Tony Judt, the brilliant left-wing public intellectual and New York University professor, died Friday evening. Born to a family of London Jews in 1948, he gained perhaps broadest fame in the final year of his life, which saw him continue to produce some of his best intellectual work as well as branch out, beautifully, into the category of first-rate memoir, all while rapidly dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
One imagines him most remembered for those memoirs; for his magnificent studies of mid-20th-century French intellectuals, Past Imperfect and The Burden of Responsibility; and for what was by all accounts his hefty masterpiece, 2005’s Postwar. (For my money—and for yours, too, if you are a New York Review of Books subscriber or an owner of his 2008 collection, Reappraisals—his best essay was his homage to Leszek Kolakowski, his intellectual hero.)
Additionally, Judt will be remembered as perhaps the most eloquent advocate of a so-called one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More precisely, in an extremely buzzed-about 2003 NYRB essay, “Israel: The Alternative”, he predicted that the failure of the Oslo peace process (for which he blamed both sides), continued Israeli settlement-building, and demographic trends would lead either to ethnic cleansing or to a single state. The one-time enthusiastic Zionist had declared the Zionist dream, essentially, dead. “The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin,” he argued of the bi-national state. “But the alternatives are far, far worse.” (more…)