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on 9 November 2010
Tony Judt(RIP)based these three essays on a series of lectures he gave at,I think,Chicago University.
All three are wonderfully well-written and perceptive,but for me the best was that on Leon Blum.Blum has became almost the forgotten man of 20th century European history,but he was one of the most able and brave of those who struggled against dictatorship of either the left or right during the catastrophe of the 1935-45 era.His view that socialism is impossible without democracy was a striking contrast to the Stalin-worshippers of the French left,but somehow he has drifted out of public conciousness.Judt restores the balance here.
The essays on Aaron and Camus are just as good.
it's a bit pricey here,but try and get it secoond-hand or out of a library.
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on 11 August 2013
I will recomend this book anytime for it is above all the honest, uncompromising and informed overview of our very recent past.
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VINE VOICEon 2 July 2013
Burden of Responsibility is a good book on French intellectuals who have impressed Tony Judt in post-war France. His main grievance is against the large body of French intellectuals who got on the band-wagon of flirting with Communism, when it was plainly irresponsible.In France the tradition of l'homme intellectual gives a higher place to engagement in politics.This is an inheritance of La Revolution of 1789. Having been a lapsed Marxist himself,he shows the relationship of a Marxist critique of society in forms of socialism and social democracy.Based upon lectures he gave at the University of Chicago,The 3 intellectuals (2 Jews and an Algerian) Judt highlights here due to their integrity,courage and moral purpose,in standing firmly outside of the main currents, and in doing so showed where France was going, courting unpopularity and isolation and castigation.Julian Benda wrote of la trahison des clercs,whichmeans the subordination of the intellectual to ideology.The intellectual should be responsible. These were 3 outsiders whose ideas and works have stood the test of time.These 3 intellectuals' juxtaposition provides the role of the responsible intellectual in 20th century French history.Debunkers of myths,plain-speaking seers,moralistes.

The reason I went to the book primarily was the essay on Albert Camus whose works of fiction I love.Camus was no philosopher,his naivete was severely exposed by Sartre,permanently damaging his reputation publicly. Remembered more as the author of L'Etranger and La Peste,he carried the burden of moral responsibility, famous for his work in the Resistance,and for his experience of Algeria.But he later said he spoke only for himself..He also never claimed to be a philosopher when lumped with Sartre's existentialists.For Camus the `absurd' was invested with many of his personal experiences-poverty,his relationship with his mother,Algiers-the feelings of place and physical sensations.He abhorred the left's addiction to violent revolution and utopian myths,their softness on Communism and the Soviet Union.Camus was derided by Les Temps modernes leftists for L'Homme Revolte, for its defence of absolute values in an age of relativism,its advocacy of ethical responsibility over Historical Necessity.Camus opposed the independence of his homeland, advancing instead an idea of an integrated Arab-Europeancommunity. His claim he preferred his mother to justice, his retreat into silence on Algeria,his disengagement from politics incurred scorn.Moral authority rather than a political program,a nostalgia for the place previously given to literature and men of letters of a former era.Responsibility in preference to reason. This, one of the best accounts, balanced,critical that I have read on Camus`s work and life.

The first chapter devoted to Leon Blum is in someway the best,he was a French Jew holding the socialist movement together,preferring unity to power,helping it avoid extremists of right and left,the leader of the FrenchSocialist party.He utilised pure reason and argued from logical premises to persuade, rather than emotion.He was true to the Revolution of 1789,a true Republican socialist,pursuing political,civil and social justice,the result of a purely rationalist conception of society.To this secularised Jew(who acknowledged his Jewishness)socialism was a religion.Blum kept socialism apart from Communism and class consciousness,distinguishing it as having the radical high ground.When France fell in 1940,the Vichy government put him on trial, he defended himself so adroitly that the German authorities,fearing embarrassment,ended the proceedings abruptly;subsequently he survived 2 years in concentration camps,serving briefly as PM after the war.He survived attacks as a Jew in anti-Semitic France, he was for the `true France' that lay in his heart.He was for a Zionist homeland for Jews.Blum was a superior Frenchman because he was an assimilated outsider.He was not an avowed Marxist,although he has an affinity with Marxism,due to his liking for parliamentary democracy and participation.He dominated through sheer intelligence and political analysis.A lover of England and French literature.

