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Tony Judt

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Tony Judt

Tony Judt
Born Tony Robert Judt
(1948-01-02)2 January 1948
London, England
Died 6 August 2010(2010-08-06) (aged 62)
New York City
Nationality British and American
Education M.A. (Cantab.), PhD (Cantab.)
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Occupation Historian; Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University

Tony Robert Judt, FBA ( ; 2 January 1948 – 6 August 2010)[1] was a British historian, essayist, and university professor who specialized in European history. Judt moved to New York and served as the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University, and Director of NYU's Erich Maria Remarque Institute. He was a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1996 Judt was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2007 a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.


  • Overview 1
  • Family and professional life 2
  • Writings 3
    • European history 3.1
      • Modern French history 3.1.1
      • Postwar 3.1.2
      • Ill Fares the Land 3.1.3
    • Israel 3.2
  • Critical reception 4
  • Illness and death 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • Books written 6.1
    • Books edited 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


A Marxist Zionist as a young man, Judt dropped his faith in Zionism after youthful experience in Israel in the 1960s and came to see a Jewish state as an anachronism; he moved away from Marxism in the 1970s and 1980s. In later life, he described himself as "a universalist social democrat".[2] Judt's works include the highly acclaimed Postwar, a history of Europe after the Second World War. He was also well known for his views on Israel, which generated significant debate after he advocated a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

According to journalist David Herman, Judt's directorship of the Remarque Institute, his book Postwar and his articles on Israel made him "one of the best-known public intellectuals in America," having previously been "a fairly obscure British historian, specialising in modern French history".[3]

In an interview a few weeks before his death Judt said: "I see myself as first and above all a teacher of history; next a writer of European history; next a commentator on European affairs; next a public intellectual voice within the American Left; and only then an occasional, opportunistic participant in the pained American discussion of the Jewish matter . . ." [4]

Family and professional life

Judt was born in 1948 in London, England to secular Jewish parents,[1] Joseph I Judt and Stella S Judt as referenced in Tony Judt's book the Memory Chalet (2011). He was raised by his mother, whose parents had emigrated from Russia and Romania, and his father, who was born in Belgium and had immigrated as a boy to Ireland and then subsequently to England. Judt's parents lived in North London, but due to the closure of the local hospitals in response to an outbreak of infant dysentery, Judt was born in a Salvation Army maternity unit in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London.[5] When he was a small boy, the family moved from Tottenham to a flat above his mother's business in Putney, South London. When Judt was nine years of age, following the birth of his sister, the family moved to a house in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. The family's main language was English, although Judt often spoke in French to his father and to his father's family.[6]

Judt won a place at Emanuel School in Wandsworth, and following his education at Emanuel, he went on to study as a scholarship student at King's College, Cambridge.[7] Judt was the first member of his family to finish secondary school and to go to university.[8] While at Cambridge, Judt became close friends with Martyn Poliakoff, who later became well known as a chemist and star of the The Periodic Table of Videos.[9] He obtained a BA degree in history in 1969 and, after spending a year at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, completed a PhD in 1972.[10] As a high school and university student he was a left-wing Zionist, and worked summers on kibbutzim. He moved away from Zionism after the Six-Day War of 1967, later stating that "I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country", but that he came to realise that left-wing Zionists were "remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the make this fantasy possible".[7] He came to describe his Zionism as his particular "ideological overinvestment".[11] Judt wrote in February 2010 that: "Before even turning twenty I had become, been, and ceased to be a Zionist, a Marxist, and a communitarian settler: no mean achievement for a south London teenager".[2]

After completing his Cambridge doctorate, he was elected a junior fellow of King's College in 1972, where he taught modern French history until 1978.[12] Following a brief period teaching social history at the University of California, Berkeley, he returned to Great Britain in 1980 to teach politics at St Anne's College, Oxford. He moved to New York University in 1987.

Judt was married three times, his first two marriages ending in divorce. His third marriage was to Jennifer Homans, The New Republic's dance critic, with whom he had two children.[1][13] In June 2010, Judt and his son Daniel wrote a dialogue about Barack Obama, politics and corporate behaviour for the New York Times.[14][15]

Judt's piece in The New York Review of Books for 27 May 2010, refers at length to his teaching time at University of California, Davis, and not to time at Berkeley. The piece also refers to "a month of heavy radiation" for cancer in 2002, an illness unrelated to his death from ALS several years later.


