Saturday, August 19, 2006

The follies of youth: Trudeau, Grass and young Muslims

Canadians were recently jarred by a biography of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, he of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, when it revealed he had been, in his youth, something of a fascist. Among other things, he blamed WWII on the British, expressed anti-Semitic views, approved of the Vichy regime in France, and dreamed of a revolution that would create an authoritarian, Catholic, independent Quebec.

Now, in his forthcoming autobiography, Gunter Grass, Nobel laureate and a man considered by many the conscience of modern Germany, confesses he spent his youth in the Waffen SS, a unit in Hitler's Nazi elite. The shock isn't so much that he was in the unit (he was drafted) but that he has in the past been so miserly with the truth.

What is most intriguing to me is not that these two men experienced these sordid pasts, but how incredibly successful they were in overcoming them and doing not only great service, but great service in the cause of human rights, for their countries. Unless one is a psychologist, which I am not, one can only conclude that passionate young men can get caught up in the passions of their times and act them out before they have had time to form the moral philosophy that is true to their nature. In effect, they betray themselves before they are themselves. Or perhaps they are simply betrayed by their times as most of us are to some extent.

This brings me to those young Muslims caught up in a mighty anger toward Western neo-imperialism. Some have been so captured by this passion, they have placed bombs in public places, or at least planned to. I cannot help but wonder how many are true zealots and how many are, like Pierre Trudeau or Gunter Grass, simply betraying themselves. As a confirmed optimist, I will simply hope there are Trudeaus or Grasses among them, that they do not fall prey to violence, and that ultimately they discover their true natures and develop their true philosophies, to their benefit and ours.


At August 22, 2006 9:01 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Shanklin said...

I am drawn to your discussion of Pierre Trudeau's and Gunter Grass's earlier identities as youthful alienation. I think that both men had been nurtured so that they could find true caring core selves and from their deeper identities reject the identity imposed upon them by patriarchy.
(I recall having read that Gunter Grass considers himself a matriarchist.)

I am not as optimistic as you about many of us being able to revert to deeper selves because fewer and fewer of us have had our deeper selves nurtured; in fact, many of us have been neglected as we emerge from the womb, or have had our selves attacked.

But I very much appreciate your courageous orientation and comprehensive articulation of a matriarchal perspective. I just discovered your "Confessions," and read it with great pleasure. I have been a matriarchist ever since I was a student of Ancient Greek at Columbia University in the 60's, and in a class translating "The Odyssey," my professor said that Phaeacia was Homer's vision of an ideal society, a matriarchy.

I joined The Feminists in the 70s when I saw the group marching with a banner, "Restore Matriarchy"; I went on to explore the thought of the 19th century women's movement in the U.S. in my M.A. essay "Toward Matriarchy: the Radical Struggle of 19th Century Women in the United States." ( Nineteenth century women argued that maternal nurturance was the key to trusting, harmonious international relations. I think their point has not been disproven. ( As far as I know, Mme. Necker de Saussure first made the point in the 1830s in her influential "Progressive Education.")

Elizabeth Shanklin


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