Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century / Edition 1

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Overview

"Almost alone among contemporary critics, Tzvetan Todorov has chosen to apply his prodigious talents to the literature of twentieth-century totalitarianism. His unique gift is his ability to elucidate the memoirs and writings of some of the century's greatest survivors, not merely discovering their literary qualities but also finding in their works moral and political lessons relevant to us all."—Anne Applebaum

"This is a very rich book, full of interesting—and often highly controversial—conversation as well as moving portraits of striking figures of the century that has just passed. It is addressed to a general public very much engaged in discussing what the twentieth century was all about and where we are going from here."—Charles Taylor

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Editorial Reviews

Irish Times
Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation. . . . There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters.
— Tom Garvin
Guardian Saturday Review
The structural nature of evil, the human propensity for it, and it's relationship to ideas of the good, is Tzvetan Todorov's subject in this meditation on totalitarianism and democracy in the 20th century. . . . Totalitarianism, he argues, was the great innovation of the 20th century because it played so successfully to people's need for the absolute. . . . Todorov explores this in comparing the Soviet and Nazi systems and in examining the intellectual and legal conflicts between communists and their critics in postwar France and the continuing argument between right and left over which kind of excesses are most culpable.
— Martin Woollacott
First Things
A sense of moral outrage informs Todorov's [work]. . . . War does more harm than good, he believes, not matter what the announced intentions of the warmakers may be.
— Modris Eksteins
Toronto Globe & Mail
[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible. . . . It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds.
— Carl Joakin Gagnon
Toronto Globe and Mail

[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible. . . . It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds.
— Carl Joakin Gagnon
Irish Times - Tom Garvin
Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation. . . . There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters.
Guardian Saturday Review - Martin Woollacott
The structural nature of evil, the human propensity for it, and it's relationship to ideas of the good, is Tzvetan Todorov's subject in this meditation on totalitarianism and democracy in the 20th century. . . . Totalitarianism, he argues, was the great innovation of the 20th century because it played so successfully to people's need for the absolute. . . . Todorov explores this in comparing the Soviet and Nazi systems and in examining the intellectual and legal conflicts between communists and their critics in postwar France and the continuing argument between right and left over which kind of excesses are most culpable.
First Things - Modris Eksteins
A sense of moral outrage informs Todorov's [work]. . . . War does more harm than good, he believes, not matter what the announced intentions of the warmakers may be.
Toronto Globe and Mail - Carl Joakin Gagnon
[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible. . . . It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds.
From the Publisher
"Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation. . . . There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters."—Tom Garvin, Irish Times (Dublin)

"The structural nature of evil, the human propensity for it, and it's relationship to ideas of the good, is Tzvetan Todorov's subject in this meditation on totalitarianism and democracy in the 20th century. . . . Totalitarianism, he argues, was the great innovation of the 20th century because it played so successfully to people's need for the absolute. . . . Todorov explores this in comparing the Soviet and Nazi systems and in examining the intellectual and legal conflicts between communists and their critics in postwar France and the continuing argument between right and left over which kind of excesses are most culpable."—Martin Woollacott, Guardian Saturday Review

"A sense of moral outrage informs Todorov's [work]. . . . War does more harm than good, he believes, not matter what the announced intentions of the warmakers may be."—Modris Eksteins, First Things

"[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible. . . . It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds."—Carl Joakin Gagnon, Toronto Globe and Mail

Irish Times
Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation. . . . There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters.
— Tom Garvin
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691096582
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Hope and Memory

Lessons from the Twentieth Century
By Tzvetan Todorov

Princeton University Press

Tzvetan Todorov
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691096589


Chapter One


Chapter 1

What Went Wrong in the Twentieth Century

The whole world-the whole vast space of the Universe-shows the passive submission of inanimate matter; life alone is the miracle of freedom.
-Vasily Grossman, "The Sistine Madonna"

OUR LIBERAL DEMOCRACIES

The Great War of 1914-18 left eight and a half million dead on the battlefield, maimed another six million, and slaughtered a further ten million civilians. In the same period, Turkey caused the deaths of over one and half million Armenians; Soviet Russia, which came into being in 1917, killed five million in the ensuing civil war and in the famine of 1922, four million in the course of political repression, and another six million in the artificial famine of 1932-33. The Second World War brought about the deaths of at least thirty-five million people in Europe alone (twenty-five million of them in the Soviet Union), including the annihilation of at least six million who were Jewish, or Romany, or mentally retarded. Allied bombing of civilian targets in Germany and Japan caused several hundred thousand further deaths. To which we must add the bloody conflicts between the European powers and their colonial populations: the French in Madagascar, Indochina, and Algeria; the British in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus; and so on.