European history

Judt's experiences in Paris contributed to what would become a long and fruitful relationship with French political culture. He translated his Cambridge doctorate into French and published it in 1976 as La reconstruction du parti socialiste: 1921–1926. It was introduced by Annie Kriegel, who along with Maurice Agulhon was an important influence upon his early work as a French social historian. Judt's second book, Socialism in Provence 1871–1914: A Study in the Origins of the French Modern Left, an "enquiry into a political tradition that shaped a nation",[16] was an attempt to explain early origins and the continuities of left-wing politics in the region. More than any other work by Judt, Socialism in Provence was based upon extensive archival research. It was his one and only attempt to place himself within the social history that was dominant in the 1970s.

Modern French history

In the 1970s and 1980s Judt was a historian of modern France. Marxism and the French Left: Studies in Labour and Politics in France 1830–1981 collects several previously unpublished essays on the 19th and 20th centuries, ending with a discussion of Mitterrand. In Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956, Judt moved away both from social history towards intellectual history, and from endorsement of French Marxist traditions to their critique. In Past Imperfect, he castigated French intellectuals of the postwar era, above all Jean-Paul Sartre for their "self-imposed moral amnesia".[17] Judt criticized what he considered blind faith in Joseph Stalin's communism. In Judt's reading, French thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre were blinded by their own provincialism, and unable to see that their calls for intellectual authenticity should have required them to interrogate their own attachment to communism and criticize the Soviet Union for its policies in postwar eastern Europe. This was in some sense a criticism from within, using French sources and polemical style against famous French intellectuals. Judt made a similar case in some of his more popular writings. For instance, following the recognition by then President Jacques Chirac, in 1995, of the responsibility of the French state during the Collaboration, on the anniversary of the Vel' d'Hiv raid, he claimed in an op-ed published by The New York Times that:

"...people like Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault were curiously silent. One reason was their near-obsession with Communism. While proclaiming the need to "engage", to take a stand, two generations of intellectuals avoided any ethical issue that could not advance or, in some cases, retard the Marxist cause.
Vichy was dismissed as the work of a few senile Fascists. No one looked closely at what had happened during the Occupation, perhaps because very few intellectuals of any political stripe could claim to have had a "good" war, as Albert Camus did. No one stood up to cry "J'accuse!" at high functionaries, as Émile Zola did during the Dreyfus affair. When Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida entered the public arena, it usually involved a crisis far away—in Madagascar, Vietnam or Cambodia. Even today, politically engaged writers call for action in Bosnia but intervene only sporadically in debates about the French past."[18]


In the years following the publication of Past Imperfect, Judt turned his attention to the wider issues of European history. He spent the 1980s and much of the 1990s at Emory, Oxford, Stanford, and Vienna, where he taught political theory, learned Czech, and became friendly with a number of east European intellectuals. Erich Maria Remarque's widow, actress Paulette Goddard, bequeathed her fortune to NYU and this enabled the Institute of European Studies bearing her late husband's name to come into being under Judt's direction.

Judt's first broader book of this period – the result of a speech delivered at the Johns Hopkins-SAIS Bologna Center in 1995 – was A Grand Illusion? In this extended essay, he dealt directly with the European Union and its prospects for the future, which, in his view, were quite bleak. According to Judt, Europe's sense of its divisions had long been one of the "defining obsessions of its inhabitants".[19] The benefits of European unity, he argued, were unevenly distributed and the regions that EU policy favored came to have more in common with each other than with their neighbors living in the same state. The Baden-Württemberg region in southwestern Germany, the Rhône-Alpes region of France, Lombardy and Catalonia were evoked as examples of disproportionately rich "super-regions". Another division, Judt claimed, could be seen in the Schengen Agreement. Nothing more than a "highest common factor of discriminatory political arithmetic,"[20] the Schengen Agreement made Eastern European countries into barrier states designed to keep undesirable immigrants at bay. Similar dangers existed in eastern Europe, where former critics of Soviet universalism deftly recycled themselves into anti-European, nationalist agitators.

These problems, Judt wrote, could find their resolution only in increased national intervention. States would be called upon to redistribute wealth and preserve the decaying social fabric of the societies they governed. This conception of the role of the state was carried over – albeit in slightly different form – into Judt's 2005 book, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.

