walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

The Last Time I Try to Read Tony Judt

I've blogged before about the crazily awful _Ill Fares the Land_. I picked it up again today, since I finished Jon Ronson's excellent _Psychopath Test_ (will review later). I thought I should give Judt one more try. I sort of wish I hadn't.

I've said before that virtually every paragraph in this book contains obvious factual errors. I'm going to give one example and then stop. It's an obvious, dangerous, ideological and stupid error.

From page 131: "The turnout in American presidential and congressional elections has long been worryingly low and continues to fall."

While you could debate what "worryingly" means endlessly, you cannot debate "continues to fall" in a book which was first published in 2010.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout_in_the_United_States_presidential_elections

(1) This is not against registered voters; it is against the population over the age of 18.
(2) We've had _three_ presidential election cycles of increase.

Judt could have avoided this error in a large number of ways. He did not. It is one of numerous examples of his contempt for reality.

Judt rarely makes the effort to present evidence in support of an assertion; he just lists assertions. Further, his rhetoric does not progress -- there's little if any logical development. He just keeps restating himself. Here is an example:

page 129 "People who live in private spaces contribute actively to the dilution and corrosion of the public space. In other words, they exacerbate the circumstances which drove them to retreat in the first place...If public goods ... are devalued ... and replaced by private services ... then we lose the sense that common interests and common needs ought to trump private preferences and individual advantage."

On the one hand, I understand where he's going with this. If a lot of people decide the city is scary and move to the suburbs (or a gated community), then the city ....

But wait. He didn't say, then the city becomes more dangerous and there is social injustice. He didn't say that. That would have been a convincing argument. No, he said, then we will forget the city is more important than the suburbs (or the gated community). He doesn't point out any problem with this, other than that we "ought" not to do this. That's just an assertion; it isn't compelling. Which is _terrible_ because there is a really solid argument regarding a very important problem here and he's just blowing right over it.

These are _not_ isolated examples. I could provide comparable examples from every paired page of the first half of this book (I didn't read the second half. Even I'm not that stupid.).

Judt's book constitutes an awesome argument against being a liberal. I doubt this was his intention. But he's a sloppy writer. On those rare occasions he rallies some piece of evidence, it is either false in a way damaging to his argument, or true but better supports an opposing position. More typically, he rallies no evidence. The structure of his argument is sparse and to the extent it exists is deeply flawed.

I'm not sure what went wrong with this book or this man. But I will go this far.

Don't read this.
Discourage other people from reading this.
Try not to let Judt's arguments deter you from the liberal position in general.
And if you see a recommendation by Judt on something else, view it as a point against.

This from the Acknowledgements:

"my greatest debt is to Eugene Rusyn. He typed the entire book manuscript in less than eight weeks, taking it down verbatim from my rapid-fire and occasionally indistinct dictation for many hours a day, sometimes working around the clock. He was resonsible for locating many of the more arcane citations; but above all, he and I collaborated intimately on the editing of the text -- for substance, style and coherence. It is the simple truth that I could not have written this book without him and it is all the better for his contribution."

So avoid anything by "Eugene Rusyn" as well.

Honestly? This guy should be given a news commentary program on a cable news network or on the radio. It reads about like that, and we could still use some more counterbalance for the right wing crap out there.
Tags: mean, non-fiction, not-a-book-review, politics
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