The Sins of the Abbé Groulx

“L’anti-sémitisme, non seulement n’est pas une solution chrétienne; c’est une solution négative et niaise.”
(“Antisemitism is not only an un-Christian solution; it is a negative and stupid solution”)
—Lionel Groulx
Action national, 1933


In 1969 Ramsay Cook published an anthology entitled French-Canadian Nationalism. He wanted to provide, in his own words, “an opportunity to understand the complex minds and emotions of French-Canadians as they debate the question that has been central to their entire history … la survivance.” In the introduction Cook explains that some of the pieces may appear long, but he wanted all the authors to be able to present their thought “in its integrity.” Indeed, of the 24 contributors, only two individuals were significant enough to have two contributions each.

Amongst this very impressive gallery of interpretation and exposition of French-Canadian nationalism one finds a rather remarkable text which addresses directly the Canadian dilemma: it is entitled “Why We Are Divided.” Within the parameters of the Canadian political culture of the time (among them the doctrine of Canadian national duality), the arguments offered in this polemical piece are very well informed and quite convincing. Among the premises advanced by the author is that of the essential fairness and decency of most English-Canadian historians who have addressed the question of French Canada, many of whom he knew personally. We can presume that the author of that judgment, Lionel Groulx (the author, along with Henri Bourassa, who had two texts included in Cook’s anthology), would have included Cook in this tradition of fairness.

A quarter of a century later, Groulx and Cook find themselves again between the same bookcovers: Cook as the author of an exuberant preface and Groulx, this time not as an intellectual worthy of having his thought presented in its integrity, but rather as the villain. The book in question is Esther Delisle’s The Traitor and the Jew: Antisemitism and the delirium of extremist right-wing nationalism in French Canada from 1929 to 1939. This book was the object of widespread critical acclaim in English-speaking Canada. In addition to the laudatory remarks by Ramsay Cook, the book was praised by writers such as David Rome, former archivist of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Lita-Rose Betcherman, author of The Swastika and the Maple Leaf, and received flattering interview pieces in The Globe and Mail and Saturday Night.

The Traitor and the Jew has a remarkable history that long predates its publication. In June 1991, Delisle touched off a furor by publishing a number of her findings in the widely circulated L’Actualité article. In this article, Delisle’s conclusions are laid out in a two-page “Document.” In a subsequent L’Actualité article six months later, the magazine itself took up her cause, accusing Laval University of dragging its feet in evaluating and accepting the thesis because members of the thesis committee were opposed for “ideological” reasons: “Une universitaire qui pourfend l’anti-sémitisme du Chanoine Groulx et des nationalistes qué,bécois des années 30 fait face à un véritable blocus institutionnel,” it reported.

Delisle’s book is also closely related to the recent work of Mordecai Richler. The latter’s famous article in the New Yorker drew extensively on Delisle’s work, and intensified the controversy. Groulx was held as an example by Richler to demonstrate that Quebec society was intolerant, marked by an open anti-semitism. Indeed, Richler said that Delisle’s research was a “godsend” for him and Delisle herself had remarked that she was looking forward to the appearance of Richler’s book because it would revive the debate on Groulx and anti-semitism, allowing her to bring to bear six years of research. The controversy drew in such high-profile media commentators as Lise Bissonnette of Le Devoir, Lysiane Gagon of La Presse, Denise Bombardier of Radio-Qébec and Hélène Pelletier-Baillargeon. The reaction of the French-language media to the Delisle hypothesis and her pretension that it was unacceptable that there was still a street, a subway station and a CEGEP named after Lionel Groulx was critical, to say the least … with, of course, the exception of L’Actualité and Cité Libre.

Lionel Groulx, the subject of the story, remains enigmatic and was largely forgotten until he was revived by Esther Delisle and Mordecai Richler. He was born in the village of Vaudreuil in l878 and studied at the Ste-Thérèse seminary. He was ordained priest and, from 1900 to 1915 taught history and literature at the college in Valleyfield. He studied theology in Europe between 1906 and 1909, witnessing a time in France when the Catholic Church came under intense fire.

Slowly, his reputation as a historian grew, one of a very few Quebec writers published regularly in this field. In 1915, he was appointed professor of Canadian history at the University of Montreal, and began to publish his history lectures. Groulx became increasingly critical of Confederation, but was also critical of American capitalists and, indeed, was often severely critical of the Québécois. He decided to act on his passions for teaching and to regenerate Quebec society. After the war, he became highly active in intellectual life. He involved himself in the Action française organization and, later, in Action nationale. Groulx edited Action française , and was equally active in the Action française organization. In 1947, he founded the scholarly Revue d’histoire de l’amérique française, a quarterly publication still published today, and in his career published 30 books as well as countless pamphlets, articles and submissions. He died in the spring of 1967.


What then is at the bottom of the controversy surrounding this priest, and why have the English and French perceptions of his work been so divergent? To explore this question, I want to begin with the work of Mordecai Richler, whose tirade against Groulx rocketed Esther Delisle to fame.

Delisle’s Doctoral thesis was accepted in September, 1992 by a vote of three in favour, two against. Professors Pierre Anctil and Guy Lafleur voted against, because major revisions asked for by the thesis committee had not been made.1 The whole process from the time of deposit of the thesis at the level of the Faculté des science sociales at Laval had taken just over two years: eighteen months since deposit at the École des études supérieures, this allowing six months for major corrections asked for. The controversy generated by the thesis controversy probably would have disappeared in good time, were it not for the amplification it received from Mordecai Richler’s use of its findings.

In Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!, beginning with the language debate and the Quebec government’s attempt to legislate the use of French, Richler protests that such legislation is illiberal and ill-advised, even ridiculous. His discussion is cast in terms of individual rights and the contemporary Canadian political culture that is enshrined in the Canada Act of 1982 and its entrenched charter.

Richler, despite his age, demonstrates an indifference and even disdain for the Canadian political culture of his youth, as witnessed by his treatment of the “notwithstanding clause.” It is presented as an aberration rather than what it is: the consequence of an attempt to reconcile the new “rights” dispensation with the very Canadian political institution of parliamentary sovereignty. The non-Canadian reader—and the book was manifestly written with Americans in mind—would never suspect that there were very legitimate reasons for this, perhaps botched, attempt to safeguard one of the major underpinnings of our political culture.

Richler’s commentary on the language issue leads to commentary on the emergence, in reaction to nationalism’s electoral success, of the Equality Party and its Jewish leader; to commentary in chapter eight on the Jewish question in Quebec, proceeding thus to commentary on the history of Quebec anti-semitism to which most of chapter nine is devoted. In chapter ten we are seized with the problem:

From the beginning, French-Canadian nationalism has been badly tainted by racism. The patron saint of the independentists, the Abbé Lionel Groulx was not only a virulent anti-Semite but also a nascent fascist, an unabashed admirer in the thirties of Mussolini, Dollfuss and Salazar.

In the succeeding eighteen pages readers are treated, among other things, to a detailed accusation of Groulx who, eight pages later, becomes a full-fledged fascist, as opposed to just a “nascent” facist. André Laurendeau of B & B Commission fame, and by association Jean Drapeau and Claude Ryan, are depicted as Groulx disciples propagating anti-semitism and extreme nationalism as manifested by the “Jeune-Canada” and the pages of L’Action nationale and Le Devoir. “It was a decade [1929-1939, the period covered by the Delisle study] in which the racist effusion of Le Devoir more closely resembled Der Stürmer than any other newspaper I can think of,” Richler writes. Duplessis was “a political thug” whose “band of bandits” were “inspired by unshackled greed.”

