Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

From one of our greatest historians and public intellectuals, reflections on a twentieth century that is turning into ancient history, when it's not being displaced by myth or forgotten entirely, with unprecedented speed and at great cost The accelerating changes of the past generation have been accompanied by a comparably accelerated amnesia. The twentieth century has be...

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Title:Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century
Author:Tony Judt
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Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century Reviews

  • Tim Pendry

    I have long been an admirer of the recently deceased Tony Judt, an intellectually clear-sighted and courageous thinker who faced his own death with dignity and with the same integrity that he applied to his work.

    I say thinker but he was more of an analyst and recorder, an historian whose political philosophy, a sort of revisionist social democracy, was probably out of time and out of place - but this should not be held against him.

    This book is not much more than a collection of articles, alread

    I have long been an admirer of the recently deceased Tony Judt, an intellectually clear-sighted and courageous thinker who faced his own death with dignity and with the same integrity that he applied to his work.

    I say thinker but he was more of an analyst and recorder, an historian whose political philosophy, a sort of revisionist social democracy, was probably out of time and out of place - but this should not be held against him.

    This book is not much more than a collection of articles, already published essays and book reviews that act as an extended appendix to his history of the post war era (‘Postwar’). It is not a narrative but a collection of ruminations on a number of themes from the mid-1990s through to 2007.

    Like the work of many ‘public intellectuals’, some of his contemporary writing on contemporary issues is already dated after the passage of only a few years. His understanding of the past is superior to most but his understanding of the future no better than yours or mine.

    Even historians seem to forget how fast things change. The world before the credit crunch already looks an age away. He is also on less sure ground in writing about international relations. One or two of his political essays (on Europe and a new social democracy) seem to me to be naïve.

    But he is on much surer ground when writing about intellectual history and, since this subject makes up the vast bulk of the book, it is a must-read for anyone interested in modern European history.

    The book is divided into four sections with an ‘envelope’ of thoughts, a little unpersuasive perhaps but sincere enough, about the sort of civilized political discourse this best of liberal intellectuals would like to see.

    It is also important to understand that he is a European (indeed, a British) Jew writing mostly in America for an American audience. His work is important, for this reason, in explaining the role of Jews in the ‘European Civil War’ of 1914 to 1945 as is his sharp critique of Israel as a permanent adolescent with an ill-informed moral sense.

    He is courageous because he writes as someone who is engaged with his own Jewishness yet prepared to stand up to those intellectual thugs who think that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic and who dismiss any complaint from within their own kind as the language of the ‘self-hating Jew’. I criticize my own degenerate British political culture but I am definitely not a self-hating Briton!

    The first section looks at four intellectuals of the interwar and post war period (Koestler, Levi, Sperber and Arendt) and uses them as exemplars of the confusions of that time. He does not hide that right-wing revolt against communism was defensive and that the offensive role of communism was often led by Jews. Bela Kun’s regime gave every reason to fear Bolshevism as not merely expropriatory but murderous and Judt is not a great fan of communism’s intellectual claims or actions.

    This role of some Jews does not justify later crimes against humanity but it properly places the Jewish intellectual of a certain cast of mind in pole position as problematic initiator of a process that led to the deaths of many innocents amongst poor and middle classes alike, noth Jewish and non-Jewish.

    He looks at responses over time to the evils of fascism, communism and colonialism by a number of intellectuals and at the problematic business of defining evil itself. He explores the switch of the public intellectual from embracing tyranny to opposing it with such fervor that the dislike was to be no more rational than the love.

    Later in the book, he undertakes a devastating criticism of the latest turn of the liberal intellectual in America and on the European Right towards an almost neurotic and largely ignorant obsession with Islamo-Fascism. And he is no automatic admirer of every anti-Soviet dissident – he is too sophisticated for that.

    One cannot help, as the evidence mounts, but consider the allegedly rational intellectual to be the most irrational and simple-minded of creatures, strutting for attention, and, though the type is by no means exclusively Jewish (on the contrary), it is reasonable to point out the role of the Jewish Enlightenment rationalist in the fads and fashions of murderous belief (and as provocateur of murderous belief).

