Friday, May 18, 2012

The Burden of Responsiblity - Tony Judt

This is a book about three Frenchmen: Léon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron. What these three men have in common is, according to Tony Judt:
 (...) their shared quality of moral (and, as it happens, physical) courage, their willingness to take a stand not against their political or intellectual opponents-everyone did that, all too often-but against their "own" side. They paid a price for this in loneliness, in reduced influence (at least for much of their life), and in their local reputation, which rarely matched the one they had gained among friends and admirers abroad (p. 20).
The example of a non-moral intellectual is, according  to Judt, Jean-Paul Sartre, that favorite of the progressive crowd. This is what Judt has to say about him:
According to Jean-Paul Sartres own version, in his notebooks from the "phony war" period, he spent the interwar years culpably unaware of what was happening around him, clinging to the apolitical pacifism born of World War I. Hence his later hyperengagement, a reaction above all to the risk of once again missing the vessel of History as it steamed past him in the night. Sartres motives may have been personal, but the pattern was widespread. Adrift and uncertain in the storms of the thirties, some intellectuals and public figures avoided or neglected to cast in their lot with the defense of democracy; some made choices, but the "wrong" ones; others made the "right" choices, but late (p. 15).
The Burden of Responsiblity is a a good introduction to the ideas of the three characters of the book. A basic knowledge of French modern history is required, though.

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