The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century / Edition 2

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The late Francois Furet was acknowledged as this century's preeminent historian of the French Revolution. But several years before his untimely death, he turned his attention to the consequences and aftermath of another critical revolution in the history of the modern world - the Communist revolution. The result, Le passe d'une illusion, was published initially in France, where it was critically acclaimed and went on to be a bestseller. Not surprisingly, it also became a catalyst for discussion and controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. Now available in English, The Passing of an Illusion can be understood, certainly, as a study of Communism but also as a history of the myth of Communism as it was perpetuated by its admirers. Furet illuminates how the support for Communism and its embodiment, the Soviet Union, became virtually synonymous with "anti-Fascism" and how this intellectually strategic arrangement reverberated through the West.
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Editorial Reviews

Tony Judt
[The Passing of an Illusion] is an important book....It is about the self-serving myths of our century and the illusions we still harbour concerning is the first stab at a twenty-first-century history of our time.
Times Literary Supplement French edition
Kenneth R. Weinstein
...Furet...was someone who took history seriously — using a frank and impartial appraisal of the past to guide how we should live now....With The Passing of an Illusion, Furet has given us as his final gift a history that is comprehensive and compelling. —The Weekly Standard
Michael Ignatieff
...Furet's book is not quite about an illusion whose time has passed. Its real subject is an illusion that refuses to die....It should be said at once that this is a great book: passionate yet Olympian mordant yet humane. It is not a history of communism, but of communism's central illusions..... The moral of his story, surely, is humility.
New Republic
Mark Lilla
Furet sets the stage for the rise of the Communist idea by returning to the French Revolution and describing the tension between the bourgeois world it created in economics and politics and the antibourgeois passions it bred in the human heart....[W]hat remains? In Furet's view, less than nothing: "All that remains of the regimes born" of the October Revolution "is what they sought to destroy."
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A bestseller in France translated into 13 languages, this lucid "interpretive essay" is a particularly Eurocentric "history of the illusion of Communism during the time in which the USSR lent it consistency and vitality." Despite the broad promise of the title, Furet (1927-1997), a noted historian of the French Revolution (Revolutionary France, etc.), limits his study to Europe, especially France, and barely addresses the post-Khrushchev years. Both European fascism and communism, he argues, were antibourgeois passions fueled by mass politicization and post-WWI social fracturing. Quite interesting for American readers are his portraits of European intellectuals who, despite evidence of Soviet depredations, remained loyal to the revolutionary ideal. Also valuable is his close study of antifascism in France, where antifascist communists gained prominence. In one of the few allusions to the American scene, he notes that European intellectuals lacked a Hannah Arendt to conceptualize both the fascism they had opposed and the communism they embraced under the heading of totalitarianism. While he claims, a bit sweepingly, that the communist idea has now been liquidated, he astutely notes that the problems communism professed to solve--the tensions inherent in bourgeois democracy between the needs of humanity and the needs of the market--remain. That insight is a fitting coda to this solemn and measured obituary of the communist idea. (June)
Library Journal
Furet, who gained prominence as a historian of the French Revolution, died shortly after this book, his last, became an unexpected best seller in France. Turning to the question of the "universal spell" of communism and the impact of the Soviet experiment on European intellectual life, Furet argues that Russia's October Revolution affirmed "the role of volition in history and of man's invention of himself." Lenin and his followers were able to offer working-class militants and disaffected intellectuals the "modern elixir" of a complete break with bourgeois society. After the triumph of the Bolsheviks, "no country, no matter how distant, exotic, or unlikely, would be considered ineligible to be a combatant in the universal revolution." The problem, of course, was that the revolution promised more than it was able to deliver. According to Furet, the early Soviet system was "fraudulent" and politically inept, and the rise of Stalinism only deepened the regime's authoritarianism. Furet writes with wit and insight, and even those who might disagree with his conclusions will find much of substance in this volume. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Kent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
