Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956

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The uniquely prominent role of French intellectuals in European cultural and political life following World War II is the focus of Tony Judt's newest book. He analyzes this intellectual community's most divisive conflicts: how to respond to the promise and the betrayal of Communism and how to sustain a commitment to radical ideals when confronting the hypocrisy in Stalin's Soviet Union, in the new Eastern European Communist states, and in France itself. Judt shows why this was an all-consuming moral dilemma to a ...
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Overview

The uniquely prominent role of French intellectuals in European cultural and political life following World War II is the focus of Tony Judt's newest book. He analyzes this intellectual community's most divisive conflicts: how to respond to the promise and the betrayal of Communism and how to sustain a commitment to radical ideals when confronting the hypocrisy in Stalin's Soviet Union, in the new Eastern European Communist states, and in France itself. Judt shows why this was an all-consuming moral dilemma to a generation of French men and women, how their responses were conditioned by war and occupation, and how post-war political choices have come to sit uneasily on the conscience of later generations of French intellectuals. Judt's analysis exts beyond the writings of fashionable "Existentialist" personalities such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir to include a wide intellectual community of Catholic philosophers, non-aligned journalists, literary critics and poets, Communist and non-Communist alike. Judt treats the intellectual dilemmas of the postwar years as an unfinished history. French intellectuals have not fully come to terms with the gnawing sense of what Judt calls the "moral irresponsibility" of those years. The result, he suggests, is a legacy of bad faith and confusion that has damaged France's cultural standing, notably in newly liberated Eastern Europe, and which reflects the nation's larger difficulty in confronting its own ambivalent past.

Author Biography: Tony Judt, Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, is the author of several books, including Socialism in Provence, 1871-1914 (1979) and Marxism andthe French Left (1986).

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Editorial Reviews

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: 9780520086500
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/10/1994
  • Pages: 348
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Judt, Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, is the author of several books, including Socialism in Provence, 1871-1914 (1979) and Marxism and the French Left (1986).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Pt. 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
Pt. 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
Pt. 3 The Treason of the Intellectuals 151
8 The Sacrifices of the Russia 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
Pt. 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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