In Memoriam – Tony Judt

Tony Judt just passed after a two year battle with ALS.

Mr. Judt (pronounced Jutt), who was British by birth and education but who taught at American universities for most of his career, began as a specialist in postwar French intellectual history, and for much of his life he embodied the idea of the French-style engaged intellectual.

An impassioned left-wing Zionist as a teenager, he shed his faith in agrarian socialism and Marxism early on and became, as he put it, a “universalist social democrat” with a deep suspicion of left-wing ideologues, identity politics and the emerging role of the United States as the world’s sole superpower.

His developing interest in Europe as a whole, including the states of the former Eastern Bloc, led him to take an active role in the developing Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia; it culminated in “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945” (2005), a sweeping, richly detailed survey embracing countries from Britain to the Balkans that, in the words of one reviewer, has “the pace of a thriller and the scope of an encyclopedia.”

Mr. Judt was perhaps best known for his essays on politics and current affairs in journals like The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books . . .

“Today I’m regarded outside New York University as a looney tunes leftie self-hating Jewish communist; inside the university I’m regarded as a typical old-fashioned white male liberal elitist,” he told The Guardian of London in January 2010. “I like that. I’m on the edge of both, it makes me feel comfortable.”

He’ll be missed. Here’s a column exploring his last minute race against time to complete his work.