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“DOES DEMOCRACY END IN TERROR?” TRANSFORMATIONS OF ANTITOTALITARIANISM IN POSTWAR FRANCE*

  • KEVIN DUONG (a1)
Abstract

Does democracy end in terror? This essay examines how this question acquired urgency in postwar French political thought by evaluating the critique of totalitarianism after the 1970s, its antecedents, and the shifting conceptual idioms that connected them. It argues that beginning in the 1970s, the critique of totalitarianism was reorganized around notions of “the political” and “the social” to bring into view totalitarianism's democratic provenance. This conceptual mutation displaced earlier denunciations of the bureaucratic nature of totalitarianism by foregrounding anxieties over its voluntarist, democratic sources. Moreover, it projected totalitarianism's origins back to the Jacobin discourse of political will to implicate its postwar inheritors like French communism and May 1968. In so doing, antitotalitarian thinkers stoked a reassessment of liberalism and a reassertion of “the social” as a barrier against excessive democratic voluntarism, the latter embodied no longer by Bolshevism but by a totalitarian Jacobin political tradition haunting modern French history.

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I would like to thank the following for their help: Michaela Brangan, Paul Fleming, Jason Frank, Aaron Gavin, Isaac Kramnick, Jin Park, William Pennington, Vijay Phulwani, Aziz Rana, Camille Robcis, and Adam Schoene, and especially Nolan Bennett, Bécquer Seguin and Avery Slater. Thanks also to Emile Chabal and Iain Stewart for sharing their work, to the members of Cornell's Mellon Sawyer Seminar on “Political Will,” and to Samuel Moyn and three anonymous reviewers for their comments.

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1 Special to the New York Times, “Russian Menace Like German, May Mean War, De Gaulle Says: Communists' Targets Are Liberties and Rights Just Saved from Nazis, He Adds—Urges U.S. to Lead Western Alliance,” 10 July 1947.

2 Friedrich, Carl J., “The Problem of Totalitarianism: An Introduction,” in Friedrich, ed., Totalitarianism: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, March 1953 (Cambridge, 1954), 1–14, at 1.

3 Ciepley, David, Liberalism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism (Cambridge, 2006); Popper, Karl, The Open Society & Its Enemies (Princeton, 2013; first published 1945); Arendt, Hannah, “Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government,” Review of Politics, 15/3 (1953), 303–27; Armus, Seth D., “The Eternal Enemy: Emmanuel Mounier's Esprit and French Anti-Americanism,” French Historical Studies, 24/2 (2001), 271304, at 292.

4 Benjamin R. Barber, “Conceptual Foundations of Totalitarianism,” in Friedrich, Carl J., Curtis, Michael, and Barber, Benjamin R., Totalitarianism in Perspective: Three Views (New York, 1969), 352, at 19.

5 Chappel, James, “The Catholic Origins of Totalitarianism Theory in Interwar Europe,” Modern Intellectual History, 8/3 (2011), 561–90.

6 Robcis, Camille, The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France (Ithaca, NY, 2013); Ferry, Luc and Renaut, Alain, “How to Think about Rights” in Lilla, Mark, ed., New French Thought: Political Philosophy (Princeton, 1994), 148–54; Bourg, Julian, From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought (Montreal, 2007); Moyn, Samuel, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, 2010), 220, 43; Emile Chabal calls this humanism a “neo-republicanism” in “Writing the French National Narrative in the Twenty-First Century,” Historical Journal, 53/2 (2010), 495–516.

7 Scott Christofferson, Michael, French Intellectuals against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970s (New York, 2004).

8 Rabinbach, Anson, “Moments of Totalitarianism,” History and Theory, 45/1 (2006), 72100, at 96, 88.

9 Pangle, Thomas L., “Political Theory in Contemporary France: Towards a Renaissance of Liberal Political Philosophy?PS, 20/4 (1987), 9991004 ; Lilla, Mark, “The Other Velvet Revolution: Continental Liberalism and Its Discontents,” Daedalus, 123/2 (1994), 129–57; Lilla, ed., New French Thought: Political Philosophy (Princeton, 1994); Moyn, Sam, “Savage and Modern Liberty: Marcel Gauchet and the Origins of New French Thought,” European Journal of Political Theory, 4/2 (2005), 164–87; Stewart, Iain, “France's Anti-68 Liberal Revival,” in Chabal, Emile, ed., France since the 1970s: History, Politics, and Memory in an Age of Uncertainty (London, 2015), 199224.

10 Furet, François, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Forster, Elborg (Cambridge, 1981; first published 1978), 27.

