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L'Action française : l'appel à la race

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Maurice Barrés referred to the French Canadian survival in North America as "le miracle canadien ". In his novels and his parliamentary speeches, Barrés divulged his romantic attachment to the maintenance of French traditions. Recognition from a prestigious Frenchman was heart-warming to French Canadians. They acknowledged the attention by granting Barrés priority in the literary pages of Quebec1 s newspapers. The survival of French Canada however, was neither miraculous nor romantic. It was a perpetual struggle. That there was glory in the struggle, abbé Groulx was most anxious to portray. But the struggle itself stemmed from the determination, the will, the very character of the French Canadians. Institutions, traditions, social, religious and political patterns might help to form that character, to maintain its strength and cohesion; ultimately though, they were secondary, accessory to the fundamental belief in and desire for survival. It was the moral resolution of the French Canadian people that maintained their existence in North America. As long as time, place and language kept most French Canadians far from the madding crowd, the volition could remain in the realm of the sub-conscience. When the twentieth century brought its international communications in the form of war, its industrial development and techniques in the form of foreign capital and English tongue, its population growth in the form of sprawling and seductive cities, its political changes in the form of crumbling empires and nascent states, sub-conscious resistance or ignorant apathy would no longer suffice. French Canadians had to confront the novelties of the twentieth century actively. The domestic repercussions of the First World War shook the passivity of many French Canadians. The war1s summons for duty, patriotism and heroism contrasted sharply with Ontario’s educational persecution of the French speaking minority. The war's appeal to aid the two mother countries could not sweeten the bitter pill of conscription. The war's emotions of distrust and hatred coloured the furor of the federal elections of 1917. Each incident emphasized the feeble and unwelcome position of French Canada in Confederation. In a post-war world context of political and social effervescence, Confederation itself appeared feeble. Disunity, division, disequilibrium and disintegration characterized the economic, social and political scene. Where would French Canada stand in a disrupted Canada? Posing the question, piquing the apathy and prodding the will was the Action Française. Commencing as the Ligue des Droits du français in 1913, the Action Française was a small group of middle-aged men in the liberal professions, using intellectual means to present a moral message. Until 1928, the Action Française, heavily spicing its doctrine with the imagery of battle, urged an energetic reaction to the contemporary novelties that threatened French Canada (2). The tale of the Action Française as doctors and teachers of the French Canadian national conscience involves the selection of sustenance from Canadian predecessors and from a French homonym, the internal history and the external activities of the movement and the confrontation with the linguistic, economic, social and political challenges to the French Canadian will to survive.

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