This is a very detailed study of Pierre Trudeau during these 21 years. The emphasis throughout is on the political developments and changes within Trudeau and of his surrounding world.
I wish to emphasize the word "detailed". John English wrote two volumes on Trudeau's life; the first volume of about five hundred pages covered 1919 thru 1968. The first two volumes of Max and Monique Nemni go up to 1965 and combined together they amount to over eight hundred pages. In some ways the books of Nemni and English are complimentary. The English biography has more on Trudeau's friendships, particularly with women. In the Nemni volumes we get a much closer picture of Quebec life with its inward political stagnation during the 1940's and 1950's.
The Nemni's write with a great deal of enthusiasm and do an excellent work on making one feel the transitions that Trudeau underwent in his political-philosophical thought processes - first at Harvard, then Paris and in London under the tutelage of Harold Laski at the London School of Economics. When Trudeau studied at Harvard amid the tumult of the final months of the Second World War he began to realize how cloistered his upbringing had been in Quebec. His thinking began to take on a more democratic perspective and moved completely away from his previous nationalist-corporatist philosophy.
The book gives us a first-hand look at the theocratic Quebec state of the era with both Duplessis and the Roman Catholic Church at the helm. They controlled the province as their own fiefdom - there was censorship, education of French Canadians was dominated by the Church, elections were rigged and Duplessis intimidated, psychologically and physically, opponents, particularly unions. Quebec had never embraced democracy like the rest of English Canada.
Trudeau during the 1950's was severely reprimanded by both the clergy and political figures for articles he wrote in "Cite Libre". His journalism lacerated the infringement of the Church on the educational system. It was heretical of him to question the role of the Church in Quebec. Trudeau attacked Quebec's insularity, which was preventing it from becoming a liberal democracy. Only in the 1960's with the death of Duplessis and the ousting of his Union Nationale party did change begin in the province.
The effects of Harvard, Paris and London transformed Trudeau's thinking to the primacy of the individual in society. The role of the state is to protect the rights of the individual from being infringed on by the wider society, from corporations, from the Church and from the state itself. The function of a democratic state is to establish laws for the protection of individual rights. Trudeau's entire life became a campaign against the concept of the nation-state - where the nationality, whether it be race, ethnicity or religion, gives primary meaning to the state. It is why he was so opposed to the separatist-sovereignty movement in Quebec which he viewed as a retrograde nationalist movement whose aim was to re-establish a state similar to that of the Duplessis years. For Trudeau nationalism in any form was antithetical to his world-view - it was an ideology that made the individual subservient to the nation - like Nazism did in Germany. In a federation, such as Canada, several nationalities should be able to flourish. The constitution was there for the individual, not the ethnic grouping. The primary founding languages of Canada, English and French, were to be entrenched in the federal constitution.
The authors attempt successfully, I feel, to remove several myths about Trudeau. From an early age Trudeau saw himself as destined to enter politics. All the courses he took in law, economics and political science in Quebec and elsewhere pointed in that direction. He was not just a dilettante or playboy as many have tried to make him out to be. He was not aimless; he was a person in motion - his thoughts constantly spinning and absorbing new ideas. With his choice of words Trudeau always had a combative personality. He was not afraid to challenge established thought, with individuals in government, religion, or the media. By doing so, he made friends and enemies, sometimes in quick succession. Quebecers found this out very early in the 1950's, English Canada would come to learn more of him in the 1960's.This book by the Nemni's captures the spirit and era of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.