‘When the Facts Change: Essays 1995-2010’, by Tony Judt, edited by Jennifer Homans

by Mark Mazower – January 16, 2015

The Financial Times

Tony Judt was a historian whose journalism includes some of the finest things he wrote. At the time of his death from motor neurone disease in 2010 at the age of 62, he was a fixture of the Manhattan intellectual scene and his regular platform in the New York Review of Books allowed him to excoriate the follies of politicians and pundits alike. He was no stranger to controversy. But the essays collected in When the Facts Change remind us that he was much more than a controversialist. Composed during the last 15 years of Judt’s life, they chart the gradual souring of hope across the west that took place once the cold war’s euphoric end disappeared from view, and the feel-good Clinton era gave way to George W Bush and the everlasting war on terror.

When he came to teach in New York, Judt was chiefly known for a series of scholarly works on French socialism. If one precondition for his emergence as a public intellectual was the Manhattan cultural scene, another was his own response to the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath. Better and faster than anyone else, Judt realised that in order to rethink Europe’s future, it was necessary to rethink its past. In the early 1990s, he turned himself into a genuine Europeanist, forging links with scholars in central and eastern Europe, hosting conferences and seminars at which he presided with characteristically self-deprecating energy. He himself learnt Czech and established a kind of intellectual outpost in Vienna. With exemplary generosity, he interested himself in younger colleagues’ work and thus enabled a new generation to contemplate the continent’s history across the old east-west divide.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a deep concern with Europe runs through this book. The early 1990s were, after all, a strange time. Exhibiting more than their usual complacency, western Europe’s leaders were patting themselves on the back and planning monetary integration even as thousands of Bosnian civilians were being butchered in the Drina valley and concentration camps were being established on the continent for the first time in half a century or so. Judt’s view was mordant: the European Union he described as a “great illusion”, a collection of rich regions that were getting fatter while the rest of the continent wasted away

Click here to read the full review.