FRED LOGEVALL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to this installment in our Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series. My name is Fred Logevall, and I'm the director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies here on campus. I'm also a faculty member in history. And honored and pleased to have the chance to introduce our speaker, and also, of course, to welcome all of you to what I think will be just a very stimulating talk.
Indeed, this is part of our Foreign Policy Distinguished Speakers Series, as I said. This is a series that's now been going on for several years, and I think it's fair to say we've achieved considerable success in bringing in a wide range of speakers representing many different professions. We've had academics, we've had diplomats, we've had leaders in journalism and business. And we are very much going strong.
I do want to mention that in addition to this speaker series, this is part of the foreign policy initiative that we've started which has several elements. And the one that I'm especially excited about at the moment is a post-doctoral fellowship program that we have fundraised for. And it'll begin with two Fellows being here in residence starting in August. And so the call for proposals has just gone out, and I think this is going to be a very exciting endeavor.
I also want to mention, as I always do, that we wouldn't be able to do this without the generous support of several individuals and entities, the San Giacomo Charitable Foundation, the Kessler family, Mrs. Judy Biggs, and the Bartels family have all made what we do at the Einaudi Center possible, and we're very grateful for all that they do.
And finally, before I introduce today's speaker, just so you should mark your calendar, your mental calendar or your written one, that we have a Lund Critical Debate. This is something we do every year, and we're going to be this year debating, or having two debaters, talking about China and the rise of China under the title China As a World Superpower. This will feature David Lampton of Johns Hopkins and Aaron Friedberg of Princeton, who, as they represent different views on this subject, they will be here to debate with our own Alan Carlson as moderator.
That's taking place on November 14, which is during International Education Week. We thought that was fitting. November 14 at 5:00 PM in Biotech G10. So not too far from the Arts quad. It's another five minutes from here, if you are interested, and I hope you are.
Finally, of course our web calendar has lots of other information. Please pay attention to that. We have events coming up next semester that we're excited about.
Today, however, we're here to host and to listen to Professor Timothy Snyder, who is the Howson Professor of History at Yale and a very, very distinguished historian indeed. Before he joined the faculty at Yale in 2001, Professor Snyder held fellowships in Paris and Vienna and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. He teaches in New Haven, undergraduate and graduate courses in modern East European political history.
Timothy Snyder received his doctorate from the University of Oxford, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. He is the author of five award-winning books, including Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe, published in 1998, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus from 1569 to 1999, which was published by Yale in 2003, Sketches From a Secret War: A Public Artist's Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine, published by Yale in 2005. This is one prolific fellow, as you're seeing.
He published The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of the Hapsburg Archduke, Basic Books, 2008. And he is the co-editor of two books, Wall Around the West, and Stalin in Europe: War, Terror and Dominion, which is forthcoming in 2010.
Two books in particular that I want to draw your attention to. In 2010, Professor Snyder published Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which is a history of Nazi and Soviet mass killing on the lands between Berlin and Moscow. It's really a vast area, and I think, by the way, it's fair to say that the title is not a metaphor because what you see when you read this extraordinary piece of historical scholarship is the degree to which we really are talking about a mass killing of noncombatants in an area that would include, or would encompass, modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of, I guess what we would call Western Russia. Some 14 million, I think, according to Professor Snyder, 14 million noncombatants in the period between 1933 and '45. We cannot think of this as simply a 1939 to '45 phenomenon.
It is a book that has received numerous honors, including the Leipzig Prize for European Understanding and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award in the Humanities. The book was named a Book of the Year by some dozen different publications and has been translated into more than 20 languages and was a bestseller in four different countries.
More recently, and this brings us really to the subject of today's lecture., I think it's fair to say, Professor Snyder collaborated with the late Tony Judt to compose a thematic history of political ideas and intellectuals in politics under the title Thinking the 20th Century published by Penguin about a year ago, maybe a little bit less than a year ago. I rushed out to buy the book as soon as it appeared, and it's, I think, a monumental work of art of a certain kind, a kind of extended conversation between two historians, one of them close to death.
In fact, Tony Judt, I think, passed away mere days after he penned the afterword, or dictated, I guess I should say, the afterword for this book. An extended conversation between two historians working at the top of their powers, it seems to me, even though one of them, again, was battling a debilitating illness.
That book was titled, as I say, Thinking the 20th Century. It's the book that I can't recommend strongly enough to all of you. I hope you've read it. And the title of today's talk is, in fact, Thinking the 20th Century. I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to introduce our speaker, and I ask you now to join me in welcoming Professor Timothy Snyder.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Thank you very much for that too kind introduction. Can you hear me because of my power or because of the microphone? Can you hear me at all? Yes? OK.
