TWO SOLITUDES Revisited

HUGH MACLENNAN December 14 1964

TWO SOLITUDES Revisited

HUGH MACLENNAN December 14 1964

TWO SOLITUDES Revisited

HUGH MACLENNAN

A noted author and a distinguished historian turn penetrating looks on Canada’s Confederation dilemma. Starting on this page, Hugh MacLennan, whose book Two Solitudes first drew wide attention to the growing conflict between the Canadian cultures, gives his views of the simple though painful solution that both sides must adopt. On the opposite page, A. R. M. Lower weighs the cost — and gains — of a more radical remedy

THE TIME HAS COME in Canada for us to be our own judges and to cease worrying, for the moment, about our “image" in the eyes of an indifferent world. After the Queen's visit here last October, several English newspapers declared that Canada’s shame was broadcast to everyone. 1 wonder if this matters? We are human, and events like those that occurred in Quebec have happened among every people who ever forged a nation out of human material. 1 prefer to look at it in another way. Canada's realities were at last made manifest to Canadians from coast to coast and we can't dodge them any longer.

Some men are born mature, some achieve maturity and some have maturity thrust upon them. Born mature we certainly were not, and almost every device known to propaganda has been employed for many years to prevent us from growing up. Now we know we must either grow up or perish. To paraphrase still another famous sentence: If you knows

of a better ’ole than Canada, go to it! We live in one of the world’s richest countries and our wealth has come so suddenly we have failed to grasp its implications. The events in Quebec City on October 10 indicate that certain other people have been less unobservant. The handful of separatists introduced into the city on that day was very small — apparently the city itself could not furnish enough separatists to fill a good-size street corner. Most of them were young, some were hardly more than children, but behind them was an organization.

Certain older men were observed moving quietly among those young enthusiasts, speaking in low voices and controlling the movements of the demonstrators. Who were they? Nobody seems to know. But it was they who caused the demonstrators to mingle with peaceable citizens and confuse the police to the point where some of the police lost their heads. This was exactly what was desired by some foreign journalists who cared nothing about Canada’s welfare so long as they got pictures and a sensational story to send home. So the separatists were given millions of dollars' worth of free publicity.

To anyone who remembers the 1930s, these tactics were very familiar. It was not the Queen those men sought to discredit, it was not even the federal government. It was the government and police of Quebec. The law-enforcement officers are always the targets of take-over groups. Whether Canadians or outsiders were responsible for this demonstration does not matter: these classic techniques of revolutionary groups were not invented here. If we fall victim to them, if we let these men, whoever they are, play on our innocence to divide us further, we will lose our heritage.

As things have turned out, the troublemakers were routed on October 10. We may therefore be profoundly grateful to the Queen’s courage in coming here, and to the steadfastness of Prime Minister Pearson and Premier Lesage in refusing to have her visit cancelled.

Can Canadians accept Canada? The operative word is “can,” for the evidence is overwhelming that, on both sides of the linguistic fence, the majority of us wish to. But can we accept new realities that run deeply counter to two long and very different courses in psychological conditioning? The infantile conduct of many members of our federal parliament in the last half of its 1964 session suggests that this is not going to be easy.

Milton should be living at this hour; he should be living in Ottawa:

l did but prompt the age to quit their cloggs By the known rides of antient libertie When strait a barbarous noise environs me Of owles and cuckoes, asses, apes and doggs.

We all know that Mr. Diefenbaker is chiefly responsible for the virtual destruction of Canadian federal government in 1964, but not even he could have stage-managed it so successfully had not the back benches been groaning under the weight of others who proved themselves so insulated against history that they might just as well be living in 1910. They, and their attitude toward their responsibilities, are luxuries no human community can afford today. Sooner or later the country at. large will have to rise up and deliver to these obstructors of legislation and discreditors of the parliamentary process its own version of Cicero’s words to a politician two thousand years ago: “How much longer are you going to abuse our patience? How much farther is your irresponsible impertinence going to go? Which one of us do you think is ignorant of what you are up to?”

Can French Canadians accept Canada? In the English-speaking provinces this seems the sole question that matters.

In Qubec today the outlines of a vague consensus slowly become apparent. What does Quebec want? That familiar question can now be answered precisely. After living for two centuries in a deep-freeze, French Canadians want to succeed as French C anadians within the world community — which means that they wish to succeed within their own linguistic culture in so far as they can. The great majority of them would prefer to continue in Confederation, but they are frustrated by the kind of Confederation we have now. Who isn’t?

