Tony Judt

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Tony Robert Judt (2 January 19486 August 2010) was a British historian, essayist, and university professor who specialized in European history.


  • Some people, myself included, advocated foreign intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo while opposing our adventure in Iraq. Sam Moyn might find this inconsistent, but (on this occasion at least) it is the world that is inconsistent, not us. During the Balkan wars individuals’ rights were under ascertainable threat in real time. Outside intervention could make a difference, and it did. This was not the case in Iraq. We should always be suspicious of the invocation of universal “rights” as a cover for sectional interests. But it doesn’t follow from this that talk of rights is “really” always about something else. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. How, then, should we adjust our response? Well, there is a serviceable Keynesian answer to that: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
    • "Double-Entry Moral Bookkeeping", The Nation (April 25, 2007)
  • My concern tonight is the following: Why is it that here in the United States we have such difficulty even imagining a different sort of society from the one whose dysfunctions and inequalities trouble us so? We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it. Why is it so beyond us to conceive of a different set of arrangements to our common advantage?
  • What, then, is to be done? We have to begin with the state: as the incarnation of collective interests, collective purposes, and collective goods. If we cannot learn to “think the state” once again, we shall not get very far. But what precisely should the state do? Minimally, it should not duplicate unnecessarily: as Keynes wrote, “The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse; but to do those things which at present are not done at all.” And we know from the bitter experience of the past century that there are some things that states should most certainly not be doing.
  • We don’t live in a world of fixed historical laws that says the—as you describe it—liberal state was born at a particular time, lived and died, and that’s what we’re stuck with. But there are reasons why some things are much harder to retain, to invent, to reinvent than others.
    • quoted in "Talking With Tony Judt", The Nation (April 29, 2010) by Christine Smallwood
  •  What’s missing from public conversation and public policy conversation is precisely a sort of moral underpinning, a sense of the moral purposes that bind people together in functional societies. And part of the attraction of someone who otherwise didn’t appeal to me in the least—like, say, Pope John Paul II—was how he managed to connect with young people. Whether it was in Eastern Europe or Latin America or wherever, his was the sense of an absolutely, unambiguously, morally noncompromising view about what is right and what is wrong. It seems to me that we need to reintroduce some of that. We need to reintroduce confidently and unashamedly that kind of language into the public realm. And not expel it, so to speak, into church for Sunday. It’s not only on Sunday that some things are right and some things are wrong.
    • quoted in "Talking With Tony Judt", The Nation (April 29, 2010) by Christine Smallwood
  • One of the very few things that I know I believe strongly is that we must learn how to make a better world out of usable pasts rather than dreaming of infinite futures. It’s a very late-Enlightenment view that says that the only way to make a better future is to believe that the future will be better. Smarter people than me used to believe very differently and I think it is time to listen to them once again.
  • Where does that leave me? Trying, as usual, to square general truths with particular circumstances. That’s the difference between pure ethics and political theory; but it isn’t resolved by simply abandoning the tension and sliding to one end of the pole.
  • God knows I can think of enough things that I did wrong both personally and as part of my cohort. But I never abandoned what I thought of as the benefits of the postwar consensus in favour of sectional advantage. Actually, I was always a bit awkward in this as other respects. As you know, I was against root-and-branch school comprehensivization on the grounds that the postwar arrangements combining meritocracy with opportunity, while imperfect and logically indefensible, were better than the radical schemes on offer – which have trashed much of the pedagogical gains of the early postwar decades.
  • I hate publicity, celebrity, fame, and notoriety, all of which are associated with controversy in its public form. But, in fairness, all my life I've been rather upfront with my opinions and never hidden them on grounds of conformity or (I fear) politesse. However, until the wretched Polish consulate affair, I don't think I was ever controversial—I was certainly not known outside of the hermetic little world of the academy, and my contrarian scholarly writings aroused no great fuss.
    • quoted in Evan R. Goldstein, "The Trials of Tony Judt", The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 06, 2010)
  • I am, I discover in late middle age, a work in progress.
    • quoted in Samuel Moyn, "Intellectuals, Reason, and History: In Memory of Tony Judt", H-France Salon (2012)

Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 (1992)[edit]

  • In practice, the writer or scholar who aspires to that public position which defines intellectuals and distinguishes them from mere scribblers has always had to choose between being the apologist for rulers or an advisor to the people; the tragedy of the twentieth century is that these two functions have ceased to exist independently of one another, and intellectuals like Sartre who thought they were fulfilling one role were inevitably drawn to play both. If their successors, in France or elsewhere, are truly to put this past behind them, it will not be enough to recognize past mistakes. It will also be necessary to accept that entailed in the very meaning for modern society of the term intellectual are a number of roles that writers and scholars today may no longer wish to fulfill; indeed, a refusal to occupy the post of the (engaged) intellectual may be the most positive of the steps modern thinkers can take in any serious effort to come to terms with their own responsibility for our common recent past.
    • p. 319

The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century (1998)[edit]

  • History is not written as it was experienced, nor should it be. The inhabitants of the past know better than we do what it was like to live there, but they were not well placed, most of them, to understand what was happening to them and why.
    • Introduction: The Misjudgment of Paris
  • From the end of World War I until the middle of the middle of the 1970s, French public life was shaped and misshaped by three overlapping and intersecting forms of collective and individual irresponsibility. The first of these was political. Reading the history of interwar France, one is struck again and again by the incompetence, the insouciance and the culpable negligence of the men who governed the country and represented its citizens. This is not a political observation, in the partisan sense, but rather a cultural one.
    • Introduction: The Misjudgment of Paris
  • If the era of political irresponsibility in France lasted from 1918 to 1958, the age of moral irresponsibility may be said to have begun in the mid-thirties and endured for the best part of four decades.
    • Introduction: The Misjudgment of Paris
  • This book is about three Frenchmen who lived and wrote against the grain of these three ages of irresponsibility. They were very different men and would have been surprised to think of themselves as a group, yet they have something rather distinctive in common. All three played an important role in the France of their lifetime but lived at a slightly awkward tangent to their contemporaries. For much of his adult life each was an object of dislike, suspicion, contempt, or hatred for many of his peers and contemporaries; only at the end of their long lives were Léon Blum and Raymond Aron, for quite different reasons, able to relax into the comfort of near-universal admiration, respect, and, in some quarters, adulation. Camus, who had experienced all three by the age of thirty-five, died twelve years later an insecure and much-maligned figure; it would be thirty years before his reputation would recover.
    • Introduction: The Misjudgment of Paris

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005)[edit]

  • Europe is the smallest continent. It is not really even a continent—just a subcontinental annexe to Asia. The whole of Europe (excluding Russia and Turkey) comprises just five and a half million square kilometers: less than two thirds the area of Brazil, not much more than half the size of China or the US. It is dwarfed by Russia, which covers seventeen million square kilometers. But in the intensity of its internal differences and contrasts, Europe is unique.
    • Preface & Acknowledgements
  • Europe is not re-entering its troubled wartime past—on the contrary, it is leaving it. Germany today, like the rest of Europe, is more conscious of its twentieth-century history than at any time in the past fifty years. But this does not mean that it is being drawn back into it. For that history never went away.
    • Introduction
  • Sixty years after Hitler's death, his war and its consequences are entering history. Postwar in Europe lasted a very long time, but it is finally coming to a close.
    • Introduction

Ill Fares the Land (2010)[edit]

  • Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.
    • Introduction
  • We have entered an age of insecurity—economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity. The fact that we are largely unaware of this is small comfort: few in 1914 predicted the utter collapse of their world and the economic and political catastrophes that followed. Insecurity breeds fear. And fear—fear of change, fear of decline, fear of strangers and an unfamiliar world—is corroding the trust and interdependence on which civil societies rest.
    • Introduction
  • All change is disruptive. We have seen that the specter of terrorism is enough to cast stable democracies into turmoil. Climate change will have even more dramatic consequences. Men and women will be thrown back upon the resources of the state. They will look to their political leaders and representatives to protect them: open societies will once again be urged to close in upon themselves, sacrificing freedom for ‘security’. The choice will no longer be between the state and the market, but between two sorts of state. It is thus incumbent upon us to re-conceive the role of government. If we do not, others will.
    • Introduction
  • Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice towards those on the lower ranks of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.
    • Ch. 1 : The Way We Live Now
  • The ‘false precision’ of which Maynard Keynes accused his economist critics is with us still. Worse: we have smuggled in a misleadingly ‘ethical’ vocabulary to bolster our economic arguments, furnishing us with a self-satisfied gloss upon crassly utilitarian calculations. When imposing welfare cuts on the poor, for example, legislators in the UK and US alike have taken a singular pride in the ‘hard choices’ they have had to make.
    • Ch. 1 : The Way We Live Now
  • The past was neither as good nor as bad as we suppose: it was just different. If we tell ourselves nostalgic stories, we shall never engage the problems that face us in the present—and the same is true if we fondly suppose that our own world is better in every way. The past really is another country: we cannot go back. However, there is something worse than idealizing the past—or presenting it to ourselves and our children as a chamber of horrors: forgetting it.
    • Ch. 2 : The World We Have Lost
  • What did trust, cooperation, progressive taxation and the interventionist state bequeath to western societies in the decades following 1945? The short answer is, in varying degrees, security, prosperity, social services and greater equality. We have grown accustomed in recent years to the assertion that the price paid for these benefits—in economic inefficiency, insufficient innovation, stifled entrepreneurship, public debt and a loss of private initiative—was too high. Most of these criticisms are demonstrably false.
    • Ch. 2 : The World We Have Lost
  • We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns. Laudable goals—fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers—are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.
    • Ch. 3 : The Unbearable Lightness of Politics
  • Unfortunately, pragmatism is not always good politics. The greatest asset of mid-20th century social democracy—its willingness to compromise its own core beliefs in the name of balance, tolerance, fairness and freedom—now looks more like weakness: a loss of nerve in the face of changed circumstances. We find it hard to look past those compromises to recall the qualities that informed progressive thought in the first place: what the early 20th century syndicalist Edouard Berth termed “a revolt of the spirit against . . . a world in which man was threatened by a monstrous moral and metaphysical materialism”.
    • Ch. 4 : Goodbye to All That?
  • We face today two practical dilemmas. The first can be succinctly described as the return of the ‘social question’. For Victorian reformers—or American activists of the pre-1914 age of reform—the challenge posed by the social question of their time was straightforward: how was a liberal society to respond to the poverty, overcrowding, dirt, malnutrition and ill health of the new industrial cities? How were the working masses to be brought into the community—as voters, as citizens, as participants—without upheaval, protest and even revolution? What should be done to alleviate the suffering and injustices to which the urban working masses were now exposed and how was the ruling elite of the day to be brought to see the need for change?
    The history of the 20th century West is in large measure the history of efforts to answer these questions. The responses proved spectacularly successful: not only was revolution avoided but the industrial proletariat was integrated to a remarkable degree. Only in countries where any liberal reform was prevented by authoritarian rulers did the social question rephrase itself as a political challenge, typically ending in violent confrontation. In the middle of the 19th century, sharp-eyed observers like Karl Marx had taken it for granted that the only way the inequities of industrial capitalism could be overcome was by revolution. The idea that they could be dissolved peacefully into New Deals, Great Societies and welfare states simply never would have occurred to him.
    • Ch. 5 : What Is to be Done?
  • Political skepticism is the source of so many of our dilemmas. Even if free markets worked as advertised, it would be hard to claim that they constituted a sufficient basis for the well-lived life. So what precisely is it that we find lacking in unrestrained financial capitalism, or ‘commercial society’ as the 18th century had it? What do we find instinctively amiss in our present arrangements and what can we do about them? What is it that offends our sense of propriety when faced with unfettered lobbying by the wealthy at the expense of everyone else? What have we lost?
    We are all children of the Greeks. We intuitively grasp the need for a sense of moral direction: it is not necessary to be familiar with Socrates to feel that the unexamined life is not worth much. Natural Aristotelians, we assume that a just society is one in which justice is habitually practiced; a good society one in which people behave well. But in order for such an implicitly circular account to convince, we need to agree on the meaning of ‘just’ or ‘well’.
    • Ch. 5 : What Is to be Done?
  • The case for reviving the state does not rest uniquely upon its contributions to modern society as a collective project; there is a more urgent consideration. We have entered an age of fear. Insecurity is once again an active ingredient of political life in Western democracies. Insecurity born of terrorism, of course; but also, and more insidiously, fear of the uncontrollable speed of change, fear of the loss of employment, fear of losing ground to others in an increasingly unequal distribution of resources, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines of our daily life. And, perhaps above all, fear that it is not just we who can no longer shape our lives but that those in authority have also lost control, to forces beyond their reach.
    • Ch. 6 : The Shape of Things to Come
  • It would seem to follow that the ‘invisible hand’ is not much help when it comes to practical legislation. There are too many areas of life where we cannot be relied upon to advance our collective interests merely by doing what we think is best for each of us. Today, when the market and the free play of private interests so obviously do not come together to collective advantage, we need to know when to intervene.
    • Ch. 6 : The Shape of Things to Come
  • Even in Scandinavia, where social democratic institutions were far more culturally ingrained, membership of the EU—or even just participation in the World Trade Organization and other international agencies—appeared to constrain locally-initiated legislation. In short, social democracy seemed doomed by that same internationalization which its early theorists had so enthusiastically adumbrated as the future of capitalism.
    From this perspective, social democracy—like liberalism—was a byproduct of the rise of the European nation-state: a political idea keyed to the social challenges of industrialization in developed societies. Not only was there no ‘socialism’ in America, but social democracy as a working compromise between radical goals and liberal traditions lacked widespread support in any other continent. There was no shortage of enthusiasm for revolutionary socialism in much of the non-Western world, but the distinctively European compromise did not export well.
    • Conclusion: What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?
  • In writing this book, I hope I have offered some guidance to those—the young especially—trying to articulate their objections to our way of life. However, this is not enough. As citizens of a free society, we have a duty to look critically at our world. But if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge. Philosophers, it was famously observed, have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
    • Conclusion: What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?

Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012)[edit]

  • In some sense it is my story, too. I grew up and read and became a historian and, I like to think, an intellectual. The Jewish question was never at the center of my own intellectual life, or indeed my historical work. But it intrudes, inevitably, and with ever greater force. One of the aims of this book is to allow such themes to encounter each other, to permit the intellectual history of the twentieth century to meet the history of the Jews. This is a personal as well as a scholarly effort: after all, many of us who have, in our work, kept these themes distinct are ourselves Jews.
    • Ch. 1: The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner
  • The two decades following the end of the late-nineteenth century economic depression were the first great age of globalization; the world economy was truly becoming integrated in just the ways Keynes suggested. For precisely this reason, the scale of the collapse during and after the First World War and the rate at which economies contracted between the wars is difficult for us to appreciate even now. Passports were introduced; the gold standard returned (in 1925 in the British case, reinstated by Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill over Keynes’s objections); currencies collapsed; trade declined.
    • Ch. 1: The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner
  • The three quarters of century that followed Austria’s collapse in the 1930s can be seen as a duel between Keynes and Hayek. Keynes, as I was saying, begins with the observation that under conditions of economic uncertainty we would be imprudent to assume stable outcomes and therefore had better devise ways to intervene in order to bring these about. Hayek, writing quite consciously against Keynes and from the Austrian experience, argues in the The Road to Serfdom that intervention—planning, however benevolent or well-intentioned and whatever the political context—must end badly. His book was published in 1945 and is most remarkable for its prediction that the post–World War II British welfare state already in the making should anticipate a fate similar to that of the socialist experiment in post-1918 Vienna. Starting with socialist planning, you would end with Hitler or a comparable successor. For Hayek, in short, the lesson of Austria and indeed the disaster of interwar Europe at large boiled down to this: don’t intervene, and don’t plan. Planning hands the initiative to those who would, in the end, destroy society (and the economy) to the benefit of the state. Three quarters of a century later, this remains for many people (especially here in the U.S.) the salient moral lesson of the twentieth century.
    • Ch. 1: The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner
  • “Telling the truth”—which for so long was itself a problematic exercise thanks to competing “truths” and the cost of airing them publicly—now became a virtue in itself. And the bigger the truth you have to tell, the greater your claim upon the attention of fellow citizens and sympathetic observers. Thus, despite the obvious risk of appearing to compete with the ultimate truth of Jewish genocide, speaking openly about hitherto uncomfortable episodes in the recent German past opens the possibility of encouraging the telling of many stories.
    • Ch. 1: The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner
  • Perhaps the real difficulty facing anyone seeking intellectuals at the highest political levels in England is that the intellectual agenda which drove ideologically-configured political movements in continental Europe was quite absent in London.
    • Ch. 2: London and Language: English Writer
  • So I certainly don’t regard myself as brave. I just see myself—if I want to indulge a little immodesty—as rather more honest and outspoken than some other people I know.
    • Ch. 4 : King’s and Kibbutzim: Cambridge Zionist