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. So when I was preparing this book, it was my Thursday afternoon exercise. I took the train from New Haven down to Grand Central Station and talked to Tony, and then went back up. And that was all the time I had for it because the other six days of the week, I was writing Bloodlands.
And my life since then has been much the same. In the last two years, six days a week have been consumed by Bloodlands, which doesn't go away even after I finished it. Given its topic, you won't be surprised to know that when I was done with it, I hoped that I could climb into a cave and never talk about it again. But it turns out that precisely given its topic, that's what became impossible.
But every now and again I get to speak about Thinking the 20th Century, which is, for me, a much less ambiguous project. It's a much less ambiguous project precisely because it's really someone else's book. And I find it much easier to talk about what I think someone else has done.
What I would like to do in the time that we're going to share together, what I would like to do is ask a series of questions about how Tony thought the 20th century, ranging from the impossible to the perhaps tractable. So I'm going to start with the questions which I don't think anyone can answer, and then slowly move our way towards the questions which perhaps we can discuss.
So the impossible question, which begins, really, where Fred's introduction ended, why are some of us here and why are some of us not here? Why am I here talking about what is, after all, essentially, Tony Judt's book? As many of you will know, the simple answer is that Tony, who is the main author of this book, died in August of 2010 two years after his diagnosis with ALS.
ALS is commonly known under the heading of Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a progressively degenerative neuromuscular disorder, a description which really hides the horror of what it involves, to slowly lose your ability to control all of your muscles from beginning to end until you die. The reason it's known as Lou Gehrig's disease was because after Lou Gehrig's diagnosis, he stood-- so you can't hear. OK.
So you couldn't hear? Is that why you're moving up?
AUDIENCE: I'm fine.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: You like the tie? OK. No? It's not the tie? Shush. the reason is known as Lou Gehrig's disease is that after Lou Gehrig's diagnosis-- you all know that I'm talking about the great Yankees first baseman-- he made a speech at Yankee Stadium where he said, today I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, which is a memorable phrase. He then disappeared.
The thing about Tony is that he didn't disappear. That is, after the diagnosis and over the course of this disease, he managed to produce something like three different books, one of which I was deeply involved in, the one that I'm going to talk to you about today, which brings me to the difficult question, I think almost impossible, but not quite impossible.
The difficult question is, why do we do the things that we do? That is, how did this book end up being written? Why did I have the idea that Tony Judt should write one more book at a moment when, in fact, writing had become impossible? And that's the first part of the answer.
So it was known that Tony was ill. But Tony was quite secretive about it at first, and he was unsure how he was going to react. The moment when I knew what I should do was the moment when it hit me that he couldn't use his hands. I thought, if I couldn't use my hands, I would want to write anyway. So part of it was this simple empathy. People who are like me-- and many of you are, unfortunately-- spend a lot of time doing just this, trying to communicate thoughts physically by moving 10 fingers, or in my case, three.
Tony could not do that anymore. And it was that sort of banal physical empathetic understanding of what had happened which partly led me to the idea that what we should do was talk. The second impulse was a kind of aesthetic impulse. So I thought of Tony's mind much as I think of, for example, Yellowstone National Park. That is to say, it's beautiful, it's irreplaceable, it's a fortunate thing that it exists at all, and one day it could be fracked.
So the way that I reacted to Tony's disease was, I hope, the way that people would react to the idea of fracking Yellowstone National Park. Note this is a real world example, by the way. It's something you may all confront during your lifetime, or something like it. That is, there is something of irreplaceable beauty here. It won't last forever, but what could one extract from it?
The third reason that I did it was more personal. There were things that I wanted to figure out, like how do you become a better historian over the course of time? That's not an easy question at all. Most historians don't write any books-- not to take the drama out of your future careers. I'm looking at you, graduate students. Most historians don't write any books.
Most historians who write a book write one book. There's a very small minority who then go on to write two books, and a very, very small minority beyond that who actually becomes superior, who improve when they're in their 40s or 50s or 60s. It's a sad truth, but it's true. I wanted to know why Tony was such a better historian when he wrote post-war than when he wrote his early books.
But I also want to know how he'd become a better person, so to speak, ethically, because around the time that he wrote Postwar, he also became a public intellectual. The two missions, historian and public intellectual, seemed to go together, and I was curious as to how this could possibly be.