An English translation of a work originally published in France in 1995, this volume discusses the reality and the myth of Communism in the 20th Century. Furet, a recipient of France's highest intellectual honor, shows how support for the idea of Communism, as well as for the Soviet Union as its embodiment, came to be seen as synonymous with "anti-Fascism," despite the common nationalist origins of both Fascism and Communism. He discusses the ramifications of this confusion for both the East and West. The author's personal experience as a Communist himself during the years 1949 to 1956 lends a personal aspect to his investigation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Jacob Heilbrunn
"Communism," Foret observes, "is completely contained within its past." There are few better starting points to understanding that past than this study.
WQ: The Wilson Quarterly
Mark Lilla
Furet sets the stage for the rise of the Communist idea by returning to the French Revolution and describing the tension between the bourgeois world it created in economics and politics and the antibourgeois passions it bred in the human heart....[W]hat remains? In Furet's view, less than nothing: ''All that remains of the regimes born'' of the October Revolution ''is what they sought to destroy.''
The New York Times Book Review
Kenneth R. Weinstein
...Furet...was someone who took history seriously — using a frank and impartial appraisal of the past to guide how we should live now....With The Passing of an Illusion, Furet has given us as his final gift a history that is comprehensive and compelling.
The Weekly Standard
Jeffery Herf
The publication of [this] American edition makes accessible to the general reader the most thought-provoking historical assessment of communism in Europe to appear since its collapse. Thanks to a splendid translation—a labor of love and insight by Furet's widow, Deborah—we now have an English edition that captures the literary elegance and sharp historical reasoning of the French original.
The Wall Street Journal
Kirkus Reviews
A subtle, nuanced, but gripping study of the most pervasive and destructive illusion of the 20th century, that of the virtues of communism. This book by the late Furet, a member of the Académie Française, and scholar of the French Revolution, and himself a former Communist, has already been translated into more than a dozen languages. In it he tries to grapple with the paradox of the wide admiration for a regime like that of the Soviet Union, manifestly unfree, economically unsuccessful, and unprecedentedly brutal toward its people. He finds the basis for its appeal in its seeming promise of human equality but even more in the disillusionment created by the First World War, from which National Socialism also received its impetus. Indeed, he finds that communism and Nazism fed off each other and even suggests that Stalin, who admired Hitler's ruthlessness, learnt a lesson from the "Night of the Long Knives," during which Hitler purged the stormtroopers. Most of all, communism benefited from being seen as the sole anticapitalist, antifascist force. Its universality can be understood by its appeal even to the reformist British intelligentsia. Most surprising of all was the bland indifference of Western intellectuals to the monstrous cruelty of the terror. It was only when the terror had largely subsided, and when the Pasternaks and the Solzhenitsyns were merely being gagged and harassed rather than executed, that intellectuals protested. The end came, in Furet's view, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes, which brought into question the two wellsprings of the Soviet regime: ideology and terror. Most ironic of all, Furet suggests, is the paucity of interest shown byEuropean intellectuals in the virtues of the American system of government. Furet devotes himself almost entirely to Europe, and the book, for all its vitality, is not easy reading. But there are few books that deal so well or with such subtlety with the opiate of the closing century's intellectuals.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226273419
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2000
  • Series: History Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 600
  • Sales rank: 1,002,600
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

François Furet (1927-97) was professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris and professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His many works include Interpreting the French Revolution, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, and In the Workshop of History,the latter two published by the University of Chicago Press.

Deborah Furet is François Furet's widow and frequent translator and works at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales.

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Table of Contents

1 The Revolutionary Passion 1
2 World War I 34
3 The Universal Spell of October 62
4 Believers and Unbelievers 93
5 Socialism in One Country 125
6 Communism and Fascism 156
7 Communism and Anti-Fascism 209
8 Anti-Fascist Culture 266
9 World War II 315
10 Communism at the End of World War II 361
11 Cold War Communism 396
12 The Beginning of the End 438
Epilogue 479
Notes 505
Index 563
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