Andre Laurendeau: The Search for Political Equality and Social Justice

By Gagnon, Alain-G. | Quebec Studies, Spring-Summer 1999 | Go to article overview
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Andre Laurendeau: The Search for Political Equality and Social Justice

Gagnon, Alain-G., Quebec Studies

By Alain-G. Gagnon

McGill University

L'etude de la pensee politique d'Andre Laurendeau nous amene a constater a quel point les notions de communaute, d'egalite et de liberte sont etroitement imbriquees les unes dans les autres. Si le concept de communaute nous semble central plus que tout autre a la comprehension de sa pensee, les notions d'egalite et de liberte ne sont pas moins importantes. L'omission de l'une ou de l'autre de ces trois notions entrainerait inevitablement l'echec des deux autres, quelles qu'elles soient. Le respect de l'egalite telle que l'entend Laurendeau (egalites collective et individuelle) conditionne l'acces de chacun a la liberte necessaire a son epanouissement et a son depassement au sein de sa communaute, laquelle sert de tremplin a ses realisations.

Andre Laurendeau is surely the intellectual who has most inspired French Canadians, and later Quebecers, in their quest for equality. More than other thinkers in Quebec, his ideas were in harmony with the political reality of his times. Much of Laurendeau's post-World War II thought has been popularized and is still frequently cited as forming the backbone for a political solution to the Quebec/Canada impasse.

Laurendeau assumed an active role in several groups during his life. In 1932, at the age of 20, he co-founded the Jeune-Canada movement with, among others, Pierre Dansereau, who became its president, Lucien L'Allier, and Gerard Filion. Its founding members were active participants in the Cercle Cremazie, a literary group that met at College Sainte-Marie (Dansereau 1990, 180-81).

The Jeune-Canada movement was initially characterized by its xenophobia. Although it was not anti-immigrant, "old stock" French culture was to be promoted. At the time, the role of the Church was considered essential to the survival and strengthening of French-Canadian culture in North America (Anctil 1990, 231).

Early in his public life one finds expressions of Laurendeau's anti-Semitism. For example, he delivered an anti-Semitic speech during a meeting of Jeune-Canada in April 1933 (Anctil 1988, 112-13). Laurendeau was clearly influenced by Abbe Lionel Groulx during that period. Groulx and Arthur Laurendeau, Andre's father, pursued many common objectives as demonstrated by their involvement in the Action francaise, and later in their founding of the Action nationale in 1933, five years after the former went bankrupt.

In 1934, Laurendeau defended the relationship between nationalism and Catholicism while editor-in-chief of Le Semeur, the journal of the Association catholique de la jeunesse canadienne-francaise. He left Le Semeur and the Jeune-Canada movement the following year to study in France.

It was during his time in France that Laurendeau's position on nationalism changed. He saw firsthand the atrocities committed against Jews in Europe and the intolerance that could be associated with nationalism. His time in Paris from 1935 to 1937, while attending lectures by some of France's leading intellectuals at the Sorbonne, the College de France, and the Institut catholique represents a turning point in the evolution of his political thought. This "ravissement parisien" (1) had many repercussions, the most important of which was to link nationalism with the liberal ideas and social concerns that increasingly characterized his worldview. His principal mission upon his return to Quebec was to emphasize the relationship between the national and social dimensions of the French-Canadian question, later called "neo-nationalism."

In a letter sent to Abbe Groulx in 1936, one can sense that Laurendeau no longer accepts the prevailing leadership in Quebec. He wrote: "I met some new men and some new groups, from Catholic teachers to Marxist writers. At least this helps to broaden my perspective. I am trying to open myself to all the influences that appear to be good, even though there may be some risk involved.

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