In Postwar, Judt examined the history of Europe from the end of World War II (1945) to 2005. Writing on such a broad subject was something of a departure for Judt, whose earlier works, such as Socialism in Provence and Past Imperfect, had focused on challenging conventional assumptions about the French Left. Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, Postwar has won considerable praise for its sweeping, encyclopedic scope[21] and was a runner up for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.[22] Postwar was described by the BBC in Judt's obituary as "acclaimed by historians as one of the best works on the subject" of modern European history.[23] The book was named as one of the ten best of 2005 by the New York Times Book Review[24] and, in 2009, the Toronto Star named it the decade's best historical book.[25]

Ill Fares the Land

Judt's last book to be published during his lifetime, Ill Fares the Land, projected lessons learned forward, challenging readers to debate "what comes next?" The book made the case for renewed social democracy; it received mixed reviews.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36]

Written under the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Ill Fares The Land (2010) has been described as Judt's "most overtly political book" and a "dramatic intervention" in the decline of the progressive ideals of the 20th century.[37] Judt lamented the breakdown of the post-war Keynesian policy consensus as well as the rise of neo-liberal economics with its political manifestations under Thatcher, Reagan, and others. In analyzing the limited success achieved by Third Way triangulation and the paradoxical resurgence of unfettered capitalism after the Global Financial Crisis, Judt described the recent past as "lost decades" marked by "fantasies of prosperity".[38] The missing reward from modern government has been social progress, and Judt explored how the social contract which had defined the postwar world – with guarantees of security, stability, and fairness – was no longer considered a legitimate social goal.[39] He concluded his book with a "passionate appeal for a return to social-democratic ideals."[38]


Judt's mother and father were British citizens and secular Jews.[7] Judt enthusiastically embraced Zionism at age 15. For a time he wished to emigrate to Israel, against the wishes of his parents, who were concerned about his studies. In 1966, having won an exhibition to King's College, Cambridge, he worked for the summer on kibbutz Machanaim. When Nasser expelled UN troops from Sinai in 1967, and Israel mobilized for war, he volunteered to replace kibbutz members who had been called up. During and in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, he worked as a driver and translator for the Israel Defense Forces.[40] After the war, Judt's belief in the Zionist enterprise began to unravel.

In October 2003, in an article for the New York Review of Books, Judt argued that Israel was on its way to becoming a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state." He called for the conversion of "Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one" which would include all of what is now Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This proposed new state would have equal rights for all Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories.[41] The article, which presented a view of Middle Eastern history and politics that had rarely been given exposure in the mainstream media in the United States, generated an explosive response, positive as well as negative. It drew strong criticism from pro-Israeli writers who saw such a plan as "destroying" Israel and replacing it with a predominantly Palestinian state governed by a Palestinian majority.[42][43] The NYRB was inundated with over a thousand letters within a week of the article's publication, peppered with terms like "antisemite" and "self-hating Jew," and the article led to Judt's removal from the editorial board of The New Republic.[44] In April 2004 Judt gave a public speech at Columbia University in which he further developed his views.[45]

In March 2006 Judt wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times about the John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt paper entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy". Judt argued that "[in] spite of [the paper's] provocative title, the essay draws on a wide variety of standard sources and is mostly uncontentious [.... Does] the Israel Lobby affect our foreign policy choices? Of course – that is one of its goals [...]. But does pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment." He summed up his assessment of Mearsheimer and Walt's paper by asserting that "this essay, by two 'realist' political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind." He predicted that "it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state."[46]

In May 2006, Judt continued in a similar vein with a feature-length article entitled "The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up" for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The article, published the day before Israeli Independence Day, recaps Israel's short history, describing what Judt saw as a steady decline in Israel's credibility that began with the Six-Day War in 1967.[47]

On 4 October 2006, Judt's scheduled New York talk before the organization Network 20/20 was abruptly cancelled after Polish Consul Krzysztof Kasprzyk suddenly withdrew his offer of a venue following telephone calls from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. The consul later told a reporter that "I don't have to subscribe to the First Amendment."[48] According to The New York Sun, "the appearance at the Polish consulate was canceled after the Polish government decided that Mr. Judt's views critical of Israel were not consistent with Poland's friendly relations with the Jewish state."[49]

According to the [50]

The cancellation evoked protest from a roster of academics and intellectuals who said there had been an attempt to intimidate and shut down free debate.[51] Mark Lilla and Richard Sennett wrote a letter to Foxman in protest, which was signed by 114 people and published in the New York Review of Books.[52] In a later exchange on the subject in the New York Review of Books, Lilla and Sennet argued that "Even without knowing the substance of those 'nice' calls from the ADL and AJC, any impartial observer will recognize them as not so subtle forms of pressure."[53]