Such are the dates and crude statistics of the major killing fields of the twentieth century. If the eighteenth century is commonly known as the "Age of Enlightenment," should we not therefore call the twentieth century the "Age of Darkness"? The recitation of the list of the massacres and miseries of the past century, with its monstrous numbers blotting out the individuals who ought to be recalled one by one, is enough to make you give up trying to make sense of it. But to renounce understanding would be to lose everything.

The history of the twentieth century in Europe cannot be separated from the history of totalitarianism. The original totalitarian state, Soviet Russia, arose in the course of the Great War, and as a consequence of it, and thus bears the mark of that war very deeply. Nazi Germany followed soon after. The Second World War began with the two totalitarian states in alliance and turned into a merciless battle between them. The second half of the century was structured by the Cold War between the West and the Communist world. So the century that recently ended was dominated by the battle between totalitarianism and democracy and by the shorter struggle between the two branches of totalitarianism itself. Now that these conflicts have ceased, an overall picture emerges: it seems that, so as to put right what had previously been wrong, European nations tried one medicine, found the cure to be far worse than the malady, and so rejected it. Seen in that light, the twentieth century appears to have been an extended historical digression. The twenty-first century picks up the story as it was left at the end of the nineteenth.

Totalitarianism now belongs to the past; that particular disease has been beaten. But we need to understand what happened. As noted by Zheliu Zhelev, a former dissident who was briefly president of Bulgaria: before turning a page, you need to read it. It's a need that is an absolute necessity for those who, like myself, lived through the twentieth century. "You cannot prepare the future without clarifying the past," said Germaine Tillion in A la recherche du vrai et du juste (216). People who know the past from personal experience are duty bound to pass on its lessons to others. But what is the lesson of the twentieth century?

To tackle this question we need first to answer another one: what are the meanings of the terms "totalitarianism" and "democracy"?

Both terms are designations of what are now called "ideal-type constructs." What is meant by this term, first introduced in the historical domain by Max Weber, is an intellectual tool, a mental model designed to make historical reality more comprehensible-without it being necessary for there to have been any complete or perfect implementation of the construct in the real world. In other words, an "ideal-type construct" is an extrapolation that gives a sense to the underlying trend or dynamic of a political regime. Empirical reality may illustrate the "type" to a greater or lesser degree, may exhibit all or only some of its constituent elements, may do so for an entire period or only intermittently, and so on. It is important to grasp the distinction between the (ideal) model and its (concrete) applications. Some historians and sociologists still believe that they can do without conceptual tools altogether and rely exclusively on what they think is plain common sense. But "common sense" consists of nothing more or less than the abstract concepts and models wrapped up in conventional ways of saying things; as a result, commonsense commentators simply deprive themselves of any possibility of a critical understanding of their own conceptual tools. An "ideal type" is not in itself a statement of the true: its virtue lies in the degree to which it clarifies or helps us to understand empirical reality.

We are talking specifically about the political system, not about society as a whole and certainly not about specific dimensions of that society, such as its economy. It is obvious that the economic systems and social structures of political groups were completely different in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and nothing much would be gained by applying the same terminology to both of them.

Modern democracy, as an ideal-type construct, relies on twin principles, both of which were first formulated by John Locke in the seventeenth century, but which were articulated more clearly in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 (the "practical experience" of the revolutionary period required the theory to be adjusted). It is to Benjamin Constant and his Principles of Politics (1806) that we owe this restatement of the two basic grounds of democracy: autonomy of the individual and autonomy of the collectivity.