Yet I doubt if even French Canadians themselves understand how

deeply disturbed is their present psychological condition. Quebec is like a patient working himself through a long and painful course in psychoanalysis; the pain is the more intense because the analysis has been so long delayed. Things that were taboo for centuries are now being uttered. But those who utter these things, like adolescents unable to pronounce the exact words, seem to be resorting to a kind of cypher language, misunderstood by outsiders who take words at their face value. When rioting Quebec students loudly chanted à bas les Anglais, or la police an service des Anglais, were les Anglais the sole, or even the most important, target?

Think of it in human terms as a psychologist would. La belle province is a woman and her image is cradle-sweet. English Canada has always been the external, dominating, visible force which, in their eyes, has disregarded or frustrated the mother. But is English Canada the only repressive figure? Has there not been another authority far better known and close to home, far more repressive than the remote Anglais could ever be, more productive of fears and guilts too terrible to utter in words?

When young people seek to rid themselves from the discipline of a stern Jansenistic church, they always turn to substitutes. In modern Quebec there have been two of these. One is nationalism, the other Marxism, and if the two combine the result is that ugly thing called National Socialism. A year ago we heard its voice for the first time in Montreal.

At the formal opening of the Place des Arts, when the political dignitaries entered the world's finest concert hall followed by the minks and dress suits of Quebec's new affluent society, jeering separatists shouted at them, “A bas les bourgeois! Les bourgeois au poteau!

The undertone in Quebec now is much more responsible than it was a year ago. Leading clerical and lay authorities have at last come forward to denounce violence and to proclaim that every realistic effort be made to preserve Confederation, provided that French Canadians are accorded what they think is their rightful place in it. So far as middleaged Quebeckers are concerned, especially the moderates now in control of affairs, reasonable co-operation is assured if the English-speaking majority realistically and firmly meets them half way. But if we are to do this, we must keep true perspectives.

Last winter in France I discovered that some of our worst difficulties here, which we think uniquely our own, are in fact universal. The two supreme postwar social facts are of course the population explosion and the incomprehensible growth of scientific knowledge. Together these are responsible for this new kind of unrest that afflicts every society in the West, our own included. The one causes high prices and overcrowding in cities, the other upsets old faiths and psychological securities. At such a time it is inevitable that people do all manner of things without really understanding why they do them. At such times the youth cannot help being the most restless and confused of all.

The riots, for instance: they have become such a universal modern phenomenon that in Florida during the presidential election last fall teenage girls broke the barriers to do something that surely was unreasonable — they wanted to kiss Lyndon B. Johnson! In Quebec this youthful restlessness is particularly dangerous because at the moment it has latched onto a political situation profoundly emotional. From this it follows that no matter what kind of a patch-up job Canada’s elders may do, the nation's ultimate future is going to depend on whether those who are now students at Quebec's French-language colleges, and those who are students at colleges where English is used, will be able, fifteen years from now, to respect, value and understand each other well enough to work together intelligently. They don’t understand each other now. How can they? They almost never meet.

Living as 1 do in Montreal and working with students, 1 suppose I have a certain vantage point, but I don't profess to know them well, least of all those at the Université de Montréal. Some common denominators certainly exist between them and the students of McGill: they are the same age, their sexual mores arc equally frank, most of them are more affluent than the students of a generation ago, most of them are resentful of authority. But it is no exaggeration that the students of McGill and the U. of M. seem to live in two different nations, even though their universities are only two miles apart. They look differently, to some extent they dress differently, their manners arc different and so are many of their most important thoughts.

The most important difference is this: while the McGill students are easily recognizable, as general types, to those who knew the McGill campus a generation ago, those of the U. of M. are not. We have never seen their like before. We could not see their like before, because even a generation ago the French-Canadian middle class was too small to produce a large student body. Also in the past, the French-language universities educated mainly for the church and the professions. If a student was not ambitious to become a priest, he was apt to study law as the swiftest route to politics.