Concerned that “just about everything has been done to make Anglophone youth, even those who are fluently bilingual, feel unwelcome in Quebec” he concludes his book with the following, not entirely innocent (especially in the minds of foreign readers) allusion: “All I ask is that the new republic [an eventual independent Quebec] allow the remaining Anglophones time enough to pack and join their children in other provinces or the United States and that they be allowed to take their goods with them.”

Richler’s book is a delightful and amusing read, and many of his observations and anecdotes are both revealing and insightful. However what mars the book and makes of it a dubious contribution to an understanding of Canadian society—the book after all purports to be about Canada—is that it is written from the perspective of someone who has elevated himself above the provincialism of a Canadian historical consciousness and its incumbent demons. Hence the author is no longer (despite having been born and raised in Canada) of his subject matter. And in fact, his “political pieces” on Canada have been largely written for and published in English and American publications. As he himself says, “I could function just as well, or even better, both in England, where I was rooted for twenty years, or in the United States.” It is this “cosmopolitan perspective,” perhaps, that allows him to dismiss the English-French question as to the “bickering” of the “so-called founding nations.” The British and French traditions in Canada, and their roles in establishing and maintaining distinct (from America) societies on the northern half of this continent are treated with disdain. The notwithstanding clause in the Charter is a “legal loophole.” The Dominion of Canada of 1867, which was constituted of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec, was “a largely empty space rather than pre-existing and substantial communities functioning separately under the British Crown. The BNA Act “coddled Quebec” and Quebec governments insisting on special status were “obdurate.” Decidedly, Richler is a modern Canadian for whom the legitimate history of Canada begins with the 1982 Canada Actand the Charter (although he does admit that all the freedoms it guarantees we took for granted before). For me, his book represents one of the landmarks of the neo-liberal political cultural revolution which has delegitimated all that went before, when Canada was not a “real” country.

Richler is of the ilk of those who saw in the demise of the Meech Lake accord the consecration of their vision, and of whom the chief media dragon-slayers appeared to be historians, namely David Bercuson, Michael Behiels (who approvingly reviewed Richler’s book in the LRC in June 1992), Ramsay Cook and Michael Bliss. This neo-liberal dispensation, whereby the notwithstanding clause is an affront to liberty, is readily accessible to Richler’s English and American readers.

Admittedly, and in all fairness, how could anyone except a Canadian be expected to understand a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects against government except when government decides otherwise? However, the problem is that the Richler vision not only does not provide for the continuation of Canada (at least as we have known it), let alone Quebec; it also relegates much of our Canadian political culture—or at least that of pre-1982 Canada—to the level of the provincial and the niggardly, when it is not simply tribalism.


Quebec society and the legitimate national sentiment of its people was appreciated by the British political class of the eighteenth century as something worth preserving, as Philip Lawson has recently demonstrated; for which appreciation they were rewarded by the loyalty of His Majesty’s “new subjects” at the time of the six-month American siege of Quebec City during the war of the American Revolution, at which moment the fate of Richler’s Canada hung upon the sole defense of Quebec City. A foreign reader could be forgiven for not suspecting that the Montreal-born-and-bred Richler was a British subject (and a British subject only) for the first sixteen years of his life; and that the same parliament, dominated by French-Canadians, removed civil disabilities for Jews a quarter century before England did.

Indeed, because he possesses—notwithstanding his literary talents—a historical consciousness inadequate to the interpretation of the content of the events he describes, Richler’s affirmations, although titillating and legitimate in the perspective of the new neo-liberal orthodoxy, constitute a reading of events according to a logic that was not (and for some of us, is still not) that of the context. Carried away by the imposed coherence of his interpretation of Quebec history, Richler falls prey to half-truths.

To illustrate, I’ll point to one enormous affirmation in a paragraph that begins, ironically enough, with the words “once again we are dealing in half-truths.” It is the following: “one of the stated aims of the Patriote rebellion of 1837-1838 was that all Jews in Upper and Lower Canada be strangled and their goods confiscated.”2

In one stroke a whole generation of French-Canadian nationalists (some historians still argue that this was the first, therefore highly significant, generation) are tarred. Moreover, as the Patriotes are purported to have included Jews in Upper Canada in their anticipated pogrom, and as rebel leaders in both colonies were concerting their actions, does this implicate the Upper Canada rebels? Could it be inferred, or more to the point, will it be inferred after Richler, that William Lyon Mackenzie and other Upper Canada rebel leaders were party to the plan to assassinate all Jews?

Richler makes his enormous accusation as if the intention of the Patriotes to strangle Jews, not only in Lower Canada but in Upper Canada, was part of the accepted stock-in-trade of the Canadian historical record. Where did he get this extraordinary finding?

The genesis of the notion whereby the Quebec Patriotes of 1837-38 were anti-semitic to the point of having as their objective the assassination of all Jews within their reach is very revealing, both with respect to the kind of half-truth perpetuated by Richler’s neo-liberal perspective and to the new anti-semitism sensitivity in Canada, the nature of which we shall address later.

Firstly, let it be noted that Richler, who happily cites specific pre-war quotations from theLe Devoir when describing its anti-semitism, gives no reference for the accusation concerning the Patriotes. The “fact” is simply dropped into the text with no justification, other than that he is refuting Léandre Bergeron who, in his popular history of Quebec, cast the Patriotes in terms of his own historical re-interpretation inspired by another orthodoxy (marxism in Quebec in the 1960s and 1970s). The question remains, then: where could Richler have got this mother-lode of anti-semitism?

Of all the authors mentioned in the course of his book, there is one in whose work a similar claim is made, and it is in what Richler calls “the indispensable Mason Wade.” Indeed, on page 190 of volume one of The French-Canadians 1760-1967, Mason Wade, in describing the plans of the Patriotes of 1838 (as opposed to those of 1837) states, with no further comment: “All Jews were to be strangled and their goods confiscated.” We assume this is where Richler got it because he cites Mason Wade, the other possible source being the Quebec historian Fernand Ouellet. (It is unlikely that he lifted it from David Rome, who also discussed the question at length.)

If Richler got his information from Mason Wade, he amplified the accusation by extending those implicated to the 1827 uprising (the leaders were not the same) and those targeted to the Jews in Upper, as well as Lower, Canada.

Richler can perhaps be forgiven for these extrapolations—the enlargement of the Jewish population targeted and the rebel leaders implicated—he probably did not remember exactly where in Mason Wade he read it. I graciously extend to him this clemency because I do not even recall having noticed the statement when I read Mason Wade some thirty years ago. (Remarkable how sensitivities change in a quarter of a century; of the whole generation of Canadian university arts students who read Mason Wade in the thirty years succeeding publication in 1955, how many noticed?)

Now where did the now-deceased Mason Wade get his information? His source is the Abbé Ivanhoé Caron, author of the paper “Une Société Secrète Dans le Bas-Canada en 1838: L’Association des Frères Chasseurs” delivered before the Royal Society of Canada in 1926. Caron’s article is, in turn, based on information found in depositions made by individuals furnishing information to authorities of the time, for the most part individuals seeking, after the event, to establish their loyalty.

