Socialism and the Experience of Time: Idealism and the Present in Modern France

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Abstract

How do we make social democracy? Should we seize the unknown possibilities offered by the future, or does real change develop when we focus our attention on the immediate present? The modern tradition of social revolution suggested that the present is precisely the time that needs to be surpassed, but can society change without an intimate focus on today's experience of social injustice?

In Socialism and the Experience of Time, Julian Wright asks how socialists in France from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century tried to follow a democratic commitment to the present. The debate about time that emerged in French socialism lay beneath the surface of political arguments within the left. But how did this focus on the present relate to the tradition of revolution in France? What did socialism have to say about social experience in the present, and how did this discussion shape socialism as a movement?

Wright examines French socialism's fascination with modern history, through a new reading of Jean Jaurès' multi-authored project to write a 'socialist history' of France since 1789. Then, in four interlocking biographical essays, he analyses the reformist and idealist socialism of the Third Republic, long side-lined in the historical literature. With a sometimes emotional focus on the present times of Benoît Malon, Georges Renard, Marcel Sembat, and Léon Blum, a personal history unfolds that allows us to revisit the traditional narrative of French socialism. This is not so much a story of the future hope for revolution, as an intimate account of socialism, intellectual engagement, and the human present.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages304
ISBN (Print)9780199533589
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2017

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