a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Remembering Tony Judt

Posted on the August 27th, 2010

The most extraordinary and admirable Tony Judt passed away early this month. This week The Globalist editors paid tribute to Judt by re-printing an article he wrote for them in 2006 on Europe (“In Memoriam: Tony Judt on the Future of Decadent Europe”  Aug 24, 2010).


If anything, the rush of many contemporary commentators and public figures, particularly in the United States, to ignore the political origins of the welfare state reflects poorly on their understanding of Europe’s difficult past…

Read the full piece here. (The video above is a brief presentation of Judt and his work).

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Don’t show me your identity, please: Tony Judt

Posted on the March 1st, 2010

As if putting a message in a bottle and rather sadly tossing it into the sea, or so it felt to me, Tony Judt has written an illuminating essay for the New York Review of Books blog. He analyzes the dangerous attachment so many have to their various identities – religious, political, ethnic, national, for example.

Excerpt: (“Edge People” Feb 23, 2010)

…I believe I can understand and even empathize with those who know what it means to love a country. I don’t regard such sentiments as incomprehensible; I just don’t share them. But over the years these fierce unconditional loyalties—to a country, a God, an idea, or a man—have come to terrify me. The thin veneer of civilization rests upon what may well be an illusory faith in our common humanity. But illusory or not, we would do well to cling to it. Certainly, it is that faith—and the constraints it places upon human misbehavior—that is the first to go in times of war or civil unrest.

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Tony Judt: asking questions about state

Posted on the January 11th, 2010

Speaking of the idea of social democracy. For several weeks now on my computer desktop I’ve kept a link to a recent essay by Tony Judt (“What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy” The New York Review of Books, Dec 17, 2009).

I give sixteen thumbs up to this essay. It brings attention to what I think is one of the thorniest problems facing political progressives – how do you persuade people to think with an open mind about what kind of government serves them best?

Judt’s essay helps answer this question. He traces the historical influences that are shaping — and misshaping —  our public conversation about government, and he sketches a roadmap out of the ideological swamp this conversation often sinks into.


“…Margaret Thatcher reportedly asserted that “there is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and families.” But if there is no such thing as society, merely individuals and the “night watchman” state—overseeing from afar activities in which it plays no part—then what will bind us together? We already accept the existence of private police forces, private mail services, private agencies provisioning the state in war, and much else besides. We have “privatized” precisely those responsibilities that the modern state laboriously took upon itself in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What, then, will serve as a buffer between citizens and the state? Surely not “society,” hard pressed to survive the evisceration of the public domain. For the state is not about to wither away. Even if we strip it of all its service attributes, it will still be with us—if only as a force for control and repression. Between state and individuals there would then be no intermediate institutions or allegiances: nothing would remain of the spider’s web of reciprocal services and obligations that bind citizens to one another via the public space they collectively occupy. All that would be left is private persons and corporations seeking competitively to hijack the state for their own advantage.”

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