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Readings in Quebec History


Last revised:
29 August 2000

Gérard Bouchard, the ideology of "survivance" and its corollaries.


Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College.

Few historians of Quebec have reflected as long, and made such a significant contribution, on the subject of nationalism as Gérard Bouchard, perhaps presently the most prominent historian of Quebec, one of the few whose prominence extends beyond the borders of the province. To him, the ideology of "survivance" was at the heart of Quebec nationalism between 1840 and 1940. This ideology was all-encompassing ("globalisante") and took the form of a paradigm. Bouchard summarised it in eight principal propositions and eleven different corollaries. These are set-out below.

Principal propositions of the ideology of "survivance" in Quebec nationalism:

1. The conquest of 1763, the failure of the Rebellions of 1837-1838 and the new constitutional order instituted by the Union Act of 1840 have compromised the development of the nation. The social, political and economical prospects having been closed, the nation had to resign itself to put into operation a defensive posture, focused on a vision of the past, on survival, and on the protection of already established rights.

2. The nation will survive foremost through its culture, mainly religion, language, tradition and the remembrance of the things past.

3. The situation of the nation was judged precarious within Canada (political inferiority) and North America (numerical inferiority). Awareness of this precarious state creates durable diffidence and anxiety.

4. While fragile, the nation will rest upon, as well as find a great source of comfort, the vigour and the richness of the French tradition. Thus, the great importance to preserve and cultivate continuously references to the old culture of France, as a reservoir of values and models to reproduce and imitate. [In reality, Bouchard argued, the culture of French quebecers derived from four elements: the influence of France and Europe inherited from the past, widespread american influence, anglophone influence in Quebec and Canada and from whom French quebecers borrowed, and their own collective experience as it evolved over centuries. See Gérard BOUCHARD, François ROCHER and Guy ROCHER, Les Francophones québécois, Conseil scolaire de l’île de Montréal, 1991, 87p.]

5. However, at the same time, and this comes close to contradicting point 4, the nationalists were convinced of the poverty of French Canadian culture, held to be very inferior (some qualified it as mediocre) to other cultures, especially to that of France. The elite, over a century, made it its task to remedy this situation.

6. In a parallel manner, and despite the adverse conditions, the elite strengthened the will to build a society, and an original culture drawing on the resources of the New World and affirming its distinctiveness toward the Old World even at the expense of altering tradition. In this respect, they defined the nation as new, young and full of promise; yet, at the same time, this culture drew its roots from a tradition more than one thousand year old and of which it was the result and the extension in America.

7. In contrast to the neighbouring cultures of America, the nation, as it existed, was held to be exceptionally homogeneous in all respects. This gave it important advantages regarding cohesiveness, solidarity and faithfulness to its goals (vocation).

8. This nation was also very different from others, especially from the nation and culture of the United States. The educated class will continuously demonstrate this point, in all possible manners, outlining particularly the numerous distinctive elements of the nation. It amounts to have defined the components of a French Canadian "exceptionallism".

The eleven corollaries of the propositions:

1. The sentiment of collective powerlessness inspired an attitude of loyalism in politics. The future of the nation was imagined within the colonial and Canadian frameworks, while at the same time eroding them.

2. The determination to continue the rich tradition of the culture of France constituted an element of cultural security for Quebec. However, it was also a source of inhibition, it had "repressive effects" as it was an obstacle to original creativity in thought, arts and letters.

3. The realisation of the poverty and the underdevelopment of French Canadian culture inspired repeated attempts at constructing and reconstructing the national culture. Each generation of intellectuals grew up with the feeling that the national culture had to be reworked, redone or redefined. Once again, this underlines a paradox: the feeling is rather incompatible with the cult to tradition, to which they otherwise subscribed. The next two propositions also embody a paradox, if they are not in clear contradiction.

4. The culture of the common people, overly focused and adapted to the realities of this continent, constituted a menace for the national culture as conceived by the educated class whose models were French tradition and Europe. [Bouchard first developed this point in an article entitled "Une ambiguïté québécoise: les bonnes élites et le méchant peuple", in Présentation (Société royale du Canada), 1985-1986, pp. 29-43]

5. The culture of the common people was considered a treasure throve of the values, customs, and authentic French heritage that were to nourished the national culture so that it would remain faithful to its origins and assure its survival.

6. The strong sentiment of peril that envelops the nation fuels a kind of obsession with identity and impels a continuous search for distinct characteristics. This leads to the elaboration of fictitious representations of self (false identities) and of others (false differences).

7. The homogeneity of the nation is seen as an essential asset in the fight for survival; displaying this characteristic and to penetrate one’s self with this is important. This imperative led to glossing over elements of diversity, divisions and sharp divide.

8. The fragile nature of the nation inspired a great fear of others (foreigners). It also inspired the behaviour of social and cultural exclusion of the ethnic minorities established on the Quebec territory or wishing to establish themselves there. Anything that is different, threatens, one way or another, the nation. [Elsewhere Bouchard explained that as long as the language and the culture of French quebecers will not be accepted and valued by Quebec natives and immigrants, Francophones will remain ambivalent toward others as they perceive the resistance of the others as a menace to their culture. Better relations between groups in Quebec depend on the development of more favourable perceptions of each other that both sides should develop. See Gérard BOUCHARD, François ROCHER and Guy ROCHER, Les Francophones québécois, Conseil scolaire de l’île de Montréal, 1991, 87p. The phenomenon described by Bouchard in relation to Quebec is not peculiar to it. In another one of his books, Bouchard argued that the last decades have witnessed the large scale irruption of diversity, no more perceived by the nation-state, as was the case previously, as an anomaly and a phenomenon to be eradicated, but one with which it will have to reckon with in the future. According to him, the modern nation is engaged in a difficult transition between the old idea of homogeneity, frequently associated with forced assimilation, discrimination and exclusion, and the new diversity marked by respect for cultural particularism and the universality of individual rights. See Gérard BOUCHARD, La nation québécoise au futur et au passé, Montréal, vlb éditeur, 1999, 160p., pp. 31-32.]

