This is a book about freedom – and the lack of it – in Canada: freedom from useless and often degrading toil, freedom from want and freedom from ignorance. It is Pierre Berton’s thesis, documented by public statements made over the past generation, that a smug minority of business and political leaders has conspired to inhibit that freedom. The establishment, says Berton, has brainwashed the public into believing a series of myths which have no validity in a post-Puritan age. These myths include such old saws as “A woman’s place is in the home” . . . “Anybody can work his way through college” . . . “Satan finds more mischief still for idle hands to do” . . . “Too much security kills initiative” . . . “It’s your own fault you’re so poor.
The author indicts his fellow countrymen for failing to invest in human beings in the same way that they invest in power plants, highways, and gold mines. His researches into poverty in Canada and into inequalities of the educational system will shock a good many readers just as his theories on work and leisure will enrage others raised in the Calvinist ethic. The book ranges over a wide variety of topics: the hippie movement in Toronto’s Yorkville village . . . the author’s personal experiences in a Yukon mining camp . . . the future of educational television in Canada . . . the Chamber of Commerce’s abortive “Operation Freedom” campaign. But always Berton hammers on his central theme – that the nation has been held back by an inbred power-elite: “Selfish, narrow, short-sighted men unable to grasp the vision of the future, imprisoned by a bookkeeping attitude to life, creeping silently and blindly along at the tag end of the parade of progress.”
The Smug Minority is certain to stimulate the same kind of national debate that the author’s previous best-selling book about religion, The Comfortable Pew, engendered. Many will disagree with its central thesis but few will be able to put it down. It’s that kind of book.