Two striking characteristics distinguished modern France in the years 1944-1975: the power of an intellectual elite that was pro-Communist and anti-democratic even as it preached a philosophy of individual freedom; and the simultaneous progress, under a series of increasingly technocratic governments, of economic prosperity and of a modern welfare state. The undisputed leader of the intellectual elite was the writer and existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Sartre and the people around him believed intellectuals must “commit themselves to their time,” by which they meant that intellectuals, especially writers, had both the right and the obligation to judge—and even control—political life. To carry out this commitment something like an official journal was needed to propound doctrine and to define the right point of view on the issues of the day—political, academic, literary,...


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