One such deposition was that made by Joseph Bourdon on 2 November 1838, one day before hostilities broke out. Bourdon, who had been paid by the Montreal Superintendent of Police to infiltrate the Chasseurs, recounts what he said was told to him some fifteen days before by a certain Frederick Glackmeyer who was swearing in members to the secret society of Chasseurs and collecting financial contributions.

Bourdon relates, among other things in the course of eight pages of deposition, that Glackmeyer told him that “tous les juifs, avec Benjamin Hart en tête, seraient étranglés et leurs biens également confisqués.” Four other individuals made depositions in which Glackmeyer is mentioned as their source, yet none of them mentions Jews. One of them, a Mr. Bertrand, recounts that the ever-expansive (and imprudent) Glackmeyer told him that the officers of the British regiments would be taken in their sleep and killed when orders arrived from Nelson. Glackmeyer, again according to Bourdon, also claimed that the majority of the British troops of the Montreal and Quebec City garrisons had already been sworn into the Chasseurs!

Glackmeyer, a merchant, was the friend and accomplice of a Patriote organizer by the name of John McDonell, a Montreal lawyer who was the son of a British officer who had married a French-Canadian. He in turn was in contact with Robert Nelson, leader of the 1838 uprising and kinsman of Lord Nelson of Trafalgar fame … Glackmeyer, McDonell and Nelson: a real hornet’s nest of French-Canadian racists.

It is worth emphasizing that what we are dealing with here is hearsay evidence by a paid police informer; and the matter being reported on, more than two weeks after the conversation in question, comes from an individual of non French-Canadian descent who was assisting a Patriote organizer. Glackmeyer was prone—to say the least—to exaggerated claims that have not, to my knowledge, been confirmed by documentary evidence or corroborating testimony. The claim of the Patriote intention to murder Jews is, then, based on hearsay evidence from a police informer who made otherwise extravagant claims and who was not in direct contact with the French-Canadian Patriote leaders, as opposed to written documentation on the movement or its leaders!

On the other hand, there is written documentation of the Patriotes’ intention to murder another entire category of individuals, namely the royalists. In a conserved blank form of the oath used to initiate the Frères Chasseurs and reproduced by Caron in the Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec of 1926, we read that initiates are to be informed that “le but de la dite association était d’égorger, à une époque marqée, tous les Royalistes”: bloodthirsty language that was typical of nineteenth-century republicanism. Those who were sworn in were graphically warned, according to the same document, that if they betrayed the rebellion they would have their own throats slit to the bone!

(Incidentally, we may be forgiven for asking why Mason Wade did not report on thePatriotes’ bloody designs on royalists and bureaucrats, also reported on in the Caron article from which the design on Jewish lives is taken. Perhaps Mason Wade, an American and the cultural inheritor of a successful uprising against the same royalists, did not consider the projected murder of royalists as sufficiently untoward to be reported on.)

Yet the relevant issue here is that Richler—and Mason Wade before him—has proclaimed that one of the objectives of the first nationalists, the Patriotes, was to strangle all Jews, and that for this claim there is no credible historical documentation. The claim is exaggerated so as to reflect on an entire society. It is calumny against French-Canadians and all those who have been propagating it should either produce their documentation or retract and apologize.

It is on the strength of such unsubstantiated claims that the more all-embracing affirmation made earlier in Richler’s book, “From the beginning French-Canadian nationalism has been badly tainted by racism,” gets its origin. In the case of this more comprehensive accusation, the context suggests that Richler may have had in mind the period of the early 1930s as he refers to Groulx in the next sentence; however, he does say “from the beginning” of French-Canadian nationalism, which nationalism existed long before the 1930s. Even granted this error of context on his part, those who use his phrase in the future without regard to the textual context will perpetuate the same half-truth.


Let us then turn to the contentious 1930s (the evolution of 100 years of Quebec nationalism having been ignored) and the Delisle thesis from which Richler drew his documentation of French-Canadian anti-semitism. More specifically, I would like to address the question of the intellectual and scientific merit of the Delisle doctoral thesis to which Laval University gave its imprimatur. I have decided to refer to the thesis, as opposed to the English and French versions of the book only, because the book is presented, not just as being based on, but as the thesis itself: in the original French the avant-propos begins “La réalisation de cette thèse de doctorat,” whereas in the English translation the connection is made by Ramsay Cook in his preface. Hence, the merit of the findings presented in the book is, in the last analysis, a function of the quality of the research presented in the thesis.

Delisle claims to have shown that the nationalist circles that gravitated around one man, Lionel Groulx, one association, the “Jeune-Canada,” and two publications, L’Action nationale and Le Devoir, were—at least during the period of 1929-1939—both anti-semitic and extreme right-wing nationalist to the point of being fascist. This fascism was, she maintains, evidenced in a call for racial purity, a regeneration of public morality, the desire for the emergence of a strong leader, the rejection of political parties and parliamentarism and the glorification of the nation, which if allowed to assume its destiny, would produce supermen. She concludes, in a “Sad Epilogue”—both in the thesis and in the book—by drawing a parallel between the ideology she found and Nazism. For fear of being suspected of misinterpreting Delisle her own strongly-worded summary of her thesis:

Notre thèse de doctorat se veut une contribution à l’étude du nationalisme d’extrême droite dans la province de Québec durant la période 1929-1939. Les sources retenues sont les suivantes: les écrits de Lionel Groulx, le magazine l’Action nationale, les écrits des Jeune-Canada et le quotidien Le Devoir. Nous avons établi notre problématique sur les analyses politiques contemporaines qui font du racisme un élément consubstantiel au nationalisme d’extrême droite, au fascisme et au nazisme. Nous avons procédé en appliquant les idéaltypes de l’antisémitisme et du nationalisme d’extrême droite a nos source [sic]. L’analyse de contenu que nous avons effectuée privilégie les constructions symboliques centrales de l’idéologie qui nous intéresse: le Canadien français et le Juif.

Trahison du Canadien français, démonisation du Juif, anathémisation et assimilation de ces deux constructions symboliques au libéralisme économique, philosophique et politique représentent l’armature logique liant l’antisémitisme et le racisme à l’idéologie dans laquelle ils s’inscrivent. Les champs sémantiques que nous avons circonscrits ressortissent au nihilisme et à une forme particulière de millénarisme. Le Canadien français et le Juif déchoient de l’humanité; le vocabulaire, y compris les analogies et les métaphores, de la putréfaction, de la maladie et de la mort définissent le Canadien français et le Juif, en plus de décrire et de qualifier l’état social contemporain. Les locuteurs s’inspirent des régimes fascistes et nazis pour formuler le projet utopique d’une société qui serait d’une pureté absolue, et où ne vivraient que des «surhommes et des dieux.» Le Canadien français y sera admis après avoir subi une «rééducation politique et nationale» totale, tandis que le Juif en demeure exclu. Les locuteurs que nous avons étudiés reprennent aussi les éléments classiques du nationalisme d’extrême droite et du fascisme: négation de l’individu, exaltation de la nation/race, illégitimation du capitalisme, de la démocratie et des partis politique.