    This is not anti-semitism but observation. I only wish that Judt spent more time on the ‘other side’ – the alleged ‘irrationalism’ of such equally dangerous intellectual types as Junger, Eliade and Evola.

    Indeed, the vast mass of Jewish people were victims of a cultural war in which their own intelligentsiya were complicit both sides of the Pripet Marshes and eventually in Zion itself.

    It is not Jewishness that is the issue in this book but the excessive de-humanising rationalism, the universalizing tendencies of the disassociated neurotic, that is to be found today amongst all universalists of the West and the so-called Radical Centre today and which was once found in Marxism.

    Modern anti-Islamists think structurally like Marxists just as many Islamists think structurally like fascists – plus ca change ….

    The second part takes some of the themes of the first but looks at a broader spread of intellectuals to build a picture of European thought as essentially religious in nature, a search for meaning.

    He looks at Camus, clearly a hero to Judt but one who cannot escape from the religion of France, at Althusser, the monstrous epitome of unnecessary cultural pessimism, and at Hobsbawn, whose need to belief in the absurdity that is communism infects the official Left to this day and helps define for us the type of the ‘useful idiot’.

    He writes of Kolakowski, who swapped one religion for another but who certainly exposed the logic of Marxist thought in a way that leaves no hiding place for Marxists, of Pope Paul II, who must be taken seriously (in my opinion as a dangerous and retrogressive figure) in any history of the modern West, and Edward Said, a rootless cosmopolitan who was to the Arab world what Judt was to the Jewish world, a stripper-away of illusions.

    Said was right about the need ultimately for a one state solution to the problem of Israel-Palestine but there are too many vested interests for his sensible view to prevail.

    From here (in Part Three) Judt goes on to take a look at aspects of French, British, Belgian, Romanian and Israeli politics.

    His excoriations of Israel say all that needs to be said on the matter, he writes well on the French struggle for meaning as a nation and he is suitably unimpressed with the utter nonsense of Blairism, for which Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Emperor with no clothes might have been written. One hopes a veil may eventually be drawn over his (mal-)administration.

    The two most interesting essays are on Belgium and Romania, countries scarcely considered in the Anglo-Saxon world except as problems. Both act as exemplars of fundamental problems underpinning a European Project now under immense strain as a result of the ‘credit crunch’.

    Belgium, a non country like the African post-imperial states, is divided into ethnic North and South as much as the Ivory Coast. It remains a puzzle how it has held together for so long.

    Romania (GDP was below Namibia’s in 1998) is poorer than some African countries and is a notorious political basket case in its own right. If a politician can be classed as truly evil, then Ceaucescu is definitely in the running.

    Judt opens up to scrutiny just what the Eurocrats are taking on in trying to absorb the problems of such countries and about which they are in denial.

    Belgium stands for the potential breakdown of Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom under economic pressure and the resentments that might be caused if German economic dominance turns East-Central Europe into a dominion in all but name.

    Romania stands for the massive funding required to bring it and the Balkans into ‘civilisation’ at a time when Greece, Ireland, Portugal and parts of the UK, Spain and Italy threaten to go backwards (though Judt was not to know how bad things would get in the years after 2007).

    The fourth section on America is less self-assured. There is a typically courageous defence of Whittaker Chambers against the Leftist and liberal true believers who would undertake any twist rather than accept that the Soviet Union was involved in offensive espionage and that Alger Hiss might have been guilty as hell.

    There is an unpersuasive critique of Kissinger. He does a suitable knife job on Gaddis’ history of the Cold War – one of a series of triumphalist accounts of imperial victory that appeared on both sides of the Atlantic in the last decade and whose main purpose seems to have been to make the Anglo-Saxon Establishment feel good about itself.

    His review of the Cuban Crisis reminds us (again, thinking of the current fiasco in the Ivory Coast) that elected politicians are generally going to be smarter than their opponents and the bureaucrats who surround them.