Quotes about Judt[edit]

  • As right-wing politicians and pundits call us stooges for Osama bin Laden, Tony Judt charges, in a widely discussed and heatedly debated essay in the London Review of Books, that American liberals -- without distinction -- have "acquiesced in President Bush's catastrophic foreign policy." Both claims are nonsense on stilts.

    Clearly this is a moment for liberals to define ourselves. The important truth is that most liberals, including the undersigned, have stayed our course throughout these grim five years. We have consistently and publicly repudiated the ruinous policies of the Bush administration, and our diagnosis, alas, has been vindicated by events. The Bush debacle is a direct consequence of its repudiation of liberal principles. And if the country is to recover, we should begin by restating these principles.

  • Judt is at least clear about what our priorities should be. They are quite simply the traditional goals of social democracy: a pragmatic balance of freedom and fairness, of individual liberty and social cohesion. [...] Social democrats need to remember how they used to measure efficiency not only by means of spreadsheets, but in social result.

    These solutions are painted with the same broad brush that Judt often wields throughout the book. This sweep is the book’s strength and weakness. We need thinkers to stand back and capture the big picture. But real change requires hundreds of piecemeal, practical changes. That is not to diminish the importance of panoramic visions. Obama’s crusading “yes we can” seems a thousand miles from the tortuous negotiations behind the eventual passing of the healthcare bill. But without his campaign’s clear purpose and simple message, the bill would never have even got before Congress. Judt’s impassioned, often angry polemic is likewise sorely needed, but much more sober, practical thinking is needed too, if the land is to fare better.

