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New Left Review I/206, July-August 1994

Gregory Elliott

Contentious Commitments: French Intellectuals and Politics

As Sunil Khilnani observes, in a characteristic turn of phrase, the marxisant intellectual culture of France after the Liberation ‘came to play a fundamental role in the entire afflatus of Western progressive thought’. [*] Sunil Khilnani, Arguing the Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Postwar France, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993, £19.95: here p. vii. I am grateful to Francis Mulhern, Robin Blackburn and Perry Anderson for comments on an earlier draft of this review article. Nettled by the Anglophone fashion for French modes in the 1960s and 70s, which invariably uprooted them from their national ecosystem, Khilnani’s commendable aim in Arguing the Revolution is to restore particular philosophical texts to their specific political contexts. In so doing, he hopes to aid both a more adequate understanding of what have been called the trentes glorieuses of the Left intelligentsia, from 1945 to 1975, and to illuminate the abrupt transfer of philosophico-political allegiances in French intellectual life thereafter.

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