Tony Judt (1948 -2010)

Photograph: Lisa Carpenter

Tony Judt died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis –  Lou Gehrig’s disease — on Saturday. Over the years I have  immensely enjoyed the historian’s brilliant and insightful essays (at times acerbic-romantic, at times outrageous-calmly British)  Of course I have not always agreed with his stances, intellectual or historical. Let me just mention along those lines of disagreement his claim that the 70ies were an intellectually disastrous period in France because “deconstruction”  supposedly took over — which wasn’t the cause of the disaster, though disaster there be,  but rather the rise of the know-nothing “new philosophers” such as BHL or André Glucksman (even if superficially the latter, for example, had a certain Judtian tone in his dismantling of the Marxist  prerogative & its  Stalinist  intellectual impositions.) Yet I cannot disagree with his sense of a “cardinal axiom of French intellectual life… a radical disjunction between the uninteresting evidence of your own eyes and ears and the incontrovertible conclusions to be derived from first principles”.

But in many ways, his thinking was not that far from some of the core French thought of the time. I have always associated him to some extend with Jean-François Lyotard, who similarly saw and studied “the withering away of the ‘master narratives’ of European history,” until the present moment when the “cycle of ideological politics in Europe was drawing to a close.” In the US he may be best known for his stance against Israel (for which he was fired from magazines he had been writing for and a number of public lectures were canceled under pressure from pro-Zionist organizations). He called for a non-ethnic, non-religious binational state to replace the anachronism of present Israel. He hoped to see in time “a natural distinction between people who happen to be Jews but are citizens of other countries; and people who are Israeli citizens and happen to be Jews.”

Here are some of the first obituaries/ commentaries:

— in the  Guardian Geoffrey Wheatcroft celebrates (besides other achievements) Judt’s critical engagement with Israel. Peter Kellner writes (under the same link): “To those who did not know him well, Tony Judt was a bundle of contradictions: an idealist who could be scathingly critical of those who shared his ideals; a Jew, immensely proud of his heritage, who came to be hated by many Zionists; a very European social democrat who preferred to live in America.”

— The Jerusalem Post writes: “Judt was extremely pessimistic about attempts to create a politically homogeneous Europe devoid of borders and cultural distinctions. For Israel, by contrast, the time has come to ‘move on,’ to ‘think the unthinkable,’ to replace the Jewish state with ‘a single, integrated, bi-national state of Jews and Arabs,’ in his vision. For Judt, European particularism was an undeniable fact, but the Jewish variety was outdated.” Haaretz (here) is not as judgmental.

— You can read a full dossier on Judt in the New York Review of Books, where you can also reread his most disputed  essay “Israel: The Alternative.”

— Here is the link to New York Times obit.

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