Tony Judt, probably one of the last figures in our age deserving of the title “public intellectual,” passed away on Friday after a two-year struggle with A.L.S. Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s obituary in the Guardian provides a particularly good portrait of the man. If you have not read Postwar, Judt’s history of Europe after World War II, you really should; it’s excellent. And then there is this, his most recent-but hopefully not final-essay in the New York Review of Books:
In my generation we thought of ourselves as both radical and members of an elite. If this sounds incoherent, it is the incoherence of a certain liberal descent that we intuitively imbibed over the course of our college years. It is the incoherence of the patrician Keynes establishing the Royal Ballet and the Arts Council for the greater good of everyone, but ensuring that they were run by the cognoscenti. It is the incoherence of meritocracy: giving everyone a chance and then privileging the talented. It was the incoherence of my King’s and I was fortunate to have experienced it.
Tony Judt was 62.