AC's Reviews > The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century

The Burden of Responsibility by Tony Judt
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Sep 05, 10

bookshelves: 20th-21st-century, fascism, france
Read in September, 2010

This is an excellent book, and is recommended. Judt reviews the moral and intellectual careers of three men of tangential centrality to European Modernity: Léon Blum, Albert Camus, and Raymond Aron.

Judt attempts to show that each, while starting from the anti-fascist Left, had to come to grips with the totalitarian instincts that emerged in the postwar Left -- in the form of Stalinism, and tiers-mondisme (notably in Algeria, in the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot...) -- and that each showed himself, in accepting this challenge that shirked by most of their contemporaries in the French Intelligensia (think Sartre...) as men of great moral courage and moral individuality.

They were men, you might say, of the radical center -- men of political responsibility -- setting themselves consciously in revolt against cruelty, brutality, and extremism -- *wherever* it was found. What Judt understands by this term "political responsibility" is shown by the following passage:

"Conceding to Necessity, aligning one's choices with those of History, in the sense used by Carl Schmitt (or by Hegel as interpreted by Alexandre Kojève) was a reactionary not a radical solution, and made no more appealing by the invocation of reason. In an early postwar essay Camus was to remark that what distinguished an ancien regime reactionary from a modern one (of Right and Left alike) was that the former claimed that reason determined nothing, whereas the latter thought that reason determined everything. In place of reason Camus invoked responsibility. Indeed, his writings bear witness to an ethic of responsibility deliberately set against the ethic of conviction..."

Throughout, Judt seems to be expressing views to which he was himself committed.

The writing is a bit sententious at times (for my taste) - hence the ranking -- but the book reads quickly and is of interest.
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message 2: by AC (new) - rated it 4 stars

AC Ian wrote: "Nice. See here, too:"

Ah, thank you

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