Monday, February 28, 2011

Ill Fares The Land

It's been a while since I've posted, but that's not due to a lack of worthy subject matter.
Rather, I've been absorbed lately in reading, thinking, and trying to reprogram myself a bit- physically, mentally & emotionally.

A most welcome visit by my son, Tom, was accompanied by the passing of my dear little sister, Mary.
So, my joy was counter-balanced by some sadness, as is often the case.

But, life does go on and we must accept it as we can.
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey; Where wealth accumulates, and men decay." - Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (1770)
One thing that should NOT be acceptable to us is continuing to neglect our situation of growing political and economic dysfunction.
While a certain amount of conflict and controversy is built in to our system, we have exceeded healthy levels.
Even more troubling is the threat of escalating contentiousness, at the very time we need to come together with a sense of urgency.

With so many serious problems, like unemployment, health-care needs, international wars & turmoil, environmental threats, severe fiscal realities, regulatory failures, educational challenges, immigration worries, corporate & union misuse of power, banal & biased media misinformation, rampant lobbying, manufactured brinkmanship and political shenanigans of every stripe, we desperately need to get our elected officials' attention!

And, then focus them on coming up with practical solutions that respect prior programs, and provide for future needs as best we can, starting with the problems in bold, above, then moving to others.

What has evolved over time is not likely to be set right quickly, but we can develop a plan and mandate the discipline to follow it.
All this self-serving petty posturing, hypocritical rhetoric, clever wordsmithing, dodging candid answers, partisan bickering, fear mongering, blame games, lying and selective truth-telling, parliamentary trickery, legalistic nonsense, saber-rattling, and demagoguery needs to stop, at least long enough to achieve some real progress on what truly qualifies as a multi-dimensional national emergency!

I recently read -and recommend-Ill Fares The Land by Tony Judt, which projects lessons learned forward, challenging readers to debate "what comes next?" and makes the case for renewed social democracy. Here are a few excerpts of book reviews:

Judt's death in 2010, occurred at exactly the moment when the use of fear and anger by the right is reaching dangerous proportions.
He deserves praise for carrying out what he himself described as the historian's task "to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well-organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves".

Written under the debilitating effects of ALS, Ill Fares The Land, has been described as Judt's "most overtly political book" and a "dramatic intervention" in the decline of the progressive ideals of the 20th century. Judt laments the breakdown of the post-war Keynesian policy consensus, the rise of Austrian Neo-liberal economics in the West and its political manifestations under Thatcher, Reagan et al.

He notes the limited triangulation achieved by the Third Way and the paradoxical resurgence of the Right after the Global Financial Crisis.

He asks: where to now for social democracy?, and concludes that nothing less than a radical restatement of the values of equality and community can stem the challenge of the hegemonic Right.

He explored how the social contract that defined post-war Europe and the US and the guarantee of security, stability, and fairness was no longer considered a legitimate social goal and how a social democratic vision could win back the disaffected by creating a "civic language" that could support a renewed social contract between governments and their citizens.

Editorial Review

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we think about how we should live today.

In Ill Fares The Land, Tony Judt, one of our leading historians and thinkers, reveals how we have arrived at our present dangerously confused moment.
Judt masterfully crystallizes what we’ve all been feeling into a way to think our way into, and thus out of, our great collective dis-ease about the current state of things.

As the economic collapse of 2008 made clear, the social contract that defined postwar life in Europe and America – the guarantee of a basal level of security, stability and fairness -- is no longer guaranteed; in fact, it’s no longer part of the common discourse.
Judt offers the language we need to address our common needs, rejecting the nihilistic individualism of the far right and the debunked socialism of the past.
To find a way forward, we must look to our not so distant past and to social democracy in action: to re-enshrining fairness over mere efficiency.

Distinctly absent from our national dialogue, social democrats believe that the state can play an enhanced role in our lives without threatening our liberties.
Instead of placing blind faith in the market—as we have to our detriment for the past thirty years—social democrats entrust their fellow citizens and the state itself.

Ill Fares the Land challenges us to confront our societal ills and to shoulder responsibility for the world we live in.
For hope remains. In reintroducing alternatives to the status quo,
Judt reinvigorates our political conversation, providing the tools necessary to imagine a new form of governance, a new way of life.
About the Author
Tony Judt was born in London in 1948 and died in NYC in 2010.
He was educated at King's College, Cambridge and the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley and New York University, where he is currently the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies and Director of the Remarque Institute, which is dedicated to the study of Europe and which he founded in 1995.

The author or editor of twelve books, he has been a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, The New York Times and many other journals in Europe and the US.
Professor Judt was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and a Permanent Fellow of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna).
He is the author of Reappraisals: Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century and Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, which was one of the New York Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2005, the winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

"Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall."~ Oliver Goldsmith