I figure, hey, Tony Judt's _Ill Fares the Land_ is at least short. And I _know_ it's terrible; at this point, I'm only really trying to puzzle out _why_ it is so terrible. (I mean, beyond the every single paragraph containing important inaccuracies.) I've avoided blogging the details, because I really do want to try to grasp the rhetorical structure, in much the same way I really wanted to understand what the hell was going on with that appalling e-mail book I bought.
However this particular detail just irritated me. Here he's whining about gated communities. "Before the rise of the modern state, such communities were commonplace...a distinct private space...secured against outsiders. As modern cities and nation states grew up, so these fortified enclaves ... inhabitants ...abandoned their private police forces, dismantled their fences and confined their exclusivity to distinctions of wealth and status. As recently at the 1960s, their reappearance in our midst would have seemed quite bizarre."
There are a couple (okay, a lot more than a couple) problems with this and the next couple pages. The biggest and most reprehensible problem is that the first mention of non-whites in this context is this: "The contemporary impulse to live in such private spaces with people like oneself is not confined to wealthy property owners. It is the same urge that drives African-American and Jewish students in colleges today to form separate 'houses', to eat apart and even to learn primarily about themselves by enrolling in identity studies majors."
Recovered yet? I haven't. He _had_ a great chance to contemplate white flight and the enactment of class in America -- I'd have happily taken _either_ and would have been overjoyed by both -- and instead, he treats it as an opportunity to take a random swipe at Jews and blacks.
But what stopped me cold even before getting to the let's-pile-onto-the-minorities moment was my own personal knowledge of The Highlands.
I went K-5 to Highland Terrace, a public elementary school just outside The Highlands and, at the time, attended by a small number of children then living in The Highlands whose parents thought it would be good for them to mingle with the unwashed masses (by the time high school rolled around, every last one of them was at Lakeside or similar). I knew perfectly well that The Highlands was Ancient (by the standards of a pre-teenager) back then. I had not realized it was designed by the Olmsteds.
A good chunk of Judt's complaints about parasitic gated communities does not apply to The Highlands (they pay for their own services, notably). And honestly, I have a really hard time imagining that The Highlands is unique in this country. I'm betting similar communities are scattered (thinly) around the country, keeping a very low profile.
The "modern" gated community that Judt complains about is an artifact of a lot of things, some really creepy and some annoying to neutral and occasionally even good (in communitarian terms, which is where Judt's focus lies) when ideals of cohousing find a place in reality. But for the most part, the "modern" gated community is like a lot of other things that we have now that we have democratized luxury.
What's really bugging me about Judt is something that bothers me about a lot of lefties-of-a-certain-age. For whatever reason, they don't value what the upheavals associated with the rise of identity politics brought us. That is, women's rights don't mean much to them. An increase in opportunity for non-whites seems unimportant to them. They _really_ hate the rise of libertarianism and its desire to dismantle the state. But to me, I don't see a lot of difference between a Rand or Ron Paul style libertarian (who wants to under the Civil Rights Act) and someone like Judt (who wishes we hadn't been so "selfish" and "narcissistic" as to march in support of demands that led to the Civil Rights Act and subsequent legislation and judicial rulings that created the world we live in today). True, the Pauls want to get rid of government and Judt wants government to create a cocooning fabric of our lives (is that a mixed metaphor?). But all three of these (white male) opinionators sound to me like they'd happily put at risk or even actively dismantle rights that _I_ have that my mother wasn't born with and my grandmother never enjoyed.
It's hard to care much about what someone like that has to say about gated communities.