Tony Judt: Some Favorite Quotations

Hubris is not a shortcoming peculiar to any one constitutional form; and the inability to envisage nemesis is modern America’s distinctive failing.

 Tony Judt, “America and the World,” New York Review of Books, April 10, 2003, pp. 28, 31.

The U.S. television network that recently broadcast the passing glimpse at Janet Jackson’s anatomy was excoriated for its wanton lapse of taste; but the avalanche of accompanying commercials for products designed to enhance male potency passed quite without comment. The female breast, it seems, can rot a nation’s moral core; but malfunctioning penises are wholesome family fare.

 Tony Judt, “Europe vs. America,” New York Review of Books, February 10, 2005, p. 37 n1.

At the outer edges of the U.S. imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing.

 Tony Judt, “A New World Order,” New York Review of Books, July 14, 2005, pp. 14, 18.

In retrospect, “Auschwitz” is the most important thing to know about World War II. But that is not how things seemed at the time.

 Tony Judt, “From The House of the Dead: On Modern European Memory,” New York Review of Books, October 6, 2005, p. 12.

It is one of the ironies of the cold war that America’s victories in Europe were frequently offset by long-term damage to its reputation further afield, in Vietnam, for example, or the Middle East: the Soviet Union was not the only “loser” in the cold war.

  Tony Judt, “A Story Still To Be Told,” New York Review of Books, March 23, 2006, pp. 11, 12.

In our newfound worship of productivity and the market, have we not simply inverted the faith of an earlier generation? Nothing is more ideological, after all, than the proposition that all affairs in politics, private and public, must turn upon the globalizing economy, its unavoidable laws and its insatiable demands. Together with the promise of revolution and its stream of social transformation, this worship of economic necessity was also the core premise of Marxism. In transiting from the twentieth century to the twenty first, have we not just abandoned the one nineteenth-century belief system and substituted another in its place?

 Tony Judt, “The Wrecking Ball of Innovation,” New York Review of Books, December 6, 2007, pp. 22, 24.

Whether contemporary wealth creation and efficiency-induced productivity growth actually deliver the benefits they proclaim — opportunity, upward mobility, happiness, well-being, affluence, security — is perhaps more of an open question than we are disposed to acknowledge. What if growth increased social resentments rather than alleviating them? We should consider the noneconomic implications of public policy choices.

 Tony Judt, “The Wrecking Ball of Innovation,” New York Review of Books, December 6, 2007, pp. 22, 24.

We are likely, in any event, to rediscover the state thanks to globalization itself. Populations experiencing increased economic and physical insecurity will retreat to the political symbols, legal resources, and physical barriers that only a territorial state can provide.

 Tony Judt, “The Wrecking Ball of Innovation”, New York Review of Books, December 6, 2007, pp. 22, 27.

We are slipping down a slope. The sophistic distinctions we draw today in our war on terror — between the rule of law and “exceptional” circumstances, between citizens (who have rights and legal protections) and noncitizens to whom anything can be done, between normal people and “terrorists,” between “us” and “them” — are not new. The twentieth century saw them all invoked. They are the selfsame distinctions that licensed the worst horrors of the recent past: internment camps, deportation, torture, and murder — those very crimes that prompt us to murmur “never again.”

 Tony Judt, “What Have We Learned, If Anything?” New York Review of Books, May 1, 2008, pp. 16, 20.

Other men change wives. Some change cars. Some change gender. The point of a midlife crisis is to demonstrate continuity with one’s youth by doing something strikingly different. To be sure, “different” is a relative term: a man in the throes of such a crisis usually does the same as every other man–that, after all, is how you know it’s a midlife crisis.

 Tony Judt, “Historian’s Progress”, New York Review of Books, March 11, 2010, pp. 35-37.

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For 30 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.

 Tony Judt, Ill Fares The Land (2010), as quoted in James Carroll, “The Jeremiads of Spring” Boston Globe, May 10, 2010, p. A11.