10 August 2010

Vale Tony Judt

Sad to read of the death of the courageous historian and public intellectual Tony Judt, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) aged only 62. Although the disease left him within months paralysed and able to breathe only with mechanical assistance, he continued to lecture and write.

There is a major tribute to him in The New York Times, 7 August 2010. NYT says of him:

Mr. Judt ... who was British by birth and education but who taught at American universities for most of his career, began as a specialist in postwar French intellectual history, and for much of his life he embodied the idea of the French-style engaged intellectual.

An impassioned left-wing Zionist as a teenager, he shed his faith in agrarian socialism and Marxism early on and became, as he put it, a “universalist social democrat” with a deep suspicion of left-wing ideologues, identity politics and the emerging role of the United States as the world’s sole superpower.

His philosophy of history is described thus:

“The historian’s task is not to disrupt for the sake of it, but it is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly,” he told Historically Speaking. “A well-organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves.”

Read the full obituary here.

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