Par son antisémitisme et son racisme, l’idéologie formulée par Lionel Groulx, et reprise par l’Action nationale, par les Jeune-Canada et par le Devoir se situe au point de rencontre du nationalisme d’extrême droite, du fascisme et du nazisme.

There is no doubt that Delisle compiled a compendium of quotations on anti-semitism and extreme right-wing nationalism in certain intellectual circles in Quebec in the 1930s, and in the first three chapters of her thesis she has presented a synthesis of the emergence of anti-semitism in Europe and the social context associated with this emergence. However what interests us is the validity of the interpretation: or, in more succinct terms, are the results convincing? One way for a social scientist to be convincing is to invoke and use techniques and concepts designed to impart a scientific character to the findings. Delisle, a political scientist, indeed claims a scientific character for her findings.

For the critical reader who is not in the position of being able to apply the same methodology to the same materials to see if he gets the same results (the ultimate test of scientificity) the crucial questions bear on the concepts employed, the techniques applied and, in the case of social science, knowledge of the context out of which came the materials analyzed: a concept or conceptual construct may or may not have proved analytically useful in the past; a particular technique has a history which illuminates the adequate conditions of its application; and the question of context involves such rudimentary things as knowledge of the languages used as well as more general considerations such as the socio-historical particularities of the society out of which the materials come. Here we offer not a detailed social-science critique, but rather an opinion as to whether the analysis was rigorous in the sense that it lives up to these basic canons of social science research.

We begin with the concept used, that of the “idea-type.” Delisle calls Weber’s ideal-type a theory, although it is rather a method for testing theory. The method consists in elaborating a conceptual construct of an object, which construct is the sum of the characteristics, associated with manifestations of the supposed object, that have been observed at least once. The links subsequently postulated among the characteristics are the imaginative and intuitive contribution of the researcher who thinks he has put his finger on something that exists in the real world. However, the resulting conceptual construct is an “ideal-type” in the sense that it may nowhere be found in its completeness as conceptualized. Yet, the various dimensions and characteristics are based on extensive observations of the supposed object and if the researcher is right in his suppositions, the ideal-type will prove useful in further explaining the relationships among the various characteristics and dimensions as postulated. Hence, an ideal-type is a heuristic model that permits subsequent verification of the postulated nature of the reality of which it is a model.

Delisle makes much of the ideal-type and she correctly describes what Weber intended it to be. Where she goes wrong is that the ideal-type she invokes, that which links anti-semitism, racism and extreme right-wing nationalism, is a conceptual construct she arrives at from her reading, not of her sources but of (as she puts it) European intellectual history. This is fine, but it remains a heuristic model to be verified on the same “European intellectual history.” Even if her ideal-type had emerged from observations of both American and French-Canadian intellectual history, which is not the case, it would remain subject to confirmation by the formulation and testing of hypotheses generated from the model.

Delisle does not distill an ideal-type from her source materials, rather she draws her inspiration from European intellectual history; consequently, she does not formulate hypotheses based on an appropriate ideal-type. Still, she does have hypotheses; here they are, seven in number:

1. Lionel Groulx construit une idéologie révolutionnaire étatist, nationaliste et anti-libérale.
2. Le référent juif et ses mots associés et dérivés, le référent canadien-français assimilé au traître, ainsi que ses mot associés et dérivés, sont les référents négatifs de l’acteur central du projet idéologique et constituent un adjuvant constant dans sa légitimation.
3. Les référents juif et traître sont des adjuvant permanents dans l’illégitimation des relations sociales, culturelles, économiques et politiques existantes.
4. Les référents juif et traître sont en opposition structurale à toute l’humanité. D’autres groupes sont en opposition au Canadien-français sans être illégitimes ailleurs.
5. L’Action nationale et les Jeune-Canada diffusent et reproduisent de manière élargie les deux composantes précédentes du discours nationaliste radical.

Le Devoir reproduit surtout la composante d’illégitimation du référent juif.
6. Le rôle du référent juif dans cette idéologie révolutionnaire est homologue de celui que lui assignent les idéologies européennes nationalistes d’extrême droite de la période antérieure.
7. Le référent juif devient un non-dit dans le projet utopique futur.

These then are her hypotheses: four are postulated relationships or characteristics (#2, 3, 4, and 7), two are very specific findings concerning segments of her material (#1 and 5), and the seventh (#6) has to do with a similarity with the European experience. The relationship between these “hypotheses” and Delisle’s “propositions” is not clear; although the latter appear to be the results of “interpretative” effort, whereas the former are the “hypotheses” to be confirmed by the application of content analysis. Before we compare the hypotheses and the findings, a word on Delisle’s use of content analysis, the technique employed to test these hypotheses.

Presumably, content analysis used to verify hypotheses allows one to test if themes or key words are associated consistently in the source material, and to what degree. Delisle does not take this route. Instead, according to her own admission, she uses content analysis as an exploratory or descriptive technique and not as a validation technique. She fudges the distinction, however, and while admitting that her use is exploratory or descriptive she proceeds to claim that she is verifying her hypotheses:

Cette méthodologie [her use of content analysis] s’inscrit donc sur les axes exploratoires et descriptifs qui orientent notre recherche. Ainsi dans les études descriptives, cette technique va même jusqu’à rendre possible la vérification d’une hypothèse. Nous avons évidemment l’intention de vérifier nos hypothèses et la technique correspond à ce but.

An exploratory or descriptive use of content analysis would have been eminently appropriate to the construction of an ideal-type, the hypotheses from which could have been verified in subsequent research or by another researcher. The problem is that when one is exploring or describing source material in view of constructing an ideal-type, a single manifestation of a theme or key word is sufficient to justify the inclusion of a characteristic or theme in the ideal-type. However, when it comes to verification, as opposed to exploration, content analysis is employed to allow a qualitative measure of the extent of presence of a key word of theme. Delisle makes the unfounded leap from an exploratory or descriptive technique to a verification technique with the consequence that a single appearance of a theme results, for her, in verification:

Nous n’avons pas calculé systématiquement le nombre de fois où chacun des thèmes est apparu dans notre corpus. D’une part chacun d’entre eux apparaît de nombreuses fois, ce qui, sans pousser plus loin l’opération quantitative, assurait notre recherche d’une certaine validité. Chaque thème est cité au moins une fois pour chacune des sources et la totalité des mentions ultérieures se trouve rapportée deans les notes en bas de page.

Take, for instance, two of the themes «qui dérivent de l’Utopie» which are “le surhomme” and “l’exclusion du Juif.” It is presumably the verification of the presence of this last theme that allows Delisle, and Richler, to say that the nationalists in question proposed the deportation and the denial of political rights to Jews.

