Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land is the kind of passionate polemic that Britain no longer does. It’s objective is to define the barbaric state we’re in in such a way as to generate articulate responses that will change it. The tool is an accessible discursiveness aimed explicitly at youthful agents of change.
Urgency is required because, as Judt says in his opening line, “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today.” Urgency also reflects the author’s suffering from the terminal effects of a rare form of motor neuron disease. That this book arrived so soon after his heroic October 09 lecture at the Remarque Institute [see link below], is to the significant credit of all parties.
Judt’s introductory mapping continues like this; “For thirty 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”. He concludes his book thus; “if we think we know what is wrong, we must act upon that knowledge.” But “our disability is discursive”; to act requires words; the articulation of a common purpose, including a recovered ability to preach what social democracy at its extant best practises.
Judt argues that the last 30 years have been aberrant and corrupting and he is largely right. He argues that the years between 1989 and 2009 were wasted on locusts and he is not entirely wrong. His polemic is broader than this though; it’s the loss of the 20th Century -with its significant if sporadic advances in civility- that he laments. More positively, he goes on to argue that what he calls the ‘left’ must celebrate and defend its achievements, though I don’t think he has Hardt/Negri in mind.