So what did we do, or what did we decide on? What I proposed to Tony was that we talk a book together, that is, that we meet regularly, we talk for several hours, I record it and edit it, and then at the end, we agree on the text. This was all, by the way, highly idealized because we thought that Tony was going to die within a matter of weeks. So the hope was that we could get through a few weeks of talking together, and then at the end I would do the rest.
The model for this-- and this is, I think, telling-- the reason why I thought something like this could be done is that East Europeans had done it before. So I'm an East Europeanist, with the pretension that my region is actually global, which is the mandatory pretension that all historians must have today if we hope to survive intellectually and financially. I'm an East Europeanist who believes that his subject is global, but I'm an East Europeanist.
So one of the very best books of East European history in the 20th century is something called My Century, which is Alexander Wat, the Polish Jewish futurist poet-- who, if you don't know, Google it now-- talking to Czeslaw Milosz, of course, the great Polish poet, over a microphone in Berkeley.
A very important political text of East European history is Discussions with Masaryk by Karel Capek, who is a Czech science fiction writer, the person who gave us the word robot. So the tradition of talking books is something that I took for granted as an East European historian.
It's a genre, by the way, which is so widespread that it's very often faked. So for example, a former minister of the Polish government, when he lost his ministerial post when he was fired, he published his memoirs as a spoken book. But in fact, he just wrote it, and then went back and inserted the questions because the format is so popular and so accessible.
In any event, this was a format which both Tony and I took for granted as being possible. Tony, as it happens, knew Czech, and Capek's conversations with Masaryk, conversations with the interwar Czech statesman and philosopher, were the first book that he had actually read through from beginning to end in Czech.
So what did we do? Well, we tried to make progress during a period, which was a period of regression. When I first started seeing Tony in January of 2009 he could greet me at the door. He couldn't turn the doorknob on the inside to open the door, but he could greet me at the door. He could stand.
Within a few weeks, he was greeting me from a chair. A few weeks after that, his breathing was assisted by an apparatus. A few weeks after that, he was greeting me from an enormous wheelchair, the controls of which he could, of course, not use himself. So within a few months after we began, Tony lost the use of his legs. He lost the use of his lungs.
Very quickly within the course of this project, Tony could move only his eyelids, his eyes, and his vocal cords. But for the purposes of what we were doing, this was enough, or at least it was enough for him.
One way to think about this is that-- and it's a way that Tony himself proposed-- was that he was trapped inside his mind. His mind was there, ALS, by the way, is not a disease which actually touches the mind, at least not until, perhaps, the very, very, very end. He was trapped inside his mind in the sense that none of the normal physical things that we do to change the subject, to turn our thoughts some other direction, like getting up, answering the door, writing an email, taking a walk, watching television-- none of these things were available to him in the normal way.
So he was trapped inside his mind, but it was his mind precisely that I was interested in. I was interested in all of these references that appear in the book. Now the book is a kind of panopticon, if you like, of 20th century intellectual history. And the interesting thing about it, from the point of view of how it is constructed, is that everything that is in there had to already be in Tony's mind or in mine, which is not how people generally write books, at least not these days.
So as a shorthand description of the truth-- and I will wait for my colleagues to vociferously disagree-- the way that people's minds work today nobody, remembers anything at all for certain and everybody looks things up. So yeah, I'm hearing giggling and no vociferous disagreement because it's true.
So this book was constructed entirely out of what was in Tony's mind, or in my mind at the moment when we were talking. So everything which appears-- which came out of his mouth and appears on the pages of this book-- was something which had come into his mind. And that was the question which interested me, after all. How do things come into your mind? How does history make a man?
And in Tony's case-- forgive the gendering, but that's the relevant question-- how does history make a man, and how does a man make history in return? How do you become better, which is the nice version of my question, how do you become a better historian? How do you become a better critic of public life? How do you become a critic of public life after you've become a historian?
So these were Snyder's questions. These were my questions. But once I had persuaded Tony to begin this project-- and I began it along the lines which followed from my questions, that is, I began it from critical readings of all of his books, seeking after the themes which I thought were missing, trying to figure out the sources of the mistakes, which I took to be systematic, and so on and so forth.
It turned out, of course, that Tony had an agenda of his own, which is that Tony wanted to write a book called Modern Republic of Letters. The last two books that he had under contract when he fell ill were called Modern Republic of Letters, which was going to be an intellectual history of the 20th century, and Locomotion, which was to be a history of trains.
So he had an outline of Modern Republic of Letters, and what he wanted to do was to talk through the chapters of Modern Republic of Letters. So we did that. So we have Snyder trying to figure out how it is that your mind becomes better with time. You have Tony trying to explain the evolution of ideas over the long 20th century.
