Quebec today: a crisis of transcendence?

Historian, sociologist, writer, Gérard Bouchard teaches at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi in the history, sociology / anthropology, political science and international cooperation programs. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Collective Imaginaries.

After wishing and welcoming the Quiet Revolution very favorably, eminent intellectuals such as Fernand Dumont, Jacques Grand’Maison, Pierre Vadeboncœur and others have become extremely harsh critics of it. Its course would have been diverted to the point of destroying the old tradition, and even most of French-Canadian culture. It would thus have sacked the old values ​​and beliefs which formed the basis of our society and ensured its social cohesion.

In addition, these “references” which served as collective benchmarks would not have been replaced. The Quiet Revolution will therefore have given birth to a void that augured many evils from which Quebec would subsequently suffer, as was to be expected of a society without a compass, devoid of ideals and civic morality.

This thesis finds many followers today. However, to my knowledge, it has never been subjected to a rigorous examination, as if the intellectuals had allowed themselves to be intimidated by the stature of its authors. What would a critical review give?

We would first see that, although it has been hammered out with great authority and skillfully formulated in various ways, the thesis has never been demonstrated. In fact, one could argue the opposite version. The main national myths that supported French-Canadian society not only survived the Quiet Revolution, they were its driving force and manifested themselves more vigorously than ever. This is the case with the fight against colonialism, the independence movement (or sovereignty), the recovery of French Canadians, solidarity and the affirmation of the French-speaking minority – in particular its language. This was also the case with the quest for freedom, equality and social equity.

Spiritual fiber

We also wonder about the values, the ideals, the societal regime that would have been sacrificed. Are we talking about the supposed spiritual fiber of the French Canadian? It has certainly been affirmed and claimed for a long time by conservative, especially religious, elites. But are the traces within the population so obvious? Have we shown its expressions in popular circles, for example, or among secular elites? The same is true of the so-called ruralist “vocation” of this nation.

Perhaps we are referring more specifically to the vigor of religion? But if it is true that it declined radically in a few years after 1960, can we doubt that it was so firmly established? We also know that faith and practice were largely backed by a conformism encouraged by the very authoritarian supervision of the faithful, accompanied by sanctions. Having said that, there was undoubtedly a strong core of devotees, but it can be misled.

As for cohesion, not to say the harmony that old values ​​would have founded, how can they be reconciled with many well-documented traits of this society: elitist, under-literate, fundamentally unequal, subject to a dominating regime (at the expense of of women in particular), intolerant, little concerned with freedom and democracy, follower of censorship?

All this, ultimately, raises the question of the transcendence that would have been liquidated by the thoughtless radicalism of the 1960s. ‘House, sometimes angrily – The new class …, 1979). But what is it exactly?


In its traditional sense, the notion of transcendence refers to what is supernatural, divine. But it has come (even among theologians) to also designate an order of going beyond which can operate in the sphere of humanism. This is the case with the sacred, which may or may not be of religious origin. In the latter case, the sacred (we will also say the sacred) designates values, strongly implanted ideals which can inspire acts of exceptional altruism, for example: sacrificing one’s life for the cause of freedom, social justice or democracy. We know of very many examples of these acts which are the fact of unbelievers inspired by patriotism, nationalism or, more generally, humanism.

However, in the texts of the authors concerned here (at least those I have read), the transcendence in question is obviously of a religious nature, even if the thing is rarely stated explicitly. Even more, we catch a glimpse of the idea that only this type of transcendence can lead to the highest commitments and altruisms. It is ignoring the power of social or national myths and, again, the sacredness that often permeates the values ​​they embody. It is also cheapening the powerful myths that were at the heart of the Quiet Revolution – the ones I mentioned above.

The years 1960-1970 also coincided with cultural changes of another order. I am referring here to a new “morality”, unprecedented in our society, centered on the rejection of traditional mores, the repudiation of prohibitions, materialism, selfish, narcissistic individualism, the frantic quest for pleasures, that is to say the whole. traits that François Ricard has summed up in the concept of lyricism. However, it is wrong to see in this a harmful legacy of the Quiet Revolution. Solid international studies (those of Ronald Inglehart, in particular) have clearly shown that we were dealing with a vast current which swept across the West, having its source well beyond Quebec.

If one rejects this explanation, one places oneself in the obligation to demonstrate the close links – links of causality – which would make all these new fashions follow directly from the Quiet Revolution. It has never been done. As it has never been shown that this trend was the work of the majority of baby boomers.

The last element I want to comment on is the surprising intensity of the spite felt by Dumont and the others. It is a feeling that does not fit well with the progress recorded by the Quiet Revolution (of which I am not unaware of the failures elsewhere). I deduce that these intellectuals had conceived a very idealized vision of the changes heralded by the turmoil of the 1950s. Their expectations were disproportionate, utopian, fed by an extravagant and even a little naive vision. They inevitably led to bitter disappointments and too harsh judgments, without nuance.

Finally, do we know in the history of societies a reformist or revolutionary movement, even the most honest, the most virtuous, which realized the great dreams which animated it at its birth? Why should we be judged so harshly?

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