The French Canadians, 1760-1945

The French Canadians, 1760-1945

The French Canadians, 1760-1945

The French Canadians, 1760-1945

Excerpt

This book is essentially an attempt to explain why the French Canadians live, think, act, and react differently from Englishspeaking North Americans. It is also an account of what French Canadians call le fait français en Amérique--the French fact in North America--for only by tracing the intellectual and cultural history of French Canada from its beginnings can present-day Quebec be understood. French-Canadian culture is an intricate amalgam of the French heritage, the North American environment, and Roman, British, and American influences. The unifying thread in French-Canadian history is the spirit known as 'nationalism', which is actually an intense provincialism mingled with ethnic and religious factors. Therefore somewhat disproportionate attention will be devoted to the extremists of a generally placid and easy-going people, who possess a singular devotion to the golden mean as a rule of life; for this is an attempt to explain differences, not to stress resemblances.

This book is also the story of the ceaseless struggle of a minority group to maintain its cultural identity in the face of all manner of conscious and unconscious pressures to conform to the dominant civilization of other ethnic groups and another culture. The French Canadians are the Sinn Feiners of North America, for their strong group consciousness and cohesiveness arise from a basic loneliness and insecurity. It is the sense of 'ourselves alone' that motivates efforts at enhancement by stressing French Canada's peculiar ties with France and Rome. The attitudes of minority groups can often be explained only in psychological terms, and French Canada is no exception to this rule. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, one of the most eminent French Canadians, who had a profound understanding of both French and English Canadians, once formulated this fact in the observation that 'Quebec does not have opinions, but only sentiments.' So this history will be in some measure a psychological study, whose findings may have some general validity for other minority groups.

Intellectual and cultural history is one of the broadest forms of non-specialized science. This book will be based on constitutional and political history, though by no means confined to it. It will use economic history and sociology, which do much to explain intellectual developments in this instance; it will employ literary and artistic . . .

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