THE BURDEN OF RESPONSIBILITY

BLUM, CAMUS, ARON, AND THE FRENCH TWENTIETH CENTURY

Approaching French intellectual history from a novel perspective, Judt (European Studies/New York Univ.; Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944—1956, not reviewed) focuses on three leading 20th-century figures who had the courage to disagree with political sensibilities that prevailed among their contemporaries. Leon Blum, the leader of the French Socialist party and prime minister in the interim government of December 1946, is remembered mainly for introducing a 40-hour work week, wage increases, and paid vacation. His actual contribution to French political thought, however, went far beyond mere social reform. Blum was one of the first to warn French communists against the dangers of Bolshevik-style dictatorial terror. A literary critic, jurist, and politician, Blum was “a mirror held up to his country,” reflecting many of its strengths and weaknesses. Judt’s second subject, Albert Camus, shared Blum’s anti-Stalinist conviction and took every opportunity to debunk revolutionary myths. In contrast to radical intellectuals of the postwar period, Camus opted to defend absolute values in an age of relativism and emphasized the ethical dimension of contemporary dilemmas. A native of Algeria, Camus opposed the independence of his homeland, advancing instead an idea of an integrated Arab-European community. 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. 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. This story of three solitary thinkers provides remarkable insight into the tensions that underlie political, philosophical, and ideological currents in contemporary France.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-226-41418-3

Page Count: 185

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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