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Past Imperfect

French Intellectuals, 1944-1956

Tony Judt, 0, 0

Publication Year: 2011

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book was written while I was on leave in Stanford, California, as the guest of the Hoover Institution. I would like to offer my thanks to the director and fellows of that institution for their generous support and for access to their unrivaled library and archive holdings. My stay in Stanford was made possible by a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim...

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pp. 1-12

For a period of about twelve years following the liberation of France in 1944, a generation of French intellectuals, writers, and artists was swept into the vortex of communism. By this I do not mean that they became Communists; most did not. Indeed, then as now, many prominent intellectuals in France had no formal political affiliation, and some of the...

PART ONE. The Force of Circumstance?

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1. Decline and Fall: The French Intellectual Community at the End of the Third Republic

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pp. 15-25

The Third Republic, it is said, died unloved. Few sought seriously to defend it in July 1940, and it passed away unmourned. Recent scholarship suggests this judgment may need more nuance as it applies to the general population, but so far as the intelligentsia were concerned, it remains a fair comment upon their disengagement from the Republic...

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2. In the Light of Experience: The "Lessons" of Defeat and Occupation

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pp. 26-44

The experience of occupation and resistance in the years 1940-44 transformed the French intellectual community and accelerated the transfer of status and authority within it. An older generation, already thinned out by the first war, saw its ranks further diminished as a result of collaboration, deportation, and death. There were, to be sure, certain notable...

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3. Resistance and Revenge: The Semantics of Commitment in the Aftermath of Liberation

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pp. 45-74

We have become familiar with the ''Vichy syndrome."l We should not, however, neglect its doppellganger, the syndrome of Resistance. After the war, it suited almost everyone to believe that all but a tiny minority of the French people were in the Resistance or sympathized with it. Communists, Gaullists, and Vichyists alike had an interest in forwarding this...

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4. What Is Political Justice?: Philosophical Anticipations of the Cold War

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pp. 75-98

The absence, in postwar France, of any consensus about justice--its meaning, its forms, its application--contributed to the confused and inadequate response of French intellectuals to the evidence of injustice elsewhere, in Communist systems especially. With no common agreement as to the criteria, if any, to be applied in the critique of arbitrary...

PART TWO: The Blood of Others

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5. Show Trials: Political Terror in the East European Mirror, 1947-1953

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pp. 101-116

By the late 1940s, information about life under Stalin and his system was readily available to anyone. Indeed, ever since the mid-1930s there had been a steady flow of news and revelations from the Soviet Union, followed after the war by an even fuller body of information about repression in the new European satellites. Personal memoirs, reportages, and...

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6. The Blind Force of History: The Philosophical Case for Terror

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pp. 117-138

In the period 1944-56, there were four possible responses to Stalinism. The first was simple rejection. This was the position of Raymond Aron and a few others. It entailed denying that there was any credibility to the claims of communism, whether as the embodiment and protector of the interests of the working people or as the vehicle of progress and human...

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7. Today Things Are Clear: Doubts, Dissent, and Awakenings

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pp. 139-150

No one who reads the innumerable books, essays, articles, and polemical exchanges that studded French public life in the postwar years can fail to be impressed, in the midst of all that noise, by a certain silence. In the welter of verbal presences, there was, so to speak, one "great absence." This was a generation whose attention was incessandy directed at the...

PART THREE: The Treason of the Intellectuals

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8. The Sacrifices of the Russian People: A Phenomenology of Intellectual Russophilia

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pp. 153-167

In order to appreciate the belief system of postwar intellectuals, we need to grasp that what is at issue here is not understanding, the cognitive activity usually associated with intellectuals, but faith. To react as people did to the impact of communism in the years following 1945, they had first to accept unquestioningly a certain number of the fundamental tenets of...

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9. About the East We Can Do Nothing: Of Double Standards and Bad Faith

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pp. 168-186

Ever since the early thirties, intellectual life in France (as elsewhere at the time) had been permeated by moral bifocalism, the capacity to apply different criteria of truth and value to different phenomena. This should not be confused with moral relativism. The relativist holds that no absolute...

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10. America Has Gone Mad: Anti-Americanism in Historical Perspective

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pp. 187-204

Ever since the first Spanish missionaries agonized over the status of the "noble savages" they encountered in the New World, European thinkers have had mixed feelings about the Americas.1 Entranced by its emptiness, its riches, its tabula rasa on which the world could be written anew, they have been simultaneously repelled by its crude simplicity, its newness...

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11. We Must Not Disillusion the Workers: On the Self-Abnegation and Elective Affinities of the Intellectual

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pp. 205-226

The petite bourgeoisie, it is said, is the class everyone loves to hate. Of the intellectuals it might be said that they are the class that loves to hate itself. Ever since the category intellectual came into common usage, one part of the identity of the intellectual has been the aspiration (like that of the working class, according to Flaubert) to disappear. The sense of...

PART FOUR: The Middle Kingdom

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12. Liberalism, There Is the Enemy: On Some Peculiarities of French Political Thought

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pp. 229-245

At the heart of the engagement of the 1940s and 1950s there lay an unwillingness to think seriously about public ethics, an unwillingness amounting to an incapacity. An important source of this shortcoming in the French intelligentsia was the widely held belief that morally binding judgments of a normative sort were undermined by their historical and logical...

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13. Gesta Dei per Francos: The Frenchness of French Intellectuals

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pp. 246-274

The circumstances and attitudes described in this book are peculiarly French. The history of Parisian intellectuals in the postwar years, their collective myopia in the face of Stalinism, is distinctively and unmistakably a French history. But to what extent, in what respects, is it uniquely French? In the terms in which I have discussed the intellectual...

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14. Europe and the French Intellectuals: The Responsibilities of Power

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pp. 275-292

The special status enjoyed by French intellectuals after World War II carried with it peculiar responsibilities. This privilege (or burden) was recognized by French and foreigners alike, although in slighdy differing terms. For Parisian writers, it consisted of the duty and the right to speak...

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Conclusion: Goodbye to All That?

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pp. 293-319

Time is a distorting mirror. The 1940s and 1950s seem a very long way away, part of another world. The intellectuals of those decades came from a different France. For all their sophistication, they grew up in and responded to a provincial, introverted culture shaped by the Great War and its aftermath. The little world of Left Bank Paris was symptomatic in...

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Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 321-334

In what follows I have noted some of the more important, or useful, works dealing with French intellectuals in the period covered by this book. This subject has generated a substantial literature, both because of its intrinsic importance and because intellectuals are a subject of perennial fascination to themselves and to one another. I have not tried to...


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pp. 335-348

E-ISBN-13: 9780814743577
E-ISBN-10: 0814743579
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814743560
Print-ISBN-10: 0814743560

Page Count: 348
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Europe -- Politics and government -- 1945-.
  • France -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Intellectuals -- France -- History -- 20th century.
  • France -- Relations -- Europe.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Influence.
  • Europe -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Europe -- Relations -- France.
  • France -- Politics and government -- 1945-1958.
  • Communism -- History -- 20th century.
  • France -- Moral conditions -- History -- 20th century.
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