And then, as we were doing this, and just people who knew both of us figured out that we were doing this, other ideas came in from the side, from Timothy Garton Ash and from Marci Shore, who both of us, in various ways, knew intimately, know intimately, knew intimately. And those ideas were essentially biographical, that is, that there are questions about Judt which are interesting that go beyond how do you become a better historian? Or to put my own obsession in a slightly less flattering light, how do you not have a midlife crisis? How do you become a better historian?
There are more interesting questions, like how does a working class British kid from South London become Tony Judt? What are the stages in that life? What is there to be learned about British anti-Semitism at the time of his youth, about Israel in 1967, about France in 1968, and so on and so forth from this particular life, about which he had at that time, not written anything?
So many of you, if you're familiar with Tony's latest writings, you might associate him above all, with the [INAUDIBLE], which he wrote for The New York Review late in life, which came from this project. But Tony had said nothing about his life before that.
So in the end, there were three motives. There was my motive of how did he make the mistakes he, made and then how did he rectify them? There was Tony's motive of history of the 20th century, and then there was the idea of simple biography, that this was a person who probably deserved biographical attention which he wasn't otherwise going to get.
So over the course of the book, there are two timelines. There's the timeline of the history of ideas, which is a timeline of roughly 1880 to 1910, a kind of long 20th century, from the Victorians through the present. And then there's the timeline of Tony's life, 1948 to 2010, as it turned out. And over the course of the book, those two things come together.
How do they come together? How can a book like this possibly work? Well, the way that the book is structured is that each chapter has two parts. There's a biographical part and there's a substantive part. The biographical part and the substantive part are linked by a theme. So the Jewish question is the first chapter. English exceptionalism is the third chapter. Zionism, Marxism, French exceptionalism, social democracy, intellectuals in politics.
This allows us to go through the life beginning with working class Jewish kid in London, young Zionist, French intellectual, and so on through to his mature ideas of social democracy and pluralism, which he was expounding at the end. I am trying to figure all of this out as it's happening.
So there's a third time which is going on in this book as well. There is 1880 to 2010. There is 1948 to 2010. But there's also 2009 to 2010, in the very limited period of time that we have to try to put all of these things together. So how would this work? If you were going to link the personal and the historical and the ethical, if you were going to try to figure out how a person becomes who he becomes, what that means for the quality and the nature of the historical work, and finally, how it is that you become an ethical critic, how would something like that Work Can all of these things be put together in some sensible way?
Let me give you an example of how I think it did work. It will be my favorite example because it's the East European one. So one chapter in the middle, the crucial chapter, in my view, of the book, is called East European liberal. And it contains the answer, something which many of you should pay attention to, of how not to have a midlife crisis, essentially.
So what is the midlife crisis that I'm talking about? It is all about cars and women, actually, but that's not what I'm going to be detaining you with. The cars and the women are in the book, to some extent discreetly. I'm very discreet about the convertibles. I'm even more discreet about the women.
But there's an intellectual midlife crisis, which has to do with the generation of 1968, Tony's generation in the English-speaking world, people who took part, in one way or another, or resisted the movements of 1968 in America, in Europe or Eastern Europe. The midlife crisis of this generation, ideologically, is 1989, the end of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Why is this a midlife crisis? Because when communism goes away, those of us-- this is not my generation-- the structural task of my generation is to explain how the Baby Boomers get it wrong, just like the structural task of their generation was to explain how every other generation had always gotten it wrong. So we have a much more limited structural task.
Anyway, the midlife crisis is the notion after '89 or '91, the revolutions in Eastern Europe or the collapse of the Soviet Union, that what has happened is that our Western ideology is right. And this veers off into ideas like Fukuyama's End of History or neoconservatism, or at the far end of wackiness, the sort of [INAUDIBLE] automatism of the Republican vice presidential candidate.
And what has happened in the intervening time is that these ideas, which were generated as counter ideologies during the Cold War, have lost the tone of ideologies at all, at least to many people. They've become common sense.
So this is the midlife crisis. The '68ers, people who were on the left in one way or another in 1968, end up then becoming sort of right wing counter ideologists who forget that what they have is a counter ideology and present it as common sense. Hence we get-- and this is Tony's analysis, and I think it's actually right-- hence we get Iraq, the decline of the United States as a world power, et cetera. So it's a pretty big mistake, actually, because we lost a whole century as a result of it.