As it happens this “verification” is based on the appearance, in the totality of ten years ofLe Devoir (a daily), L’Action nationale (a monthly), all the published writings of Groulx written or re-edited between 1929 and 1939 (and one, as we shall see, that wasn’t by him) and the proceedings of the “Jeune-Canada” in the same period, of the following quotations:

1. Ils [les Juifs] ont certes droit à la liberté religieuse et à tous les privilèges des aubains, […], mais les peuples qui les reçoivent ne sont pas obligés de leur accorder une liberté absolue dans le domaine politique, surtout si une telle liberté met en péril leur propre indépendance civile ou économique. Ces dernier peuvent alors les considérer et les traitre comme des citoyens à part …

—Anatole Vanier, Action nationale,
Sept. 1933, p. 19.
2. La Palestine et les régions avoisinantes peuvent encore recevoir de huit à dix millions de Juifs […]. Le rapatriement volontaire des uns, l’incorporation obligatoire des autres, l’établissement d’un passeport juif imposé a tous ceux qui voudront habiter des pays extérieurs où ils resteront au vrai des étrangers, de quelque origine que ce soit …

—Georges Pelletier, editorial in Le Devoir, April 17, 1937.
3. On suggère à Toronto de déporter trois jeunes juifs [sic]

Le Grincheux in Le Devoir, Sept. 4, 1936.
4. Vladimir Jabotansky, chef sioniste, veut placer 7 millions de juifs en Palestine. S’il en manque, Baptiste est prêt à lui céder tous les siens.

Le Grincheux in Le Devoir, Feb. 8, 1938.

Four quotations from two of her sources; there are no quotations from either Lionel Groulx or “Jeune Canada.” One cannot help but speculate about the odds of finding four such quotations in the ten years of The Globe and of Saturday Night published between 1929 and 1939; particularly in the light of incidents like the Christie Pits riot as freshly described by Cyril Levitt and William Shaffir in Jews in Canada.

As for the charge that Groulx wanted to create a race of supermen, the single quotation offered is this excerpt taken from Orientations:

À des jeunes hommes et à des jeunes filles épris d’un idéal absolu, ambitieux de pouvoir jusqu’à l’ultime développement de leur personnalité, il serait montré que leur naissance dans un milieu et dans la foi catholique leur vaut cet incomparable privilège d’avoir devant les yeux, pour idéal moral, l’infinie perfection du Christ, et pour terme de leur développement spirituel, cette élévation de la personnalité qui peut faire d’eux, s’ils le veulent, des surhommes et des dieux.

On this single quotation from one of the four “sources” hangs the charge that the nationalists, like the Nazis, invoked prophecies of a race of supermen who would become gods. Delisle failed to take note of the religious context in which the words are used in her thesis; and in the book she dropped the religious reference from her quotation.

Another indication of the fact that Delisle’s use of content analysis is, indeed, exploratory—as opposed to being used as a means of systematic verification—is to be found in her failure to report on citations that infirm her thesis; and her apparent failure to have consulted directly at least some of the source material delimited as her “source.” An instance of the former are the Laurendeau disclaimers which appeared in L’Action nationale in 1937, which we take note of later; or, to take, for example, a 1933 quotation from Groulx I happened upon while checking the two Groulx anti-semitism references discussed below: “L’anti-sémitisme, non seulement n’est pas une solution chrétienne; c’est une solution négative et niaise.” (“Antisemitism is not only an un-Christian solution; it is a negative and stupid solution.”)

An instance of source material not directly consulted is to be found in the errors surrounding the Groulx anti-semitism references invoked in the thesis. As Richard Jones has aptly pointed out in his study of the nationalist press, there are in the whole body of Groulx’s published work only two anti-semitic passages, and they are in the April and June 1933 issues of L’Action nationale. Yet Delisle lists four references, the April and June references as well as one in September and (via André Bélanger’sl’Apolitisme au Québec) one in November. Upon consultation of the review itself it transpires that the September reference simply does not exist and that the two quotations in question are one and the same: “L’internationalisme juif comme un des plus dangereux agents de dissolution morale à travers le monde.”

Furthermore, the quotation in question is in fact part of the June passage (361-365). In other words, the September (Delisle) and November (Bélanger and Delisle) references are in fact from June (365); and worse yet, the quotation is not Groulx’s words but Groulx reporting, admittedly with approbation, on a “Jeune-Canada” meeting:

À l’assemblée des Jeune-Canada l’on a cité aussi ce témoignage d’un éminent évêque catholique d’Australie qui il y a quelque mois à peine dénonçait l’internationalisme juif comme un des plus dangereux agent de dissolution morale et sociale à travers le monde.

The point here is that Delisle manifestly did not herself consult the September and November issues of L’Action nationale, which is in itself a problem. However, in so doing—by using secondary sources or by errors that would have become evident by direct consultation—she “created” an additional two Groulx anti-semitism references!

Moreover, Delisle’s failure to have correctly used content analysis is further manifested in her not having distinguished in her analysis between different types of discourse (books, editorials, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, book reviews, or satire such as that of “Le Grincheux,” etc.). What she has done is to use an exploratory approach to document her hypotheses: hence it is not surprising that all her hypotheses are confirmed. The truth of the matter is that the hypotheses are findings, with the exception of the similarity with Nazism, presented as hypotheses after the fact of her having found them. In fact, the whole methodological chapter could have been written after the body of the thesis. Certain integral repetitions, for instance the list of hypotheses (pages 106 and 137) and the advancement of propositions that are, in fact, conclusions, before the elaboration of the hypotheses, do not help to dispel such doubts.


Misuse of the method of ideal-type and misapplication of the technique of content analysis are the first and second major weaknesses of the thesis. The third major weakness of the study is the failure to “contextualize” or put into context her four sources (Groulx, “Jeune-Canada,” Le Devoir and L’Action nationale).

In fact, Delisle explicitly eschews the relevance of the social context in which the ideology she pretends to analyze was articulated and this on the grounds that what she is studying is a delirium and thus by definition disconnected from reality. She is so emphatic about this that one cannot help but conclude that the lady doth protest too much. In other words, she is refuting her thesis committee which requested contextualization. In the book she argues:

Le cadre théorique [of the thesis] a été développé à partir d’études classiques ou plus récentes du racisme et de l’anti-sémitisme qui soutiennent et confirment que les objets du racisme sont des constructions symboliques. Ils n’existent pas hors du délire fantasmatique qui les crée et let fait vivre. Décortiquer le contexte historique n’apporte rien à la comprehénsion du délire et ne fournit aucune clé pour le pénétrer.

In the thesis: “Parce que le nationalisme d’etrême droite et l’antisémitisme précède la crise économique, il est impossible d’établir un lien de causalité entre cette idéologie et les graves soubresauts de l’économie.”

Yet Delisle’s own argument belies this claim. Her opening chapters are in fact a review of the context in which anti-semitism emerged in European history, as well as an elucidation of the dynamic which led to its imbrication with extreme right-wing nationalism. As we have mentioned, she repeatedly claims that the very justification of her ideal-type is founded in European intellectual history. Moreover, on several occasions she invokes European authors on the pertinence of the (European) social context:

Selon Girardet, les mythes politiques connaissent un regain de diffusion en temps de crise sociale, nous l’avons déjà cité à ce sujet, mais plus spécifiquement lorsqu’un groupe réagit à une menace, et ce, “peu importe l’exacte mesure de la réalité de cette menace.”

or Boudon and Bourricaud:

Une croyance, un mythe, une “théorie représentent toujours des interprétations développées ou selon le cas acceptées par les acteurs sociaux en fonction de leur situation telle qu’ils la perçoivent ou l’interprètent. Ces interprétations leur fournissent des guides efficaces pour l’action. En ce sens, on peut dire qu’elles sont “rationnelles” même si elles peuvent paraître à l’observateur pressé ou engagé comme “irrationnelles.”

