Thursday, September 15, 2011


Finally finished this gift book given to me in the Spring for my birthday. It's a tough look at the present state of society and politics in the USA and England by the author of some pretty solid books about 20th-Century history, like Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945.

Judt's a deep thinker and does a pretty great job of articulating and summarizing the events and attitudes and choices that got us into many of our present dilemmas, and what he sees as the way of moving forward and solving some of our problems.

Here's a couple of chapter titles to give you an idea of what he's addressing (and the cultural references behind his titles): "The Way We Live Now" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Politics."

There were so many times in the book when I wanted to quote an excerpt, but realized in order for the quote to work I'd have to quote the line before it, and then the paragraph before that, and then the page and basically the whole chapter.

I also have to admit that there were a few times when I found it a little contradictory and even arbitrary. But over all, it's a stimulating read for those of us dismaying over the state of our country and our politics, as well as our world.

Here are a couple of very short excerpts that aren't the most profound things he writes in the book, but give an idea of how he writes and what he's addressing in ILL FARES THE LAND:

"If we don't respect public goods; if we permit or encourage the privatization of public space, resources and services; if we enthusiastically support the propensity of a younger generation to look exclusively to their own needs: then we should not be surprised to find a steady falling-away from civic engagement in public decision-making."


"...sustained economic expansion in itself guarantees neither equality nor prosperity; it is not even a reliable source of economic development."

The most interesting writing, of course, is to be found in how he backs these kinds of statements and observations up with solid historical scholarship, logic and reasoning, as well as profound insight. Like I said, a stimulating read.


Anonymous said...

"economic expansion" (...) is not even a reliable source of economic development" ?

this is double talk.... the bottom line is simple...

businesses have no customers. without the war who will buy the newest Black Hawk helicopter ?

just what we need more footnotes and "backed-up scholarship!

Miles said...

Anonymous, you should choose a name and stick with it. Also, why so averse to scholarship?

The section you quoted is not double talk, they are distinct aspects of an economy. Check the definitions:

Economic development: Sustained increase in the economic standard of living of a country's population, normally accomplished by increasing its stocks of physical and human capital and improving its technology.

Economic expansion: The upward phase of the business cycle, in which GDP is rising and unemployment may be falling over time.

Lally said...

Once again, Miles, you better express what I'm trying to say. The point of the book, that I didn't really convey in the post is to look at the change in developed countries' attitudes toward the public welfare. Since the Great Depression proved unfettered "capitalism" led to massive breakdowns in economies and the common welfare, for the most part, governments and societies excepted the idea that there were services and regulations and safety networks that were necessary to make sure the common welfare was maintained. But ever since the Reagan administration began to dismantle, or attempt to, much of what FDR accomplished and European governments provided even more so, the right has shifted the framing of the argument from what's best for society to what's best for the individual, or at least the individual who had the wherewithal to care for him/herself. I'm still not articulating this very clearly or simply, but the point is that Judt's book addresses the tension that has been created between the old ideals and ideas of government protecting us from unfettered capitalism to unfettered capitalism protecting us from government, and all it provides for those of us not wealthy enough to provide it for ourselves (the prime example being social security etc.).

Miles said...

And once again, Krugman nails it (from this week's column):

"And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid."

That's the second to last paragraph, so you have to read the whole thing to get the context and full impact, but it is directly speaking to what you're getting at dad. The column is here:

Lally said...

Miles, thanks for the link to Krugman's column, which I was planning on reading this evening but linked to now and found it absolutely the most concise summary of the main point being made in Judt's book and my posts and comments on this. Thanks again.

Robert Berner said...

Lal--For another angle on this same theme, your readers might want to go to Reader Supported News and scroll down and on the right margin click on the link to DemocracyNow's video of "Noan Chomsky On Why The Right
Hates Social Security." The answer is that Social Security is the product of a world view that says we must care about others, not just about ourselves, and that this view is anathema to the right and its Ayn Randian individualism and its every-man-for-himself attitude.
Bob B.

Lally said...

Good point Bob, and thanks.

Miles said...


Thanks for pointing me and other readers to that Chomsky piece. All I can add is a fervent Amen!

Here's the link:

Lally said...

This is becoming a gratitude thread, but i have to say thanks Miles for posting the link in your comment. The Noam Chomsky piece is one of the clearest and accessible explanations for a lot of our troubles I've seen him articulate recently.

Miles said...

Your welcome dad. I particularly like how Chomsky points out how caring about each other is a powerful threat to the few who seek to control the many.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

If you haven't seen this piece by Paul Begala, it's another bullseye:

Miles said...

Robert, that is totally on target.

After reading your link, I came across this blog post headline by Digby at hullabaloo:

"Republicans like Rick Perry are skeptical of everything the government does—except when it executes people"

Digby's post (which has a link to the slate article) is here:

Digby's blog headline says it all, and now that I've seen it articulated, I'm kind of surprised no one has pointed out this failure of logic before, especially since it has such deadly consequences.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Right on Miles. Thanks for Digby. My brother Paul pointed out that everything the Repubes and the Tespocrits grouse about - they created!

They don't have the integrity or ethhical base to acknowledge this, and sadly, thus far, Obama doesn't have the fire and cajones to blast through their bs.

We reaffirm it in our own way on this (and other) blog(s), but we're preachin to the choir.