The Sickness Unto Death

George Santayana’s dictum—“Those who forget the past . . . ”—has long since become one of those clichés beloved of high-school history teachers, who never tire of repeating it to their indifferent charges.  But Santayana would surely have agreed that forgetting is sometimes necessary.  To dwell obsessively on the past, as any spurned lover knows, can be debilitating, especially if the past in question looms before one’s retrospective gaze with an accusing mien, demanding reparation, sackcloth, and ashes.  In 1987 Henri Rousso, in his Le Syndrome de Vichy, explored the politics of selective historical memory, arguing that, after many years of mythologizing French resistance to the Nazis, the French had, by the late 1970’s, become obsessively neurotic about the collaborationist role of the Vichy regime.  The title of Theodore Dalrymple’s latest book, The New Vichy Syndrome, clearly alludes to Rousso’s seminal study, but never explicitly credits Rousso.  Presumably, Dalrymple’s European readers have a more than passing acquaintance with Rousso’s argument, and perhaps this has simply been taken for granted.  But, aside from the occasional specialist in modern European history, the same can hardly be supposed of North American readers, for whom the name Vichy is today more readily associated with a well-known line of skincare products. ...

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