9. This fear is especially directed at the United States, whose culture was presented as invasive, decadent and corrosive. The anti American discourse is closely associated to the paradigm of survival.

10. Because of this set of collective convictions and dispositions, the French Canadian elite, especially those operating in the socio-cultural domain, found it very difficult to establish in the New World spontaneous, free, coherent and creative relationships.

11. The inherent incompatibilities to the matrix of "survivance" have engendered an ambiguous discourse, nourished with syncretism. This component was the main characteristic of the educated class in the period of 1840 to 1940.

See Gérard BOUCHARD, Genèse des nations et culture du nouveau monde. Essai d’histoire comparée. Montréal, Boréal, 2000, 503p. The paradigm of "survivance" and the propositions are defined on pp. 107-110. To a large extent, the elements presented above are translated from these pages. The section on pp. 111-157 discussed the details of the dominant vision in the period of 1840 to 1940. Some of these were raised in the section on ultramontane nationalism (clerico-nationalisme) elsewhere at the site. The Bouchard vision is particularly rich and promising as it blends together not only historical events and the discourse of the elite, but as well the elements of popular culture and literature in a framework that compares Quebec society with that of other New World cultures.

For more than a decade, Bouchard has also been very active in attempting to reshape and modernise the vision of nationalism in Quebec and to define the conditions under which it would be not only acceptable but dynamic and enlightened [See as examples: "Sur l’avenir du nationalisme québécois dans une perspective interethnique et internationale", in Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Fifth Series, Volume IV, 1989, pp. 61-71; and "Manifeste pour une coalition nationale. Cette proposition appelle à une nouvelle concertation entre Franco-Québécois, Anglo-Québécois, autochtones et communautés culturelles", in Colloquium organised by Le Devoir, September 4, 1999, entitled Construire la nation québécoise; the Bouchard text is available at

Other sources on the web of texts by Bouchard discussing Quebec and the reshaping of the notion of nationalism in Quebec are: "Le Québec et la diversité", in Le Devoir, March 26, 1997.

"Pour décloisonner notre réflection collective", in Le Devoir, November, 24, 1997.

"Une francophonie nord-américaine", in La Presse, May 7, 1998

"Jeter les souches au feu de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste", in Le Devoir, March 24, 1999.

"Rectificatifs sur la nation, l’identité et la mémoire", in Le Devoir,May 4, 1999.

The year 1999 brought many interesting texts around themes discussed frequently by historian Bouchard: first there was a series of articles published in Le Devoir on the theme of La nation québécoise; later in the year, in October, there was a colloquium held at McGill University on the same subject. Consult the following site for further information

Bouchard participated in the debate. See "La nation québécoise. Manifeste pour une coalition nationale", in Le Devoir, September 4-5, 1999.

A discussion, in the form of several texts written in reaction to the text by Gérard Bouchard, is found in

Bouchard took great exception to the book written by John Saul and entitled Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the end of the Twentieth Century, 1997, 546p. See his review of the book : "la vision siamoise de John R. Saul" first published in Le Devoir, January, 15 and 17, 2000; available at

Consult the interesting reaction of Saul entitled "John Saul réplique à Gérard Bouchard: ‘Il n’y a pas de peuple conquis’ ", in Le Devoir, January 22 and 24, 2000. See

The exchange provoked others to state their views. See Claude Poulin "L’impasse de la classe intellectuelle face au nationalisme", Le Devoir, February 1, 2000.

Denis Vaugeois, "Réplique à Gérard Bouchard et John Saul: Cession ou Conquête? Les deux, bien sûr", in Le Devoir, February 4, 2000

On John Saul, consult

Louis Cornellier has discussed, in a critical manner, the ideas of Gérard Bouchard. See his texts published in Le Devoir, "Mon histoire est-elle une épopée", Le Devoir, December 20, 1998

and "Refaire la nation et l’histoire", Le Devoir, April 24, 1999

Other contributions on the themes frequently exploited by Bouchard are: Caroline Montpetit "Gérard Bouchard. Le casse-tête de la nation", Le Devoir, May 10, 1999

Claude Bariteau, "Un avenir commun au Québec?", text of a conference given on November 10, 1996.

Michel Seymour, "Débat sur l’identité québécoise. Un nationalisme non fondé sur l’identité", Le Devoir, April 26-27, 1999

Mathieu Bock-Côté, "Il est impossible de concilier la nation et l’idée de pluralité", originally published in L’Action nationale

Pascal Brindeau "La nation - contrat. L’Indispensable conciliation entre nation et pluralité", also originally published in L’Action nationale,

For further research on the themes of nation, nationalism, identity, and plurality as they relate to Quebec consult the following:

On the theme of the Quebec people and national identity:

On the theme of the Quebec nation:

On the theme of the Quebec people and diversity:

On the theme of the "Quebec model":

On the theme of French Canadians:

It is surprising, given the prominence of Bouchard among the historians of Quebec, and the nature of his preoccupation with Quebec nationalism, that none of his dozen books or 200+ articles have been translated into English. Note that Gérard Bouchard is the brother of Lucien Bouchard, premier of Quebec.

© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College