It would be difficult to make a more direct reference to the importance of context than “en fonction de leur situation,” and the warning that only hurried or “engagé” observers see delirium in what has a “rationality” for the actor.

However, once Europe is left behind and the ideal-type air-lifted to the New World, social crises and perceptions conditioned by material circumstances (“situation”) are no longer relevant. For instance, the possibility that the ideological connection between anti-semitism and the radical right in Europe, where the political elites involved had access to full-fledged nation-states, might not have the same significance in a context where the elite in question was that of an ethnic minority, is not raised. Such a consideration might have given rise to the speculative possibility that a national elite without real economic or political power would be given to compensate its frustration by an excess of rhetoric. Or the possibility that Quebec Jews and French-Canadians, being competing ethnic minorities in the same political order dominated by a third ethnic power, might be particularly disposed to inter-ethnic rivalry is not a contextual consideration entertained by Delisle, as it is by Morton Weinfeld. He begins his “The Jews of Quebec” with the following point:

The Jews are a small minority within Quebec; but the Québécois are an equally small minority within a pre-dominantly English-speaking continent. To understand the situation of Jews in Quebec, it is thus important to recognize that we have here not a classic minority/majority relationship, but rather one between two groups, each of which is deeply marked by minority traits.

Both groups have parallel histories of minority struggle and perceived victimization, including a common exclusion by a dominant Anglo-Saxon group from key economic and social sectors in Quebec.

He suggests later that there may have been a classic scapegoating mechanism at work:

In many ways, the Jewish economic position in Quebec was that of a classic middleman minority, often occupying roles as small shopkeepers, traders, businessmen or professionals. Jews would often be visible to the francophone working-class person, and thus might inherit some of the rage felt against the dominant, yet inaccessible or invisible Anglo-corporate elite.

Both these considerations to which Weinfeld attaches importance have been raised before Weinfeld by authors to whom Delisle had access (she lists them in her bibliography).

And there are at least two other very pertinent contextual socio-historical factors which are ignored: the impact of Canadian immigration policy on French-Canadian demography and the particular perspective on immigration, Jewish or otherwise, that this generated in French Canada; and the complicated Jewish school issue of the 1920s, during which some Quebecers (many, including elements of the Taschereau government, were in favour of a Jewish School Board in Montreal) felt that there had been an attempted usurpation of its constitutional status as one of two founding nations.

All of these contextual considerations—not to speak of the compounding influence of the social crisis of the depression—are deemed irrelevant because anti-semitism and extreme right-wing nationalism in Quebec of the 1930s was a “delirium.” One can be forgiven for wondering, with Boudon and Bourricaud, if Delisle is not in fact an “observateur pressé ou engagé”? To the possible nature of her “engagement,” we shall return later.

Another problem related to Delisle’s refusal to consider the context is that of the social insertion of what she calls her “sources.” She insists that her claims do not extend any further than her sources (Groulx, Le DevoirL’Action nationale, and “Jeune-Canada”); which is fine, but she makes no concessions towards positioning the milieu to which the sources—she presents them as expressing a shared vision—belong or which they represent. For instance, she never positions them with respect to the avowed fascist milieu (Adrien Arcand and Joseph Ménard) and publications (Le Patriote and Le Combat national). If Groulx was a fascist why did he not publish in the fascist press?3

Her failure to socially situate the milieu of her sources is not only an academic error, it is irresponsible for the simple reason that others—with their own purposes—will do it. And this is precisely what Ramsay Cook has done, with the author’s compliance. In his preface to her book he writes:

Anyone who knew Quebec realized that to include the leading nationalist historian, Abbé Lionel Groulx, the leading nationalist daily newspaper Le Devoir, the leading nationalist monthly L’Action nationale and the leading nationalist youth organization, Jeune Canada, meant that the study focused on mainstream nationalist ideology in the 1930s.

The consequence is that her findings are extended to characterize pre-war mainstream nationalism. But of course, Delisle who, in Cook’s own words, “was well equipped to make a detailed analysis of Quebec history” in the period concerned knew that her sources were mainstream. Who is she trying to fool when she protests that she was not studying French-Canadian nationalists?

At the mundane level of chronological and biographical context, Delisle’s disregard of context made her vulnerable to literal errors. One that is flagrant and very revealing concerns André Laurendeau. In 1937, two years before the end of the period covered by her analysis, Laurendeau decided that anti-semitism among Quebec nationalists had been an error and that a correction was in order. He publicly announced his position and admonished his friends to do likewise. In the context of the object of her thesis, Delisle’s failure to mention this, while making extensive use of his earlier anti-semitic utterances, is simply intellectually dishonest. In the book the error is indirectly recognized by including on the frontispiece two of the redeeming post-1937 quotations from Laurendeau’s memoirs. However, in the body of the text—English and French—the significance of the fact is simply ignored, expect for one footnote. Again, one can be forgiven for asking, what went wrong with the content analysis if statements in her sources that might have infirmed her hypothesis did not surface? For instance, Laurendeau writing in L’Action nationale in January 1937: “je tentai, en novembre dernier, de mettre ces milieux [nationalistes] en garde contre une complicité sourde et tenace en faveur de tout ce qui vient de la droite ou de l’extrême-droite européenne.”4 As for Ramsay Cook: a redeeming remark in favour of Laurendeau (whom he esteemed highly enough to dedicate his 1969 book on French-Canadian nationalism to) would have added an element of balance to his otherwise sycophantic preface.

Another literal error made, because the author did not bother to consult the Groulx archives on the matter, was that of jumping to the conclusion that Groulx wrote under the pseudonym of Lambert Closse. Although she admits in the book that she cannot prove Lambert Closse was Groulx, she decides to proceed as if she had, chalking up to Groulx the Lambert Closse article in the bookRéponse de la race. As Jean-François Nadeau has pointed out, Closse was a Catholic priest named J.-Henri Guay who wrote to Groulx asking him for permission to dedicate the book to him; Groulx declined to reply but Guay dedicated the book to Groulx nonetheless. Guay’s two letters to Groulx are indexed under “Lambert Closse” in the Groulx archives.

Incidentally, it must be pointed out that Delisle does not invoke “Lambert Closse” in her thesis. In her book, however, she makes a great deal of the article by the author she surnames “Lionel-Lambert Closse.” Perhaps she discovered Lambert Closse after the thesis. Writing in her book she relates: “J’ai en ma possession un livre intitulé La réponse de la race.” One also finds in the book private Groulx correspondence—the notorious letter to Lamoreux—which does not figure in the thesis.

And in addition to these serious context problems, there are also basic textual errors. History students have singled out several: from sticking Laurendeau with the contents of what was a review of someone else’s book5—the only post-1937 Laurendeau quotation that figures in the analyses—to refusing to take into account, except when it suited her purposes, the immediate context of a sentence. The possibility of “becoming supermen or gods” quote already mentioned is an instance; as Jean-Claude Dupuis points out, this claim is made in the context of a reference to attaining the moral ideal represented by Christ!6

In the end, although Delisle has offered a very interesting survey of the intellectual history of anti-semetism in Europe, and has, as well, unearthed instances of anti-semitic rhetoric in her very considerable “sources,” she has not delivered an academically adequate demonstration of her thesis argument which may or may not be true: that is, that there was in Quebec in the circles associated with Groulx, notable L’Action nationaleLe Devoir and “Jeune-Canada,” an anti-semitic delirium that was part and parcel of an extreme right-wing nationalism which was fascist, to the point of resembling Nazism. This last finding was not among her hypotheses but is presented as a finding in “Triste épilogue” in the last chapter of the thesis and the book. What we do know to be true, that there was an extensive anti-semitic rhetoric in pre-war French-Canadian nationalist circles, had already been demonstrated by other authors before Delisle, notably by Michael Oliver, Richard Jones, Pierre Anctil, Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, and David Rome.


