Francis Parkman concluded his monumental account of France and England in North America with the Peace of Paris of 1763, by which France ceded Quebec, once and for all, to the British Empire. In an uncharacteristically smug observation on the aftermath, Parkman described the French Canadians as “a people bereft of every vestige of civil liberty,” adding,
Civil liberty was given them by the British sword; but the conqueror left their religious system untouched, and through it they have imposed upon themselves a weight of ecclesiastical tutelage that finds few equals in most Catholic countries of Europe . . . and if French Canada would fulfill its aspirations it must cease to be one of the most priest-ridden countries of the modern world.
I wonder what Parkman, who really did love Quebec and her people, would say today, now that nationalists have rejected not just priests and the Church but the entire Christian moral order. One might say that after surviving two centuries of English domination, Quebeckers have thrown out the baby Jesus with the holy water.
The most obvious aspect of the Quebec identity is language. It is my impression that French is more universal now than it was when I first visited the city some 35 years ago. One of the queerest results of the French separatist movement is the status of the French language. Canada is officially a bilingual country, and even...