Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Tony Judt and the Alternative Conversation
The historian and critic Tony Judt – who died almost a year ago of a variant of motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – managed to complete a book Ill Fares the Land which I have just finished and which makes me think of Stéphane Hessel's Indignez Vous! (see older post in this blog) in its determination not to be cowed by the current intellectual climate of supine acceptance of the nostrums of privatisation and the worship of markets as a substitute for creative public policy. Too sharply intelligent and knowledgeable to fall back on nostalgia, romanticising past struggles, or self-indulgent political fantasy, Judt simply asks for what he calls "a new moral narrative", a way of thinking and talking about contemporary politics that returns to ethical principles instead of parroting the post-Thatcher free market slogans. It is a thoughtful, crisply written book that, like Hessel, offers no single Great Idea to solve all our problems but rather calls for a willingness to challenge, to dissent, as a preparation for a better way. And its opening sentence makes a declaration that no one in the Labour Party, for example, would ever make: "Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today." It is a book to read and ponder rather than a source book of slogans or policies and none the worse for that. One can imagine the policy wonks in all the parties, trapped in their bubble of self-referring and self-reflecting cant, dismissing it with a smug wave of the hand but those of us who long ago ceased to expect anything from that quarter at least have something to energise our thinking about alternatives.