Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tony Judt: A Cooler Look

By Dylan Riley
New Left Review
Sept./Oct. 2011

Tony Judt (illus. Joe Ciardiello)
Accolades continue to be piled upon the historian Tony Judt, following his untimely death in August 2010. For the Guardian, he was ‘a fearless critic of narrow orthodoxies’, ‘a great historian’, ‘a brilliant political commentator’. For the New York Review of Books, ‘a source of inspiration’, who sought to ‘embrace difference’—‘like Isaiah Berlin’—within historical accounts that were ‘harmonious, convincing, and true’; like Camus, Blum and Aron, Judt knew what it was to bear the intellectual’s ‘burden of responsibility’. To the Economist, he was ‘erudite and far-sighted’, ‘a meticulous intellect’—‘an intellectual with a capital I’.

More circumspectly, the New York Times saluted his ‘deep suspicion of left-wing ideologues’. In June 2011 a Paris conference, jointly organized by the nyrb and ceri SciencesPo, celebrated Judt’s ‘scholarly rigour, elegance of style and acuteness of judgement’. Morally, he was ‘fearless’, ‘prophetic’, a new Orwell; intellectually, he was ‘formidable’, possessed of a ‘forceful lucidity’; as a historian of French political life, happily ‘inoculated against the revolutionary ideas that had been the stock in trade of the intellectual engagĂ©’.

To what extent are these plaudits confirmed by a sober examination of Judt’s work, held to the normal scholarly standards of intellectual coherence and empirical plausibility? What follows will offer an evaluation of his writings, as the necessary precondition for an adequate assessment of his contribution as historian, publicist and scholar.

Read more HERE.

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