Ill Fares the LandIll Fares the Land by Tony Judt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tony Judt's last book is his legacy, the closing lecture or set of lectures for the most important course this most European of Englishmen felt he had to impart to American college students like those he was teaching at New York University up until the last weeks of his life. He is mainly concerned to elucidate the successes, failures and future possibilities of social democracy, and to distinguish it from "liberalism", which not as the opposite of "conservatism", but rather the set of principles of individual freedom and tolerance of diversity that underpins most truly conservative thought. Though his hero is that eminent conservative John Maynard Keynes, an enlightened defender of capitalism, Judt is nostalgic for the European social democracy of the 1950s, when European states were powerful enough to impose their laws on corporations, and corporations were prosperous enough to provide funds for broader health, education and other social democratic programs. And even in the U.S., where "social democracy" was anathema (because it sounded like "socialism" which meant "communism" which meant everything evil), Democratic presidents (from FDR to LBJ) were able to increase social equality. But that time is past; as the current world-wide economic re-ordering makes plain, the kind of capitalism that could or would support social programs, and the power of states to command them, have all but evaporated before the triumph of finance capital, creating nothing itself and thus not increasing world wealth but merely seizing for itself and its billionaire leaders an ever greater portion.

"To put the point quite bluntly, if social democracy has a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear." (p. 221) Fear that anything else — untrammeled finance capitalism or authoritarian dictatorship — will be far worse. Judt still thinks the nation-state can play a major role in preventing such disaster, but on the whole this is a thoughtful but ultimately pessimistic view he leaves us.

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