    Major wars can start because one side misunderstands the other side’s priorities. Two different essays suggests that we should feel very lucky that Cold War Berlin (this time innocently) did not thrust us into a catastrophic war for the third time in a century – psycho-geographers must have a field day wondering what dark emanation makes that imperial city into the vortex of such actual and nearly missed horror: a lesson perhaps for our Euro-federalists.

    All in all, excellent essays in a book that can be dipped in and out of to profit by anyone who wants to understand the world we live in today. Above all, it offers real insights into the puffed up and rather silly world of the officially sanctioned public intellectual. How they must have hated Judt because he was supposed to be one of their own.

    Instead, as a humane and liberal Jew, he pointed out the foolishnesses of his own class whilst wholly respecting the importance of reasoned engagement with the issues of the day. He certainly saw through the nonsense perpetrated by Tony Blair, the new Radical Centre (which he persists in calling ‘liberal’) and Israel.

    The book is by no means a polemic. Perhaps two or three essays out of 24 or so slip into this category and are a bit tiresome for that reason. The vast majority are thoughtful, very well researched, reasonable and instructive.

    Above all, he is humane – on this, read his moving essays on Primo Levi, whose subtle response to the Shoah confused and irritated those determined to ‘take positions’ and on Sperber, another ‘survivor’, who gives cause for Judt to explore what the shock of the Holocaust, its breaking of all the rules, meant to this generation of intellectuals.

    Indeed, if there is a hidden theme in the book, it is that ‘taking positions’ without independent thought on the facts is precisely the death of intellectual endeavour.

    What Judt does, especially in the essays on prominent Jewish European intellectuals, is point out something forgotten entirely by their intellectually primitive Zionist and Neo-Conservative heirs in New York – that the European Jewish experience was massively complex and truly cosmopolitan.

    Part of the shock of the Shoah was that the assault on many of them was by their own kind. It was Germans and Hungarians murdering Germans and Hungarians in their eyes and the Jewish aspects of the assault only hit home as it was happening and afterwards. Zionism is a very comprehensible response to the shock but it was never inevitable that Jews would all be obliged to be Zionists until that point.

    I have left to last the key theme of much of the book – remembrance. Not in the sense of the ‘holocaust industry’ or memorialisation as fixed ritual but the constant attempt to think through the meaning of past events and relate them to the past. This is what history really is, not simple narratives that are designed to allow us to take this or that 'position’.

    Thus, the holocaust is placed in its context of Bela Kun and Israel is not understood properly until it comes to terms with the fact of the Nakba and does not think that the Holocaust trumps what Israel did to the Arabs in some ridiculous Benthamite calculation.

    Critical engagement with history, based on a humane understanding of personal responses and meanings, their purposes and their vulnerabilities, also means the ability to question narratives such as the determined obsession of many Americans to treat every challenge as if it was Munich. Iran stupidly becomes seen as Nazi Germany when it is nothing of the kind.

    Those who saw Cuba as Munich in Kennedy’s circle were the ones who would have driven us into genocidal holocaust in the early 1960s. If you really want to be scared, read about the mind-set of the military loons in the President’s counsels. Dr Strangelove was creepily close to the truth of the matter.

    As Judt says, even today, “the United States today is the only advanced country that still glorifies and exalts the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today.”

    With ideological rigidity on the one side and bureaucrats without humane sense on the other as permanent features of global politics, and developed to a fine art of ignorance in modern America, it is no surprise to see Guantanamo, the panic over Wikileaks, drone murder of civilians, the demands over extradition and access to private data overseas, constant small-scale war and the brutalisation and torture of an unfortunate little man called Bradley Manning.

    If only Tony Judt were alive to chronicle it all …

  • ·Karen·

    It's hard to know how to review this without merely stringing together a series of superlatives. So maybe I should do just that: trenchant, clear-sighted, stunning, dazzling, lucid, elegant, incisive, sharp. Indeed positively acerbic sometimes, especially on the subject of Tony Blair. Each country gets the politicians it deserves I fear.

