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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
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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