In the discourse of both Delisle and Richler there is a crucial and fundamental question that is not addressed: that of the distinction between anti-semitic language or attitude on the one hand, and anti-semitic behaviour on the other. Surely there is a difference between saying you are anti-Jew, and actually causing harm or injury. Of course the two are related—one does not come without the other—but there is a difference. Most, but not all, authors writing on anti-semitism in Quebec have failed to confront this question.

And in the case of Quebec the question is particularly relevant because, grosso modo, although anti-semitic language may be more frequent in Quebec, as the Robert Byrm and Rhonda Lenton article “The Distribution of Anti-Semitism in Canada in 1984” in The Jews in Canada would suggest, there is less anti-semitic behaviour in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada generally. Weinfeld is, in fact, probably the first scholar to address this dilemma. After commenting on anti-semitism in Quebec before World War II, he notes:

Apart from the occasional brawl or act of vandalism, Jews have not suffered from physical violence—no lives were lost because of anti-Semites in Quebec. The current situation in Quebec is even more paradoxical. Objectively, finding concrete evidence of anti-Semitic discrimination—acts directed against Jews leading to some loss or penalty—is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Furthermore, Weinfeld notes, Jews living in Quebec do not perceive there to be a great deal of anti-semitism:

Survey data do not support a claim that Jews [living in Quebec] perceive substantial amounts of anti-Semitism in the province. For example, in 1978 only 11 percent claimed there was “a great deal” of anti-Semitism while 14 percent found none.

(Of course, this is not in any way to deny that anti-semitic attitudes and rhetoric still abound in Quebec. As late as 1981 I was personally presented with a copy of the “Protocol of Zion” by a representative of a registered federal political party!)

Even Richler admits, with his characteristic frankness, this paradox. In the post-scriptum of his book, he reports being at a conference in Montreal during which the speaker mentioned his puzzlement over the fact that in 1991 there were considerably fewer anti-semitic “incidents” in Quebec (31) than in Ontario (171) … almost six times more in Ontario. Richler goes on to say that

Stephen Scheinberg [of B’nai Brith] has said that historically anti-semitic attitudes have been higher in Quebec, yet this has never translated into widespread action. “Even in the thirties, there wasn’t a great deal of anti-Semitic violence in Quebec,” he said.

However, it does not occur to our frank but inconsequent author to wonder if this does not raise questions concerning the image of Quebec his book propagates.

Yet Weinfeld, who is familiar with both the historical record in Quebec and (even if he does not cite it) the quality literature on the question, not only knows “that there is no instance of anti-semitism on record which resulted in corporeal injury to a Jew,”7 he is intellectually honest enough to ask the question that imposes itself. Given Quebec’s good record in terms of actual anti-semitic behaviour, the perception of individual Quebec Jews that Quebecers are not particularly anti-semitic, how does one explain the perception of the Jewish community, qua community, that Quebec is anti-semitic? He concludes that the Jewish community is reacting to the affirmation of Quebec nationalism; which leads him to conclude that the very meaning of the term anti-semitism has (in Canada presumably) evolved:

One answer [to the paradox] may lie in the concept of a “new anti-Semitism” which has replaced the older, more blatant form historically experienced by Jews. One can define this new anti-Semitism (and one can debate the appropriateness of the term) as indifference or opposition to perceived Jewish issues or concerns, rather than opposition to Jews per se. Many Jews feel that with blatant anti-Semitism no longer fashionable (if not illegal), the major problems are acts with anti-Semitic consequences, regardless of whether the motivations are anti-Semitic.

A rather interesting nuance of the Quebec intellectual history of anti-semitism that appears to have escaped the attention of Deslisle during her research on anti-semitism in Quebec!

What Weinfeld is suggesting is that contemporary Quebecers may get qualified as anti-semitic even though they do not manifest anti-semitic behaviour. In the eyes of some Jews who are presently defining anti-semitism, it would be sufficient to be neutral or indifferent to Jewish interests. In other words, in a socio-political context in which Jewish interests are at stake, the fact of bin in favour of another interest, or even indifferent, is sufficient to make one anti-semitic. Which means you are with or against Jewish interests: you cannot be neutral. Incidentally, this means that all those (boorish WASPs or otherwise) who, when they read Mason Wade, did not react to the report of Patriotemurderous intentions, are anti-semitic. Had you not been indifferent or neutral to the Jewish interest, you would have noticed, as Richler presumably did.

Were one to apply this “new” definition of anti-semitism to the Quebec context, it raises the possibility that if there are indeed conflicting interests, the dynamic will be such that Jews will see French Quebecers as anti-semitic … and French Quebecers will see Jews as anti- Québécois. Hence, if in fact Jewish and French-Canadian interests in Quebec were not complementary but rather competitive, to be for the French-Canadian interest would have been sufficient to make one anti-semitic … if the “new” definition of anti-semitism applies; and likewise to be for the Jewish interest would make one anti-Québécois.


And indeed, there are three good reasons, one material, one ideological and one constitutional, for affirming precisely that: to wit, Jewish and French-Canadian interests have been, in Quebec, in competition with one another.

Historically, the material conflict was with regard to small-scale commerce in Montreal in the first half of the nineteenth century.8 Both French-Canadians and Jews were immigrant communities as far as Montreal was concerned. The city was growing fast; the dominant commercial class, the Scottish and English, had attained a social status and economic position whereby they had little further interest in small-scale local commerce, and low-margin manufacturing such as the textile industry. As Weinfeld points out in his “Jews in Quebec,” Jews moved into this vacuum, and French-Canadians aspiring to do the same were envious. Half a century later, the same ethnic economic conflict exists, but in a changed Montreal economy it is now in terms of available careers for professionals in the private and public sectors. Having attained, in one generation, upper middle-class status, Montreal Jews are susceptible to being frustrated that professional and academic careers which they might have expected to occupy are now monopolized by French Quebecers.

This ideological conflict between the two, in a Canadian context, is a confrontation that was inevitable, given their common European history. French-Canadians were Catholics, and as in certain periods of Polish history, the Church became the repository of the nation (more particularly between 1850 and 1950, the century of Jewish immigration): a state for a stateless society. And, as it happens, Jewry holds the Catholic Church responsible for the emergence of anti-semitism in Europe in the nineteenth century; and for encouraging anti-semitism in the first half of the twentieth. Effectively, in Quebec the churches–or at least certain centres of influence within the Church–relayed a European anti-semitic rhetoric, as David Rome has demonstrated. Quebec Jewry indeed saw the Catholic Church as an antagonist.