    The quality weekly German newspaper Die Zeit used to publish Judt's articles: in the most recent edition there was an interview with Mr Blair, who trotted out c

    It's hard to know how to review this without merely stringing together a series of superlatives. So maybe I should do just that: trenchant, clear-sighted, stunning, dazzling, lucid, elegant, incisive, sharp. Indeed positively acerbic sometimes, especially on the subject of Tony Blair. Each country gets the politicians it deserves I fear.

    The quality weekly German newspaper Die Zeit used to publish Judt's articles: in the most recent edition there was an interview with Mr Blair, who trotted out conventional banalities on the European crisis (while blathering about how he was saying this in all humility). I do hope this is a one-off and not an indication of a general tendency in one of the last bastions of quality journalism. Judt had the ability to see beyond political posturing and recognize deeper currents below the surface, and to express his concerns in limpid, graceful prose. A marvel.

  • Will Ansbacher

    It is hard to know what to write that doesn’t sound like a publisher’s blurb, because this is another brilliant and lucid book. Some have said that it’s a sequel to

    . It’s not, though, since it covers the same era as the last decade of

    , and in any case, the series of essays that make up the book cover ideas and a range of issues far beyond Europe and its history. Many of the essays are previously-published book reviews, and perhaps that is part of what makes

    so enjoya

    It is hard to know what to write that doesn’t sound like a publisher’s blurb, because this is another brilliant and lucid book. Some have said that it’s a sequel to

    . It’s not, though, since it covers the same era as the last decade of

    , and in any case, the series of essays that make up the book cover ideas and a range of issues far beyond Europe and its history. Many of the essays are previously-published book reviews, and perhaps that is part of what makes

    so enjoyable – it is also a book about books.

    Tony Judt’s reviews, however, sometimes barely mention the reviewed book itself – he’ll present his own introduction first, and these really stand on their own, whether they’re biographies or commentaries on current events. Depending on whether he praised or shredded the book in question, it is always interesting to read the follow-up, because at the end of each piece, there is listed not just where it was originally published, but the resulting sparring between author, biographee (is that a word? I think not) and reviewer. NY Review of Books is where many appeared; now there’s another site where I could spend forever dipping into intelligent reviews. But I digress ...

    It is not just Judt’s range that is so impressive; it’s the clarity, precision and honesty of his writing. He covers everything from the state of Israel (his one-state argument is so sane but will never come to pass, I fear) to biographies of Kissinger, Arendt and – the one that I bought the book for, I think – Primo Levi. I had not long ago read

    and was deeply moved by it (though I still have not managed a GR review. The problem is, though, after reading Judt’s review of a biography of Levi, I’m not sure I could say anything meaningful except, lamely, “ ... what he said”.)

    begins and ends with “The world we have lost” (the memory and lessons of the 20th century) and “The social question redivivus”. The book is worth reading for those two short commentaries alone, and it is certainly one I’ll read again.

  • Lyn Elliott

    Tony Judt was a leading intellectual commentator on the history and politics of Europe in the later parts of the twentieth century and the first few years of the 21st before his early death. Judt's incisive analyses shocked those who preferred a quiet, comfortable tone from writers on contemporary politics. He combined a mighty knowledge of political and philosophical writings from the C19 and C20 with a piercingly clear eye for hypocrisy and for threats to what he described as liberal democracy

    Tony Judt was a leading intellectual commentator on the history and politics of Europe in the later parts of the twentieth century and the first few years of the 21st before his early death. Judt's incisive analyses shocked those who preferred a quiet, comfortable tone from writers on contemporary politics. He combined a mighty knowledge of political and philosophical writings from the C19 and C20 with a piercingly clear eye for hypocrisy and for threats to what he described as liberal democracy.

    For a superb review, check this one in The Guardian.

    Reappraisals is a must read for anyone trying to understand relations between Europe, the UK, the US and the USSR now.

