Two Intellectual Responses To The Dilemma Essay

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Two Intellectual Responses To The Dilemma Essay, Research Paper Two Intellectual Responses to the Dilemma of Political “Engagement” in Interwar France:Andr Breton & Pierre Drieu La RochelleChristopher Terrence RyanThe period between the First and Second World Wars has become well-known for its political instability, economic unpredictability, and cultural vibrancy. Following World War I, many European artists and intellectuals struggled to express their disillusionment with a world turned upside-down. Many intellectuals found meaning and renewal in the revolutionary possibilities of radical politics. Others, however, were only willing to meet the commitment of political “engagement” in their own very personal and individual ways. This essay examines the lives of

two French intellectuals, the Surrealist writer Andr Breton and the fascist writer Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Similar in their bourgeois origins, war experiences, political variability, and artistic preoccupations, they nevertheless gravitated towards opposite political poles: Breton as a communist and Drieu La Rochelle as a fascist and Nazi collaborator. This essay investigates the attractions and dilemmas of intellectual involvement in politics, as well as the forces that propelled two men of similar origins and aspirations toward opposite political ideologies. Heightened political activity was not a monopoly held by French intellectuals in the years after World War I. Deep concerns over French diplomatic, financial, political, and social ills prompted many in French society to

turn to political extremes in search of solutions. The First World War left much of France in ruins and drained off the vast majority of her young men. Despite victory, France remained concerned with her national security throughout the interwar years. Frenchmen felt betrayed and alone as they faced a rebuilding Germany across the Rhine. French financial failures brought hard times, and forced France to lean heavily on financial assistance from the United States.1 Traditional French party politics were at a loss to redress the nations many problems. Parliamentary factionalism paralyzed the Third Republics ability to meet the demands of a changing world order. In the 1920s and 1930s political activity on the extremes of both the Right and Left increased in intensity. The rise of

the French Communist Party in the early 1920s, frequent strikes, mass socialist demonstrations,as well as significant parliamentary victories by the Left in the 1930s, prompted the renascence of many nationalistic, right-wing organizations. By the 1930s, the conservative and nationalistic organizations of pre-war years had evolved into a radical fascist Right, providing a revolutionary “third alternative” between liberalism and communism.3Contributing to the polarization in interwar politics was the wide-spread participation of intellectuals. Interwar intellectuals were heirs to a long tradition of political involvement, building upon precedents set during the Enlightenment and French Revolution. However, it was the Dreyfus Affair in the late 1890s that created the tone and

character of twentieth-century intellectual involvement in politics. The highly polarized nature of the crisis between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards set the stage for Left-Right opposition in the interwar years. Intellectuals between the World Wars were able to have a profound impact on events and ideas, due to the fact that this long tradition of political activity established intellectuals as defenders of the national spirit, of a great cultural and aesthetic mission civilisatrice to the rest of the world which they believed belonged to France alone.4 French society deemed their pronouncements on political affairs worthy of a respectful hearing. In particular, political parties at the far ends of the spectrum were eager to acquire the credibility gained by boasting