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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and thoughtful...., 8 Feb 2012
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
When I started to read this book the riots in London, Birmingham and Manchester had just kicked off. They only lasted a few days but brought with them fear, anger and alienation to be followed speedily by blame and retribution and much confusion and soul searching. Something was clearly amiss.....

Tony Judt's book is a little gem. He challenges the legacy of Reagan and Thatcher and their ideas on free market capitalism. Material self-interest dominated for thirty years but has led to a more unequal and less happy society. The trickle down effect has simply not trickled down enough.

For such a complex subject this book is brief and concise in its statements and arguments. This is both a plus and a minus. It is not a difficult read (though I needed the dictionary for "fungible"!) but I sometimes wanted to delve further into his arguments and tease out some of his ideas.

His ideas are based on the social democratic model - and he is willing to challenge many of the current political ideas. He is particularly interesting on what should be run by the state and what can be safely left to private individual. "Why are we so sure that some planning, or progressive taxation, or the collective ownership of public goods, are intolerable restrictions on liberty; whereas closed-circuit television cameras, state bailouts for investment banks `too big to fail', tapped telephones and expensive foreign wars are acceptable burdens for a free people to bear?"

By the time I finished reading Ill Fares the Land the Occupy Movement had started in New York and quickly spread round the world. These activists do not have all the answers but in highlighting the differences between the 1% and the 99% they are asking plenty of challenging questions. Tony Judt would have approved.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Call to Arms for the State..., 12 April 2012
By 
Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
Most of this book is a distillation of the broad critique of the post-banking crisis shared by most cultural critics. The crash horribly exposed a number of fictions discussed and dismissed in this book: that markets are always self-correcting; that making the rich richer helps the poor; that privatization produces efficient public services; that regulation is bad, but taxation is worse and so on. This we know for ourselves, through direct experience and some embarrassment about our silence as the banks took control of the world's economy knowing that if the risks they took didn't turn out there was always the taxpayer to bail them out. There is little original in this, though this is not to say it does not bear repeating regularly, or that Judt, even whilst dying, produced anything other that crystal clear prose in setting out the case.

For me, the more interesting diversions are the Marxist interpretation of the real impact of technology in deskilling the workforce and the call to arms of a generation (my own) who have been hitherto silent about the conduct of public life and politics, and have pursued more selfish interests as a means of fulfilment. For this much, Judt should be properly lauded, castigating as he does the know-nothing politicians of our time, content with the egoism of power, uninterested in their responsibility and bereft of capacity to respond to a changed world. Where I would diverge from his thinking is in suggesting the state is all we have. All states, especially the United States as the economic bully-boy of the West, ought now to be considered as failures, especially in the Keynesian terms that Judt likes to invoke. What will replace them is by no means yet clear, though it seems likely that if the powerful economic interests get their way, it won't be anything benign or offer much protection for ordinary people.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sound summary of the problems besetting western society, 28 Aug 2012
By 
Amazon Customer (Leamington Spa, Warwickshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
Tony Judt detects signs of failure within the Western political discussion. With a foot on either side of the Atlantic, he dissects the post-war political and social consensus with a particular focus on the last 30 years ending in the 2008 financial crash. His conclusions include the undirected extension of the state, the increasing tensions between the private and public sectors and the increasing lack of any real national conversation about politics as it becomes dominated and annexed by a professional political class, a partisan media and `experts' (predominantly `think tanks' and pressure groups).

It is easy to be put off by this book, particularly if you do not associate yourself with the `progressive left.' Mr Judt is careful to locate himself in that particular part of the particular spectrum and makes no apologies for writing his book from that perspective. In doing so, however, he claims for that group (`the liberal democrats' in American rather than British usage) a centre ground that is common to many from both wings of the political debate. He is equally scathing of the libertarian right as he is of the hard socialist left and positions his treatise firmly in the compromise space between the two. Associating this work then with a particular creed -with the objective of improving discourse on the left- both reduces his readership and influence for a message which should resonate with a far larger constituency.

There is some very adroit analysis here. My attention was particularly caught by the increasingly economic terms in which politics are played, the notable social impetus toward the pursuit of wealth as an ethical good, the disenfranchisement of large portions of the public from the political debate (and the failure/inability of the political elite to do anything about this) and the escalating violence of the debate as to the value of the public versus private sector. Judt addresses all of these with a relatively objective eye and identifies significant deficiencies in the practices of society, government and the characters of those who govern.

Judt identifies his subjects well; all have been picked up in one form or another by the intelligentsia of the broadsheets over the last four years but never as part of such a coherent package. I often disagree with Judt's intimated solutions -then rule #1 in Judt's playbook is never engage in grand plans; the future cannot be predicted- but he focuses on the points of weakness accurately and judiciously.

Even if I don't share his political creed, Judt makes a solid case that we are right to be concerned about a political society that recycles identical hacks and lawyers with ideals but no experience. He is right to be worried about three or four generations cut out of political discourse, who see no value in broads spectrum, compromise politics but only in self-serving `issue' politics (eco politics; sexual politics; human rights). He is right to worry about communities with no interplay between the richest and the poorest. He is right to be worried about a state that abdicates its responsibilities by privatising industries that will never be economically viable without huge transfers from the public purse to private individuals. He is right to worry about the pursuit of wealth with no apparent moral framework.