  • The most striking thing about Judt's narrative is his essentially amoral view of history. That isn't to say Judt is amoral as a writer. He certainly is not. But he doesn't believe in history has a necessary trajectory, nor does he much care about narratives of inevitable progress. Europe was wrecked after the War. French opinion polls in 1946 list "food," "bread," and "meat" as the public's main concerns. In the East, bad harvests and droughts brought back reports of cannibalism.
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates, 'War and Welfare Went Hand in Hand', The Atlantic (November 4, 2013)
  • Judt’s essays become both more important and more troubling for being brought together in one volume. The publication of Reappraisals certainly confirms, were any confirmation still needed, his standing as a significant figure in the public intellectual life of the contemporary United States. I salute the range, the command, and the courage displayed in his writing. But spending a prolonged spell in his literary company also leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable. I feel that I would be forced into banging the table in my turn if I wanted to enter the conversations whose terms he partly sets. We need historians to play the role that Judt so ably does, but perhaps we need them also to be a bit less at ease with that role. The best works of history rarely yield unambiguous support to any political cause or affiliation, and we look to the vocabulary, register, and cadence of good historical writing to communicate that chastened sense of complexity which otherwise can struggle to get itself heard in public debate. That’s not everything, of course. But it’s not ‘nothing’, either.
    • Stefan Collini, Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate (2016), Chap. 11: ‘New Orwells’?
  • He is cranky, unfair to his intellectual opponents, and he repeatedly misrepresents thinkers such as Hayek on some fairly simple points. He conducts unsubstantiated attacks on various New York Times columnists, as if they had once beaten him in a debate and this was his revenge.
  • It is unclear why Tony Judt hates Clinton so much--Bill Clinton was, I think, (except for that big problem with the zipper) the best president America has had since Truman (or maybe Eisenhower), and the most liberal president America has had since LBJ. But hate Bill Clinton Tony Judt does. And that, I think, is the source of the energy behind his massive misreading of Reich.
  • To my knowledge, but I don't know everything and it is not too late, Professor Judt has not yet acknowledged publicly that he did not tell the truth. You will have noticed that, in speaking of the contre-vérité of his article, I never said that Professor Judt had lied. Everything that is false cannot be imputed to a lie. The lie is not an error. Already Plato and Augustine insisted on this in unison. If the concept of lie has some resistant specificity, it must be rigorously distinguished from error, from ignorance, from prejudice, from faulty reasoning, and even from failure in the realm of knowledge or still again-and this is where things will soon have to get more complicated for us-from failure in the realm of action, practice, or technique. If the lie is neither the failure of knowledge and knowhow, nor error, if it implies ill will or bad faith in the order of moral reason, not of practice but of pure practical reason, if it addresses belief rather than knowledge, then the project of a history of the lie should not resemble in the least what could be called, following Nietzsche in The Twilight of the Idols, the history of an error [Geschichte eines Irrtums].
    • Jacques Derrida, "History of the Lie: Prolegomena", published in Futures of Jacques Derrida, ed. Richard Rand (2001)
  • His style is temperate rather than polemical, allusive rather than dogmatic. He is not easy to pin down. I suspect that, like Michael Oakeshott, he does not believe in conclusions, preferring conversation to meander according to the quality of those taking part. The reader is left with impressions and suggestions, jostling each other for attention. He avoids the catcalls and blazing generalities that pass for debate in today’s cyber world.
    • Bruce Grant, "A nimble mind: Offerings and jeremiads from the stoic Tony Judt", Australian Book Review (March 2011)
  • Even when he is wrong, however, Judt writes with fearless integrity and moral seriousness. Like Raymond Aron, the subtle and relentless French polemicist whose spirit breathes through these pages, Judt is a liberal thinker dedicated to demystifying liberal illusions.
  • Postwar tells the story of how that happened. The book is ambitiously organized to combine the whole of the postwar history of Europe—Western and Eastern—into a single conceptual framework. The result is not a work of dispassionate scholarship. In the preface, Judt describes his approach as an "avowedly personal interpretation" of the recent European past. "In a word that has acquired undeservedly pejorative connotations," he writes, Postwar is "opinionated." Judt's thesis, developed through 900 pages, is this: Europe remade itself by forgetting its past. "The first postwar Europe was built upon deliberate mis-memory—upon forgetting as a way of life." And there was much to forget: collaboration, genocide, extreme deprivation.
    • Evan R. Goldstein, "The Trials of Tony Judt", The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 06, 2010)
  • One of these pasts is the lost role of the public intellectual: well-informed but willing to range beyond the ghetto of expertise—who doesn’t just observe but also tries to intervene or provoke. The economic background to Ill Fares the Land might be incomplete but the reappraising anger is just. Tony’s willingness to take on this topic—to use his fast-depleting energies on this particular stage at this particular time—is yet another dramatic intervention, combining a personal voice with a knowledge of history and sense of occasion in a way that is both responsive and responsible, timely and moral.
