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400Philosophy and Literature Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956, by Tony Judt; ? & 348 pp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992, $30.00. InPastImperfect, originally published as Passéimparfait (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1992), Tony Judt studies the infatuation of most French intellectuals with Communism from the Liberation of France to die Soviet invasion of Hungary. The first part of the book discusses the intellectual terrain in 1944, as well as the prewar context in terms of which that terrain was shaped. During the 1930s both the Left and the Right saw liberalism as the main antagonist. They considered the Republic corrupt and what it represented unredeemable. The war raised hopes for a revolution which was not to come and promoted views of justice as essentially political rather than ethical. It fostered a language governed by tropes of violence, conflict, and opposition, imposed a belief that life was a series ofconfrontations with an enemy, and encouraged intellectuals to adopt extreme positions, blinding them to evidence of cruelty and contradiction . Besides, as if to offset their (possible) failings during the Occupation, many intellectuals in 1944 resolved to be on the "good side" at any cost and to fight for progressive change. The second part of Past Imperfect analyzes the attitude of the French intelligentsia toward the Eastern European show trials of 1947—53 and underlines its moral inadequacy in the face of Stalinism. In the third part, Judt links this inadequacy with a number of larger themes that long dominated the French intellectual landscape: anti-Americanism, for example , a conception of history as purposeful, a moral bifocalism that allowed one to justify the unjustifiable by applying different yardsticks to different activities. In part IV, Judt tries to show how such factors as the special status enjoyed by French intellectuals (in and out of their country) and the feeling that France amounted to civilization made their Communist romance uniquely significant. He also argues that the move of French progressives after 1956 away from Communism and toward tiersmondisme represented in part a continuing moral failure to come to terms with the Eastern European situation. Finally,Judt examines the contemporary French inteUectual condition and finds that, in a way, plus ça change, plus c'est fo même chose. On the one hand, the seductions of violence have faded; the decline of the intellectual as a great public figure is unmistakable; and France no longer thinks itself the center of the world. On the other hand, the tendency to consider human beings in the collective rather than as individuals still prevails; and, for all its present popularity , liberalism may representjust another fashion. Judt's story of the sins of progressive French intellectuals contains several interesting episodes (on the treatment of writers who had collaborated with the Nazis, for instance, or on the links between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism ). It also has a few worthy heroes (Raymond Aron, Mauriac, Camus) and Reviews401 many notable villains (Sartre, Mounier, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Jean Lacroix, Jean-Marie Domenach). Perhaps the worst villain of all is Sartre, who is said not to have had a "good" war, is portrayed as self-important, condescending , hypocritical, and is accused of philosophical inconsistency, moral dishonesty, and, paradoxically, self-hatred. ButJudt's account does not entirely convince. It is philosophically weak, with particularly egregious passages on Sartre's thought: "every 'en soi' collides with another 'en soi,' since each is a sovereign and 'total' source of meaning about the whole of experience" (p. 80). It shows a penchant for gratuitous pronouncements: "Lacan and Derrida are lionized among American scholars today largely on account of the mistaken assumption that they are important in France" (p. 265). Above all, it does not weigh properly certain factors that led French intellectuals to adopt or cling to some of their positions (the evil of American racism, for example, or McCarthyism ). In short, though Judt's book rightly denounces many follies, it is not quite reliable. University of PennsylvaniaGerald Prince ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 400-401
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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