tony judtTony Judt directs the Remarque Institute at NYU and is the author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. His latest book, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, was recently reissued in paperback. (September 2009).

He recently gave a lecture at New York University on the meaning and implications of democracy and in particular social democracy which is worth listening to. There are few, if any, in the USA who can make the arguments that he made, and this despite the desperate need to make them.

Click on the link here: Tony Judt’s 2009 Remarque Lecture

Tony Judt has never minced words. A searing critique of the American Left called Bush’s Useful Idiots in the London Review of Books lamented:

Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?

An essay that raised hackles across the spectrum, it nevertheless raised some crucial questions that few were prepared to confront in particular that the difference between a liberal left and a radical right were pretty much imaginary, if not altogether absent.

America’s liberal intellectuals are fast becoming a service class, their opinions determined by their allegiance and calibrated to justify a political end. In itself this is hardly a new departure: we are all familiar with intellectuals who speak only on behalf of their country, class, religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, and who shape their opinions according to what they take to be the interest of their affinity of birth or predilection. But the distinctive feature of the liberal intellectual in past times was precisely the striving for universality; not the unworldly or disingenuous denial of sectional interest but the sustained effort to transcend that interest.

It is thus depressing to read some of the better known and more avowedly ‘liberal’ intellectuals in the contemporary USA exploiting their professional credibility to advance a partisan case. Jean Bethke Elshtain and Michael Walzer, two senior figures in the country’s philosophical establishment (she at the University of Chicago Divinity School, he at the Princeton Institute), both wrote portentous essays purporting to demonstrate the justness of necessary wars – she in Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, a pre-emptive defence of the Iraq War; he only a few weeks ago in a shameless justification of Israel’s bombardments of Lebanese civilians (‘War Fair’, New Republic, 31 July). In today’s America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them.

He has also penned a number of pieces for the New York Review of Books, and one in particular that I remember was called Israel: The Alternative – an essay that cost Judt a number of friends and broad opprobrium. In it he asked and suggested the unthinkable:

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

And asking us to think what to date has been unthinkable, or at least unmentionable:

The time has come to think the unthinkable. The two-state solution—the core of the Oslo process and the present “road map”—is probably already doomed. With every passing year we are postponing an inevitable, harder choice that only the far right and far left have so far acknowledged, each for its own reasons. The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. That is indeed how the hard-liners in Sharon’s cabinet see the choice; and that is why they anticipate the removal of the Arabs as the ineluctable condition for the survival of a Jewish state.

 

Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not—as its more paranoid supporters assert—because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community—Jews—is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place.

There is an extensive interview with him, with extensive biographical information, in The Guardian: Uncomfortable Truths which is worth reading as well.