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Young Trudeau: 1919-1944: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada Paperback – May 17 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Douglas Gibson Books; First Edition edition (May 17 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771067496
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771067495
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.5 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #29,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


This spring I ran into ex-McClelland and Stewart publisher Doug Gibson at a Toronto gathering of environmentalists, one of whom was an author of his. During the ensuing conversation, the subject of Pierre Trudeau’s youthful memoirs came up, and Gibson expressed his dismay that Trudeau had permitted the writings on which they’re based to be included in the material he deposited within the National Archive of Canada at the end of his life. When we spoke the rumours were already flying-mostly out of Quebec-that Trudeau’s memoir demonstrated that in his youth he had ideas which didn’t exactly coincide with the federalist Trudeau Canadians know and either revere or loathe. In the years before the end of the Second World War, according to the rumours, the father of our constitution was a proto-fascist, anti-Semitic separatist busily plotting ways to take Quebec out of Canada and out of the anti-fascist alliance fighting Nazi Germany. Gibson was clearly bothered by these disclosures, and as the book’s publisher (he now edits his own paperback imprint at M&S, and seems happy to have left management to do what drew him to book publishing in the first place), he was confirming that they were true.
I pointed out to him that Quebecois luminaries like Lysiane Gagnon would be all too willing to do what they could to discredit Trudeau (she was “extremely shocked”), and I argued, without having seen the book, that this simply meant that Trudeau possessed the capacity to evolve. I also noted that nearly all of us have had funny ideas while we were young. I believed in the inevitability of an American invasion of Canada during the late 1960s, and I demonstrated the sincerity of my belief by buying a hunting rifle so I could defend our borders. It was a foolish belief, and I changed it when I understood the world better. What’s the problem?
But as I reran the conversation in the days that followed, I was reminded of one of the most important lessons I learned in university from Robin Blaser: that competent intellectuals can not permit themselves to blame thinkers for not knowing, say, in 1941, what was uncovered only in the decade that followed. Context, in other words, is not an optional parameter unless you’re training to be a Mullah. Equally important, it is poor intellectual method to be blaming people in the past for not agreeing with whatever now happens to be swirling around our dopey heads as received wisdom.
I think Gibson was worried that any revelations about Trudeau’s wacky post-adolescent ideas would undermine his reputation and discredit federalism. And given that our universities have by now degraded the conditions of knowledge sufficiently to make common practice of judging the past by present standards (don’t get me started on intellectual Mullahism that has become a non-denominational vice in Academia), his concern is legitimate.
The Nemni biography, now in print in William Johnson’s translation, offers a clearly sympathetic view of Trudeau as a privileged young French Canadian growing into and through his Jesuit intellectual training, which valued order and obedience over liberty. Did young Trudeau hold immoderate views? Yes, of course, particularly in terms of today’s values. But we should remember that until Trudeau himself helped to transform Quebec in the 2nd decade after World War II, the province was a closed society run by the Catholic church and a wealthy oligarchy of self-serving xenophobes. Was it a hotbed of anti-Semitic near fascists? Yes, but only in degree compared to the rest of the country. Quebec’s hostile response to conscription during both World Wars is surprising only to those who don’t understand the province’s sentimental connection to France began with de Gaulle’s notorious 1967 declaration of solidarity with Quebec separatism. In the first half of the 20th century, France was everything Quebec’s theocratic elite despised: a liberal republic, cosmopolitan and politically chaotic-hardly the ideal of censorious Jesuit dreams. Pierre Trudeau would have had to be autistic not to have picked up those views.
Yet if Trudeau was immoderate, he was not quite a fool. He read well beyond the prescribed Jesuit canon, took copious notes, and made discriminating judgements. For instance, a 1941 memoir entry, concerning the drawbacks of democracy cites “ignorance, credulity, intolerance, hatred for superiority, the cult of incompetence, an excess of equality, versatility, the passions of the crowd, the envy of individuals.” Those are the weaknesses of democracy, past and present. Then there are its virtues, the loyalty to which, without an understanding of the weaknesses, is merely sentimental faith, itself a dangerous kind of extremism we’re drowning in today.
The authors’ portrait of Trudeau is of a young man lodged securely in the values of his time and society. Even then, his intellectual energy and precision of mind prepared him-perhaps forced him-to move beyond its limitations. When he reached Harvard at the end of the war, the transformation to more cosmopolitan views was predictable, and not long in coming. In reality, the Nemni biography has provided a further texture to Trudeau’s greatness. It is a book worthy of our close attention.
Brian Fawcett (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

About the Author

Max and Monique Nemni are retired university professors who spent most of their working lives in Quebec. They were friends of Trudeau, who encouraged them to become the editors of Cité Libre and agreed to let them write his intellectual biography. The authors have both been much published in academic publications in both English and in French. They now live in Toronto.