11 Castoriadis, Cornelius, “On the Regime and against the Defense of the USSR” (1946), in Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, vol. 1 , 1946–1955: From the Critique of Bureaucracy to the Positive Content of Socialism, trans. David Ames Curtis (Minneapolis, 1988), 37–43, at 41.

12 The idiosyncrasy of French antitotalitarianism was noted even then. See, for example, Macridis, Roy C. and Brown, Bernard E., “The Study of Politics in France since the Liberation: A Critical Bibliography,” American Political Science Review, 51/3 (1957), 812 : “The great debate in France is not between liberals and conservatives, or liberals and socialists, but between those who accept democratic values and those who subordinate these values to some ‘higher’ goal. The challenge of totalitarianism, of course, has led to a general re-examination of concepts of freedom and constitutionalism in the West. But in France, the internal menace of fascism and communism has stimulated a literature of soul-searching rather than of re-examination.”

13 Ciepley, Liberalism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism.

14 Gleason, Abbott, Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War (New York, 1995), 11 ; Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 12–13.

15 Moyn, The Last Utopia, 73–8.

16 Popper, The Open Society, xliii.

17 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem, trans. O'Neill, John (Boston, 1969; first published 1947), xx.

18 Breckman, Warren, Adventures of the Symbolic: Post-Marxism and Radical Democracy (New York, 2013), 139–82; Gleason, Totalitarianism, 143–66.

19 Castoriadis, “On the Regime and against the Defense of the USSR,” 39; Castoriadis, “The Problem of the USSR and the Possibility of a Third Historical Solution” (1947), in Castoriadis, From the Critique of Bureaucracy to the Positive Content of Socialism, 49–52.

20 Castoriadis, “On the Regime and against the Defense of the USSR,” 38, 40–41.

21 Jon Stewart, “Philosophy and Political Engagement: Letters from the Quarrel between Sartre and Merleau-Ponty,” in Stewart, ed., The Debate between Sartre and Merleau-Ponty (Evanston, 1988), 327–54.

22 Sartre, Jean-Paul, The Communists and Peace, with a Reply to Claude Lefort, trans. Fletcher, Martha and Berk, Philip (New York, 1968), 287.

23 Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror, 66.

24 Chappel, “The Catholic Origins of Totalitarianism Theory in Interwar Europe,” 589.

25 Aron, Raymond, Democracy and Totalitarianism, trans. Ionescu, Valence (New York, 1969; first published 1965), 179.

26 Lefort, Claude, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline: L'U.R.S.S. dans une nouvelle phase,” Socialisme ou barbarie, 19 (1956), 172 , at 17–19; the text has been published as “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” trans. Alan Sheridan, in Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, 1986), 52–88. Subsequent quotations are from this translation.

27 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 12–13; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 60.

28 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 17; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 64.

29 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 26–8; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 73–4.

30 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 34–5; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 82.

31 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 28; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 75.

32 Traverso, Enzo, “Intellectuals and Anti-fascism: For a Critical Historicization,” New Politics, 9/4 (2004), 91103

33 Castoriadis, “On the Regime and against the Defense of the USSR,” 51, 53.

34 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 34, 25; Lefort, “Totalitarianism Without Stalin,” 81, 72.

35 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 36; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 83.

36 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 33; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 79–80.

37 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 31–2; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 78.

38 Aron, Raymond, “Etats démocratiques et états totalitaires,” Bulletin de la Societé française de philosophie, 40 (1946), 4192.

39 Halévy, Elie, “The Age of Tyrannies” (1938), Economica, 8/29 (1941), 7783 ; Aron, Raymond, “L'ère des tyrannes d'Elie Halévy,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 46/2 (1939), 283307. For Aron's critique of the “degradation of romanticism” see his undated and pseudonymously published pamphlet, René Avord, “Les dictateurs et la mystique de la violence” (New Delhi, undated), 13–14. Aron published as René Avord during Vichy until his family arrived in London in July 1943; see Muriel Pichon, Les Français juifs, 1914–1950: récit d'un désenchantement (Toulouse, 2009), 156.

40 On the relationship between theories of mass society in the nineteenth century and its twentieth-century iteration see William Kornhauser, Politics of Mass Society (New York, 2010; first published 1959). As Lefort later clarified, it found its origins in the conjunction of technological development, the rise of the social welfare state, mass culture, and its corresponding individualism; see Claude Lefort, “Reflections on the Present,” in Lefort, Writing: The Political Test, trans. David Ames Curtis (Durham, NC, 2000; first published 1991), 252–79, at 264.

41 Armus, “The Eternal Enemy”; Jeremy Jennings, Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France since the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2011), 478–87.