It is not like that in Quebec now. The overcrowded universities are teaching the same variety of subjects studied elsewhere on the continent, but with a difference — very many of their students were first trained in the old-fashioned classical colleges. The French-Canadian students’ knowledge of being a new force in their society has given them an extraordinary solidarity, an aggressive self-confidence mixed with a deep insecurity which makes them feel that they are standing at bay against the rest of the world. They are stimulated by two immense prides: the conviction that they are going to change and ultimately dominate French Canada; the belief that, by using new methods, they will finally vindicate that ancient pride that has always held French Canada together — the pride of the unappreciated.

Let me introduce you to two very different French-Canadian students

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The troubled young student asked, “Do you understand why it’s hell to be French Canadian?”

whom I have met and talked with.

The first was a young man who visited me about two years ago Iotan interview for his college paper. His first question was: “Do you understand why it's such hell to be a French Canadian?” This boy was in his last year at a classical college and is now, presumably, at the Université de Montréal. He had beautiful manners, his speech was fluent and wellchosen, he had a wide and very real culture in Latin, Greek and medieval philosophy. He was anticlerical without being hostile to religion or the church as such. His soul was torn by two conflicting passions: desire to fulfil himself as a human being and an equally strong compulsion to do his duty to his own French-Canadian society. He was not anti-English — he had been entertained in Toronto the year before and had been so hospitably received there that he had abandoned his old notion that les Atipláis were ogres. He asked me the most important question one Canadian can ask another: “Why is it that French and English in Canada think cl i f I eren 11 y about almost everything?”

It was a question I thought I could answer. In the French-Canadian classical colleges the study of philosophy is dominated by St. Thomas Aquinas, and when we contrast Thomism (as St. Thomas's system is called) with Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, we may legitimately wonder how Canada has managed to survive at all.

The Thomist seeks, and expects to find, a formal coherence in all human experience. To what the philosophers call “being,” he attributes certain properties he calls "modes”: the

prime modes of “being.” for a Thomist, are unity, truth and goodness.

But the pragmatic rejects all formal, “transcendent" principles and believes that “the true” is only “the expedient." Though the average North American is usually unaware of this, his attitude is the end product of a philosophical development that began after St. Thomas with the French skeptic René Descartes, continued through the English empirical thinkers, and came to rest finally in the pragmatism of William James. Expressed in practical living, the pragmatist’s judgment ol the good is entirely practical. Anything that works is good. Anglo-Canadians (whether they know this consciously or not) are pragmatists almost to a man.

In Canada the results of two such diametrically opposite attitudes toward life, Thomism and pragmatism, have been more formidable than the language barrier. The Thomist is a verbal man; the pragmatist seldom is. It is of agonizing importance to the 1 homist that his world be coherent in all its parts. The pragmatist is so little interested in formal coherence that so long as his society is efficient and prosperous, this suffices him unless and until he collapses onto a psychiatrist's couch.

This is why the current Canadian dialogue breaks down constantly. The French Canadian sincerely believes that his Anglo-Canadian compatriot is being deliberately unjust in his disregard of guaranteed French-Canadian rights, when often the Anglo-Canadian does not know that such rights exist (in a class of sixty McGill students. for instance, I discovered only seven with any knowledge of the BN A Act), or takes it for granted that if these rights interfere with efficiency

they are too impractical to bother about.

After the riot in front of the TCA (now Air Canada) office in Montreal last winter, Walter O'Hearn of The Montreal Star noted most astutely that the real cause of the affair was the conflict between Canada’s prevailing philosophies. To the pragmatic president of the airline, Gordon McGregor, the only issue was whether the plane he was buying was technically superior to its competitors. But the students,

whose minds had been molded in a Thomist chmate, saw the situation differently. They seemed to take it for granted that if a crown company shopped abroad for aircraft, and wished to buy a Boeing (a product of AngloSaxon technology) it should also, in deference to national unity, match this with a Caravelle, a product of Latin technology. When McGregor pointed out how absurd this attitude was, they could only feel at a greater disadvantage than before.

Even my student from the classical college had asked me, “What place has a man educated like myself in this Anglo-Saxon world?” As I myself had had a classical education, I told him 1 had often asked the same question when [ was his age. 1 lacked the heart to add that in the Quebec of tomorrow the old classicism he loved will probably he as obsolete as the surviving mandarins in modern China.

And this brings me to a very different kind of student. This second

young man was studying engineering and he was bitter in his belief that Anglo-Canada loads the dice against French Canadians.