  • What struck me as I was reading Judt’s reflections on Sartre, Camus, Kolakowski, Hobsbawm, Koestler etc., most of which obviously have to do with Communism and Marxism, are two things. First, they were discussions of ideas where people (“real people”) have almost no place, and second, their discussion, so anachronistically placed around the events in the 1930s or 1940s, has very scant real-life resonance to somebody who lived under Communism in the 1970s and 1980s (like me) and obviously even less to anyone today. It occurred to me that practically no one of these people (Kolakowski obviously excepted) lived under Communism and for them the Cold War battles were waged in New York and Paris. Moreover, they were waged around the issues that were of almost total irrelevance to the “real people” in Eastern Europe. In some sense, these “battles” replicated Lenin without Leninism: primacy of ideology, disregard of real life.
  • Judt’s very narrow focus on Western Europe, plus Poland, makes him not realize how politically parochial he can be at times. In an otherwise nice essay on Romania (a bit unusual given the geographically constrained topics of the book), Judt reports, with apparent disapproval, how a listener in a Romanian town asked him whether European Union should be limited only to Christian nations (p. 258). The question is supposed to illustrate the “nativism” of the Balkan man. Judt finds the idea abhorrent. But only five pages later (p. 263), Judt mentions how Bucharest, being “Balkanic” and “Byzantine” (as opposed to Central European cities) somehow rules the country out from the membership in Europe. Thus, in the span of five pages, we move from a seeming (skin-deep?) cosmopolitan inclusiveness to cultural nativism.
    There are many similar contradictions, rather bizarrely displaying the prejudices of the author—the very same prejudices that, when political correctness lights are “on”, he rejects in other, less enlightened, individuals.
  • The excellence of “Postwar” was no doubt hard to achieve—Judt says that he began planning the book in 1989—but it is easy to describe. The writing is vivid; the coverage—of little countries as well as of great ones—is virtually superhuman; and, above all, the book is smart. Every page contains unexpected data, or a fresh observation, or a familiar observation freshly turned. And there are more than eight hundred pages.
  • “Postwar” is first-rate political, economic, and social history. The only sections that are unworthy of the author’s talents are the brief ventures into intellectual history, and the proverbial British prudishness about abstract ideas may have something to do with this. As a reference to the philosopher Jacques Derrida as “the literary critic Jacques Derrida” suggests, Judt has no patience for Continental thought, whose prominence, such as it was, he tends to attribute to a combination of fashionableness and ambition.
  • Judt is so suspicious of intellectualism that at one point he suggests that the British are immune to it. “The species has always been uncommon in Britain,” he says of the public intellectual. This is almost comical. What about, in the period covered in Judt’s own book, Bertrand Russell, C. P. Snow, and the man who was arguably the most influential public intellectual of the Cold War era, George Orwell?
  • The conversion of Tony Judt has been less radical but more interesting. He made his name excoriating French left-wing intellectuals for their failure to champion rights–a failure he saw as rooted in their nation’s revolutionary tradition, especially when measured against Anglo-American political wisdom. Rights have an “extrapolitical status,” he wrote thirteen years ago, diagnosing as French pathology the error of making them “an object of suspicion.” Now he says that universalistic invocations of rights often mask particular interests–and never more so than in America’s current wars–even though he once chastised opponents of rights who took this very position. Formerly treating them as an intellectual talisman, Judt now complains in passing about “the abstract universalism of ‘rights’–and uncompromising ethical stands taken against malign regimes in their name.” He warns that such abstractions can all too easily lead those who invoke them to “readily mistake the US president’s myopic rigidity for their own moral rectitude.” Of course, Judt still understands himself to be a committed liberal intellectual, at a time when he thinks practically all other liberals have disappeared. But not just the world has changed; he has too, and most strikingly in his acknowledgment that his old standard can hallow many causes.
    • Samuel Moyn, "On the Genealogy of Morals", The Nation (Mar 29, 2007)
  • Tony knew that the disappearance of social theory, our common fate today, is not to be remedied so easily. The programmatic alternative to the present Tony came to favor— imagining a different future—depends, as he saw, on a social theory underlying it. And in spite of the fact that Marxism towered over the modern landscape, there are other possibilities. Keynes—Tony’s apparent hero at the end—presupposed a social theory too, though so did Friedrich Hayek, and the point is not just to revive their dispute simply to take sides but rather to understand their contention as the clash of philosophical visions it was, both broadly about the nature of social life and more narrowly about the place of modernity in it.
    • Samuel Moyn, "Intellectuals, Reason, and History: In Memory of Tony Judt", H-France Salon (2012)
  • Tony Judt, in short, was a mass of contradictions, a polemicist as well as a prophet, a philosopher as well as a pamphleteer; but, most of all, through these pages, he emerges as a wellspring of enlightenment you need to spend time with. Stab him, and he will bleed; but hug him and perhaps he may shed a tear.
    • Peter Preston, "The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt – review", The Guardian, 21 Nov 2010

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