Cover image for The burden of responsibility : Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French twentieth century
The burden of responsibility : Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French twentieth century
Judt, Tony.
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Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
viii, 196 pages ; 22 cm
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DC33.7 .J83 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Using the lives of the three outstanding French intellectuals of the twentieth century, renowned historian Tony Judt offers a unique look at how intellectuals can ignore political pressures and demonstrate a heroic commitment to personal integrity and moral responsibility unfettered by the difficult political exigencies of their time.
Through the prism of the lives of Leon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron, Judt examines pivotal issues in the history of contemporary French society antisemitism and the dilemma of Jewish identity, political and moral idealism in public life, the Marxist moment in French thought, the traumas of decolonization, the disaffection of the intelligentsia, and the insidious quarrels rending Right and Left. Judt focuses particularly on Blum's leadership of the Popular Front and his stern defiance of the Vichy governments, on Camus's part in the Resistance and Algerian War, and on Aron's cultural commentary and opposition to the facile acceptance by many French intellectuals of communism's utopian promise. Severely maligned by powerful critics and rivals, each of these exemplary figures stood fast in their principles and eventually won some measure of personal and public redemption.
Judt constructs a compelling portrait of modern French intellectual life and politics. He challenges the conventional account of the role of intellectuals precisely because they mattered in France, because they could shape public opinion and influence policy. In Blum, Camus, and Aron, Judt finds three very different men who did not simply play the role, but evinced a courage and a responsibility in public life that far outshone their contemporaries.
"An eloquent and instructive study of intellectual courage in the face of what the author persuasively describes as intellectual irresponsibility." Richard Bernstein, "New York Times""

Author Notes

Tony Judt was born in London, England on January 2, 1948. He was educated at King's College, Cambridge University and the École Normale Supérieure, Paris. He taught at numerous colleges and universities including Cambridge University; St. Anne's College, Oxford; the University of California, Berkeley and New York University. He was the author or editor off over fifteen books including Ill Fares the Land, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, which won the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award. He was also a frequent contributor to numerous journals including The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, and The New York Times. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2008. He died on August 6, 2010 at the age of 62.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

New York University European studies professor Judt (Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956) fashioned this book from three lectures he gave at the University of Chicago that presented an overview of some of the more complex political currents of modern France. He starts with a much vilified figure of the 1930s who is now largely ignored‘the first Jewish (and Socialist) French premier, Léon Blum. Judt argues‘not entirely convincingly‘that Blum was more of a politician and less of an esthete than is generally thought. After Blum, Judt turns to a nemesis of the 1968 generation, the French conservative Raymond Aron. While Judt's discussion of individuals' changing fortunes provides an interesting view of the French intelligentsia, he overstates matters when he claims that Aron was universally accepted in France at the time of his death. In a somewhat less original contribution, Judt discusses the familiar figure of Albert Camus, apparently because he serves as a chronological link between the other two. Naturally, the brushstrokes are very broad in these brief studies, and many of Judt's assertions, particularly those that speculate about motive, are open to argument (Does anyone else think that Camus' journals are "funny"?). Since full-length studies of Blum and Aron are still awaiting translation from the French, these opinionated lectures serve as a useful incentive to read further on their subjects. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In these essays, originally lectures at the University of Chicago, Judt (European studies, NYU) accuses French intellectuals of "moral irresponsibility"‘as he did in his earlier Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 (LJ 10/1/92). Once again, he expresses his conviction that French intellectuals failed to lead their country culturally and politically from the pre-World War II years through the mid-1970s. Here, however, Judt presents the antidote to his earlier book, examining the lives of Leon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron. What set them apart from other intellectuals was the way they looked beyond the political pressures of the day to take moral stands on issues that included anti-Semitism, decolonization, ideological and political quarrels, communism, and socialism. These three figures stood courageously by their views, guided by moral integrity and personal responsibility, and eventually gained some redemption in the eyes of the public. Highly recommended for large public and academic libraries.‘Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Judt's Past Imperfect (CH, May'93) challenged assumptions about France's postwar intelligentsia by showing the extent to which Stalinism compromised intellectual commitment. Now Judt addresses the other side of the coin--those who held firm to their ideas and, despite abuse from their peers, carried on the best tradition of French humanism. In selecting Leon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron, he has deliberately chosen modern French thinkers whose honesty and bravery are in stark contrast to some of their contemporaries. All were insiders, but, to use the term Judt applies to Aron, "peripheral insiders"--an appreciation that is applied to understanding how their Frenchness mixed with other identities (Jewish for Aron and Blum, Algerian for Camus). Still, the choice of these three particular men is somewhat puzzling. Camus and Aron, surely, are worthy of praise, but both have been very nearly deified in the past decade, and Judt has nothing new to say about them. Blum, however, was in need of a reassessment, and the author does a service by reviving him here. Judt's style is, as always, his strongest point, and the clear presentation of these minibiographies makes up for some of the weaknesses in this rather minor book. All levels. S. D. Armus; St. Joseph's College (NY)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Misjudgment of Paris
1 The Prophet Spurned: Leon Blum and the Price of Compromise
2 The Reluctant Moralist: Albert Camus and the Discomforts of Ambivalence
3 The Peripheral Insider: Raymond Aron and the Wages of Reason
Further Reading