  • Kelly

    This guy is awesome:

  • Szplug

    It's not often that I will read a collection of essays straight through from start to finish - but

    has that powerful combination of compelling readability and easy erudition that effortlessly pulls the reader along from one entry to the next. Judiciously assembled from book reviews and essays that were published between 1994 and 2006 - primarily in

    and

    - the twenty-four pieces that make up

    loosely share a common theme: that

    It's not often that I will read a collection of essays straight through from start to finish - but

    has that powerful combination of compelling readability and easy erudition that effortlessly pulls the reader along from one entry to the next. Judiciously assembled from book reviews and essays that were published between 1994 and 2006 - primarily in

    and

    - the twenty-four pieces that make up

    loosely share a common theme: that the process of forgetting the grim-but-pertinent lessons painfully learned in the twentieth century has been accelerated in these early years of the twenty-first. The dangers of wealth disparity and social injustice, of the allure of driving fervidly towards an illusory ideological utopia, which wreaked such ruinous havoc when unleashed mere generations ago, are blossoming into their technicolor fullness even as the barriers erected out of the stark memories of

    and

    are rapidly dimming into the pallid black-and-white of prewar cinema, soon to seize-up fully and melt away. Judt's essays revisit important figures and events that were pivotal in forming our (diminishing) understanding of the horrors that were reaped from the (ofttimes banal) evils that were sown.

    Of extra pleasure for myself was the fact that almost the entirety of intellectuals and writers whom Judt examines - Arthur Koestler, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, Eric Hobsbawm, Leszek Kołakowski, Edward Said, Whittaker Chambers - are figures whom I have both read and/or harbored an abiding fascination for. Judt's deep knowledge of his various subject's life and works shines; and he seldom refrains from criticizing even those he most admires. Eric Hobsbawm, a brilliant and stylistically delightful Marxist historian - whose

    tetralogy are amongst the finest histories I have read - is taken to task for his refusal to truly acknowledge the savagery inflicted upon the Soviet Union and its communist satellites by Stalin and his successors. An otherwise admiring summation of the British Historian's life is concluded by Judt's blunt assessment of Hobsbawm's eye-shielding folly:

    It is characteristic of Judt - as of his democratic socialist forebears and heroes Aron, Camus, and Koestler - to refuse to avoid facing up to the Left's massive failures in the previous century. In furtherance of this attitude he provides a truly fantastic essay-review of Kołakowski's

    which closes with a reminder that the emminent Pole's philosophical subject, with its potent blend of

    , may yet be resurrected from the ashes to serve as a theoretical frame from which to drape future eschatological dreams.

    The second half of the book examines

    ' theme from the perspective of Europe - essays on the fall of France in the Second World War and its enduring search of lost time, Tony Blair (

    would be describing Judt's tone lightly), Belgium and Romania - and the Middle East via two penetrating and highly critical pieces on Israel. The first of the latter two, a review of Michael Oren's

    , essentially abandons its efforts at reviewing Oren's work in order to allow Judt to boldly put forth

    understanding of how the war played out, and its still resonating repercussions for Israel and the Middle East; the second is a withering critique of Israel for its stunted maturity as it was (then) celebrating its 58th birthday as a modern state.

    concludes with a series of essays about the United States and select US citizens: Chambers; Henry Kissinger; Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis; a harshly antagonistic review of John Lewis Gaddis'

    ; and

    , wherein Judt ponders the damning uniformity of the majority of Liberal perches in the days running up to, and during, the Iraq War, sifting through the initial hawkish enthusiasm and subsequent feeble excuse-making to discover why they performed so badly, and observing that they essentially differed from the neocons who mongered the war only in finding the neoconservative position

    to have to promote. This is Judt at his most excoriating, unwilling to countenance a refusal to go against the grain of an inflamed nationalist unity by

    . He reiterates that the liberal position has always been one of questioning the conventional wisdom, of refusing pat answers - that the liberal intellectual should

    . That Judt's has sometimes been the lone voice ringing forth on certain positions - often concerning Israel, especially back in the frothy, frenzied years after September 11th - shows how much he takes this credo to heart.

