Past Imperfect

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Past Imperfect is a forthright and uncommonly damning study of those intellectually volatile years [1944-1956]. Mr. Judt…does more than simply describe the ideological acrobats of his subjects; he is a sharp, even a vindictive moralist who indicts these intellectuals for their inhumanity in failing to test their political thought against political reality.”

-John Sturrock, New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...Past Imperfect is a well researched, passionately written hatchet job on the illusions and follies of a generation of post-war French Intellectuals. Judt begins by asking why communism dominated political and philosophical conversation in postwar France...Having put this period in context, Judt chronicles the emergence of a new generation of French postwar intellectuals and describes the central issues which preoccupied them: the legacy of four years of which came in their wake; Anti-Americanism and the Cold War; and the battles over French colonialism, especially in Algeria. He points out the key turning points; the Kravchenko and Rousset trials, brought by authors whose accounts of Soviet Communism met with disbelief and worse in Paris; the break between Stalin and Tito; the Rajk and Slansky show trials in east Europe; and finally in 1956, the suppression of the Hungarian uprising. Through it all, Judt traces certain disturbing patterns, especially the almost pathological flirtation of French intellectuals with violence and terror, from the French Revolution to Satre's support for political terrorism and Maoism."-Jewish Quarterly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Swept up in the vortex of communism, French postwar intellectuals developed a blind spot to Stalinist tyranny. Albert Camus, who had been an authentic moral voice of the Resistance, pretended not to know about the crimes and terrors of the Soviet Union. Jean-Paul Sartre perverted logic to make an apologia for the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Simone de Beauvoir called for social change to be brought about in a single convulsion, or else not at all. Foolish French thinkers, suffering ``self-imposed moral anesthesia,'' defended the credibility of the show trials in Stalinized Eastern Europe. In a devastating study, Judt, a professor of European studies at New York University, argues that the belief system of postwar intellectuals, propped up by faith in communism, reflected fatal weaknesses in French culture such as the fragility of the liberal tradition and the penchant for grand theory. He also strips away the postwar myth that the small, fighting French Resistance was assisted by the mass of the nation. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Judt argues that while most intellectuals were not Communists, they did act as apologists for a system that terrorized the very masses it purported to liberate. Judt's thesis is based on the indifference of French intellectuals toward the atrocities committed primarily by Stalin's Soviet Union under the guise of communism. Anti-Semitism, colonialism, capitalism, existentialism, and fascism are analyzed in their relation to communism and placed into historical context. The infighting and power struggles among the intellectuals (i.e, established writers, artists, philosophers) are also discussed at length. The concluding chapter, exploring the role of the intellectual in modern society, includes some harsh words about the influence of French intellectualism on American academics. Biased but convincing; strongly recommended for academic libraries.-- Janice Braun, Oakland, Cal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814743560
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2011
  • Pages: 348
  • Sales rank: 784,760
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Judt was a University Professor, the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies, and director of the Remarque Institute at NYU.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part 1 The Force of Circumstance? 13

1 Decline and Fall

The French Intellectual Community at the End of the Third Republic 15

2 In the Light of Experience

The "Lessons" of Defeat and Occupation 26

3 Resistance and Revenge

The Semantics of Commitment in the Aftermath of Liberation 45

4 What Is Political Justice?

Philosophical Anticipations of the Cold War 75

Part 2 The Blood of Others 99

5 Show Trials

Political Terror in the East European Mirror, 1947-1953 101

6 The Blind Force of History

The Philosophical Case for Terror 117

7 Today Things Are Clear

Doubts, Dissent, and Awakenings 139

Part 3 The Treason of the Intellectuals 151

8 The Sacrifices of the Russian People

A Phenomenology of Intellectual Russophilia 153

9 About the East We Can Do Nothing

Of Double Standards and Bad Faith 168

10 America Has Gone Mad

Anti-Americanism in Historical Perspective 187

11 We Must Not Disillusion the Workers

On the Self-Abnegation and Elective Affinities of the Intellectual 205

Part 4 The Middle Kingdom 227

12 Liberalism, There Is the Enemy

On Some Peculiarities of French Political Thought 229

13 Gesta Dei per Francos

The Frenchness of French Intellectuals 246

14 Europe and the French Intellectuals

The Responsibilities of Power 275

Conclusion: Goodbye to All That? 293

Suggestions for Further Reading 321

Index 335

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