Timothy Garton Ash har skrivit en runa över Tony Judt.
Critical though he was of French intellectuals, he shared with them a conviction that ideas matter. Being English, he thought facts matter too. As a historian, one of his most distinctive achievements was to integrate the intellectual and political history of twentieth-century Europe—revealing the multiple, sometimes unintended interactions over time of ideas and realities, thoughts and deeds, books and people.
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As an essayist and political commentator, he continued the great tradition of the spectateur engagé, the politically engaged but independent and critical intellectual.
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Unlike the other kind of polemical intellectual, he was always in good faith. And he was always serious. Not drearily earnest—he enjoyed the acrobatics of intellectualism as others enjoy baseball—but morally serious. This was as true in private chat as in public discourse. In what he said and wrote, there was always that moral edge. He felt what he himself called, in a study of three French political intellectuals, the burden of responsibility.
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[W]hile he liked to contrast the political and moral responsibility of Central European intellectuals such as Václav Havel or Czesław Miłosz (the subject of one of his last short essays) with the irresponsibility of Jean-Paul Sartre or Maurice Merleau-Ponty (especially in relation to the horrors of Stalinism), the truth is that he found a great positive exemplar in France too—Raymond Aron—and the French influence on his way of thinking was profound.
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Behind and before all this, there was a very English childhood spent in quiet southwestern suburbs of London such as Putney and Kingston, with their pubs, little shops, buses both red and green, and chuntering local trains. During his final illness, I was struck by how often he emphasized that he was, after all, English. Witness, for example, a remark he made at the beginning of his last public appearance, when he used the 2009 Remarque Lecture at NYU to deliver a heartfelt argument for a revived, rethought social democracy. Wrapped in a blanket on his large electric wheelchair, with a bi-pap breathing device strapped over his head, he observed that some colleagues had suggested he speak about his illness, in a suitably uplifting way. “But,” he said, “I’m English, and we don’t do ‘uplifting.’”
Under all those cosmopolitan layers, there was, I think, a solid foundation of English empiricism, English scepticism, and English liberalism.