Tony Judt Quote

Tony Judt is one of the names that, I’m terribly afraid, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. But if his memoria are terrible representations of the man he only has himself to blame. Ill Fares the Land is everything he isn’t. It’s loud, emotional, unsourced and speaks from a place of desperation, perhaps even regret. I can’t help but wonder if his LS had anything to do with the unseemly (forced?) exuberance.

Orwell once explained the implosion of Kipling’s vitality as a result of history. It simply hadn’t turned out the way Kipling was certain it would. I cannot find the exact quote here, but is there a better example of this dynamic than Ill Fares the Land?

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.

Have we learned this trick? I’d argue no, but I let you dear reader come to your own conclusion. Will we, ever again? I’m less certain but I believe that Judt was not entirely oblivious to this eventuality especially considering how likely it was. Our generation has left politics behind even though, I’m sure, it will still continue to pay some of the Baby Boomers’ salary. The cathedrals the last generations have built to politics will be frequented–and has been frequented–less and less by this generation. They’re preaching to an increasingly gentrified and isolated parish. Thank goodness, goodbye to good rubbish. Perhaps that makes me an apolitical leftist? I’m not sure. I do not care about labels.

But this is supposed to be a short post.

My main concern is that if Judt is reduced, in the popular imagination at least, to Ill Fares the Land then the left will lose a great man.

I look at, for example, this shining passage in Thinking the Twentieth Century.

Once again, other people’s ordeals are being justified as History’s way of delivering a new world, and thereby assigning meaning to events that would be otherwise unforgivable and inexplicable.

He calls it the ‘sin’ of the 20th Century and while he doesn’t use it in a real descriptive sense it is refreshing to read the word without bookends of a exculpatory nature. Honestly, who doesn’t get a slight shiver of excitement from the dual usage of un- and in-? Unforgivable and inexplicable. How tempting is it to overuse that phrase! What a mind.

I’d recommend all of his work, from start to finish, with the sole removal of Ill Fares the Land. No matter where one is intellectually or where their knowledge base is, he’ll entertain. He will educate. He should be remembered for his climb and not his descent.

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3 thoughts on “Tony Judt Quote

  1. I like this although with reservations.

    “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.”

    There are a couple problems in here, first and paramount, one shouldn’t conflate legislative with judicial, they are not the same.

    Judicial has only two tests, is it in accord with the law, as written and is it just, and if the two don’t match one goes with just, presumably.

    For a plenary legislature the quote is fine.

    And, in truth, where the left has always had their problems isn’t their motives, I think (although at times, they have been very questionable) but in their emotionalism and their seeming inability to rationally plan and foresee probable outcomes. I may or may not (usually not, in fact) agree with their desiderata but usually I can live with it, if they don’t do damage to the fabric of society or spend us all into the poorhouse.

    None of us want war zones in our cities, or people starving the street, we just disagree on the measures required. It would work far better if we could all be adult enough to admit that.

    • If anything I find the quote even worse than you do. We receive the same lessons, it seems, from life but we apply them in mildly different ways.

      “None of us want war zones in our cities, or people starving the street, we just disagree on the measures required. It would work far better if we could all be adult enough to admit that.”

      If there is any consensus in the world today I think that is it. There are very few people who want that and even fewer who would admit to it. The only problem I have is that on both the left or right there does seem a tendency to look at ‘political’ questions and then, whether it wants to or not, reality can do its best to conform. Such as it were, I wouldn’t put it past any hard–left or right–group to accept war zones in our cities as an acceptable cost. After all, if someone readily admits to the veracity of Solution X to making the world a better place, what could ever get in their way? If they honestly believe that the world can be made better if they switch the answer to a question from ‘Y’ to ‘X’ how much would they need to hate every, single one of us to refrain from doing everything in their power to make that answer reality?

      In that sense I view most politics, regardless of what direction you’re coming from, as dangerous. Religion, as it were, for the secular age. But without the usual constrictions (like actual religion) to impede it.

      • You make excellent points here. I find that I agree with you. My only excuse is that I’m not familiar with the author so had no basis for what had been said.

        And yes, while I tend to ignore the left ( mostly I find their frame of reference incomprehensible) on the right you are correct, many know where we should be, me included, few know how to get there without a cataclysm, which is not desirable but, if we all keep fiddling, that’s what we’re going to get. We need to figure out some sort of way forward before all of western civilization looks like Detroit. But mostly, we yell at each other, which accomplished less than nothing.

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