6) Living to Rebel (Post-War)

Early Post-War Years

Paris was liberated, largely by the US army, in 1944 (although De Gaulle claimed it was largely the French army that led this liberation). It was uncertain who the leader of the new French state would be, but by its liberation, De Gaulle had largely assumed the position.

The Republic was restored, sweeping away the collabrationist regime with some arguing a violent act of retribution would be needed in order to do this. Such violent methods included shaving the heads of collaborators and executing them. The guillotine re-emerged for this purpose, sometimes being used on streets. The revolutionary nature of this violence, once again, marked a radical break with the past. An example of one of the executed collaborators was Robert Brasillach, an intellectual. He had written anti-French and anti-Semitic texts and had toured Germany with them. He was quickly arrested and received his trial in early 1945 before being executed.

His case sparked a big debate among Parisian intellectuals who began questioning the legitimacy of the death penalty. His crimes were of an intellectual nature, so did they justify the death penalty? Camus and Mauriac were at odds about this. Mauriac argued a simple imprisonment would have sufficed as this was the new France where executions shouldn't be needed on the same scale as before. But, Camus argued that an act of retribution was needed for France to attone for its sins, although, after a few weeks of going back and forth, he eventually agreed with Mauriac and signed his (futile) petition for clemency.

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'The Purge'

This period in French history is often given the title of 'the purge' as they were purging the old elements of collaborationist France. Many believed the Republic had to be born out of acts of violence, just as had been the case throughout Parisian history. But, was this really necessary?

‘The purge had destroyed the illusions of most idealists: not only were certain professional categories untouched while others bore the brunt of the restored republic, but republican justice itself often seemed to give way to personal vengeance.’

Robert Zaretsky

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The Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975)

Paris experienced an identity crisis following the war. They were ashamed of their collaboration and questioned what France's true nature was. But, in the 30 years following the war, France did experience a period of economic success and improved standards of living. The early history of consumer culture and nightlife began with the petty bourgeois and the lower middle-classes being the main people to enjoy this period.

Things like kitchen appliances were invented 'liberating the woman' and more people were owning cars. Fashion shows began with more people participating in modern consumer culture. In rural regions, new machinery was being developed that changed people's relationship with work and changed the working day.

However, Kristin Ross in her 'Fast Cars, Clean Bodies' believes that the idea of everything improving was too simple. She admits the Parisians enjoyed owning cars, beautifying their homes. increasing personal hygiene, and the rising debates among intellectuals concerning key issues of the day. But, the empire was ending so a new state was needed and problems were arising concerning the decolonisation. Masculinity was also unsure of itself as French men were forced to re-imagine what it meant to be a man; a manly man couldn't also be an intellectual.

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Public Intellectuals

Intellectuals during this period were perceived to have more of a public role, philosophers in particular. They held public lectures, appeared on the radio etc. They re-imagined themselves as political leaders.

Sartre and De Beauvoir were a celebrity intellectual couple. People, even now, come from all over the world to visit their grave with many leaving their metro tickets purchased to get there on the grave. Camus and Sartre were frenemies in the intellectual world, for example with the case of decolonisation. Camus was born in Algeria and so it was difficult for him, and Sartre was for decolonisation. Camus' 'The Rebel' (1951) criticised Stalin in a period of French cooperation with Russia. It led to a very public debate between Camus and Sartre with each insulting the other. Following the Socialist invasion of Hungary in 1956, Paris experienced a turning point in its relations with the Soviet Union with many now supporting Camus' early criticisms.

Places like Café de Flore were used by intellectuals to meet and discuss ideas. Cafés have now become a site of memory and pilgirmage for Parisians, likely because of this connotation.

Political leaders also bought into the intellectuals, travelling to Paris to meet and have discussions with them. Intellectuals had a leading role in society which, in turn, had a leading role in world politics.

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Paris and the Ends of Empire

As Paris was losing its empire, many Parisians and those in the empire felt they were being betrayed by De Gaulle. There was nearly a military coup in Paris in 1961 when De Gaulle began decolonising Algeria, the most significant colony. The military believed De Gaulle's government to be weak, and society was very divided on the issue.

In 1962, some Algerians led by Jean Bastien-Thiry tried to assassinate De Gaulle by firing bullets at his car. They wanted Algeria to be kept as a colony, but France just didn't have the resources to maintain its empire.

‘Camus, at home, understands the complexity of the Algerian situation, the human bonds, the impossible ruptures, the relativity of the issues...Sartre was...the heir of an elitist French tradition, raised among books and the sheltered cradle of the École Normale Supérieure.’

Annie Cohen-Solal

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Labour, Intellectuals and Radicalisation

In the mid to late 20th century, labour and student movements began working together for the Left. The Parisian government feared the Leftist intellectuals were radicalising the students and labour force. Renault at Boulogne-Billancourt became a main centre of the labour movement. Billancourt became the place that intellectuals went to encounter 'the people'. Trade unions like cgt were also on the rise and intellectuals were challenging class ideas and bringing intellectuals into the labour force.

Problems with universities led to questioning whether universities should be state-run and who should choose the curriculum. There were demonstrations and strikes in May 1968 where the student and labour movement had come together. The strikes spread to all sectors of the French economy. Across France, students occupied university structures and and up to 1/3 of the country's workforce was on strike. A year later De Gaulle resigned despite having just vastly won an election.

The way authorities had tried supressing the protests became a concern. As the police were the most visual representation of the government on the streets, it was now questioned who owned the streets as, did the state have the right to close certain streets for protests?

Barricades re-appeared and the participation in the protests re-affirmed Parisian identity as a site of memory in Paris.

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Intellectuals and Rebellion after 1968

After 1968, intellectuals began self-doubting. They still debated key issues like The Prisons Information Group (1971) that debated the relevance of the death penalty in modern society and whether prison conditions should be improved. But, Parisian society was improving, so was there still space for intellectuals?

‘The intellectual discovered that the masses no longer needed him to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well without illusion; they know far better than he and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves.’

Michel Foucault

The legacies of intellectuals can still be found in Paris though. For example, on public transport, the metro in particular, many read intellectual books. It has seeped into popular culture. Although, they may only be doing it because it is demonstrative and fashionable, they may not be reading them because they want to.

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