Now how do you avoid making this kind of mistake, is the question that's asked. And the answer, I think, is an interesting one. The way that you avoid this mistake, at least in Tony's case, which is very peculiar, that you have a different 1968. So Tony's 1968, the first time he ran through it, was very much like other people's 1968.
There's a story in Cambridge which I quite like, which is that he's out protesting the visit of a minister with one of his friends, and they're jumping up and down on a car and they're banging on the windows and things. And then they hear the dinner bell ring back at King's College. And so they stop running after the car and turn around and run back to college so they won't be late for the meal.
And as Tony is running, there's a policeman running next to him. And Tony says, oh, how do you think the protest went? And the policeman says, oh, sir, I think it went very well, indeed. And then Tony goes back and has dinner. And he tells the story on himself, and there are similar stories about what he did in Paris.
So that's the first time around, 1968 very much as a West European experience which is, despite itself, closed in by a certain bourgeois way of living life. So Tony has a first 1968, which is not so different from anybody else's. Then he has a second 1968.
The second 1968 is the 1968 of Eastern Europe. What happens to Tony in the early 1980s is that he's run up into a kind of dead end on West European history. He's become tired of French history, which is his major subject. He's at a turning point in his private life, which I think is actually rather important. He becomes friends in the early 1980s with Polish intellectuals.
What kind of Polish intellectuals are these? OK, I'll give you some names, which may or may not mean anything to you. Jan Gross, [INAUDIBLE]. These are people who are Poles who may or may not be vaguely of Jewish origin, who certainly don't identify as Jews, but who have just been expelled from their own country, Poland in 1968, in what is unambiguously an anti-Semitic campaign.
Why are these people important for Tony? Well, there's an obvious way. The obvious way is that these people basically made Poland into a real country in the West again. It's a sort of untold intellectual history. But basically, a handful of people who had one, two, or three Jewish grandparents changed the valence of Poland in the United States in the 1980s. They had, of course, solidarity to refer to, which was very important.
But basically, a lot of homesick Polish Jews turned Poland into something positive. Anyway, that's the obvious thing. Poland becomes a real country in this place, rather than just the subject of jokes in the early 1980s. And it has a great deal to do, ironically, with people who are expelled from Poland in anti-Semitic campaigns.
But the more important thing for Tony is a little bit more subtle than that. The more important thing for Tony is precisely that experience of 1968. So while Tony was running to catch the dinner bell, these people who became his friends in the early 1980s were being gassed, beaten with batons, sitting in prison, undergoing very unpleasant things, being informed upon by their friends in prison, being forced to leave the country, going through an authentically difficult experience of the kind dreamed about but not actually experienced by people in Germany or France or California, at the end of which they were expelled, despite their more or less heartfelt Marxism, by a regime which calls itself Marxist.
So Tony, then, not only takes for granted, as many of us do, the reality of a place called Eastern Europe. But the alternative 1968 becomes slowly his 1968. And how can it do that? Well, it's partly the common ideological background. These people were people who believed in Marxism up until '68, most of them. Tony was someone who was a Marxist in some way until the 1980s. There's that.
But this is also where the Jewish question comes in. So these people are of Jewish origin, as, of course, was Tony. Tony's family, or part of his family came from Warsaw. I know from entirely other sorts of research about members of his family who died in Warsaw or in Treblinka during the Holocaust. So Tony's own biography actually trailed off from the same places that these Poles did. And it was by way of the sort of implicit Jewishness, I think, that he was able to find his way back into their stories.
Why do I think the Jewishness matters? Because it would have been absurd for Tony to say, in the early 1980s, that oh, I'm like East Europeans because I'm a Pole or a Czech. But if you begin to think of Jewishness as something that is East European, and your friends are East European Jews, that becomes a way to think to yourself back into that history, which is what he did.
So he creates for himself an alternative 1968, which he lives through a second time. And this enables him to break out of French history, and then to remake European history, and then to do things that are even more interesting than that.
So how does he break out of French history? Not all of you will probably know the book which made Tony famous before he became truly famous. The book which was his breakthrough, as much as any of us can hope for a breakthrough, was called Past Imperfect. It was a history of Sartre and Sartre's milieu in post-war France, and in particular, the blind eye that left-leaning French intellectuals and French quasi-Communist intellectuals turned to the crimes of Communism in Europe.
This book became possible-- so this is a book all about France, it would seem. And it's a book, which made his name black, at least in Paris and in many parts of Italy as well. But it is fundamentally a book which is all about Eastern Europe. How so? Well, the trivial sense and which it's all about Eastern Europe is that much of the research came from East European sources that were made available to him because he knew East Europeans.
