Rant of the Week

The Stature of Rene Levesque



I have always liked Rene Levesque, and I think I like him even more in death than I did in life.

In life, of course, Levesque was a Quebec Nationalist, a separatist who  dreamed of creating a Francophone state from the remains of Canadian Confederation.   I didn't agree with his politics-- I've always believed that Nationalism is just a tarted up version of tribalism-- but he was an honest man, and a straight-shooting politician.  He wasn't a hypocrite either.  That's quite an achievement for a Canadian politician.

Levesque was 5' 3" tall.  When the Quebec legislature decided to erect a statue of the former premiere, his family made it clear that they wanted none of that bombastic iconography that living hypocrites employ in honor of the dead.   The statue would be 5' 3" tall.

Now you may think that it is only natural that a statue would be the same height as its subject. This is what the guy looked like. You can stand beside the statue and feel like this is a guy you could tell your problems to. 

But most statues are not life-sized.  Most statues, you see, are about 40% bigger than lifelike.  Premiere Lesage stands about eight foot tall.   When people walk by, they look up at this awesome man and think, what a hero!

Why is he a hero? Because his statue is so big.

Rene Levesque was also a heavy smoker.  The statue makes it look like he should be holding a cigarette in his left hand, but the party leaders had to draw the line somewhere.  The good citizens of Quebec generously stick real cigarettes into the bronze fingers: here, Rene, have one on me.

What goes through the minds of the functionaries, bureaucrats, and politicians when they decide on the size of a statue?  Why would they make the statue eight feet tall?   It seems to me that human nature is rather impure in this area.  Monuments are rarely truly meant to honor the subject of the monument.   They are made to honor the people who made the monument.  France, for example, has innumerable monuments to wars and generals and battles.  France, of course, has never won a single decisive battle in it's history.  These monuments are testaments to the spirit of denial and hypocrisy.  These monuments say, "we are heroic, because we have monuments to heroes!  Disregard the evidence of history: our leaders are giants!"

The monument to Levesque is unusual because it says, this was a guy who didn't pretend to be any bigger or better than you or me.  He was honest and real.   He'd rather show you the unpleasant truth than a varnished lie.  He knew what it was like to stand in a crowd of powerful, well-dressed men, and not be noticed.   Quebec made him their first and best separatist leader.

But the leaders of the Party Quebecois want to put his monument on a pedestal so it will tower over the citizens of Quebec.  They want the monument to reflect how they see themselves: Look at us and tremble!  We are mighty giants!

I think they go to sleep in fear and trembling every night because they are afraid that after they die, someone will put up a monument to them, and it will be exactly the size it should be.

All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk
 2001 All Rights Reserved