    The penultimate piece is an intriguing comparison of the two different paths that the European Union and the United States were embarked upon at mid-decade in our new century; the final entry -

    - an immensely thoughtful, insightful, and sobering examination of the state of the Left and its future prospects (not good) in the final gasps of the twentieth century. Judt clearly lays out his vision of how globalization would proceed, the failures of the Left to deal with it, and the new goals and political means that would be necessary for the Left to offer a compelling reason for the populace to trust its solutions over those of the free market. Having saved the best for last, Judt concludes the book with a caution:

    You certainly do not have to agree with all that Judt says - I don't - to justify reading this book. The writing itself is superb, the thought deep and precise, the expressions clear, the subjects fascinating, the humanity warm. Judt unapologetically endorsed a Left Democratic Socialism as the best political method for ensuring justice and equality, but faced the truth of his side's many failures and shortcomings without flinching or making excuses. The final lines of his essay on Edward Said read

    The exact same expression makes a fitting epitaph for the recently deceased Tony Judt.

  • Murtaza

    A collection of essays by Judt written over the years, many of which are book reviews that were published in the NYRB. Some of the best essays are reviews of books by Eric Hobsbawm and Hannah Arendt, as well as a eulogy written for Edward Said. Upon beginning to read, I found that many of the essays were familiar to me, as I had read them at some time in the past.

    In general, I'm not a huge fan of collections of essays that vary widely in subject, inducing as they do a kind of intellectual whipl

    A collection of essays by Judt written over the years, many of which are book reviews that were published in the NYRB. Some of the best essays are reviews of books by Eric Hobsbawm and Hannah Arendt, as well as a eulogy written for Edward Said. Upon beginning to read, I found that many of the essays were familiar to me, as I had read them at some time in the past.

    In general, I'm not a huge fan of collections of essays that vary widely in subject, inducing as they do a kind of intellectual whiplash. Having said that I am always interesting in reading whatever I can by Judt, who was truly prophetic in his analysis of the 20th century and its implications for our present. The section of the book that resonated most was the explosively written introduction, offering paragraph after paragraph of brilliant insights on the consequences of forgetting 20th century history. The essays as a whole don't cohere into a "book" that well in my opinion, but nothing of Judt's is without great merit, including these.

  • hoffnarr

    Will be enjoyed most by those familiar with the intellectuals being discussed in the review essays offered in the first half. Also, those unfamiliar with the review essay style of the New York Review of Books may find the format unusual.

    Judt can be a harsh critic, and sometimes simply unkind. While I'm no fan of the target, his essay on Althusser came across as just plain bitter and Judt just seemed to be pouring out his disdain for the post-Marxists around him.

    However his amazing depth of know

    Will be enjoyed most by those familiar with the intellectuals being discussed in the review essays offered in the first half. Also, those unfamiliar with the review essay style of the New York Review of Books may find the format unusual.

    Judt can be a harsh critic, and sometimes simply unkind. While I'm no fan of the target, his essay on Althusser came across as just plain bitter and Judt just seemed to be pouring out his disdain for the post-Marxists around him.

    However his amazing depth of knowledge about the history and especially intellectual history of 20th century Europe shows in every review. What I like best about Judt is that, while he is a progressive and highly political writer, he has absolutely no patience for the sympathy for the communist experiment that was exhibited by several generations of 20th century intellectuals.

    Jewish intellectuals and critiques of Israel get very strong showings, understandable given Judt's own personal background, but there are also fascinating review essays that cover Romania, Belgium, England, Europe vs. US, and the question of the EU.

  • Justin Evans

    I admit, my ambivalence about this book might just be evidence of Judt fatigue, in the sense that I've read a bunch of his books over the last year or two, and that this is an unnecessarily long compendium of NYRB essays, and most importantly in the sense that I no longer learn anything new about Tony Judt by reading his essays. I know what he's going to say. I know that, about 75% of the time, he is absolutely spot on, and that he'll write well, and so on.