But the deep sense is that this book broke with the basic assumption of French history, which is that French history is basically an effort to understand the central state. It breaks with that idea because Tony was arguing in this book that the fundamental thing to be concerned about was not the French state in relation to its citizens, but what was happening to people as human beings.
To put this in a different way, the fundamental paradigm of French history was the rights of citizens. And that, Tony argues, is one of the reasons why it was very difficult for Sartre and others to understand the crimes in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. Part of it, of course, is that were Communists. But Tony argues there's something deeper going on, which is the association of rights with the state itself, something which goes back to the French Revolution, and it was associated with the Soviet state after the Bolshevik Revolution.
What Tony was getting from his East European friends was a much more humanistic idea of rights, that you had to begin, if you wanted to talk about rights, from citizens working against the state or in a kind of indifference to the state, the ideas which, at the time, were known as anti-politics or civil society. Rights are not something which begin from an analysis of the state, but rather begin from an analysis of the individual human being.
Now this will all seem totally normal to you because between the time of the publication of Past Imperfect and the present, the idea of human rights has become totally hegemonic in discussions about rights. But it was not at the time, and certainly not in France. And so breaking rights away from the state, which arguably is one of the great intellectual moves of the last 1/3 of the 20th century, is part of what is coming out of Eastern Europe. And you see it coming through this one person we're talking about, Tony Judt.
Now the more important thing which happens as a result of this is the writing of Postwar, Tony's greatest book. If you're scoffing at these claims, wait for the claims that are coming. There was one book which treats European history after the Second World War with a kind of balanced approach to Eastern and Western Europe. There are many books that say this. There's only one which actually does it, and that's Postwar.
I don't think there are going to be any others, honestly. I don't know who else could do it at this point. And if there are others, they probably won't be of this quality. The reason that Tony was able to do this is because Eastern Europe was made real for him personally by way of this alternative 1968.
But I think that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is-- and here we're at the final step of the normative-- so how does the personal become the historical? I've tried to answer that. How does the personal become the historical become the normative? That is, how do you ground ideas of what we should do on the basis of what you learn as a human being in the course of your life, and then through what you've learned as history as you try to sublimate and write as a historian?
So the normative implications-- and this is where Tony ends his life, with these questions-- how would you ground a new account of liberalism? If you wanted to defend liberalism-- by which I obviously don't mean the American idea of people who are in favor of the welfare state, which I'm all in favor of. What I mean by liberalism is an individual-based account of politics. If you wanted to defend that in the 21st century, how could you do it? How would that be possible?
And in some sense, that's what the book is all about. And what I want to say is that this final experience with Eastern Europe, this alternative 1968, is the key to where he got where he did. And I think this is important because how one might ground liberalism is an extremely difficult question right now, not only in this country, but around the world.
So what does one have in the book? Well, in the book, you have a kind of shift where rather than talking about the war of ideas in the 20th century as a kind of contest between right and left, between fascism and Communism, that is the familiar paradigm. And of course, it's a paradigm which is true enough, which ultimately we owe to the fascists in the Communists themselves. the idea that it was all about a contest between right and left is naturally an idea that we owe to the right and left because they're the ones who survive as a result of that idea.
If you're going to be a fascist, it's very good for them to be Communists and vice versa. And the same kind of logic extends to all bipolarity, although to a lesser extent, as you go down the ratchet of political intensity. But the move that the book makes is to say, let's not start politics with the French Revolution right and left. Let's not obsess about the 1930s and fascism and anti-fascism. Let's consider fascism and anti-fascism as personal commitments, as engagements, as understandable engagements.
But let's consider the fundamental question to be something slightly different. The fundamental question Tony is trying to argue has to do with the state, that the real modern intellectual history begins not with 1789, not with 1917, but somewhere in the 1870s, 1880s-- this is where it's going to start to seem really boring-- with people like Charles Dickens, with the Victorian social reformers who had the following thought.
If we believe, as we do, that politics ought to be grounded on the Rights of the individual, it may not follow that simply allowing individuals to do what they want can sustain a system over the long run where this will be possible, that even if what you care about is the individual and his rights, what you must do is stabilize the liberal system because individualism itself does not generate stability.
So this kind of thought begins with Christian welfare societies. It spreads to planners like William Beveridge and into political economists, most importantly, Maynard Keynes. So this is where Tony thinks you actually should start a history of 20th century ideas. In other words, to some extent-- I mean, I'm exaggerating the point-- but to some extent, the fascism and the anti-fascism, the Communism, the anti-Communism are there to keep your eyes away from the critical question because those systems have radical answers about what to do with individuality, right do away with it on various historical grounds.