Autonomy of the collectivity is of course a requirement that we have inherited from the classical world, and it is contained within the very term of "democracy," which means "people power." The key questions in this respect are: do the people really hold power, or is it held by only one part of the people, or by a single individual (king or tyrant)? Does the power that is held derive solely from human agency, or is it granted by a supernatural force, such as God, the shape of the universe, or ancestral tradition? Political autonomy in this sense of the word is possessed only by a collectivity living under laws that it has made for itself and which it can modify as it wishes. Under this definition Athens was a democracy, despite the fact that its restrictive definition of "the people" excluded three-quarters of its population-women, slaves, and foreigners.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Christian states did not recognize political autonomy (which can also be called popular sovereignty) because they held the source of all power to be God. In the fourteenth century, however, William of Ockham went back to the early Christian principle that "God's realm was not of this world" when he declared that God was not responsible for the order and disorder of the world. Power over men, he said, belongs to men alone, and so he sided with the emperor in his struggle with the pope, who sought to combine spiritual and temporal power. From then on, the assertion of political autonomy grew ever more forceful, and it finally triumphed in the American and French Revolutions. "Every legitimate government is republican," stated Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the Social Contract of 1761 (II.6), adding in an important footnote: "I understand by this word... any government guided by the general will, which is the law"; even a monarchy could be "republican" in Rousseau's sense, provided it conformed to the fundamental principle of being governed by the "general will" of the people. In this kind of argument, "democracy," "collective autonomy," "popular sovereignty," "general will," and "republic" are closely related terms.

The French Revolution seized power from monarchs and thrust it upon the people (still defined restrictively). It did not turn out too well: terror, not freedom, reigned. Where did we go wrong? asked liberal thinkers, that is to say, those who supported the idea of popular sovereignty. What had been forgotten was the necessity of balancing collective autonomy with individual autonomy: the one does not derive from the other, they are two separate principles. John Locke had said it a century before: "The power of the society or legislative assembly constituted by [men] can never be supposed to extend further than the common good" (182). In the wake of the French Revolution, liberal minds like Siey`es, Condorcet, and Benjamin Constant realized full well that the power that had passed from the king to the people's representatives remained just as absolute (if not more so). The revolutionaries believed they were breaking away from the ancien régime, but in truth they were perpetuating one of its most damaging features. The individual aspires to autonomy no less than the collectivity, which can flourish only if the individual is protected not only from powers that lie outside his domain (such as the divine right of kings) but also from the power of the people and its representatives. That power can go so far, but no further than the limits that are set by "the common good."

"Liberal democracy" as applied to modern democratic states is thus constituted by the conjunction of two separate principles. Alternatively you can see two competing sides within liberal democracies-the "republican" and the "liberal," which Benjamin Constant called the "freedom of the Ancients" and the "freedom of the Moderns." Each has existed in the absence of the other. There was popular sovereignty without any protection for the freedom of the individual in ancient Greece; there have been monarchs ruling by divine right over societies where individual liberties were protected. What signals the birth of modernity in the political sphere is precisely the combination of these two principles.

Does this mean to say that modern democracies are states that know nothing higher than the expression of will, be it collective or individual? Could crime become legitimate if the people wished it and the individual accepted it? No. There is something higher than the general and the individual will-not the will of God, but the notion of justice. The supreme role of justice, however, is not specific to liberal democracies; it is the basic assumption of any legitimate political association and of any just state. Whatever form the association takes-tribal grouping, hereditary monarchy, or liberal democracy-it can only be legitimate if it accepts the basic purpose of ensuring the well-being of its members and the exercise of justice in their relationships with each other. Michael Kohlhaas, in the famous story by Heinrich von Kleist, does not live in a democracy, but that does not prevent him from protesting the injustice done to him or from pursuing his rights. No state can tolerate the arbitrary and selfish use of power. Like any legitimate state, democracy recognizes that the unwritten law that puts the political entity in the service of its subjects-and thereby asserts the respect that is due to them-should override the expression of the people's will just as it over-rules individual autonomy. For this reason, we can describe as "crimes" some of the things that are allowed by the laws of such and such a country (for instance, the death penalty), or describe some expressions of the popular will (such as Hitler's rise to power) as "disasters."

