Sunday, August 8, 2010

In memory of Tony Judt (1948-2010)

The meaning of our life ... is only incorporated in the way other people feel about us. Once I die, my life will acquire meaning in the way they see whatever it is I did, for them, for the world, the people I've known. Tony Judt, New York magazine, 7 March 2010
I awoke this morning to the sad news that Tony Judt had died on Friday in New York City where he was Professor of European Studies at New York University. Obituaries from the US, the UK (where he was born) and Israel (Judt was Jewish) can be read here.

There are few historians, writers and thinkers I admire more than Tony Judt, who was one of the finest historians and commentators writing about the 20th and 21st centuries. Judt's work has featured on this blog, most recently a week ago (here) in which I reflected on a piece Judt wrote about the power of language and words.

Judt was an not just an outstanding historian and superb writer; he was a speaker of unfashionable truths, an outspoken critic of conventional wisdom on so many issues, including political and economic governance, social policy, American foreign policy, global politics, the future of Europe and the state of Israel. For his staunch criticism of Israel he was vilified and attacked.

Just 2 years ago Judt was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, a form of motor neuron disease, and within months of the symptoms appearing he was paralyzed and unable to breathe without mechanical assistance. Despite his illness he produced some of his finest work during that time, including a remarkable series of essays in the New York Review of Books about his illness and its effect on his thinking.

His last book Ill Fares the Land is a searing critique of the way we live today and an argument for a politics and economics shaped by ideas of progressive social democracy. Judt saw that we face the terrifying prospect of perpetual insecurity and growing inequality as a result of the triumph of corporate power and market capitalism.

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