Sugary excerpt of Eric Hobsbawm's article in the London review of books on Tony Judt:
Four things shaped French history in the 19th and 20th centuries: the Republic born of the incomplete Great Revolution; the centralised Napoleonic state; the crucial political role assigned to a working class too small and disorganised to play it; and the long decline of France from its position before 1789 as the Middle Kingdom of Europe, as confident as China of its cultural and linguistic superiority. It was ‘the capital of the 19th century’, especially for foreigners, but after Waterloo the path led slowly if discontinuously downwards in terms of military prowess, international power and cultural centrality. Denied a Lenin and deprived of Napoleon, France retreated into the last and, we must hope, indestructible redoubt, the world of Astérix. The postwar vogue for Parisian thinkers barely concealed their collective retreat into Hexagonal introversion and into the ultimate fortress of French intellectuality, Cartesian theory and puns. There were now other models in higher education and the sciences, in economic development, even – as the late penetration of Marx’s ideas implies – in the ideology of the Revolution. The problem for left-wing intellectuals was how to come to terms with an essentially non-revolutionary France. The problem for right-wing ones, many of them former communists, was how to bury the founding event and formative tradition of the Republic, the French Revolution, a task equivalent to writing the American Constitution out of US history. It could not be done, not even by very intelligent and powerful operators like Furet, any more than Tony, had he lived, could have restored the social democracy that was his ideal.
I have to confess that I don't like the world of Astérix, I love it, but I don't like it because it makes France Alain Delon, stylish, talented, extremely seductive, but too self-involved (I'm not sure that it is possible to be great, grand without being self-involved) and often unkind.