Book Review: Western Europe: Leon Blum, Humanist in Politics

Publication Date01 June 1967
DOI10.1177/002070206702200230
Date01 June 1967
AuthorJohn C. Cairns
SubjectBook Review
336
INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL
Western
Europe
LEON
BLUM,
HUMANIST
IN
POLITICS.
By
Joel
Colton.
1966.
(New
York:
Alfred
A.
Knopf.
Toronto: Random
House. xiv,
512pp.
$12.95)
A
substantial
biography
of
any
French
politician
in
the
post-
Revolutionary
period
is
an
event.
While
the
contribution
of
France's
historians
to
the
history
of
their
own
country
has
been
admirable
in
so
many
ways,
the
neglect
of
political
biography
has
recently
become
flagrant.
Professional
historians
of
skill
and
standing
have
all
but
abandoned
the
field,
a
phenomenon
which
it
will
one
day
be
inter-
esting
to
have
analyzed
and
explained.
Thus
the
appearance
of
Joel
Colton's
study
of
Leon
Blum
is
exceedingly
welcome.
And
it
turns
out to
be
a
big
book:
calm, fair-minded,
leisurely
and
moderately
critical.
The
sub-title
is
important.
Colton's focus
is
on
the
public
life.
Materials
for
anything
else
are
lacking.
As
is
so
often
the
case
in
France,
papers
relating
to more
private matters
have
been
lost
or
destroyed,
or have
perhaps
simply
been
locked
away
by
family
and
others
for
some
long time to
come.
All
the
more
adnmrable,
therefore,
is
Colton's
careful
and
balanced
account
of
a
long
career
in
literature
and
parliamentary
politics.
He
has
combed
the
press
and
collected
a very
great
deal of
the
relevant
supporting
evidence
to
show
Blum
as
leader
of
the
Socialist
party
premier
in
the
ill-fated
Popular
Front
episode,
scapegoat
for
the
sins
of
the
Republic
during
the
Vichy
inter-
lude,
and
elder
statesman
after
the
Liberation.
I
think
it
not
unfair
to
say
that
Colton's
Blum
is
very
much
the
attractive,
gentle,
principled
and
ultimately
inadequate
man
one
has
always
taken
him
to
be.
Blum
inherited
a
troubled
leadership
at
the
end
of
the
First
World
War-
he
gave
his
party
in
an
era
of
tangled loyalties
and
social
and
ideological
turmoil,
the
cautious
direction
which
both
held
it
together
and
con-
demned
it
to
the
sidelines.
And
when he finally
took
office
as head
of
the
government, his hands
were
tightly
bound
by
circumstances
and
his
own
scrupulous
honesty
his
fate
was foreordained.
The
rest
was
epilogue,
a
tale
of
endurance and
noble
bearing
in
the
face
of
dis-
graceful
treatment
at
the hands
of
fellow
citizens
and
under
the
threat
always
of
destruction
from
the
victorious German occupants
of
France.
In a
general
way,
the
Socialist
parties
between
the wars
cut
a
lamentable
figure.
For
whatever
reason,
there
were
to
be
no
giants
after
1918
comparable
to
Jean
Jaur6s or
the
Liebknechts
or
August
Bebel
before
1914.
For
all
his
faults,
which
Colton
explains
as
frankly
as he underlines
his
qualities,
Blum
was
the
most
brilliant
and
likeable
of
the
European
Socialist
leaders.
His
name
will
always
be
linked
to
the
mythic
memory
of
the
Popular
Front
and
to
the
stout
defence
of
the
Republic
after
the
1940
catastrophe.
No doubt
he
will
have
to
bear
some
much
more
critical
assessment
when
the
history
of
his
times
comes
to
be
weighed
and
written
in
a
manner
not
possible
today
But this
first
complete
biography
honours
him
properly
and
acceptably
as
"an
apostle
of
social
justice,
fraternity
and
peace,
a
champion
of

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