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FRENCH CANADIANS AND DEMOCRACY IArthur Maheux The attitudes towards democracy of the two main groups, the English- and the French-speaking, of Canada are not quite, and can hardly be, the same. The difference in the interpretation of democracy creates some friction between both groups, as it is easy to see by reading the Canadian newspapers; it affects the efforts made to realize national unity. The word "unity" carries several meanings: it may mean total fusion, or amalgamation, or conglomeration , or moral nnion, moral entente; and there are at present partisans of all of these varieties. In a country composed of a large majority and many minorities, it is quite natural for the majority to wish that the minorities be absorbed into and identified with itself. Yet not all minorities are equally vulnerable. One whose culture is manifestly inferior would be easier to assimilate than one possessing a high culture. The last two World Wars, and the progress made by the new sciences, principally sociology and anthropology, have changed our opinion about cultures. It is commonly admitted today that any culture, even though considered inferior by us, should not be destroyed; and we regret and blame the extinction of the Mayas and the Incas, and we are inclined to protect the Maoris and the Basutos. We deplore racial segregation. We have come to think that our ancestors, our grandfathers, were wrong in their treatment of minorities, and especially here in Canada, in their treatment of the local Indians, the Acadians, the half-breeds, and even the French Canadians. French Canadians have inherited the French civilization; they know its high value; they want to preserve it, and add to it according to their own genius, while trying to come to a compromise over some details. English Canadians have also received a cultural heritage which they want to preserve. Since these inheritances are not exactly the same, they are bound to collide. If we ask a French Canadian what are the elements of his French heritage, he will list, in the following order, religion, 341 342 ARTHUR MAHEUX philosophy, language, literature, history, the fine arts, economics, law, and government. An English Canadian lists the same elements but he will put them in a different order: for him the first items on the list are government and economics; religion follows after; and by government he means democracy. That difference of opinion should not be slighted; it is of real importance in the daily life of the Canadian nation. If both groups disagree about the value and the working of democratic institutions , they are bound to clash, sometimes bitterly. Is it possible to discover the reasons why French Canadians do not hold the same opinions about or adopt the same attitude towards democracy as English Canadians? It is possible, in large measure, if we go back to the past, if we examine the teaching given to the people about government . Those who have shaped French-Canadian opinion in this matter are the clergy and the lay teachers. By clergy I mean bishops, parish priests, priests teaching in the seminaries and colleges; and those other teachers who, though not ordained, make up part of the clergy and are known as Brothers and Sisters. The lay leaders were the seigneurs, and, later, the lawyers and notaries, physicians, and lay teachers. Members of the clergy all received the same training, religious, philosophical, and classical, and their opinions on civil society sprang from the reading of Greek and Latin writers, from the study of ancient history, philosophy, and theology. These opinions were passed on by the priests to the body of teachers of all the lower grades, and to the people by means of sermons in the church and of teaching in the schools. The lay leaders also drank from the same spring; most of them passed through the classical,course, which included elaborate lessons in philosophy and a continuous study of religion. Can we say that classical studies necessarily inspire youth with a firm conviction that the democratic form of government is the best? It is doubtful. Of course, we admire the Athenians for their splendid effort, even though it turned into failure. When we read the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 341-351
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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