North America, is reaping the results of cultural disintegration. His attempt to reinstate a Quebec culture is much like the blind leading the blind. M. Dumont is only able to offer the old liberal-socialist soft nationalism of René Lévesque of the 70’s, with a little free-market theory thrown into the mix. The Québécois identity that emerged in the 60’s and 70’s with Lévesque and Trudeau had energy, confidence, and a sense of the future. This cultural vitality, the sort that M. Dumont hopes the Québécois will rediscover, existed not because its modernist, liberal, state-capitalist foundation was a solid one upon which to build a separate Quebec nation, but simply because all revolutions and revolutionaries, quiet or otherwise, have their day of enthusiasm in building their new order—in their case, the new liberal order that inevitably led to the cultural nihilism that Quebec presently experiences.
M. Dumont and the ADQ can be credited for publicly recognizing that Quebec once had an identity and is now having an identity crisis. Until he and his younger generation of Québécois admit that Quebec’s identity was rooted in Catholicism, however, there will be no success in stemming the cultural destruction of liberalism and multiculturalism. This is unlikely to happen, and Quebec, with the lowest birthrate in North America, is unlikely to remain the home of a distinct people once known as French Canadians.
Carleton, Nova Scotia
Mr. Scallon Replies:
I agree with Mr. Arnett that a rebirth and restoration of the Catholic Faith would go a long way to strengthen the Québécois identity. The problem is that M. Dumont can only work with the tools he has available to him. And if tomorrow he declared that an ADQ government would encourage people to go to church and have more children, he would be laughed off the political stage, even getting guffaws from members of his own party. There is a reason why he couches his rhetoric in the secular, liberal-socialist, soft nationalism of Lévesque rather than the hard-right Catholicism of Maurice Duplessis.
The nationalism of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois has been secular, emphasizing the primacy of the French language. That battle has largely been won. French is the dominant language of the province, and the old English elites of Montreal have, for the most part, been swept away. Such successes have basically robbed the nationalist parties of their main issues since the 1995 referendum, because nobody (besides a few diehards) really believes Quebec will ever be independent of Canada. Unfortunately, there are lots of places all over the world—from Haiti to the Central African Republic to Algeria—whose inhabitants speak French and would love to live in a prosperous Quebec. Negative reaction to such Third World immigration helped Dumont and the ADQ in the recent National Assembly elections.
Mr. Arnett brings up an interesting point about young political leaders such as Dumont. He’s about my age, so he missed the 1960’s and the Quiet Revolution. Thus, unlike his parent’s generation, he doesn’t reject the old symbols of Quebec nationalism, which were connected to the Catholic Church. That doesn’t mean that he or the other Québécois of his generation are praying novenas, however. Generation X or Y may not be demanding Guitar Masses or female priests, but they aren’t joining the Knights of Columbus, either. The Quiet Revolution wrested control of education and healthcare from the Church and minimized Her role in society. More problems followed, including scandals, a shortage of priests and nuns, and divisions within the Quebec Church over the catechism, resulting in low church attendance and making evangelization difficult. And even if a powerful evangelization movement among young Québécois were launched, it would run smack dab into a hostile culture that would threaten clergy with jail for following Church teachings, that values economic growth and “progressive” values (multiculturalism, tolerance), and that prefers sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Dumont does not talk about religion because, in today’s Quebec, there’s nothing much to talk about.
We cannot recreate Maurice Duplessis’ Quebec. But that doesn’t mean that all is hopeless, as there are Quebeckers, such as Quebec City’s Marc Cardinal Oullet, who are trying to regenerate Christian culture. Philip Jenkins has written extensively about independent groups in the West who are trying to revive the Faith—and are succeeding, now that the Church is seen as an institution under siege, instead of an oppressor. The return of the Latin Mass may draw in people who are looking for more substance in worship. And the generation that grew up with Pope John Paul II will provide more than its fair share of the faithful. But such revivals will be tempered by modernity and will have to walk a fine line between trying to create a new culture of the Faith and attempting to rebuild a past that cannot be rebuilt.