Michael Curtis appointed to Legion of Honor by the President of France

All of us at American Thinker heartily congratulate our colleague Michael Curtis on his appointment by the President of France to the Legion of Honor (Légion d’honneur), the highest decoration in France, as Chevalier (knight).

In addition to being the author of almost daily contributions to our site, Michael is one of the world’s preeminent historians of political thought in France since the 19th century. While the Legion of Honor is supposed to be limited to French citizenry, non-French figures that have made significant contributions to French culture are also considered.

The Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur was established by Napoleon. The old orders of chivalry were abolished in the French Revolution and Napoleon decreed that honors should be awarded for merit rather than based on the old system of nobility.  There are both military and civil members the Legion of Honor. Today, the requirements for a civil chevalier consist of 25 years of distinguished professional activity.

The order is housed in the Palace of the Legion of Honor (Palais de la Légion d'Honneur) in Paris, one of the most famous buildings in France, which includes a museum devoted to the honor. Membership in this order is a very big deal.

I correspond frequently with Michael, often multiple times a day, and when he mentioned the honor in passing a couple of days ago, I was floored, and wanted to share the news with readers. But he is a modest man by nature, so it was from his wife, Judy Brodsky, herself an artist, distinguished scholar, and founder of the Brodsky Center, that I received some further details of his work that brought him this great distinction, as well as background information on his life.

Michael Curtis is the author of more than 35 books on the fields of political theory, comparative government, the Middle East, and European politics, but especially on the history of French political thought, focusing on the importance of that history to the development of political ideas in the rest of the world.

Curtis was born in London and educated at the London School of Economics where he took a First. He received his PhD from Cornell University after coming to the United States in 1954.  His very first book in the United States, published while he was teaching at Yale, was Three Against the Third Republic (Princeton University Press (1959), and recently re-issued by Transaction Press with a new introduction by Curtis (2010).  This book is considered the definitive study of early 20th century French politics and the rise of the right after the Dreyfus affair. In it Curtis focuses on three writers, Georges Sorel, Maurice Barrès, and Charles Maurras and their reactions to the deficiencies they saw in the Third Republic and in the system of French democracy. They formulated a philosophic political amalgam of the conservative, reactionary, and moralist segments of French thought that later became the rationale for the rise of rightist governments throughout Europe.

Verdict on Vichy came out first in 2002, published in London by Weidenfeld and Nicolson (Orion Press). This book was widely recognized as updating and presenting new material crucial to fresh understanding of the complexities of French government and life during World War II.  It was named one of the best books of the year by The Daily Telegraph.  It went on to be published in the United States in 2004 by Arcade Press, and was also translated into Italian and Czech for editions in those countries.  The Italian title, Francia Ambigua, expresses how Curtis explored the contradictions and the dilemmas faced by various segments of French society, particularly in relation to the Holocaust.  He brought to light for the first time outside of France, the investigation of the French government commission on despoliation, the requistioning of Jewish property.  Verdict on Vichy has been newly released as an e-book by Skyhorse Editions, the successor to Arcade Press (2013)

Curtis has written extensively on the French political philosopher Raymond Aron helping to create renewed interest in this influential French intellectual.  He wrote an extensive introduction and analysis for Transaction Press when in 2004, it reissued Aron’s book, De Gaulle, Israel, and the Jews. Curtis is also the first to write about Aron’s texts during World War II.  After the fall of France Aron joined the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle in London and edited their newspaper, La France Libre (“Free France”), from 1940 to 1944. These essays on Aron have been combined into one piece that is included in Curtis’s most current book, Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East (Transaction Press, 2013). 

In Orientalism and Islam, published by Cambridge University Press (2009), Curtis focuses on the history of European thought, highlighting the role played by French political philosophers in creating the field of Oriental studies. He traces the creation of terms like Oriental despotism back to Montesquieu. He goes on to discuss the impact of Montesquieu’s writing on subsequent thinkers like Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. Included is an important chapter on Toqueville. While outside of France, Toqueville is associated with his study of the new nation of the United States, Curtis reveals Toqueville’s contribution to Oriental studies with his analysis of France and its relation to Algeria.  This book is highly regarded as countering the popular misconception that Western philosophers like Montesquieu and Tocqueille were inherently biased and could not comment objectively on Oriental and Muslim societies; Curtis shows how they based their theories on perceptions of real processes and behavior in Eastern culture and government. 

In addition to his work at American Thinker, Michael’s observations also appear in the British online publication, The Commentator

At a date in the fall to be determined, Micahel will receive his award from Francois DeLattre, currently French ambassador to the United States and newly appointed as French ambassador to the United Nations.