October 27, 2006

Complicating Kedward

Sunil Khilnani's recent review of Roderick Kedward's study of the French 20th Century has many good points- he expresses himself well and makes many of the issues within French politics plain, as well as complicating some too simple views of the past century of French history. Having not read Kedward's study but hoping to, I can't comment on Sunil's view of the book but I can comment one thing on his own review of France in the 20th Century and that is of what he leaves out. French history by Sunil's account is a clash of principles- those of Jaures, the early socialist leader, versus those of De Gaulle with others added in, a clash between revolution and the state, between muslims and society and between empire and republic. It needs to be reitterated that running through French history in the 20th Century, as through Spanish, German, Italian and English, is a far older conflict between Church and State. The ideologies of France took their expression in the 20th Century from their attitudes to the Church- ranging from the fiercely critical socialist to the laudatory traditional Gaullist. Sunil is attempting to forecast and look at Professor Kedward's work through the lense of the current election- much of his piece discusses the two candidates- Sarkozy and Royalle- but by using the a history of the past to focus attention on the present he loses his accuracy. In reviewing Professor Kedward's book, Sunil forgets that for many years during the 20th Century in France attitudes towards the Church determined a Frenchman's place within his times.

That lesson is one Western intellectuals need to learn in analysing societies both in the present and the past- we need to understand that for the beleiver religion is central to life and therefore to politics. To put it rather simplistically most people in the world have through history valued cures over the custodians of the state or political causes.


edmund said...

very good point and if the book istelf doesn't reflect this, it'll be fairly worthless, I would add that this is ture for most not just "devout belivers" , the metaphysical foundations of all people's thought (including those who don't think much) and the moral conclusions are central to just about any figure's politics or actions from Stalin to Caesar and need to be understood to understand them properly

Gracchi said...

You'll be unsurprised that I entirely agree with you- I do stress its only the review and also that the reviewer was thinking mainly about now so lets not be too harsh. But yeah you are right about that.