If you were considering, though, how you might build a bulwark for individualism, you have to look somewhere else. So there's that. And that logic ends with the thinker who was most important to Tony late in life, which is Keynes. And Keynes's fundamental idea-- the whole presidential campaign, in a way, is about this idea in the United States right now-- the idea that the market is a wonderful thing, but it is self-destructive. It's like your friend who throws the best parties, brings in the best stuff, has the coolest friends, is always on top of everything, but eventually is going to drive his car off a cliff.
I don't know if you had that friend. But some of us have had that friend. The market is like that. It's definitely better than everything else except for that cliff problem that it has. If it weren't for that cliff problem, it would be just the thing. And so Keynes's view is you can build things into your friend's life-- OK, this is not Keynes's analogy-- he has to check in with you by cell phone every week, he has to get exercise in the morning. You can build things into your friend capitalism's life so that you will go on for much longer. In fact, you can make capitalism stable. And you ought to be doing that not because capitalism is perfect, but because it is the way to solve this problem of how you have individual rights without some kind of disaster.
And the disaster is, of course, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the consolidation of Stalinism. That's what you want to avoid. But the way you avoid going into that whole conversation of radical right and left is you stabilize capitalism in the first place. So those market stabilizers are the first source of the liberalism in this book.
The second source are the Cold War liberals, people who some of us here know very well, but who have largely fallen into oblivion, people like Raymond Aron in France, who took for granted that liberalism was about stability. Why did the Cold War liberals take for granted that liberalism was about stability? Because there was the Soviet Union. Because there was this awesome enemy which had this incredibly convincing and certainly durable, it seemed, alternative.
So if you were a Cold War liberal, you weren't stopped on ideological questions like, well, the Soviets plan, therefore we shouldn't plan, which is a kind of dumb binarism which is only possible when the Soviet Union has ceased to exist and you're not worried about it. So long as the Soviet Union exists, then of course you're in favor of the welfare state because you have to present yourself as a credible alternative to the Soviet Union.
So the Cold War liberals weren't troubled by Keynesianism. They were pretty much all in favor of Keynes. They weren't troubled by social welfare states because they took for granted that capitalism had to have them if it was going to be vaguely competitive with at least the ideology of the Soviet Union. So the Cold War liberals, one way to think about them is that they also took for granted that liberalism had to involve stabilizing the state.
But then the final inspiration for Tony-- and this is where I think things get truly interesting-- is that all of that's fine and good. But stability doesn't actually tell us anything about what's so important about the individual. And this is what he gets from his Cold War dissident friends, not the Cold War liberals-- those are the nice guys who were financed by the CIA and wrote great memoirs-- that they were financed by the CIA is not the most important thing about them, just to open it.
So Jackson Pollock, financed by the CIA. Is that the most important thing about him? I say no. We can talk about it later. But not the Cold War liberals, but the dissidents in Czechoslovakia or in Poland who were themselves the only people in the Western world-- I know there are going to be counterexamples. As an historian, you should never say only. Should also never say first. You always get killed. But the only people in the Western world generating a new account of the basis of individual rights in the '70s and '80s.
And they were doing it from a tradition which is not at all the John Stuart Mill Anglo-Saxon liberal tradition. We can talk about which tradition it was. But fundamentally, it was an idea of the individual, which made the individual irreconcilable to the state. So this idea of anti-politics, that no matter what the state is, the state does not exhaust the individual. The individual lives askance of the state. The state's purposes cannot exhaust the individual's purposes. In some sense, the things that individuals do always cut across what the state is doing. Good state, bad state, totalitarian state, it doesn't matter.
So this is a new idea of liberalism, and Tony is drawing this new idea of liberalism. And so what Tony is giving us at the end of life, and I think at the end of this book, is a kind of account of what a new liberalism might be in the 21st century. So note what it's not it doesn't boil down to just one idea. It doesn't boil down to just one idea. It doesn't boil down to just an account of how history must be.
So Tony would have said-- and here he and I were in agreement-- that anything which boils down to one idea is going to be wrong, and anything which depends about predictions of history are going to be mistaken. The problem that we've made-- I call this the midlife crisis-- the problem that we've made, the error that we've committed, is that we thought, OK, the Soviet notion of one truth and one pattern of history is wrong, therefore ours is right, whereas the true conclusion would be none of them are right.
And if you're going to build up some idea of liberalism, you can't depend upon totalizing ideas of the future or any totalizing idea at all. You have to glom together, sloppy and unattractive as this might seem, several different sources of legitimation. And that's partly where the book ends up.
