Granted, I’m being a little cheeky. I am posting this on election day in Canada, where Prime Minister Trudeau may soon be Opposition Leader Trudeau–or, indeed, Former Prime Minister Now Working as a Barista in Disgrace Trudeau. Prime Minister Trudeau may well fight his way through to another term, but such are the risks that great figures face when they enter the fickle world of politics.
This was a lesson that Justin Trudeau’s father new well. Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau came onto the Canadian scene in the 1960s as a political rockstar, gaining an international reputation and easily winning the 1968 election, securing his place as the 15th Prime Minister of Canada. In 1972, however, Trudeau’s Liberals won a slim majority of seats, requiring the 3rd-party New Democrats to prop up his minority government–a second term squeaker that is a likely scenario tonight. It was a fruitful coalition, and Trudeau won handily in 1974, only to lose in 1979. After an unsustainable Conservative minority fell in 1980, Trudeau won a majority for his final term.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau was many things to many people, and did great and terrible things. “Just watch me!” he would challenge people when they warned him about the potential for failure. As a personality, he never failed to intrigue and offend. He danced behind the queen, gave the Prairies the middle finger (the “Trudeau salute”), and dated Barbra Streisand.
And, on top of these colourful and dubious achievements, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau also read The Screwtape Letters.
At least, that is, he knew enough to reference Screwtape, and did so in a letter of congratulations upon the launch of The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, a quirky, zine-style newsletter in those heady days of the 70s and 80s as Lewis was rising as a literary and religious figure.
One of the idiosyncratic features of the newsletter was that it printed notes from readers, often raw and unedited. One of these notes is from an embattled Prime Minister Trudeau, facing his last days in office before an election that he would lose. It is not a terribly well-written letter, and it is not clear that Trudeau knew the significance of what he was quoting for his own political future. Still, he took the time to send a note to The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal and honour Lewis as an important 20th-century literary figure.
Thanks to a happy accident, I can now share this Trudeau-Lewis letter with you.
I had seen the letter in a visit to the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library. Beyond being a superb resource for scholars and fans of sf and fantasy, the (Judith) Merril Collection has a good C.S. Lewis archive with the entire Canadian Journal collection. I had read the Trudeau note there, but without permission to photograph it, it remained merely a note in my journal.
Recently, however, I have been going through some books by a former student of C.S. Lewis, Eddie L. Edmonds. In his copy of A.N. Wilson’s biography of Lewis, I found the Trudeau note torn from the journal and folded between the pages. It was a discovery that greatly increased my admiration for Wilson’s biography!
And, honestly, it is a bit of Lewis fun. So now, I choose to share it with you! A picture of the note is followed by a transcription.
I have finally found someone nearby with most of the 100 or so issues of the Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, so I look forward to learning much from the past readers of Lewis, sharing in their love and wisdom–and no doubt some of their peculiarities. For now, though, here Prime Minister Trudeau’s note on C.S. Lewis and The Screwtape Letters. True, he got Clive Staples Lewis’ name wrong, and the entire thing might have been written by a staffer. Quoting Kenneth Tynan, though, is a nice touch, and it is nice to think that prime ministers of the past at least carried out the facade of literacy.
No doubt, not a few of Screwtape’s protégés do fine work on Parliament Hill.
Prime Minister-Premier Ministre
The Future is something everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
Clive Stephen Lewis has indeed reached the future and will continue to do so, for his works were of inspiring and eternal wisdom.
In paying tribute to a great man, and to use Kenneth Tynan’s words: “a classical writer, a mediaeval poet, and a brilliant and vivacious mind.”, the Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal is pursuing in its own way, the communication of those works.
As you launch your journal, I am pleased to offer to the management and staff my sincere congratulations and best wishes of success.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Oh how I long for those days long gone, when politicians still attempted to project a façade of literacy!
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Those were the days! (insert jazz hands!)
I don’t honestly know if those days ever existed, but Trudeau Jr does not have the literarity of his pappy.
No doubt, not a few of Screwtape’s protégés do fine work on Parliament Hill. Love that comment and it is so true, not only of Parliament Hill, :-).
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Yes, some other hills and mounds and cities too.
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Thanks for this! (What great work to be doing, “going through some books by a former student of C.S. Lewis”!)
“Pierre Elliot Trudeau was many things to many people, and did great and terrible things.” Does that deliberately echo Garrick Ollivander on Tom Riddle? The pop-cultural reference which sprang to my mind was this passage from a student of a student of Lewis:
The robot, said Ford, “comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, … “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”
Curiously, on 8 October Justin Trudeau tweeted, “Andrew Scheer is bringing far-right, American-style politics north this election season, and he must be stopped” – with a graphic which identified as “Alt-Right” more than one position held strongly by George Grant (!) – while I have seen it suggested (in substance) that Andrew Scheer might well have fared better were he more Grantian. Interesting is, that in the only slightly detailed statistics I’ve seen so far, if the successful candidates identified as “socially conservative” were a distinct party, they would be the third largest (though only about a third of the “socially conservative” candidates distributed over 4 parties and none, did succeed). I want to see lots more statistical detail, but I am reminded of Lewis’s “Meditation on the Third Commandment” of 10 January 1941 about a non-party-bound approach to politics.
Ha, well done. Ollivander–though really the film version in my head.
Great HHGTTG ref! I have to reread those. It’s been 5 years or so.
Yes, well, George Grant was a conservative gadfly, wasn’t he? Not just politically, of course, but as a public intellectual. We have few of those left that are sane enough to be in the conversation, and of those sane (and smart) enough, not enough liberals who believe in free (liberal) thought exchange.
Oh well, go with Lewis on this one.
The Canadian ambassador to Tanzania was visiting us when Pierre Trudeau “went missing”—very worried he was. Secret service (or Canadian equivalent…) did not find him for a few days. He’d eloped with Margaret and they were honeymooning somewhere!
Wow, great story! That crazy guy….
Having not gotten around to trying to read up on Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau and his ‘works’, yet, I just encountered two relevant articles by a scholar-writer-blogger I somehow never encountered before, and found them well worth reading:
Thanks David, I didn’t know that critic but he is right that pressures to conform are critical to Trudeauism. It’s a concern for any lovers of liberty, even if they agree with him on the issues.
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