In the comments thread to Melissa's QoD yesterday, I suggested The Essential Trudeau as a pretty good place to start if you want to understand liberal thinking. It struck me later, of course, that I'd recommended a Canadian book that most Americans probably would not have come across.

The Trudeau of the title is Pierre Trudeau, who was Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 through 1984 (with a brief interval in 1979). He was not only one of the great Canadian prime ministers, but was also a political writer of merit. Shortly before his death in 2000, Ron Graham edited a slim volume of excerpts from Trudeau's writings -- The Essential Trudeau -- to give a sense of his thinking.

I don't offer this as canonical, but I think that a few excerpts from the excerpts give a good sense of what Trudeau and Canadian liberalism have been about. Please note that Trudeau tends to use "he" and "man" to refer to people in general, as was the usual practice at the time he wrote most of this (also, some of it is translated from French).
The liberal is an optimist at heart, who trusts people. He does not see man as an essentially perverse creature, incapable of moral progress and happiness. Nor does he see him as totally or automatically good. He prizes man's inclinations to good, but knows they must be cultivated and supported.

A liberal can seldom be a partisan of the status quo. He tends to be a reformer -- attempting to move society, to modify its institutions, to liberate its citizens. At the same time, the liberal is not an anarchist because he does not believe that a free man can live as a total individual outside society. Nor is the liberal a revolutionary who believes that society must perpetually be scrubbed clean of the tracings of the past, must always begin again from an antiseptic tabula rasa. I like to say that a liberal is on the left, but no farther.

The point of human society is that people living together, by mutual help, co-operation, and the division of labour, can fulfil themselves better than if they lived apart. If men and women could not direct their collective effort to that end, they might as well go off and live all alone in the woods and on the hills.

The purpose of living in society is that every person may fulfil himself or herself as far as possible. Authority has no justification except to allow the establishment and development of a system that encourages such fulfilment in every human being.

The liberal's concern with freedom of the individual must also be a concern for the milieus in which individuals develop towards their full potential.

Neither authority nor obedience ought to be taken for granted. If my father, my priest, or my king wants to exert authority over me, if he wants to give me orders, he has to be able to explain, in a way that satisfies my reason, on what grounds he must command and I must obey.

The value of a government derives not from the promises it makes, from what it claims to be, or from what it alleges it is defending, but from what it achieves in practice. And it is for each citizen to judge that.

Security, even absolute security, is not an end in itself. It is only the setting that permits us to pursue our real ends: economic well-being, cultural attainment, the fulfilment of the human personality. But those ends are all incompatible with a world of neighbours armed to the teeth.

What we face now is not deprivation, but the challenge of sharing. We need not do without, but we must be good stewards of what we have. To ensure nature's continued bounty, we are not asked to suffer, but we are asked to be reasonable.

When the day came that neither the individual nor private enterprise could provide the bridges and roads needed for travel; organize the police and fire brigades required for public safety, or devise the water and sewage systems necessary for hygiene, the community simply decided to solve these problems communally, though the state. And nobody dreamt of crying "Communism!"

We should start, then, by banishing from our political mores the whole concept that a prime minister gives bridges, roads, schools to his province. These are works that society needs, that it gives to itself and pays for through taxes. A prime minister gives nothing at all (unless it is his superfluous services); quite simply, he works in the service of the state as an instrument through which society gives to itself.

Will anyone think I am preaching statism? On the contrary, I am preaching the doctrine of the servant state. For if I say today that the state should do more in the name of the community it is only after repeatedly saying that no political authority has an unconditional right to exist. I want the state to do more, but only after we have stopped thinking of it as an absolute master. In fact, if we were to extend the powers of the state without having multiplied our means of controlling its policy and limiting its methods of acting, we would tend to increase our enslavement. That is why I am wary of those who preach indiscriminate nationalization without setting themselves first to undermine the undue majesty of political power.

What holds us to democracy is not that it is faultless but that it is less faulty than any other system.

A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.

To me liberalism is not a doctrine. Liberalism is a way of thinking, a way of approaching problems to make sure that the individual gets the maximum amount of respect and hopefully as great an amount of equality of opportunity in Canada, and in the world, as possible.

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