42 Avord (Aron), “Les dictateurs et la mystique de la violence.”

43 Lefort, “Le totalitarisme sans Staline,” 33, original emphasis; Lefort, “Totalitarianism without Stalin,” 80.

44 Gleason, Totalitarianism, 144.

45 It was published as Le système totalitaire; the other parts of Origins would be published in the following years as L'antisémitisme (1973) and L'impérialisme (1982).

46 Lilla calls Castoriadis “an anomaly on the French scene: an anarcho-syndicalist equally critical of communism and liberalism,” in Lilla, New French Thought, 29 n. 19. See also Breckman, Adventures of the Symbolic, 139–82.

47 Gleason, Totalitarianism, 144.

48 Michael Curtis, “Retreat from Totalitarianism,” in Friedrich, Carl J., Curtis, Michael, and Barber, Benjamin R., Totalitarianism in Perspective: Three Views (New York, 1969), 53122 ; Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 27–88, 113–55.

49 Moore, Barrington Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston, 1967); O'Donnell, Guillermo, Modernization and Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics (Berkeley, 1973).

50 Castoriadis, Cornelius, “The Destinies of Totalitarianism,” Salmagundi, 60 (1983), 107–22.

51 Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 18–55; Rabinbach, “Moments of Totalitarianism”; Bourg, From Revolution to Ethics, 247–75; Samuel Moyn, “Of Savagery and Civil Society: Pierre Clastres and the Transformation of French Political Thought,” Modern Intellectual History, 1/1 (2004), 55–80; Pangle, “Political Theory in Contemporary France”; Michael Halberstam, Totalitarianism and the Modern Conception of Politics (New Haven, 1999).

52 Ricoeur, Paul, “The Political Paradox,” in Ricoeur, History and Truth (Evanston, 1965; first published 1956), 247–70.

53 Bates, David, States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political (New York, 2012).

54 See David Ames Curtis's “Introduction” to Lefort, Writing, vii–xxxvii; Samuel Moyn, “Concepts of the Political in Twentieth-Century European Thought,” in Jens Meierhenrich and Oliver Simons, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt (forthcoming).

55 Weyman, Wim, “Freedom through Political Representation: Lefort, Gauchet and Rosanvallon on the Relationship between State and Society,” European Journal of Political Theory, 4/3 (2005), 263–82. Lefort drew his usage of the symbolic partly from structuralism; see Breckman, Adventures of the Symbolic, 152–8; Moyn, “Of Savagery and Civil Society.”

56 For an account of Aron's legacy and role in the rediscovery of the French liberal tradition see Chabal, Emile, A Divided Nation: Nation, State, and Citizenship in Contemporary France (Cambridge, 2015), 135–85.

57 The claim that modern totalitarianism “arises from a political mutation, from a mutation of the symbolic order,” now belongs to Lefort's democratic theory; see Lefort, Claude, “The Question of Democracy,” in Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory , trans. David Macey (Cambridge, 1988; first published 1983), 9–20, at 13.

58 Ibid., 19; Lefort, Claude, “The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism” (1979), in Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed. Thompson, John B. (Cambridge, 1986), 292306 , at 304; Lefort, “Reflections on the Present,” 259–60.

59 Prochasson, Christophe, François Furet: Les chemins de la mélancolie (Paris, 2013), 251304 ; Moyn, Samuel, “On the Intellectual Origins of François Furet's Masterpiece,” Tocqueville Review, 29/2 (2008), 5878.

60 Chaplin, Tamara, Turning on the Mind: French Philosophers on Television (Chicago, 2007), 130–78; Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 184–228.

61 Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 271.

62 Moyn, “On the Intellectual Origins of François Furet's Masterpiece,” 72–4.

63 Jainchill, Andrew and Moyn, Samuel, “French Democracy between Totalitarianism and Solidarity: Pierre Rosanvallon and Revisionist Historiography,” Journal of Modern History, 76/1 (2004), 107–54, at 107.

64 Post-Marxism sought to address this failure, though it has been contentious; Ernesto Laclau with Chantal Mouffe, “Post-Marxism without Apologies,” in Ernesto Laclau, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time (New York, 1990), 97–132; Peter Osborne, “Radicalism without Limit? Discourse, Democracy and the Politics of Identity,” in Osborne, ed., Socialism and the Limits of Liberalism (New York, 1991), 201–25.

65 Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, 38–9.

66 Laurence Kaplan, Steven, Farewell, Revolution: The Historians' Feud, France, 1789/1989 (Ithaca, NY, 1995), 105.

67 Prochasson has argued that Furet's relation to antitotalitarianism has been overblown, although both Moyn and Christofferson have made a case otherwise; Christofferson, French Intellectuals against the Left, 229–66; Christofferson, “A Mind of the Left?”, New Left Review, 88 (2014), 131–7; Moyn, “On the Intellectual Origins of François Furet's Masterpiece.”