    But all that reading has also led me t

    I admit, my ambivalence about this book might just be evidence of Judt fatigue, in the sense that I've read a bunch of his books over the last year or two, and that this is an unnecessarily long compendium of NYRB essays, and most importantly in the sense that I no longer learn anything new about Tony Judt by reading his essays. I know what he's going to say. I know that, about 75% of the time, he is absolutely spot on, and that he'll write well, and so on.

    But all that reading has also led me to an odd place. I no longer care to hear Tony Judt slam, e.g., Hobsbawm for not speaking out against Soviet idiocy, not because there wasn't a whole bunch of Soviet idiocy, and not because Hobsbawm is blameless, but because Judt studiously ignores those leftist intellectuals who *did* slam Soviet idiocy (there are essays here on centrists who slammed it, and on conservatives who slammed it, and on leftists who didn't slam it, but not even a single essay on the French intellectuals who did, and France is Judt's specialty). Why? There's no good reason, unless he decided that writing about, e.g., Simone Weil would damage his own standing as objective anti-Soviet intellectual by associating him with the 'left'.

    Meanwhile, at the other end of his professional activities, he goes to town on American intellectuals cravenly supporting Iraq, and doesn't mention leftists, because, as he puts it, he restricts his "discussion to intellectuals with significant public influence or readership, i.e., those who mattered." Now, Chomsky is not my favorite human being, but I would have thought he fit that description pretty well. Leftists do matter, and leftists objected to the war, just as many of them objected to the USSR.

    This matters because Judt wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be the great pro-anti-communist of the twentieth century, but doesn't want to trace the links between pro-anti-communism in the eighties and American bellicosity in the 2000s. He doesn't see, or doesn't want to see, that the social democracy he so brilliantly championed in this late work was undermined precisely because there was no alternative offered, and there was no alternative because anyone who suggested an alternative was immediately classified as a Socialist, and that was possible because people like Judt spent so much time arguing against fellow travelers (quite rightly) and no time arguing against neoliberalism, or arguing for alternative visions of leftism, which would have required him to distinguish consistently e.g., Soviet Communism, Communism, Marxism, socialism, and leftism. None of which he did.

    That doesn't make him a bad person, but it does show the kind of thinker he was: stridently empiricist, hugely knowledgeable, but very limited when it comes to considering historical causation across periods; essentially anti-philosophical; and with horrific taste in literature.

    Okay, that last one stands apart. But anyone who lists a bunch of mediocre anti-communist propaganda novelists and then calls them "the twentieth century world republic of letters" needs to be corrected.

  • Andrew

    Profoundly, unapologetically intellectual historical essays by one of the smartest guys in the history game. It's a sign that I was writing down names of people he referenced constantly, and then adding their books to my reading list. From biographical sketches (solemn, equally critical and laudatory reflections on Kolakowski, Koestler, Said, and Camus, and unapologetic takedowns of Tony Blair, John Paul II, and Louis Althusser) to two excellent country analyses of Belgium and Romania, Tony Judt

    Profoundly, unapologetically intellectual historical essays by one of the smartest guys in the history game. It's a sign that I was writing down names of people he referenced constantly, and then adding their books to my reading list. From biographical sketches (solemn, equally critical and laudatory reflections on Kolakowski, Koestler, Said, and Camus, and unapologetic takedowns of Tony Blair, John Paul II, and Louis Althusser) to two excellent country analyses of Belgium and Romania, Tony Judt covers a hell of a lot of territory.

    This isn't to say it's a flawless book -- the essays on American politics and culture are rather weaker, and he tries to dismantle "third way" politics while at the same time trying to formulate a theoretical framework that's not too different (in some places, he reads as damn-near neoliberal, and seems infuriatingly blind to the fact). But of all the modern intellectuals who have disavowed their Marxist youths, Judt is probably the least obnoxious. If you've read Christopher Hitchens, and are looking for a more measured, more refined approach, Reappraisals might be a good place to start.

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