Alternative solutions to all of these modern Herculean challenges are available from the right, the left and the pragmatists. Where there are weaknesses in Judt's work is that he does not recognise these within his hypotheses, which is built on a social democratic consensus and a pragmatic reading if the late twentieth century socialist trope. The problems, however, are real; the causes may (or may not) be properly identified but a wider debate is needed -possibly outside of the traditional, bilateral political experience- to find appropriate solutions. Perhaps that was really Judt's point.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brillant book to rethink the Left, 18 Aug 2011
This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
What a brillant book about politics, the meaning and conditions of democracy and simply, what means now to have "left wing"opinions ! Tony Judt has found simple words to translate my vision of what should be a state in a world almost invaded with neo-liberal concepts. Yes, an efficient state is still possible, there are basic solutions. No, privatization is not an efficient solution to pay the depts, and yes, we can rethink the state to be more fair, bring more equality amongst us and sense and security through a "social democracy" system. Judt also reminds us that past experiences matter and that we can keep some great ideas from the 20th century history.

The content of this essay is not a revolutionary one. Judt just helps us to remember what matters in a state.
I like very much his last quotation from Leo Tolstoi : "There are no conditions of life in which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees them accepted by everyone around him".
If Neo-liberalism continues on its way in the future, it is really urgent to remind the young generation that there are other solutions and political philosophies for a democracy and that "Social democracy" is still a very valid system.

I'm just sad not to have been able to meet this great man before he died (in 2010).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal book, 2 Jan 2012
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
Tony Judt was clearly a very learned man, with an astonishing range of knowledge and a profound insight in the social and political history of the Western world. How he analyzes 'The Way We Live Now' in chapter one, and 'The World We have Lost' in chapter two demonstrates an astonishing intellect, and what he says about the fall of 'the Left' in chapters 3 and 4 rings very true. Equally so, the suggestions he makes in 'What Is To Be Done?' in chapter 5 seems to me sound advice well worth listening to. The bitterest pill to swallow is perhaps the near certainty that those in power will not read this book, nor - if they do - take its lessons to heart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A criticism of unfettered capitalism:The case for social democracy, 25 Jun 2012
By 
Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
The book emanated from and culminated in the slim volume following a lecture the author gave on social democracy at New York University (NYU) in the fall of 2009.

The writing of Tony Judt is graceful, humane, erudite, and wise;additionally it possesses a gratifying blend of English pragmatism and Continental intellectualism. The book today is even more pertinent than when it was written in 2010 with a full blown financial crisis afflicting the southern rim of the European Union with the most conspicuous victim Greece but also afflicting Spain, Portugal, Italy and even my tiny homeland Cyprus.

The author is highly critical of the policies prevailing in the last thirty years known as the 'Washington consensus' adopting 'Thatcher-ism', 'Reagan-ism'and the policies of the Austrian economist Hayek. These collectively comprise the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all:uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

The greatest extremes of private privilege and public indifference are exemplified by the US and the UK:epicenters of enthusiasm for deregulated market capitalism. None has matched Britain or the United States in their unwavering thirty-year commitment to the unraveling of decades of social legislation and economic oversight. As a result, poverty - whether measured by infant mortality, life expectancy, access to medicine and regular employment or simple inability to purchase basic necessities - has increased steadily in the US , the UK and every country that that has modeled its economy upon their example. The pathologies of inequality and poverty - crime, alcoholism, violence and mental illness -all multiplied commensurately. By contrast Sweden, or Finland, two of the world's wealthiest countries by per ca-pita income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens - and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable well being.

The events of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worse enemy:sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. The author pronounces that the social question is back on the agenda.

The author contrasts the last thirty years with the thirty years that preceded them which cover the period from the end of World War II until the 1970s.

This thirty year post - World War II period can be aptly called the 'Keynesian consensus'.

Keynes had taken the view that capitalism would not survive if its workings were reduced to merely furnishing the wealthy with the means to get wealthier. For Keynes it had become self-evident that the best defense against extremism and economic collapse was an increased role of the state, including but not confined to counter cyclical economic intervention.

The era of the 'Keynesian consensus' and the prevailing of social democracy had the characteristics of continually improving life chances, generous medical and educational services, optimistic prospects of upward social mobility - perhaps above all - an indefinable but ubiquitous sense of security.

The author advocates a return to social democracy naturally in the context and adapted to the prevailing circumstances including environmental considerations.

As already mentioned the book was first published in 2010 and I have to add that the author died in the interim period. The recent election in the French Presidency of the social democrat Francois Holland succeeding the conservative Nicolas Sarcozy may herald for Europe a new era of social democracy and might suggest prescience on the part of the author.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethink the apolitical stance, 21 May 2012
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Tony Judt identifies the main discontents of our modern life and connects them with our leaders' belief
that neolibersim and individualism provide a framework for constant progress.
Also, he points out that we have been quite apolitical and this does not help on solving our current issues.

He argues that only when younger generations start imposing political questions,
we will find solutions and he suggests us to rethink the Social Democracy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is it !!!, 13 Feb 2012
This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
While reading this book, I could not keep from muttering "this is it , this is it" Judt managed to put in simple words such important things. I cant but feel proud of having shared this world with Tony Judt. What a loss for us all ...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars it's genius, innit?, 7 Sep 2011
This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
I haven't finshed the book yet but massively enjoying it. One reviewer noted "What is most striking about what Judt says is not so much the substance but the form: he speaks of being angry at our political quiescence; he writes of the need to dissent from our economically way of thinking, the urgency of a return to an ethically informed public conversation. No one talks like that any more". But it is more than that; the 'substance' of what he says is built up into a formidable and weighty argument; the content itself is winning. Judt is right: we need more justice running through our system and his is the argument and thought, his type of intellectual vigor which can be a principal catalyst. Brave politicians would also be needed!?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Democracy: the highest possible aim?, 28 May 2011
By 
Dirk van Leeuwen "dlw" (Antwerp, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
Erudite, well thought critical review of democracy as practiced in a countries that pride themselves that their particular variety of democracy is exportable, even fit for forceful implantation ..

It keeps me thinking. :)
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Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents
Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents by Professor Tony Judt (Paperback - 7 April 2011)
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