Saturday, May 08, 2010

Trudeau, Levesque, and the Spectre of Fascism

The Champions presets the story of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, and of the paths that led them to their epic historical confrontation over the future of Quebec within Canada.

While Trudeau's and Levesque's paths periodically diverged and converged, each man had a common ideological denominator: early bruahes with European fascism.

As Max and Monique Nemni note in Young Trudeau, Trudeau wasn't always a federalist. In fact, he grew up admiring fascist leaders like Benito Mussolini and Phillipe Petain. His admiration for fascism was more than merely a passing appreciation of the uniforms, as The Champions seems to suggest.

According to the Nemnis, as a youth Trudeau favoured the creation of Quebec as a decentralized corporatist French-language Roman Catholic state. He even imagined himself returning to Quebec to lead a revolution in its favour.

A great many of the Canadians who have subscribed to the Trudeau political mythology can be quite resentful of this inconvenient truth -- that Canada's prototypical liberal would ever entertain fascist ideas. (One can expect that resentment to be particularly pronounced in certain individuals who loathe Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, despite not actually understanding it.)

But, as the film points out, Trudeau's flirtation with fascist ideas may have been the fancies of a youth who did not fully understand those ideas. As The Champions points out, his experiences in wartime Europe turned him off from the ideas of nationalism and corporatism -- ideas that had so captivated him in his youth.

Rene Levesque had his own run-in with European fascism. When Mussolini was hung in Milan, Levesque witnessed the dying gasps of Italian fascism.

It's on this note that it should be unsurprising that Trudeau and Levesque were brought together in the struggle against Maurice Duplessis' Union Nationale government -- the closest thing to fascism Canada has ever seen.

Trudeau and Levesque took differing paths in their struggle against Duplessis' government. They both started off using their legal skills in support of labour activism. Following that, Trudeau helped found Cite Libre and Levesque joined the Quebec Liberal Party.

Just as their methods of fighting Duplessis' government diverged, so did their views on Quebec's role within Canada. While Trudeau -- who had since run for and won election to the House of Commons -- chose the path of federalism, Levesque chose the path of separatism and nationalism.

Levesque's decision helped give birth to the modern form of Quebec separatism which has traversed a very thin line between democratic legitimacy and nationalist fascism.

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