Tony Judt’s Clairvoyance

It’s hard to believe that Tony Judt has been gone for almost 6 years. I recently re-read some of the short, more intimate pieces he wrote toward the end of his life, and marveled at this passage, from Edge People, a deeply personal defense of cosmopolitanism and rejection of the political uses of “identity” on both the left and the right:

We are entering, I suspect, upon a time of troubles. It is not just the terrorists, the bankers, and the climate that are going to wreak havoc with our sense of security and stability. Globalization itself—the “flat” earth of so many irenic fantasies—will be a source of fear and uncertainty to billions of people who will turn to their leaders for protection. “Identities” will grow mean and tight, as the indigent and the uprooted beat upon the ever-rising walls of gated communities from Delhi to Dallas.

Being “Danish” or “Italian,” “American” or “European” won’t just be an identity; it will be a rebuff and a reproof to those whom it excludes. The state, far from disappearing, may be about to come into its own: the privileges of citizenship, the protections of card-holding residency rights, will be wielded as political trumps. Intolerant demagogues in established democracies will demand “tests”—of knowledge, of language, of attitude—to determine whether desperate newcomers are deserving of British or Dutch or French “identity.” They are already doing so. In this brave new century we shall miss the tolerant, the marginals: the edge people. My people.

The reference to the “flat” earth is a gibe at Thomas Friedman, whom Judt found glib and facile. Six years on, Judt looks almost implausibly clairvoyant, and the reference to “political trumps” is an unintentional pun before the fact. The time of troubles Judt spoke of is upon us now.


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