The author is a historian, sociologist, writer and retired teacher from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi in the history, sociology, anthropology, political science and international cooperation programs. His research focuses on collective imaginations.
Renowned intellectuals for whom I have great respect totally or largely reject the legacy of the Quiet Revolution and plead for a return to French Canada. Their reasons are numerous and vary from one (or one) to another. Here is a sample.
Critique of the Quiet Revolution:
-It has destroyed and even abolished memory.
-With the change from “French Canadian” to “Quebecois”, it made a mockery of our true identity, causing a crisis that still rages today.
-She broke with the founding values of French Canada: social cohesion, solidarity, ideals, religion and spirituality, the ordering of statuses and classes.
-It cast a falsely negative (“shameful”) image on our past.
-It gave birth to an irresponsible, materialistic generation, devoted to the cult of the Self, devourer of public resources, escaped into artificial paradises, leaving behind a scorched earth.
-She has designed an artificial nation (a “tinkering”) which claims to replace the previous one based on an organic unity, cemented by duration and homogeneity.
-It has destroyed the social capital forged over a long history.
-It gave birth to a disoriented society by ransacking the old culture without replacing it (the “vacuum” thesis).
Criticism of criticism
Here, briefly formulated, are the questions and objections that can be submitted against this argument, based on well-established data.
-French-Canadian society showed deficiencies, elements of backwardness and stagnation affecting in particular the economic and social condition of Francophones, schooling and the content of education, the state of science and technology. It granted an excessive place to the Church in the management of society, thus allowing it a very severe control of ideas and mores. Secular elites, mostly conservative, condemned important aspects of Western-led modernity. Added to this were arbitrary, inconsistent management of the state, trivialized electoral corruption, various forms of discrimination, an elitist education system, a flawed democracy…
Hence my question: What do we find to regret, what would we like to return to, exactly?
-About the “vacuum”, what do we do…
a) the ferment of the 1960s and 1970s in the arts, letters and sciences, b) the construction of a society more concerned with equality, rights, secularism, pluralism, democracy, development, economic affirmation of Francophones, c) the quest for increased political autonomy and sovereignty, d) the women’s emancipation movement, e) the redefinition of nationalism, now based on audacity and progress rather than on conservation and survival, f) general renewal of values, aspirations and commitments?
– The memory has not been abolished. The past has been reinterpreted to better respond to the questions of time and memory has been doing very well, in fact like never before. Evidenced by the renewed interest of Quebecers in their history from the 1960s.
-The identity has been redefined to purge it of its anachronistic traits: the small people with a rural vocation supported by large families, subject to their Church and to Providence, called to spirituality, faithful reproduction of the “real” France .
-Community life has certainly been disrupted by urbanization, industrialization, the leisure revolution and new modes of social regulation, as in all societies engaged in modernization.
-The Quiet Revolution broke with practices and a socio-political organization unfit to face the challenges posed by a renewal of lifestyles in the West. For example: was the French-Canadian nation equipped to cope with the emerging forms of a renewed capitalism? Spread from coast to coast, would it have been capable of the vigorous political mobilization carried out in Quebec? Penetrated by its homogeneity, what status would it have reserved for minorities and immigrants?
-Radical criticism of the Quiet Revolution does not do justice to what it accomplished: the many social policies (including free health care), the democratization of education, the protection and extension of trade unionism in neglected social categories, the modernization of state management, the socio-economic recovery of Francophones. These measures have benefited and still benefit the entire population — to varying degrees for some of them, it is true.
-Where are the rigorous investigations confirming a) the thesis of the general decline caused by the Quiet Revolution and b) that of present-day Quebec as a “disoriented” society? From the 1960s, our society gradually became integrated into the life of the planet. It has benefited greatly from this, while inevitably suffering backlashes that take various forms. Isn’t blaming the reorientations of the 1960s on chronological confusion?
-The devastating thesis of François Ricard on the betrayal of baby boomers has seduced many. Perhaps distracted by the finesse, the elegance of the demonstration, the critics paid little attention to its fundamental ambiguity: did it draw the portrait of an entire generation as has been said or only of a noisy minority?
I insisted on what invalidates the criticisms stated above. To be fair, one would have to add what the Quiet Revolution did wrong; where it has failed and where its interventions have been harmful. We should also mention several changes attributed to it, but which were already in progress or even very advanced before 1960. There is therefore room for perfectly justified criticisms of the classic vision of the 1960s. theses commented here.