"It would take me at least two years,” he said, "to learn how to speak English perfectly, and 1 have neither the time nor the money for that. An Anglais speaking worse French than my English can walk out of McGill and get a job after an interview. But me. I’ll have to handle that interview in my bad English and I'll be

downgraded on account of that and not on account of my engineering ability. It's unfair. The English and Americans control all the business here and they’ve not even tried to learn French."

"Some of them are trying now." I interrupted.

"It doesn't matter. They're too busy and old to learn it properly. In any interview, you have to talk English to them. Quebec is my home and 1 want to live here in French, and not

in English from nine to five on the job. Have you ever been tired, or sick, or in a hurry and been forced to speak in another language? It does something to you. It’s exhausting, and I'm sick of it. Unless we make ourselves masters in our own home, our lives aren't worth living."

This second young man was not a separatist — not yet. Like many others, he was waiting to see. But you will have noted how different he was to my classical student — he was as pragmatic as any McGill undergraduate 1 know. If a place can be found for him — and there is no reason why it should not be found — he would forget separatism tomorrow.

However — and this is what makes the current situation in Quebec so neurotic and ticklish — many of the most articulate spokesmen of the young generation have had their minds formed under the old system. So, while they repudiate the past, they know in their hearts that a dynamic pragmatic Quebec, competing with Anglo-Saxon technology, will be able to offer to very lew of them the kind of personal fulfillment that they crave.

Now I must turn to an aspect of this subject which 1 speak about with extreme reluctance because it smacks of partisan politics. I beg of you to believe that 1 have never been a party man; I would vote for any party 1 thought could best serve this country. But nobody can overlook the effects of what Peter Newman has called The l) ie fe n h a k er Years.

Mr. Diefenbaker had no hostility to Quebec, but it was his tragedy that he completely failed to understand the least important thing about the Silent Revolution. He himself represented a resurgence of the west, which believes in a melting pot society. At the very moment when Quebec was stronger and more ambitious than she had even been before. Diefenbaker proclaimed everywhere that his chief aim — he even said it was the reason why he went into public life — was to promote what he called "un-hyphenated Canadianism." When Gordon Churchill followed this up with his now-famous boast that his party had proved it possible to form a government without depending on Quebec for a single seat, the lid blew off in la belle province and the separatist movement was born. Mr. Diefenbaker’s attitude toward Quebec was not, of course, responsible for the movement itself, but it was certainly the reason why no Quebec moderate dared denounce it until it grew so large that it got almost out of hand. For in the eyes of all French Canadians, Mr. Diefenbaker’s attitude meant only one thing: once again English Canada was out to assimilate them.

The Diefenbaker Years are over now, and if the nation survives the present crisis in its existence, who knows that in the future our historians may not agree that their weird combination of indecision and outmoded rhetoric were not necessary for Canada. Between 1950 and 1957 Canada had been sound asleep — Quebec writhing in a nightmare under Duplessis, the English provinces leaving everything to C. D. Howe. We are not asleep now. Realities we were not trained to face are crowding us so

closely it will be years before we can sleep.

One of these is going to be harder for the French than for the rest of us, because we have almost accepted it already. It is idle to pretend that we Canadians can be absolute economic masters in our own house, for we are tied past any unloosing into an American-based economic complex that is international in character. Often this seems independent of governments. Though our politicians flounder, our

prosperity is little affected by them. If a depression comes again, not even a government of geniuses could avert it here. René Levesque would soon find out, if he tried it, that no small nation can successfully indulge in the wholesale nationalizing of international enterprise. If she does so, the international capital merely moves out and leaves her stranded. Walter Gordon has already discovered that it is too late for Canada to buy herself out of what she has sold herself into.

This does not mean that government cannot modify and direct many aspects of this new affluent economy to its own advantage, but more and more we see it concentrating on new fields which in the past were much less costly and important than they arc now — cultural matters such as education, human matters such as health and welfare, mystical matters such as the national image.

This shift of governmental interests is, of course, responsible for the crisis

between Ottawa and the provinces, since so many of these new areas of activity come under provincial jurisdiction. How can a new balance be created without completely destroying the central authority? This is the most complex problem the nation faces; it would be desperately difficult even if Canada were not the home of two very different cultures. So, as always, we return to the basic Canadian question: how can the home be happy?

