I think that what attracts me to Tony Judt is the force of his writing. This book, as others from him, is extremely well laid out and the arguments are exposed in a way that leaves one wondering: What then shall we do? Essentially, Judt shows that by turning away from social democracy, we are not going in a new direction, rather, in a well worn old direction, where kindness and watching each others' backs is not on the agenda; where profit for profit's sake at any cost is the ultimate goal, although even that is not achievable ultimately. Judt's discussion leaves one wondering how we will avoid some of the political and economic calamities of the 20th century in the 21st century.
Two problems with this book. First, as with many historians and political theorists, Judt does not make any comment on the moral imperative, the fact that political systems depend on people acting in a specific, morally upright way, that they will always aim for a greater good. Certainly, that people do not always (perhaps rarely) do that is at the basis of much of the distress inspired in political circles. Recent events in Egypt and other Arab nations, where dictators are hoarding billions of dollars while populations go hungry, the recent economic crisis in the US (and in the rest of the world) shows that what goes on at a micro level, while millions and millions of bankers go to great lengths to increase bonuses and market shares, regardless of consequences, certainly suggest that any of the great political and economic models have to incorporate a moral imperative. What do people choose to do when they hold power? When no one is watching?
The other problem is that encountered by many in the helping disciplines. It is far easier to make the observations that identify and describe the problem than to actually change something. The solutions that Judt proposes fall short and leave us wondering where we are collectively heading. Judt's assessment of this direction suggests that we probably know already.
on December 30, 2011
Chris Hedges, another excellent writer in this subject area, recommended this book and that was enough for me. And I'm glad I followed through. I ended up buying copies for my two adult children who are interested in political science and the pitiful state of Canada's 'representative' democracy (proportional democracy is one answer to that problem). The book is a wake up call for those of us, including me, who have been sleeping so to speak, while many, not all, corporations, and all investment banks (gamblers in other words), have successfully dismantled the post-WWII social-democracies of western Europe and Canada, and, in as much as this type of democracy existed in the U.S., in that country also. Mr. Judt also recommends moving away from the very word 'socialism' as it is a red flag to so many intelligent and not so intelligent individuals and rightly so, he adds. Instead, he calls for involvement of youth in all aspects of thinking and planning how best the goals of the 'Great Society' can be once again focussed upon; in which rates of wealth discrepancy are not extreme and society's well-being, as a whole are addressed. Interestingly, he focusses towards the end of his book on the state of privately-owned railways in Britain and how these cost the middle-class tax-payer much more than when they were publicly owned and have led to an increase in driving to work, as so many lines are not considered by the private companies as profitable enough. This, he says, is just one example of the irony of private over public ownership of infrastructure that can benefit an entire society.
Using a well researched historical perspective linked with basic common sense, Tony Judt clearly defines the decades of denigration that England and the Western world has undertaken. In the mid sis and under the administrations of Thatcher and Reagan, both countries went from being ones of inclusion and common goals to being countries of individualism and selfishness. The road taken truly was 'the slippery slope' and the citizenry has become so desensitized to the changes that they no longer seem to notice (or seem to care). Unlimited corporate contributions to the candidates of their choice, the struggles to obtain basic health care for the less-than-well-off, and the idolization of the false goddess called "Free Trade" are a few examples of how society has degraded itself over the past three decades.
While the author does lay out a series of actions that can be taken to reverse this process and to make these countries into the social democratic societies that the Nordic countries now are, I am not as positive. To me, once narcissism, egocentrism and selfishness has been established as being the cultural norm and persons have these goals rather than humanistic ones, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse this perversion.