The constitutional competition is now more diffused but in the 1920s it was very explicit in the form of the Jewish school question. The Montreal Jewish community sought, for very understandable reasons (they were denied the right to become school commissioners) their own confessional school system similar to that enjoyed by Catholic French-Canadians and Protestant English-Canadians. The French-Canadian elite considered such a request as a usurpation of their status as a founding nation in the Canadian confederation, and were of the opinion that extending the privilege to Jews would dilute their constitutional status within Canada.

Given the competing material, ideological and constitutional interests, it is not surprising that French-Canadians in Quebec were, at best, indifferent to Jewish interests; and Jews neutral or indifferent to French-Canadian interests. Indeed, given such competing interests, French Quebecers were considered by some, according to the “new” definition of anti-semitism, inescapably anti-semitic; and by the same token, Quebec Jews were considered to be given to “anti-québécism” by some Quebec nationalists. Notwithstanding, there exists a tradition of Quebec Jewish intellectuals who have sympathized with the Quebec “cause.”

The appearance on the Canadian intellectual scene of a neo-liberal political culture which relativizes all ethnic or national interests, and delegitimates cultural particularism, has proved to be convenient for the expression of this anti-québécism by segments of the English Canadian intelligentsia. For instance, the doctrine of the equality of the provinces, an intellectually seductive position but one which, nonetheless, constitutes a revisionist doctrine in terms of Canadian history and political culture, was taken up quickly by some Canadian proponents of neo-liberalism. Condemnation of nationalism is another tenet of neo-liberalism: nationalism is unjustified imposition of collective claims at the expense of individual rights. And in fact, many prominent Canadian Jewish intellectuals invoke their neo-liberal ideological doctrine to qualify contemporary Quebec as an a-liberal society.

Consider first Ramsay Cook’s preface. He begins with a quotation from Delisle herself: “What is a nation? It is an abstract idea. For me there are groups of humans, changing, constantly in transformation, but whose characteristics nationalists wish to congeal.” He then proceeds to recount the thesis saga, commiserating with Delisle: “she faced an unusual number of bureaucratic mishaps” and “her insistence on her right to an examination was finally recognized in September 1992.” As for the thesis itself, he undertakes to counter the criticisms put forward in the French press. Her book “is a thoroughly documented account of the anti-Semitic and anti-liberal ideology of right-wing French-Canadian nationalists,” and she is “well equipped to make a detailed analysis of Quebec history during [the] period.” He emphasizes “the rigour of her analysis” and affirms that “she had indeed successfully placed anti-Semitism in context.”

Yet the thrust of his apology is that Deslisle has raised “fundamental questions about the usable past, the essential nature of modern Quebec nationalist discourse.” He concludes by uniting his name to Delisle’s deprecation of nationalism, as manifested in his quote of her: “For nationalists everywhere, forgetting the past is at least as important as remembering it. The scandal of Esther Delisle’s book is its insistence of the remembrance of all things past.”

All of this is rather surprising from an historian who dedicated his 1969 anthologyFrench- Canadian Nationalism to André Laurendeau, one of Delisle’s much-quoted anti-semites; two texts, not one, by Lionel Groulx, the quasi-fascist, are reproduced in the book. At the time, some twenty years ago, Cook appears to have had a rather different idea of the legitimacy of French- Canadian nationalism: he found it to be an expression of a quest for “survival.” However, this was in pre neo-liberal revolution times.


What is the significance of all this for the future of Canada, a future that neo-liberal thinkers like Richler, Delisle and Ramsay Cook are also ostensibly concerned about? Canada’s political culture is eroding fast under the pressure of a neo-liberal orthodoxy that is delegitimating our common history … the only history we have and without which there would not be a Canada or a French-speaking Quebec today. Delisle’s delirium, reverberating in Richler’s writing, has consecrated a contemporary English-Canadian and international perception of contemporary Quebec as a fascist-leaning society. Such a perception facilitates the neo-liberal political cultural revolution in English Canada whereby our history is to be jettisoned because it was particularist, conservative and non-American.

Having said all this, and aware that in terms of the contemporary dispensation on what is anti-semitism, I may be allowed to say a few words on my own behalf. My defense is that I speak for a Canada that was sufficiently civil and decent (today we say tolerant and liberal) to have allowed as many Jews as it did to find refuge, to prosper and to remain Jewish. All I ask (to borrow the phrase from Richler’s consolation) is that such as my kind not be maligned as anti-semitic because we insist on speaking out, when necessary, to defend the memory of those who, in the first instance, made this country possible: those of the British and French cultural traditions in Canada. Groulx’s essay “Why Are We Divided” in French-Canadian Nationalism is, I submit, an appropriate instance of the continuing centrality of these two traditions. Richler, before writing his Requiem for a Divided Country, would have benefited from reading “Why We Are Divided” by Groulx.

Because both of these cultural traditions are central to the origins and survival of my country, I cannot let pass what is anti-québécism and flippant and shallow deprecation of the British cultural heritage in Canada. I also hold to “The Remembrance of All Things Past,” which is why, as a youth in 1962, I visited Auschwitz, and that before I searched out the graves of Samuel Lount and Captain Mathews, my “Patriot” heroes.

Referenced Works

Juifs et réalités juives au Québec edited by Pierre Anctil and Gary Caldwell (Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture, 1984).
L’Apolitisme des idéologies québécoises: Le grand tournant de 1934-1936 by André Bélanger (Presses de l’Université Laval, 1974)
The Jews in Canada by Robert Brym, William Shaffir and Morton Weinfeld (Oxford University Press, 1993).
French-Canadian Nationalism: an Anthology edited by Ramsay Cook (MacMillan, Toronto, 1969)
L’idéologie de l’Action Catholique (1917-1939) by Richard Jones (Presses universitaires de Laval, 1974)
Jews and French Quebecers: Two Hundred Years of Shared History by Jacques Langlais and David Rome. (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992)
The Imperial Challenge: Quebec and Britain in the Age of the American Revolutionby Philip Lawson (McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1989)
The Social and Political Ideas of French Canadian Nationalists 1920-1945 by Michael Oliver (Carleton University Press, 1991)
On the Jews of Lower Canada and 1837-38 by David Rome (Canadian Jewish Congress, 1983)
Clouds in the Thirties: On Antisemitism in Canada, 1929-1939 by David Rome (published privately, 1977)
Action Française: French Canadian Nationalism in the 1920s by Susan Mann Trofimenkoff (University of Toronto Press, 1975)
The French Canadians 1760-1967, (volume 1) by Mason Wade (Macmillan of Canada, 1968

  1. A more detailed account of the thesis evaluation is available in an essay I have just published in l’Agora

  2. I owe the tracking down of the presumed reference to Mme Josée-Legault. 

  3. On the real fascists of Quebec, see Martin Robin, Shades of Right (University of Toronto Press, 1992). 

  4. I owe this to Jean-François Nadeau, “Esther Delisle et l’abbé Lionel Groulx: une recherche incomplète et partiale,” La Presse, 3 juin 1993. 

  5. op. cit. 

  6. Le Devoir, 16 juillet 1993. 

  7. See my “L’antisémitisme au Québec” in Pierre Anctil et Gary Caldwell, Juifs et réalités juives au Québec(IQRC, 1984), p. 312. 

  8. Everett Hughes in his French Canada in Transition devotes a little-known chapter “Quebec seeks a villain” to this competition and its consequence.