Both a political history and a moral critique of the twentieth century, this is a personal and impassioned book from one of Europe's most outstanding intellectuals. Identifying totalitarianism as the major innovation of the twentieth century, Tzvetan Todorov examines the struggle between this system and democracy and its effects on human life and consciousness.
Totalitarianism managed to impose itself because, more than any other political system, it played on people's need for the absolute: it fed their hope to endow life with meaning by taking part in the construction of a paradise on earth. As a result, millions of people lost their lives in the name of a higher good. While democracy eventually won the struggle against totalitarianism in much of the world, democracy itself is not immune to the pitfall of do-goodery: moral correctness at home and atomic or "humanitarian" bombs abroad.
Todorov explores the history of the past century not only by analyzing its spectacular political conflicts but also by offering moving profiles of several individuals who, at great personal cost, resisted the strictures of the communist and Nazi regimes. Some--Margarete Buber-Neumann, David Rousset, Primo Levi, and Germaine Tillion--were deported to concentration camps. Others--Vasily Grossman and Romain Gary--fought courageously in World War II. All became exemplary witnesses who described with great lucidity and humanity what they had endured.
This book preserves the memory of the past as we move into the twenty-first century--arguing eloquently that we must place the past at the service of a just future.
Tzvetan Todorov is Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and the author of many books, most recently Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism and The Fragility of Goodness (both Princeton).
"Hope and Memory is a powerful and moving meditation. . . . There are some brilliant and moving anecdotes in the book, dramatizing the general theme, which is one of hostility to the kind of black-and-white thinking beloved of tyrants and ranters."--Tom Garvin, Irish Times (Dublin)
"The structural nature of evil, the human propensity for it, and it's relationship to ideas of the good, is Tzvetan Todorov's subject in this meditation on totalitarianism and democracy in the 20th century. . . . Totalitarianism, he argues, was the great innovation of the 20th century because it played so successfully to people's need for the absolute. . . . Todorov explores this in comparing the Soviet and Nazi systems and in examining the intellectual and legal conflicts between communists and their critics in postwar France and the continuing argument between right and left over which kind of excesses are most culpable."--Martin Woollacott, Guardian Saturday Review
"A sense of moral outrage informs Todorov's [work]. . . . War does more harm than good, he believes, not matter what the announced intentions of the warmakers may be."--Modris Eksteins, First Things
"[Todorov's] judgements seem dignified, sober and sensible. . . . It's the way [his] reflections condense into a moral vision, combined with occasionally intimate and above all first-hand accounts of totalitarian politics in which the book abounds."--Carl Joakin Gagnon, Toronto Globe and Mail
"Almost alone among contemporary critics, Tzvetan Todorov has chosen to apply his prodigious talents to the literature of twentieth-century totalitarianism. His unique gift is his ability to elucidate the memoirs and writings of some of the century's greatest survivors, not merely discovering their literary qualities but also finding in their works moral and political lessons relevant to us all."--Anne Applebaum
Table of Contents
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Tzvetan Todorov: