A scathing exit

I heard an interview on Fresh Air with Tony Judt, a British and American historian, or, as he preferred to call himself, a teacher of history. Judt’s interview with Terry Gross starts with his battle with ALS, which consumed the last two years of his life. As compelling as that story is, it was his description of his last book, dictated during his medical travails, that riveted me.

Ill Fares the Land is a summing up of the lessons Judt learned from his lifetime of studying and analyzing the 20th century.

Short and to the point, the book is a brutally honest description of our world today: what we’ve we’ve surrendered as a society and who we’ve surrendered to.

Given the hellacious election season now underway in sad and mad America, what Judt says about politics and politicians pierced like a honed dagger.

Below is an excerpt describing our current crop of “leaders” that really caught me.

Ill Fares The Land

By Tony Judt
pg 133-135

The men and women who dominate western politics today are overwhelmingly products or, in the case of Nicolas Sarkozy, byproducts of the ’60s. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are all ‘baby boomers’. So are Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the ‘liberal’ prime minister of Denmark; Segolene Royal and Martine Aubry, the bickering challengers for leadership of France’s anemic Socialist Party and Herman Van Rompuy, the worthy but underwhelming new President of the European Union.

This cohort of politicians have in common the enthusiasm that they fail to inspire in the electors of their respective countries. They do not seem to believe very firmly in any coherent set of principles or policies; and though none of them-with the possible exception of Blair-is as execrated as former president George W. Bush (another baby boomer), they form a striking contrast to the statesmen of the World War II generation. They convey neither conviction nor authority.

Beneficiaries of the welfare states whose institutions they call into question, they are all Thatcher’s children: politicians who have overseen a retreat from the ambitions of their predecessors. Few—once again, with the exception of Bush and Blair–could be said actively to have betrayed the democratic trust placed in them. But if there is a generation of public men and women who share responsibility for our collective suspicion of politics and politicians, they are its true representatives. Convinced that there is little they can do, they do little. The best that might be said of them, as so often of the baby boom generation, is that they stand for nothing in particular: politicians-lite.

No longer trusting in such persons, we lose faith not just in parliamentarians and congressmen, but in Parliament and Congress themselves. The popular instinct at such moments is either to ‘throw the rascals out’ or else leave them to do their worst. Neither of these responses bodes well: we don’t know how to throw them out and we can no longer afford to let them do their worst. A third response-‘overthrow the system!’-is discredited by its inherent inanity: which bits of which system and in favor of which systemic substitute? In any case, who will do the overthrowing? We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns.

Laudable goals-fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers-are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.

[Emphasis added.]

It is a pity that so many who see the world through clearly wait until their life is at its end to send their observations out into the world.

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