Tony Judt is supposed to be some kind of revered historian, yet he writes things like:
The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears "natural" today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.By using contemporary buzzwords and neologisms like "wealth creation" and "privatization," he may be trying to immunize himself from any asshole's easy conclusion that he is more full of shit than a bull with a sutured asshole. Replace "wealth creation" with "getting rich." I dare you to tell me with a straight face that that ain't a venerable American tradition. (Sidney Lumet wrote this screenplay in the seventies, so plainly we're off by a decade at least.) Global capital was not invented in the Savings and Loan days. Marx gets a mention--"Marxism was attractive to generations of young people if only because it offered a way to take one's distance from the status quo"--as if Kapital were The Yes Album. (Marx was writing about Judt's 1980s inventions more than a century prior, and he wasn't the only one.) The "growing disparities of rich and poor," another lousy stock phrase, is more like a reversion to mean, after an unusually egalitarian (for white people) post-war era.
Social democracy is all fine and well as a lefty touchstone, but someone might remind Judt that opposition to the American state includes not only those who suspect the supposed social safety net and think state-funded railroads are one step down from collectivized agriculture but also those of us who think that the United States government is a raging Satanic war-guzzling death machine whose principle export is the horrific maiming and murder of foreigners for no good reason at all. And how am I supposed to reconcile that with my tax bracket? America is a garish, prison-pocked blood-drinker, but Judt's critique of the contemporary political economy is that The Youth don't want to get involved? Ask a dead Afghan poppy farmer trying to scratch a subsistence existence between our global dominion and the violent rebellions it engenders what he thinks about the problem of political apathy in the first world and see what he says. Oh, nothing? Yeah. He's dead, you see.
Judt counsels cowardice and collaboration:
If it is to be taken seriously again, the left must find its voice. There is much to be angry about: growing inequalities of wealth and opportunity; injustices of class and caste; economic exploitation at home and abroad; corruption and money and privilege occluding the arteries of democracy. But it will no longer suffice to identify the shortcomings of "the system" and then retreat, Pilate-like, indifferent to consequences. The irresponsible rhetorical grandstanding of decades past did not serve the left well."But it will no longer suffice to identify the shortcomings of 'the system' and then retreat, Pilate-like, indifferent to consequences. The irresponsible rhetorical grandstanding of decades past did not serve the left well." Fuck you, too, man. Like, like . . . what? Like: "War isn't healthy for children and other living things?" How about: "All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization." How about: "In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society - the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life determines the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."
We have entered an age of insecurity—economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity. The fact that we are largely unaware of this is small comfort: few in 1914 predicted the utter collapse of their world and the economic and political catastrophes that followed. Insecurity breeds fear. And fear—fear of change, fear of decline, fear of strangers and an unfamiliar world—is corroding the trust and interdependence on which civil societies rest.
All change is disruptive. We have seen that the specter of terrorism is enough to cast stable democracies into turmoil. Climate change will have even more dramatic consequences. Men and women will be thrown back upon the resources of the state. They will look to their political leaders and representatives to protect them: open societies will once again be urged to close in upon themselves, sacrificing freedom for "security." The choice will no longer be between the state and the market, but between two sorts of state. It is thus incumbent upon us to reconceive the role of government. If we do not, others will.
Pull-quote mush about ages of insecurity and the necessity of tethering our puny individual lives to the leviathan lest we be drowned in the deep isn't only bullshit and isn't just fearmongering (Ah! Uncertainty! Unpredictable futures!); it's bad analysis. The apparatus of the state has not withered, not shrunk one iota since whatever Golden Age Judt implicitly casts back to. The state has grown inexorable and implacably. It is more powerful and more omnipresent than ever. Its coercive powers are subtler and more pervasive. Its capacity for surveillance is increased a millionfold. Its confiscatory powers are ever greater. The fact that Bill Clinton loosened some financial regulations does not indicate an atrophying of the state.
A critique that begins with the presumption that the American government is in some kind of danger of dissilution due to . . . well, no one can say precisely what it might be due to, but due to something . . . is palpably, viscerally, obviously untrue. And a critique that presumes inequality as some kind of insidious symptom of this bullshit decline of authority rather than a necessary component of the maintenance of authority is toadyism.