Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 11, 2006
Young Trudeau tried to follow Pius XI
Released in June, Max and Monique Nemni's book Young Trudeau created a sensation for unearthing Pierre Trudeau's pre-1944 views favouring an elitist, separate, Catholic, French Quebec that would tilt strongly towards fascism.
Trudeau was no mere intellectual, being outspoken publicly and also being a leader of a secret group that wanted to overthrow the Quebec government and set up a revolutionary Laurentian state. "We must remember that authority comes from above, not from below: we condemn parliamentary democracy and liberalism," he wrote.
The future prime minister read many fascist and Nazi sympathizing authors, approving of their work and remaining silent about their anti-Semitism.
While much of the media commentary on the Nemni's work focused on Trudeau's appalling views, few mentioned that he felt that he derived those views from Catholic social teaching, in particular from Pope Pius XI's 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. Trudeau was educated by Jesuits and, far from rebelling against what he was taught, he absorbed their teachings thoroughly. The spiritual leader of his revolutionary secret society was a Jesuit.
Trudeau - and many others - read Quadragesimo Anno and believed that it taught that there was a third way between socialism and capitalism known as corporatism. Corporatism seeks to abolish the tension between social classes through a new social order that abolishes trade unions, and eliminates democracy and the party system.
It seeks harmony in society and, to ensure harmony prevails, a benevolent dictator runs the state and imposes a collective morality.
While the belief that corporatism was part of Catholic social teaching was prevalent in Quebec in the 1930s and early '40s, that view was disputed by many at the time. In France, for example, leading Catholic social thinkers, such as Jacques Maritain, favoured democracy, freedom and respect for minorities. In English-speaking North America, Quadragesimo Anno gave a strong boost to Catholic efforts at solidarity with the poor, such as the Catholic Worker movement and the Antigonish movement, based in Nova Scotia.
In his encyclical, Pope Pius explicitly rejected Italian fascism, harshly criticized the concentration of power in capitalist society and supported the ownership of property by workers.
The Second Vatican Council made it clear that Catholicism was not promoting "a third way" between capitalism and socialism. The Church does not paint a picture of the perfect society. Catholic social teaching offers moral principles rooted in both faith and nature. Its implementation does not require a Catholic-dominated political system. "All people of good will" should, in their own way, be able to subscribe to the principles of Catholic social teaching and implement them as best they can.
In the 1930s, Church teaching in this area was far less refined than it is today. As well, there was still a widespread lingering feeling that something had been lost when, in a few countries, Catholicism had ceased to be the state religion.
Today, we do not seek the return of Christendom when the roles of Church and state were hopelessly muddied. Unfortunately, the alternative many desire is that of the totally secular society in which universal moral principles and the voice of faith are sidelined by the pursuit of a false conception of individual freedom.
Church and society are in the midst of a messy transition in redefining their relationship, a transition that began as far back as the French Revolution.
The Nemnis' book, while overstating Catholic support for corporatism, does give insight into one period of Quebec history when enthusiasm for Catholic social teaching took some very bright people down a dark alley.
- Glen Argan
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