The ADL and AJC defended their decision to contact the Polish consulate and rejected Judt's characterization of them. Foxman accused his critics of themselves stifling free speech when "they use inflammatory words like 'threaten,' 'pressure,' and 'intimidate' that bear no resemblance to what actually transpired." He wrote that the "ADL did not threaten or intimidate or pressure anyone. The Polish consul general made his decision concerning Tony Judt's appearance strictly on his own." Foxman said that Judt has "taken the position that Israel shouldn't exist [and t]hat puts him on our radar," while David A. Harris, executive director of the AJC, said that he wanted to tell the consulate that the thrust of Judt's talk ran "contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy."[49]

In a March 2007 interview, Judt argued the American need to block criticism of Israel stemmed from the rise of identity politics in the US. "I didn't think I knew until then just how deep and how uniquely American this obsession with blocking any criticism of Israel is. It is uniquely American." He added ruefully: "Apparently, the line you take on Israel trumps everything else in life".[54]

Asked about his taste for controversy during an interview with NPR prior to his death, Judt stated "I've only ever published four little essays in a lifetime of book writing and lecturing and teaching, just four little essays which touched controversially on painful bits of other people's anatomies, so to speak. Two of them were about Israel".[11]

Critical reception

Judt was praised by his peers for his wide-ranging knowledge and versatility in analysis. Jonathan Freedland wrote in NYRB: "There are not many professors in any field equipped to produce, for example, learned essays on the novels of Manès Sperber – yet also able to turn their hand to, say, a close, diplomatic analysis of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962."[55] Freedland further stated that Judt had demonstrated "through more than a decade of essays written for America's foremost journals... that he belongs to each one of those rare, polymathic categories."[55] In reviewing Judt's Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Freedland wrote that Judt had put conscience ahead of friendship during his life, and demanded the same courage in others.

In 2009, Judt was awarded a Special Orwell Prize for Lifetime Achievement for his contribution to British political writing.[56]

Illness and death

In 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was nevertheless able to give a two-hour public lecture.[57] In January 2010 Judt wrote a short article about his condition, the first of a series of memoirs published in the New York Review of Books.[58] In March 2010, Judt was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air,[11][59] and in June he was interviewed by the BBC's disability affairs correspondent Peter White for the Radio 4 programme No Triumph, No Tragedy.[60]

Judt died of ALS at his home in Manhattan on 6 August 2010.[61] This was two weeks after a major interview and retrospective of his work in Prospect magazine[4] and the day before an article about his illness was published in the Irish Independent indicating that he "won't surrender any time soon" and comparing his suffering to that of author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2007.[62] Shortly before his death, according to The Guardian, he was said to have possessed the "liveliest mind in New York."[63] He continued his work as a public intellectual right up until his death, writing essays for the New York Review of Books[63] and composing and completing a synthetic intellectual history under the title Thinking The Twentieth Century with fellow historian Timothy Snyder.[64][65] He also wrote a memoir entitled The Memory Chalet, which was published posthumously in November 2010.[66] During his illness, Judt made use of the memory palace technique to remember paragraphs of text during the night, which he placed mentally in rooms of a Swiss chalet and then dictated to his assistant the next day.[11][57]

Following his death University of California at Irvine, said that Judt's "writings on European history and the need for a new social contract between rulers and ruled can inspire a new generation of scholars and activists in other cultures".[39] Timothy Garton Ash, in his obituary in the New York Review of Books, placed Judt in "the great tradition of the spectateur engagé, the politically engaged but independent and critical intellectual."[68]


Books written

Books edited

See also


  1. ^ a b c
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  6. ^ Preceding information contributed in person by Deborah Judt, sister of Tony Judt.
  7. ^ a b c
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  9. ^ Toast to Tony, Periodic Table of Videos, accessed 22 January 2015.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^ College website Historian Tony Judt dies, King's College Cambridge website, 9 August 2010
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Tony Judt, Socialism in Provence 1871–1914: A Study in the Origins of the Modern French Left, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
  17. ^ Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944–1956, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992
  18. ^ Tony Judt, French War Stories, New York Times, 19 July 1995
  19. ^ Tony Judt, A Grand Illusion? New York: Hill and Wang, 1996, p. 46
  20. ^ Tony Judt, A Grand Illusion?, New York: Hill and Wang, 1996, p. 125
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  38. ^ a b (subscription required)
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^ Embattled Academic Tony Judt Defends Call for Binational State at the Wayback Machine (archived 29 September 2007)
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External links

  • New York Review of Books – Articles written by Judt
  • Historical Society, Boston University – Interview with Judt on Europe
  • "If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute? They are all we have" – One of Judt's final essays
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