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Format: Paperback
Widely revered and reviled as Canada's fifteenth prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919-2000) cast "a silhouette sublime across the canvas of his time." Despite this notoriety, there have been few detailed examinations of his formative years. In Young Trudeau, the first volume of a three-volume intellectual biography, Max and Monique Nemni attempt to fill this historical void. Although their effort contains some flaws, the coauthors contribute to a more expansive understanding of Trudeau's political philosophy.

Unfortunately, this book has been overshadowed by Citizen of the World, the excellent first volume of a biography written by John English, which describes Trudeau's life from his birth to his election as federal Liberal Party leader. By concentrating exclusively on his early years, the coauthors of Young Trudeau are more detailed in documenting and analyzing the conflicting intellectual currents that affected the future prime minister's educational evolution.

Max Nemni, a political science professor, and his wife, Monique Nemni, a linguistics professor, served as editors (1995-2000) of Cite Libre, a magazine co-founded by Pierre Trudeau in 1950 during Quebec's Quiet Revolution. Trudeau befriended the coauthors, and gave them access to his private papers, although this is not an authorized biography. The two professors also consulted extensive secondary sources that are discussed in the endnotes.

The major focus of this book's content is a study of Trudeau's twenty-five year socialization process in the religious, political, social, and economic context of French-Catholic Quebec from his birth to his departure for Harvard University in the fall of 1944.
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This biography covers the first twenty-five years in the sheltered and somewhat privileged life of Pierre Eliot Trudeau as a young student growing up in Quebec during the Great Depression and WW II. While most studies on this famous Canadian quickly summarize this early stage of his life with only a cursory mention of his being born into wealth, of having bi-cultural parentage, acquiring a strict Jesuit education, and travelling widely, the authors of this work take a different tack. With the aid of Trudeau's personal papers, they do some serious probing into what appears to be some significant social and political undercurrents at work in his very active and somewhat impressionable mind. First, the reader learns that the young Trudeau was definitely a prisoner of a very authoritarian French-Canadian culture that viewed the church and the state as indivisibly one. Though a serious reader and deep thinker, Pierre always deferred to the church when it to reading books from the proscribed list. His teachers and mentors were forever inculcating him with the notion that the church and state were partners in a holy cause to make Quebec culturally strong and politically independent of the rest of Canada. Anything outside its borders was deemed potentially heathen, communistic and dangerously anti-French. Then, we see Trudeau working very hard in school to understand his role in a society that was trying to distinguish itself as separate and distinct from a modern republican France within the context of an international war, even if that meant allying with fascist causes that identified with the likes of Petain, Mussolini and Hitler.Read more ›
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No matter what your politics, or who you've read before, this book (and the sequel, which I've only just started) will enrich your understanding of Quebec and Pierre Trudeau.
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Anyone who thinks Pierre Elliott Trudeau is a hero of Canada, a Canadian nationalist or even a democrat will get a rude shock from this well-researched book. What it shows is that Trudeau was a millionaire dilettante during WWII who ducked military service while he plotted with friends for the violent overthrow of the government. The reason for such a coup? He wanted to establish a Catholic, fascist state modeled on the one in Vichy, France.

There is also plenty of grist for anyone who wonders where Trudeau's Marxist and internationalist leanings came from.

For those of us who deplore what Canada has become since Trudeau introduced top-down, court-made law and replaced bottom-up, democratic, Parliamentary law; here is all the evidence we need. The problem with this book is that most Canadians have never heard of it; never read it.

If they had, and if it had come out earlier, our country would be a different, and much better place.
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I borrowed this book, out of interest. It turned out to be surprisingly candid about a man I have always despised. Touted as the great intellectual poet-politician, he was actually a totalitarian communist-sympathizer in disguise (at least in public). We owe our decline as a nation to his socialist policies, his "official bilingualism", his "multiculturalism", and his "Charter of Rights and Freedoms". We were doing fine before these were instituted. Nothing has been as good in Canada since he came to power. You only have to look around to see that, unless you are blind, or stunningly politically correct. It was good to see a book that actually told the truth about this supremely self-confident egomaniac, and to be able to understand why he was what he was, and why he did to us what he did.
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