La Pensée Nationaliste De Lionel Groulx

By Cornett, Norman F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2005 | Go to article overview

La Pensée Nationaliste De Lionel Groulx


Cornett, Norman F., The Catholic Historical Review


La pensée nationaliste de Lionel Groulx. By Frédéric Boily. (Sillery, Canada: Les éditions du Septentrion. 2003. Pp. 229. $28.00.)

Frédéric Boily, a political scientist, addresses the nationalist rationale of Lionel Groulx (1878-1967), priest, man of letters, the foremost French-Canadian historian during the first half of the twentieth century, and doyen of Quebec nationalism. With reason, therefore, Boily declares Groulx "a creator of French-Canadian national identity"(p. 21, all translations mine). To do this, as Boily aptly observes in regard to French Canada,"Groulx had to devise an account of its origins and designate the founders of the nation: he needed to show the historic antecedence of the people so as to posit their perenniality throughout time" (p. 31). In this vein Boily asserts that Groulx embraced "organicist nationalism, namely, the school of thought that conceptualizes the nation as an historical being whose birth and development one can trace across the ages, just like the life of an individual" (p. 210).

Boily signals the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) as the source of such thinking and contends that, "The espousal of Herderian logic allowed Groulx to specify what distinguishes the French-Canadian nation from its neighbors, particularly by establishing Catholicism and language as the salient characteristics of its national ethos" (p. 211).

Meanwhile, Boily ultimately attributes Groulx's idea of the state to the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), who epitomized German idealism. Boily predicates that:

To see clearly his views on the State we must set Groulx back within a specific tradition which, on the principle of the nation's historic precedence, postulates its primacy over the State. In the organicist national construct the State lies inextricably linked to the nation . . . the one who gave credence to this concept is Fichte. (p. 118)

A noted pedagogue in contemporary French-Canadian society, Groulx, according to Boily, further followed Fichte in the conception of education as "a process that endeavors to integrate individuals into the nation and deepen their attachment to it" (pp. 176-177).

Boily also identifies Groulx's thought with Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). He maintains that in the spirit of this German philosopher Groulx decries post-World War II "technology for causing an entirely unparalleled state of affairs in human history since the sudden technological explosion so inverted the existing relationship between humanity and the world that it even altered individuals' souls" (p. 97).

To make his case Boily rallies around these German philosophers a host of French political thinkers familiar to Groulx. Boily especially mentions the conservative champion of Catholicism, Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), his liberal counterpart Charles de Montalembert (1810-1870), and the fervid nationalist writers Maurice Barrés (1862-1923) and Charles Maurras (1868-1952). Between their thought and Groulx's Boily perceives "profound structural analogies" (p. 129) so that the reader frequently encounters quotations from Groulx immediately qualified by statements like: "This echoes what Herder wrote in 1769" (p. 39); "again calling to mind Heidegger" (p. 96);"in line with Fichte's argumentation" (p. 121).

Boily necessarily resorts to analogizing because, as he confesses, Groulx "to my knowledge never quotes Herder" (p. 25). This apparently also holds true for Fichte and Heidegger. Their absence from the Groulxian corpus, one of the largest in Canadian literature, vitiates Boily's thesis. Moreover, with regard to Herder and Groulx, Boily admits that the latter's "personal library, although well stocked, does not contain a sole work by this thinker" (p. 25). Indeed it does not have a single book by or about Herder, Fichte, or Heidegger-a fact that undermines Boily's theory since Groulx's extant private collection includes hundreds of philosophical titles. …

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