UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Re-conceiving the Canadian state : Trudeau and the rise of modern liberalism Jackson, Matthew John


No Prime Minister has ignited the public imagination like Pierre Elliot Trudeau; and yet, no prime minister has been as misunderstood. Trudeau dominated Canadian politics for nearly fifteen years; his impact on Canadian political culture has been arguably greater than any other figure of the late twentieth century. Yet major aspects of his political thought have been misconstrued or ignored in the scholarly studies of his life, thought, and political activity. This thesis attempts to illuminate aspects of Trudeau's political thought that are important for understanding the actions of his government, and for understanding Canadian political values that exist in the 21st century as a result of his influence. Three primary arguments are put forward. Firstly, that Trudeau was a modern liberal whose thought was consistent with the tradition of modern liberalism as it existed in Canada. Secondly, that Trudeau was a radical within that tradition, reforming it significantly according to his own ideas, which had been strongly influenced by French personalist philosophy and the political economic ideas of his mentors—such as Joseph Schumpeter—at universities in the United States, France and England. And thirdly, that Trudeau's form of modern liberalism was high-modernist, a Canadian variant of that international movement of political scientism that swept through much of the world in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. With these different aspects of Trudeau's thought unveiled, concluding thoughts on the potential negative consequences of his philosophy are offered, such as the universalistic tendencies of his form of liberalism, and his unrealistic faith in social science knowledge to solve all human political, social, and economic problems.

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