Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956

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University of California Press, 1992 - History - 348 pages
3 Reviews
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 extends 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. 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 extends 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.
  

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Past imperfect: French intellectuals, 1944-1956

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

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 ... Read full review

Review: Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956

User Review  - Nick Handler - Goodreads

I love Tony Judt, and this book is a pretty unflinching takedown of some major twentieth century intellectuals (he basically uses Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as verbal punching bags). The thesis is ... Read full review

Contents

Decline and Fall
15
Resistance and Revenge
45
What Is Political Justice?
75
Show Trials
101
The Blind Force of History
117
Today Things Are Clear
139
The Sacrifices of the Russian People
153
About the East We Can Do Nothing
168
We Must Not Disillusion the Workers
205
Liberalism There Is the Enemy
229
Gesta Dei per Francos
246
Europe and the French Intellectuals
275
goodbye to all that?
293
suggestions for further reading
321
INDEX
335
Copyright

America Has Gone
187

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About the author (1992)

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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