Tag Archives: Tony Judt

We lack the words

In thread comments elsewhere, I’ve been refrencing a book – maybe as important a book as I’ve read in our recent tumultuous partisan years. The book is Ill Fares the Land by the late Tony Judt. The cover blurb says “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we think about how we should live today.” He disdains the nihilistic individualism celebrated by the Far Right. He asks all the questions many of us think but lack the language to articulate. It’s a serious, thoughtful and terrific book.

This stood out for me – about language and how both the media and the left lack it. We all hear the tired anthem of how our ‘freedoms are under attack’, apparently from  liberals,  Democrats, those who would dare to share. Judt reminds us just what freedom actually means:

Freedom consists in retaining our right to disagree with the state’s purposes and express our own objections and goals without fear of retribution.

So simple. And the left has not even bothered to frame a response.

Do we care about tomorrow?

This morning, Gene directs me to an article in the New York Review of Books, by Tony Judt, taken from his new book Ill Fares the Land. I entirely agree with Gene that this is a very important article/book indeed. It describes where we are presently as a society, compares that to where we were until the 80’s, and compares quality of life measurement with our sister nations – mostly Europe – where financial and social practices track our own to a large extent.

The article reads well even to the economic novice and includes clear graphs measuring his premises. The gist is that we have turned away from being a social democracy invested in our future and well being, to an increasingly unequal society with collapsing infrastructure increasingly beholden to the moneyed class whose interests are not the good of this nation but only of their own wealth. It’s a fine read for tax day – makes me want to pay more taxes.  It does.

Some outtakes that struck me:

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.  —Adam Smith

“Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers.

“. . . Poverty is an abstraction, even for the poor. But the symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us. Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid, and the uninsured: all suggest a collective failure of will. These shortcomings are so endemic that we no longer know how to talk about what is wrong, much less set about repairing it. And yet something is seriously amiss. Even as the US budgets tens of billions of dollars on a futile military campaign in Afghanistan, we fret nervously at the implications of any increase in public spending on social services or infrastructure.

“. . . The consequences are clear. There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born.

“. . . Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice toward those on the lower rungs of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed

“. . . Although countries as far apart as New Zealand and Denmark, France and Brazil have expressed periodic interest in deregulation, none has matched Britain or the United States in their unwavering thirty-year commitment to the unraveling of decades of social legislation and economic oversight.”

Well worth a read. And well worth some thought.