Finally,Raymond Aron,an existential philosopher,journalist, and member of the academic elite,echoed Blum and Camus in his polemic against the French intelligentsia's Marxist leaning and in his firm opposition to Soviet totalitarianism. Most were ignorant of the theories they purported to defend.While Aron did not recognize any moral debt owed by the French to Arabs, he promoted Algerian independence for the sake of order and stability in France itself. A realist above all, Aron angered many Europeans by suggesting that a stable, democratic Germany reconstituted on equal footing within the European community was the best guarantee of security on the continent. For intellectual firepower and intellectual brilliance, he used reason in opposition to Sartre's radicalism and bad faith.He was the insider's insider,the intellectual's intellectual.responsible in public debates,by knowing what he was talking about.He argued there are limits to historical objectivity,there is no Archimedian point of objective knowledge about the past due to our own place in the process.History is something we construct as we live.The choices we make,the actions we take have real outcomes,for which we must take responsibility.The intellectual needs to know how to act in a given situation.The first task of the observer was to understand the world as it was.He warned France of the dangers of Nazism,thecoming war with Germany in 1933.In the postwaryears he avoided the taste for catastrophic solutions.He abhorred nihilism especially of the 1968 variety,having nothing to replace it with.The barbarians at the gates. There was an importance to order and authority under law,to protect freedoms.He concealed his passions beneath the rigors of his reasoning.A lifelong admirer of Sartre'swork, he yet saw the failure of the philosophy and his forays into politics.He admitted his limited involvement in public affairs before the war was due to being a Jew.He suppressed Jewishness( due to assimilation) but surfaced after the 6 Days War in Palestine.He felt unable(without knowing why)to break his links with Judaism and Israel.He addressed glaring deficiencies in French economy and politics and culture.
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on 4 June 1999
This is one of the most illuminating books on mid-20th century French history I have come across. Tony Judt says a great deal in a short amount of space, and he says it in a manner that is clear and straight to the point. His strong sympathies with Blum, Camus and Aron are obvious, and perhaps a little more needs to be said to explain why so many other French intellectuals lost their way in these years amid the temptations of right-wing extremism, communism and plain self-importance. But that would have turned it into a different kind of book. Tony Judt has done a fine job in reminding us of the courage and good sense of these three men, who did more than most to uphold the dignity of their country in hard times. Congratulations, too, to the University of Chicago Press for publishing such an elegant volume.
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on 18 June 1999
Tony Judt's "The Burden of Responsibility" makes a fitting companion volume to his earlier "Past Imperfect" (1992). While that volume was concerned with how some of the most important post-war French intellectuals willfully blinded themselves to Stalinist atrocities, "Burden" shows us the obverse. Judt presents us with three clearly-written and balanced portraits of men who refused to let ideology shield them from confronting the complexities of their times. Each of these three men - Leon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron - were men of the Left but they refused to adhere to the (then-)standard line of justifying Communist political violence and terror in the name of the higher goal of revolutionary social transformation. The difficulties that each of these men faced in trying to etch out a moral and practical political position between the bitterly divisive ideological contests of their times, in Judt's view, makes each of these men distinctive. Yet, the author is even-handed enough to point out each of his protagonists' failures - Blum's inability to create a workable governing coalition or a rational economic policy, Camus's philosophical ineptitutdes, and Aron's rather mandarin arrogance, for example. Judt is fair enough to accept that many of their opponents's criticisms of them were justified (he doesn't turn his protagonists into saints or martyrs) but convincingly argues that each man gauged the issues of their day - (Socialism for Blum, Algeria for Camus, and Marxism for Aron) more accurately than their more ideologically-driven counterparts. All this is by way of saying that "The Burden of Responsibility" carries an unstated but not-so-discreet warning against the theoretically-driven academic left of our day. In his intelligent appraisal and recognition of three men who moved past the boundaires of ideological thinking and faced the contemporary issues as they actually existed, Judt also presents us with a model of intellectual enagement that goes beyond mere word-spinning. Both an compelling history of men caught in conflicts of their times (and Judt situates them in their epoch with masterly ease) and an engaging polemic, "The Burden of Responsibility" is an essential read for anyone interested in modern intellectual history.
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This is a highly intelligent and, at times, quite difficult book to read as it demands a lot from the reader in terms of concentration and understanding. Tony Judt employs his immense erudition to exam three fascinating cases of intellectual courage in modern France; the politician and leader of the 1936 Patriotic Front government in France, Leon Blum, the writer Albert Camus and the philosopher Raymond Aron. Far be it for me to be able to do justice to the closely argued theses put forward by Judt. Briefly, he examines the role Blum was to play in keeping the Socialist Party in France out of the hands of the popular Communist party of the day. Judt looks at the courage of Blum in recommending caution and defending Vichy against the howling mob in their headlong rush to exterminate those supposed to be collaborators with Hitler’s Germany.
Perhaps the least satisfactory part of the book is the section on Camus which is possibly too long for the content. Judt provides a defence of the disagreement Camus had with the fellow travellers of the Soviet Union, Sartre and de Beauvoir, and their hypercritical and vitriolic outpourings against Western values. The author also considers the ‘moralist’ stance adopted by Camus with regard to the 1954 to 1962 war in Algeria and the terrorist actions by both sides, for each of which he held some sympathy. Finally Judt looks at the magnificently gifted philosopher and columnist Raymond Aron. Aron went out of favour after his critical articles on the somewhat ‘vacuous’ French student riots of 1968. He also failed to support or agree with the predominantly left of centre philosopher community of 1960s and 70s Paris. Hindsight and a better understanding of the true nature of the Soviet Union has lead to a recent reappraisal of Aron’s work and he certainly finds favour with Tony Judt.
This is an invaluable work for those who want a much better understanding of these three important French figures without necessarily tackling full scale biographies, not all of which are available in English. It is a great pleasure simply to immerse yourself in this book and experience the great intellect and range of knowledge displayed by Judt in these three beautifully crafted essays. Judt is that rarity, a completely objective left of centre writer who is not afraid to state inconvenient truths associated with socialist movements. The loss of Judt to the academic community and his readership in 2010 was a tragedy.
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