Liberal democracies belong to the generic category of legitimate states and to the species of legitimate states that respect collective and individual autonomy. Several additional rules stand alongside the two principles (on which they depend more or less directly) and make up our image of democracy. For example, the idea of equal rights for all (and everything that ensues from this idea) substantially amplifies the autonomy of the collective. If the people are sovereign, then all its members should share in power, with no distinction between any of the constituent parts of the people. Thus in a democracy the laws are the same for all, for the rich as for the poor, for the famous as for the humble. But actual democracies can be very imperfect, even while remaining true to their ideal-type construct. Sometimes they exclude large parts of the population from taking part in political life (in France, the poor had no vote until 1848; women had no vote until 1944). Universal adult suffrage is now part of our common definition of democracy, which is why the apartheid system in South Africa could not be included. Moreover, universal suffrage is almost always used to elect representatives, not to decide directly on each issue facing the collectivity. Despite apparent exceptions (such as California "propositions," the consultations of some Swiss cantons, and French referendums), modern liberal democracies use indirect means of decision in the overwhelming majority of cases.

The autonomy of the individual is never total, for it is only exercised within a limited sphere, the domain of private life. The most effective way of ensuring it-so effective that it has become more or less synonymous with freedom and can be seen as an end in itself-is pluralism. Pluralism has applications in many aspects of social life, but its meaning and purpose are always the same: plurality ensures the autonomy of the individual. It has its foundation in the separation of the theological and political domains that was launched by William of Ockham. It is important to emphasize that it is a separation of the two domains, not the triumph of the one over the other. Democracy does not require citizens to cease believing in God; it requires them only to contain their beliefs within the private sphere, and to allow their fellows to hold different beliefs. Democracy is a secular system, not an atheistic one. It does not set any particular ideal for each individual life but only ensures peaceful relations between varying ideals-as long as none of them contradicts the underlying principle of justice.

Individual lives engage with different spheres, and these too must remain separated. The basic separation in this respect is between public and private life, mirroring our distinction between the collective and the individual. Benjamin Constant was well aware that the two spheres follow different rules. Just as personal autonomy does not derive from the autonomy of the collective, so the world of personal relations remains distinct from the relations that exist between people by virtue of living together in the same society.

Continues...


Excerpted from Hope and Memory by Tzvetan Todorov Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms vii
Preface to the English Edition ix
Prologue: the last hundred years 1
Chapter 1: What Went Wrong in the Twentieth Century 5
Our Liberal Democracies 5
The Ideal Type of Totalitarianism 14
Scientism and Humanism 19
The Birth of Totalitarian Doctrine 26
War As the Truth of Life 32
The Two-Edged Knife 40
The Achievement of Vasily Grossman 48
Chapter 2: Two of a Kind 74
Peas in a Pod 74
Apples and Oranges 82
The Reckoning 91
The Achievement of Margarete Buber-Neumann 93
Chapter 3: Preserving the Past 113
The Control of Memory 113
The Three Stages 119
Testimony, History, and Commemoration 129
Moral Judgment 134
Master Narratives 142
The Achievement of David Rousset 148
Chapter 4: The Uses of Memory 159
The Frying Pan and the Fire 159
Serving Purposes 164
What Memory Is For 168
The Achievement of Primo Levi 177
Chapter 5: The Past in the Present 187
"Moral Correctness" 187
History and Myth 197
History and the Law 205
The Achievement of Romain Gary 213
Chapter 6: The Perils of Democracy 228
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombs 228
Kosovo: The Political Context 237
Military Intervention 251
Humanitarian Action and the Law 265
The Right to Interfere versus the Obligation to Aid 274
The Achievement of Germaine Tillion 291
epilogue: the next hundred years 311
Bibliography 319
Index 327

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Recipe

"Almost alone among contemporary critics, Tzvetan Todorov has chosen to apply his prodigious talents to the literature of twentieth-century totalitarianism. His unique gift is his ability to elucidate the memoirs and writings of some of the century's greatest survivors, not merely discovering their literary qualities but also finding in their works moral and political lessons relevant to us all."—Anne Applebaum

"This is a very rich book, full of interesting—and often highly controversial—conversation as well as moving portraits of striking figures of the century that has just passed. It is addressed to a general public very much engaged in discussing what the twentieth century was all about and where we are going from here."—Charles Taylor

Read More Show Less

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