Since 1960, liberals have completely dominated the political, intellectual and social landscape in Quebec. There is hardly a single consistently conservative voice in Quebec today.
Before 1960, the conservative movement in Quebec, denounced as “clérico-nationaliste” (priest-ridden and nationalist) by the late Pierre Trudeau, was nationalist and Catholic and included important intellectuals like historian Robert Rumilly and Father Lionel Groulx. Maurice Duplessis had been continually elected between 1944 and 1959 with the support of traditional, Catholic and rural Quebec.
In a recent doctoral thesis defended at York University, the young historian Xavier Gélinas tried to understand why this right wing trend almost totally disappeared after 1960. Firstly, the Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Léger, began to accept the secularization of Quebec society, leaving the traditionalists without their main ally. The Quebec Church surrendered to the leftist movements without resistance.
Secondly, the nationalist question was hijacked by left wing groups (like Parti Pris and RIN) and the Liberal Party of Quebec (which, under Jean Lesage, would eventually guide the Quiet Revolution). The old nationalists like Groulx, Rumilly and Barbeau (founder of the corporatist Alliance Laurentienne) would be quickly marginalized by the new nationalists (néo-nationalistes) and the federalists (like Pierre Trudeau and Gérard Pelletier).
The Quiet Revolution intellectuals have dominated Quebec society. Those who prepared the cultural and political revolution, particularly under the direction of Father Georges-Henri Lévesque at the Laval University Faculty of Social sciences (like Fernand Dumont, Guy Rocher, Léon Dion, Jean Marchand) and with the journal Cité libre (Trudeau, Pelletier, Pierre Vadeboncoeur, Marcel Rioux), and their students and disciples (like René Durocher, Gérard Bouchard, Robert Comeau) have held a kind of liberal Magisterium that could not be socially and politically criticized.
At least until now. In the last five or 10 years, a new generation of intellectuals has arisen. They were born after 1955 (post baby boom), they have not experienced the “Ancien Régime” under Duplessis and they have not studied in “classical colleges” (priest-run, traditional and elitist high schools destroyed by the rapport Parent in 1964). They have a completely different concept of Quebec society than the baby boomers who are still controlling the cultural and political institutions in Quebec. In fact, they generally react against them. They do not believe any more in the myth of the “Grande noirceur” (great darkness), which was supposed to prevail before the coming of the enlightenment in 1960 and upon which the Quiet Revolution was built. They were very disappointed by the great economic and professional difficulties that they had to face when they were adults because of the irresponsibility of the Quiet Revolution gurus. The results of high deficits, the welfare state and enormous bureaucracy were a weak economy and unemployment (particularly in the universities) for the young generation. They had to suffer in Quebec’s Americanized schools the weakness of a purely pragmatic and technical education. In 1988, 50 per cent of French Quebec students failed the fairly easy university entrance exam in French. The elimination of the spiritual heritage is felt as a great loss for Quebec society: the triumph of disenchantment, an empty world.
There is a real hope with this new generation that strives to find again the French Canadian political, intellectual and spiritual tradition. At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 90s, Jean Renaud, born in 1957, and the journal Le Beffroi played the role of precursor. In his book En attendant le désastre: Essai sur la pensée réactionnaire, Renaud showed a great maturity and, in the line of the French counter-revolutionary masters (Joseph de Maistre, Bishop Gaume, Louis de Bonald, Charles Maurras), he criticized radically the modern world: the first step of the reconstruction is the demolition. Serge Cantin, in the line of the old Fernand Dumont who saw at the end of his life the disorientation of the Quiet Revolution, has recently strongly attacked the intellectuals (particularly Gérard Bouchard, Lucien Bouchard’s brother) who would like to forget the French Canadian identity in order to invent a new homo quebecensis (le “Québécois”) without roots and tradition.A group of young historians and sociologists are opposed to Gérard Bouchard and his old mythology in which the Quiet Revolution is the final achievement of Quebec history and the joyful death of the French Canadian nation. With this healthy critique, the deconstruction of the Quiet Revolution myth, we can hope that those young intellectuals are preparing a moral and intellectual reform in Quebec that is greatly needed for the survival of the French Canadian culture.