68 Marcel Gauchet, “L'expérience totalitaire et la pensée de la politique,” Esprit, 44/459 (1976), 3–28, at 4, original emphasis.

69 Gauchet, “L'expérience totalitaire,” 4: “It draws attention to the unthought of its foundation. It is constrained to consider the laws of social functioning hitherto invisible, an unknown aspect of the deep structure of society, and perhaps even beyond to a principle of coherence undetected from all social space.”

70 Gauchet, Marcel, “Tocqueville, l'Amérique et nous,” Libre, 7 (1980), 4376 ; I have quoted here from the English version, reprinted as “Tocqueville,” in Mark Lilla, ed., New French Thought: Political Philosophy (Princeton, 1994), 91–111, at 91–2.

71 Gauchet, Marcel, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, trans. Burge, Oscar (Princeton, 2007; first published 1985), 172–3.

72 Ibid., 176.

73 Ibid., 176.

74 Moyn, Samuel, “Introduction: Antitotalitarianism and After,” in Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, ed. Moyn, Samuel (New York, 2006), 128 , at 5.

75 Pierre Rosanvallon, “Revolutionary Democracy” (1998), in Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, 79–97, at 82–3.

76 Ibid., 85; elsewhere he explains this “political culture of generality” as having three dimensions: “a social form (the celebration of the ‘great nation’), a political quality (faith in the virtues of immediacy), and a proceduralism (the cult of the law),” in Pierre Rosanvallon, Le modèle politiques français: La société civile contre le jacobinisme de 1789 à nos jours (Paris, 2004), 13.

77 “It is at the very moment when popular sovereignty is assumed to manifest itself, when the people is assumed to actualized itself by expressing its will, that social interdependence breaks down and that the citizen is abstracted from all the networks in which his social life develops and becomes a mere statistic.” In Lefort, “The Question of Democracy,” 18–19.

78 Rosanvallon, “Revolutionary Democracy,” 88.

79 Ibid., 90.

80 Ibid., 93.

81 Pierre Rosanvallon, “Political Rationalism and Democracy in France” (1994), in Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, 127–43.

82 Prochasson, François Furet, 257–8.

83 Pierre Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, trans. Rebecca Balinski (Princeton, 1995; first published 1987); Marcel Gauchet, “Préface: Benjamin Constant: L'illusion lucide du libéralisme,” in Benjamin Constant, De la liberté chez les modernes (Paris, 1980), 11–91; Pierre Rosanvallon, Le moment Guizot (Paris, 1985); Serge Audier, Tocqueville retrouvé: Genèse et enjeux du renouveau tocquevillean français (Paris, 2004).

84 Prochasson, François Furet, 400–5; Camille Robcis, “Republicanism and the Critique of Rights,” in Chabal, France since the 1970s, 225–44.

85 Lefort, “Reflections on the Present,” 266.

86 Jainchill and Moyn, “French Democracy,” 120.

87 Pierre Rosanvallon, “Marx and Civil Society” (1978), in Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, 160–86, at 168, 185–6.

88 Bell, Duncan, “What Is Liberalism?Political Theory, 42/66 (2014), 682715 ; Ciepley, Liberalism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism.

89 Lefort, “Reflections on the Present,” 269–73; Lefort, “La question de la revolution,” Esprit, 44/460 (1976), 206–12; Lefort, “Penser la révolution dans la Révolution française,” Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 35/2 (1980), 334–52; Lefort, “Author's Introduction,” in Lefort, Complications: Communism and the Dilemmas of Democracy, trans. Julian Bourg (New York, 2007; first published 1999), 21–8.

90 Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism, 200.

91 Stewart, “France's Anti-68 Liberal Revival.”

92 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York, 1963), 76.

93 Castoriadis, “On the Regime and against the Defense of the USSR,” 40.

94 Jainchill and Moyn, “French Democracy,” 110.

* I would like to thank the following for their help: Michaela Brangan, Paul Fleming, Jason Frank, Aaron Gavin, Isaac Kramnick, Jin Park, William Pennington, Vijay Phulwani, Aziz Rana, Camille Robcis, and Adam Schoene, and especially Nolan Bennett, Bécquer Seguin and Avery Slater. Thanks also to Emile Chabal and Iain Stewart for sharing their work, to the members of Cornell's Mellon Sawyer Seminar on “Political Will,” and to Samuel Moyn and three anonymous reviewers for their comments.

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