Tony Judt og det 20. århundrede

indsendt 2. mar. 2013 15.04 af Mads Kjær Larsen   [ opdateret 8. mar. 2013 16.03 ]

I månederne op til den britisk-amerikanske historiker Tony Judts alt for tidlige død i august 2010 (som 62-årig) udfærdigede han i tæt samarbejde med den yngre fagfælle Timothy Snyder bogen Thinking the Twentieth Century, der med lidt god ret kan betragtes som en art intellektuelt testamente for en af de sidste tredive års mest markante (og helt afgjort mest velskrivende og vidende) historikere. 

- mkl -

Igennem daglige samtaler udarbejdede Snyder en bog, der er bygget op som en række kapitler, der på en og samme gang tager udgangspunkt i væsentlige problemstillinger for en diskussion af det 20. århundrede og Judts eget livsforløb og personlige historie. Det personlige afspejler således det (samtids)historiske og omvendt, uanset om emnerne er marxisme, zionisme, liberalisme, socialdemokratisme eller ideologikritik.

Judt udviser i sit virke først og fremmest et overvældende intellektuelt overskud: til at reflektere og perspektivere over historiske udviklinger, snarere end blot redegøre for eller referere dem. Det er denne evne til at se bagom eller henover de historiske fakta, der udmærker ham fra andre, mindre skarpe historiske begavelser. Udover hans evne til at se paralleller og analogier til det storpolitiske niveau, sker dette ved inddragelsen af eksempler hentet fra kunst og kultur og mode (han har et forrygende øje for at konkretisere tidsånden med divergerende eksempelmateriale).

Det er ikke min intention her at gengive Tony Judts overordnede - eller mangesidede - sigte med hans sidste bog (den udkom posthumt i starten af 2012 efter Snyders omhyggelige transskription og bearbejdning), men - det er en lidt mere taknemmelig opgave - at give nogle eksempler på hans skarpsyn, der forhåbentlig kan fungere som en appetitvækker til hans værk, der kulminerede med hans mesterlige efterkrigshistorie Postwar fra 2003. Et værk, som enhver med interesse for nyere europæisk historie (og det er jo dog noget, der angår os alle) bør læse.

Nedenstående eksempler kan forhåbentlig tjene til at vække nysgerrighed efter at læse mere af Judt på egen hånd - eller blot tjene til at være tankevækkende udsagn i egen ret:

Om historie og hukommelse:

“I don’t think that neglecting the past is our greatest risk, the characteristic mistake of the present is to cite it in ignorance”

“Without history, memory is open to abuse”


Om nationalisme:

“If you could stop the clock in 1913, the year before the outbreak of the First World War, and inquire after the political stance and likely future affiliations of the younger generation, you would see that the divide between the Left and the Right isn't quite the point. Most of the movements deliberately defined themselves as neither left nor right. They refused to be defined within the French revolutionary lexicon which had for so long provided the parameters for modern political geography. 

What young people had in common is a belief that only they can seize the century. We would like to be free, they asserted: we want to release the deep energies of the nation. In 1913 you wouldn't have known whether this sentiment was left or right: it would quite plausibly have served as a left-wing modernist manifesto — there has to be change, there will be radical departures, we must go with the present and not be confined by the past. But at the same time, these expressions of frustrated youthful impulses sound classically right in tone: national will, national purpose, national energy. The nineteenth century was the bourgeois century. The twentieth century would be the century of change, coming upon us so fast that only the young and uncommitted could hope to seize the day and go with it. Speed was of the essence: the airplane and the automobile had just been invented.”

Om totalitarisme:

The public face of fascism and communism was often strikingly similar. Mussolini's plans for Rome, for example, look frighteningly like Moscow University. If you knew nothing of the history of Nicolai Ceausescu's House of the People, how would you determine whether it was fascist or communist architecture? There was also a shared (and superficially paradoxical) conservatism of taste in the higher arts, after the initial enthusiasm of the revolutionary years. In music, in painting, in literature, theater and dance, communists and fascists were extraordinarily wary of innovation or imagination. By the 1930s, aesthetic radicals were as unwelcome in Moscow as they were in Rome or Berlin.”

In the aftermath of World War II, with the establishment of stable democracies in much of Western and parts of Central Europe, fascism lost its purchase. In later decades, with the coming of television (and a fortiori the Internet), the masses disaggregate into ever-smaller units. Consequently, for all its demagogic and populist appeal, traditional fascism has been handicapped: the one thing that fascists do supremely well — transforming angry minorities into large groups, and large groups into crowds — is now extraordinarily difficult to accomplish.”

Om Amerika:

Americans are much less disposed to look at someone who is very wealthy or very privileged and see injustice: they merely see themselves in some optimistic future incarnation. Americans think: “let’s leave the system more or less where it is because I wouldn’t want to suffer from high taxes once I become rich”. 

That’s a cultural frame of reference that explains a number of things about attitudes toward public expenditure: I won’t mind being taxed to pay for a railway system I only occasionally use if I feel that I am being taxed equally with others for a benefit that is in principle shared among us all (the European frame) as opposed to: I might resent it more if I have the expectation that I will one day be the kind of person who never uses this public facility because I am rich and doesn’t have to (the American frame)”.

American optimism really just serves as a kind of rationalization for not helping people who need help (the poor single mother, to name but one).

Om feminisme:

The fact that so many feminists were themselves drawn from the upper-middle class - where the only disadvantage they suffered was precisely that of being female, often no more than a marginal handicap - explains their inability to see that there was a larger class of persons for whom being female was by no means the greatest of their challenges”.

Om det 21. århundrede - og udfordringen ved massekommunikation og demokrati:

“We are likely to find ourselves as intellectuals or political philosophers facing a situation in which our chief task is not to imagine better worlds but rather to think how to prevent worse ones. And that’s a slightly different sort of situation, where the kind of intellectual who draws big pictures of idealized, improvable situations may not be the person who is most worth listening to.”

Mass democracy in an age of mass media means that on the one hand, you can reveal very quickly that Bush stole the 2000 election, but on the other hand, much of the population doesn’t care. He’d have been less able to steal the election in a more restricted suffrage–based, old-fashioned nineteenth-century liberal society: the relatively few people actually involved would have cared much more. So we pay a price for the massification of our liberalism, and we should understand that. That’s not an argument for going back to restricted suffrage or two classes of voters, or whatever it might be—you know, the informed or the uninformed. But it is an argument for understanding that democracy is not the solution to the problem of unfree societies.

Democracies corrode quite fast; they corrode linguistically, or rhetorically, if you like—that’s the Orwellian point about language. They corrode because most people don’t care very much about them. Notice that the European Union, whose first parliamentary elections were held in 1979 and had an average turnout of over 62 percent, is now looking to a turnout of less than 30 percent, even though the European Parliament matters more now and has more power. The difficulty of sustaining voluntary interest in the business of choosing the people who will rule over you is well attested. And the reason why we need intellectuals, as well as all the good journalists we can find, is to fill the space that grows between the two parts of democracy: the governed and the governors.

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Tony Judt (with Timothy Snyder):
Thinking the Twentieth Century

Tony Judt

Timothy Snyder

Tony Judt: Postwar (2003)


Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010)

Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010)

Tony Judt
 Reappraisals. Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century