Tony Judt (1948-2010)

It has been announced today that historian Tony Judt has died. He had been “confined to an iron suit” by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2008; he wrote about his experience of sclerosis here and spoke about it here. He was rightly lauded for his great contributions to both modern history and to the public intellectual discourse of our time. He saw the breakdown of social democracy happening before his eyes. His work – particularly the conceptual basis of “Postwar” – was greatly influential on me, even though I disagreed with some of his more vehement proclamations (on modern French philosophy for example). His excoriation of the whole current/recent generation of political leaders in the LRB earlier this year was wonderfully and constructively bitter. As a disappointed former Marxist-Zionist, his criticisms of the Israeli state – “an anachronism” – held particular weight and stimulated a serious debate (but also drew disproportionate ire and aggressive questioning).

He described himself as follows: “I’m regarded outside New York University as a looney tunes leftie, self-hating Jewish communist; inside the university, I’m regarded as a typical, old-fashioned, white male liberal elitist… I like that. I’m on the edge of both, it makes me feel comfortable.” An admirable position for an historian, to be sure.

Guardian obituary here, New York Times here .

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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