The facts of life here being what they are, no Anglo-Canadian realist can find fault, on principle, with Premier Lesage's declaration of FrenchCanadian federal requirements — a bilingual civil service, the same educational rights for French minorities that are granted to the English-speaking minority of Quebec, and — this above all — that Quebec be treated not as "just another province" like Manitoba or Prince Edward Island, but as the home and fortress of the French Fact in Canada with all that this implies. In constitutional reform, this means that English Canada as a whole must negotiate with French Canada as a whole. If Quebec is treated as just one of ten provinces, any constitutional dialogue will be doomed before the gentlemen sit down at the table to discuss it.

But even supposing that English Canada agrees with Lesage and is mature enough to shrug off the insults hurled at her recently by extremists — will this new youth of Quebec be able to accept what it means to be English Canada's partner?

Only time will answer that question for the roots of Quebec's psychological crisis are very deep and tangled. While Quebec's young men look to the future, they are still obsessed by the past, by wrongs real or imaginary. They are hurt by many a trauma out of the long, hard past of Quebec, resentful of what they believe has been done to their people by history, suspicious of their church, bewildered by their isolation in an English-speaking continent, all too willing to seek out scapegoats and blame others for their plight.

No wonder that English Canadians, hearing some of the cries of pain and rage from Quebec, have begun to shout back, “Stop blaming us for all your own faults! How can any sane man swallow all your talk about a lack of freedom when you control your own legislature, when not a single powerful English voice exists in any of your city halls, while at the same time French Canada is strongly represented in the federal cabinet?"

Yet, curiously enough, Quebec does have a case here, though it is much more applicable to the past than to the present. In the past, Quebec’s own self-isolation made it inevitable that English Canada set the tone and pace of our national life. Often that tone and pace excluded Quebec almost entirely.

The supreme experiences in our national history were the two world wars to which Anglo-C'anada’s Protestant crusading spirit, together with her affection to England, committed the entire nation. French Canadians fought in both wars, of course, but for different reasons. They were not buoyed up, they were depressed, by such patriotic songs as We’ll Never

Let The Old Flag Fall (1914) and There'll Always Be An England (1939). The conscription crises will not be forgotten for at least another generation in Quebec. Again, in the postwar boom, once more English Canada seemed to be going her own way regardless of Quebec. Many French Canadians, oblivious to the genuine spirit of Canadian nationalism in the English provinces, believed that their compatriots were such inbred colonials that they had shifted their loyalties from England to the United States. Nor is it easy to persuade them even now that colonialism is dead when they see how many AngloCanadians insist upon retaining the Red Ensign. It seems unreasonable to English Canada that the union jack should be still remembered as the flag of the conqueror, but in Quebec it is.

The final rub, the cruellest, is the language. No amount of legislation or goodwill on the part of the majority can do more than ease the burden the French Canadian carries so long as he retains his language, which he is absolutely determined to do. French will always be on the defensive in America; indeed, it is now on the defensive in Europe. In English it has found a competitor so formidable that English is now the second language of most countries in the world. The reason for this is very simple. Though English is less precise and melodious than French, its constructions are so loose and its grammar so elementary that it is a much easier language to learn.

Can Canadians accept Canada? Not in their present mood, it seems. We are too neurotic now. Both of our two solitudes are in the posture of the classic neurotic who knows that two plus two equals four but just can't stand it. Wc all know that we must either share this country sensibly or lose it like fools. Those Anglo-Canadians who talk glibly about joining the United States if life with Quebec becomes too uncomfortable, ignore the fact that the Americans have no intention of taking us in. Those Quebec politicians who talk dreamily about two associated states in a single state must surely know that no such arrangement could work.

Wc all know now that Canada’s two solitudes can never be welded. We should also know that, if this is to be a country valuable to mankind and pleasant to herself, there must be some love between the two cultures ol which she is composed.

“Love consists in this," said Rilke, “that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." 1 believe that in the future that condition may come, though in the past it never did. Wc were too indifferent to each other in the past, and everyone knows that indifference is fatal to love. Now, no matter what our troubles, we are indifferent no longer.

So I believe that these hard present years, no matter what their dangers, may yet appear in some future retrospect to have been our finest. The land is still there and it still belongs to us. We all love it, we all are bound to it, we all share it and in time it will probably save us as it did in the past — if only we could forget the bad things of the past. ★