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The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century New edition Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226414195
ISBN-10: 0226414191
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Intellectuals, virtually by definition, are expected to think for themselves. But the spectacle of intellectuals subordinating their independence of mind to dogmatic ideologies, whether left or right, is dismayingly common in the 20th century. The French call it la trahison des clercs. In The Burden of Responsibility, Tony Judt discusses three inspiring French intellectuals--Leon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron--who courageously lived up to their political, moral, and intellectual responsibilities. Their courage, Judt notes, is all the more impressive since they were all outsiders: Blum and Aron were Jews, while Camus was reared and educated in Algeria, far from the training grounds of the French intelligentsia.

The longest, and arguably most exciting, chapter is devoted to Blum, whose efforts against extremists on the Left and the Right are truly remarkable. As the moral center of the Socialist Party, Blum was instrumental in keeping it independent of Moscow. When France fell in 1940, the Vichy government put him on trial, but he defended himself so adroitly that the German authorities, fearing embarrassment, ended the proceedings abruptly; subsequently, Blum survived two years in Buchenwald and Dachau, serving briefly as prime minister after the war. The chapter on Camus is, understandably, less dramatic, even despite his work in the Resistance; the chapter on Aron, best known for his work on the philosophy of history, is positively anticlimactic. Nevertheless, Judt's juxtaposition of these three intellectuals provides enlightenment not only about modern French history but also about the role of the responsible intellectual in society. --Glenn Branch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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, Leon 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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; New edition edition (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226414191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226414195
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nowhere Man VINE VOICE on June 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though this book is not intended to offer three character sketches per se, it has done more to bring these great twentieth-century Frenchmen to life for me than any other work I've read. Judt is able to bring some continuity to the idea of intellectual integrity by not only describing what each of these men stood for but also what they stood against. Yes, they all stood against Communism (with a big C), but each of them stood against elements of political and intellectual fashion in defense of their own convictions as well. Blum stood against malice. Camus, against moral relativity. And Aron, against intellectual ignorance and conformity. Together they did more to defend the human condition from political and intellectual tyranny than all other twentieth century French intellectuals. This is a powerful look at how the temptations of intellectual and political affiliation need not take the place of rigor and conviction. And, to be honest, it's lucid presentation of each character nearly brought this one to tears. Deserves to be read by a general audience, or anyone who continues to be mystified by these great French figures.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
This is a very good appreciation of 3 distinctive French intellectuals, all of whom played a significant role in larger French culture. Blum, Camus, and Aron were all leftists, but of a moderate sort, and in different ways, opposed to the superficial and dogmatic Marxism that characterized much of the French Left. All were quite accomplished intellectuals, independent thinkers, and French patriots. All were stigmatized by the 'mainstream' of French intellectual life because of their independence. The three essays comprising this book vary somewhat in quality. The best is on Leon Blum, partly because Blum, the major figure of the interwar Socialist Party, was the most important, and perhaps the least known to American readers. Judt offers a very nice, and occasionally eloquent, analysis of Blum's career as a politician and statesman. The essay on Aron is also very good and shows nicely the range of this polymathic figure. The essay on Camus is perhaps the least interesting, but that is partly because Camus' story is relatively well known, rather than because of any deficiency on Judt's part. What contributed to the independence of these individuals? Partly it was a matter of their considerable intellects and distinctive personalities. Partly because unlike many intellectuals, they were all engaged in what might be called 'real world' activities. None was content with a purely intellectual career. Blum was a prominent politician and prior to his political career, a successful attorney. Camus worked as journalist, as did Aron, and the latter was involved in politics to some extent. All were also in different ways outsiders. Blum and Aron were both Jews, and Blum in particular was subjected to anti-semitic vilification which he bore with considerable dignity. Camus was a poor provincial boy from Algeria. All made significant contributions to French life that will probably outlive the achievements of their critics.
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