Tony Judt - The Intellectual Challenge of the History *

For Tony Judt the writing of history is also the making of it. It is a great pity that he has been taken from us just when we could proifit the most from his unflagging intellectual and moral energies

Tony Judt contributed to the discussion on some of the central themes of contemporary historiography: language and identity politics, post-war retribution in Europe, the Mideast crisis and Zionism, the past, present and future of the left, the new dimensions of European consciousness and  European reality.  Professor Judt worked in these settings with scholars in the humanities, social scientists from the more systematic disciplines. His own method might be termed weighted narrative, weighted with a great deal of knowledge, and shaped in the last analysis by the open acknowledgement that historical judgements are just that, judgements which require the moral engagement of the scholar.
In his magnum opus, Post-War: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005), a number of large European  themes became predominant. One was the rigidification and then dissolution of Marxism, closely connected to the limited successes and conspicuous failures of the parties of the left.  For all of the difficulties of the left, however, it could claim in Professor Judt’s view, the enduring monument of the European welfare state, a consensus on its retention, if one largely shared with social Christians and the more intelligent of European capitalist elite. 
What, clearly, moved Professor Judt to write on so large a canvas was the conviction voiced already in his writings on political responsibility, that history is sometimes open, that the distinction between the exacting description of a  complex process and the acceptance of a rigid determinism is indispensable, that the writing of history is also the making of it. Professor Judt has situated himself in the American tradition of systematic dissent (one is his scepticism of the unconditional US alliance with Israel).
That is part of a larger effort by Professor Judt to overcome the narcissism and provincialism of much American thought. He has declared that systematic denigration  or relatively polite under-estimation of the Europeans makes rational policy impossible. He has joined who recall a different country, the nation of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, of the late John Kennedy.

Norman Birnbaum

Norman Birnbaum is Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University Law Center.He has taught at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, the University of Strasbourg and Amherst College. He has also had academic appointments in Italy and Germany.His most recent book, "After Progress: American Social Reform and Western European Socialism In The Twentieth Century" was published in 2001 by Oxford University Press.