It was the same 'permanent state' personnel, however, who collaborated with the German invaders and their allies during the Second World war. This time they did not avoid a reckoning. The state apparatus and business/landed elites could now be subjected to a far more thorough purge because of the frame of stability provided by the Allied armies. Societal dissolution and civil war was generally not a risk (with the odd exception) because occupying armies and administrations held the ring. Because the Allies had demanded unconditional surrender rather than a 1918 style armistice, they entirely smashed German militarism, and occupied most of Europe. This permitted a far more thorough re-structuring of the state apparatus than had been conceivable after the Great War.
The outcome was a massive revolutionary re-ordering in continental Europe from about 1944 to 1946. It took the form of popular, Resistance led persecutions as well as a more ordered series of trials, vettings, and demotions overseen by Liberation governments. It was a rough affair, and a recent book on the period by Keith Lowe, Savage Continent, provides a searing study of the scapegoating and ethnic cleansing of the period. Years ago, R. W. Johnson wrote on the subject in the LRB, where he made a striking if disturbing analogy:
Criticism of the purge is easy. ‘Treason,’ as Talleyrand remarked, ‘is a matter of dates.’ And the sight of so many résistants de la dernière heure naturally encouraged cynicism. ‘Wasn’t the secret of the purge,’ Roger Peyrefitte wrote, ‘that there had to be victims so that there could be heroes?’ In a sense, it is difficult to take the opposite view: advocates of the purge were in much the same position as pro-abortion lobbyists today. No matter how just the cause, the hounding of terrified victims, like the termination of a foetus, is an irretrievably sad and ugly business: no one can feel any enthusiasm for it.
(Review of Herbert Lottman, The People's Anger: Justice and Revenge in Post-War France)However, it is the case that most victims were guilty of collaboration (and most lost their jobs rather than their lives). Their removal from positions of power was seen as necessary for the consolidation of post-war democracy. Tony Judt heads his 'Retribution' chapter in Postwar with a quotation from Simone de Beauvoir: "Vengeance is pointless, but certain men did not have a place in the world we sought to construct." (p. 41). And a new world was constructed.
Still, the great purge of the 'permanent state' was not entirely complete, at least outside the Soviet Bloc. The Cold War from 1947 allowed not a few collaborators or fascist eminences to remain in post, or creep back in (often as expert advisors to emergent NATO, as they had fought the Red Army on the eastern front). These years really were the key moment in Europe's democratic transformation, but there was to be a significant coda. More on that anon.