So the name for this, for lack of a better word, would be something like pluralism. And I'm going to close with just a thought-- how much time have I used? OK, good. So I'm going to close, which is a thought about what pluralism might be. So the question I asked at the beginning, How? Do you become better? I answered it part way. You learn things in the middle of life. You make the kinds of friends you didn't have before. You allow yourself to change the subject. You learn new languages. Tony learned Czech.
And you allow yourself to critically evaluate the way in which your own background informs your own life. So Tony's 1968 was perfectly consistent with the way that he saw history. But other people's 1968 was not. And so in a way, absorbing someone else's experience breaks up his own biography, and in breaking up his own biography, it opens him up to things that were broader and were better. That's part of the answer.
But how do you do two things at once? And I'm going to try to answer this by way of pluralism. Part of what was wrong-- when I say things like this, it's like one of 100 ways in which I'm so sad that Tony's not here. But what part of what was wrong with Tony's first books is that all of them took for granted a certain pattern of history. And it was a Marxist pattern of history, really.
And all of Tony's books assumed a basic scheme of progress. And they did so-- and here's where the Jewish question comes in again-- they did so by avoiding that sort of great moment in the middle of the 20th century where schemes of progress clearly go wrong. And that is to say the second war, and in particular the Holocaust.
So Tony writes books about the origins of French Marxism the 19th century. He writes books about the French Socialist party in the 1920s. Postwar, even Postwar, great though it is, starts right after the Holocaust and never actually discusses it. So you bracket those things. You never talk about these things. And you write about European history in a way where you can dodge the centrality of the Holocaust.
How do you do that? Rather than write about Germany, the most important country, you write about France. Rather than writing about the right, you write about the left. It's almost as though there's a kind of counterfactuality of all this. If it weren't Germany but France, if it weren't the right but the left, then the century would look rather different. Then you can mold the century into a kind of pattern where things continue to get better.
I think the last way that Tony broke free of all of this is that he realized that precisely the Jewish question meant that these kinds of patterns couldn't hold. And the thing which is interesting about Modern Republic of Letters, the book he wanted to write. And the first chapter, I hope, of Thinking the 20th Century, is that for the first time, Jewish thinkers and what happened to the Jews in the 20th century are there at the same time.
And rather than taking Jewish thinkers and using them as a way of not writing about what happened to Jews, suddenly they become a way of writing about Jews. In other words, Tony, at the end of his life-- and this is actually the last thing he gets out of his own '68, though I could be wrong-- is that he puts Jewish history into European history.
Now why is all the so important? Because the only way to be a pluralist is not to have a scheme that sucks everything in. If you believe that history is all about progress towards a certain goal, and you know what that goal is, then there's no point in being a social or political critic. All you have to do is write history. History is all that matters. Your social and political criticism are folded into the history. And this, of course, makes your history dense, and it makes your history polemical, and sometimes it makes your history far too sharp.
What Tony does at the moment of Postwar is he splits into two. There is Tony Judt the historian, who writes Postwar, and then there's Tony Judt the public critic, who writes essays about various things. And what he does is he writes the two things according to two different sets of rules. The levels of evidence are different. The voice that you use are different. You criticize things that are happening in the moment because you might change them.
So the way that Tony wrote about NATO expansion was very different in Postwar than it was in his essays. In his essays, he was against it. In Postwar, he explained why it made sense at the time. And you can do that because as a historian, you're writing about different things than you are as a critic or as an advocate. You use different kinds of language.
Now the claim that I would make is that all of this makes perfect sense because if you're going to become a pluralist in terms of history, you have to become a kind of pluralist in terms of the way you operate as well. And if you're going to be a public critic in the 21st century, you can no longer do what people did in the 20th century, which is have one scheme for everything, and then just kind apply it to whatever comes across your field, which makes it harder to do, but I think it also makes it possible.
So the final thing I want to say is that I hope the structure of the book is in some way an argument for the kinds of pluralism that I've been describing. Anyone who didn't have a pluralist cast of mind could not, in the best of circumstances, have endured the kind of critical questioning to which he was subjected by me.
And these were not the best of times. These were dreadfully difficult times for him. The book was generated precisely out of a critical conversation people with two different-- many more than two, but let's say two different ideas of what history is-- were able to work together to generate one thing, which I like to think is a demonstration that pluralism is not just a way of tearing down other people's big ideas, but a way of generating something which is perhaps new.
So I like to think that the book is a demonstration of its own argument about pluralism. I also like to think that it's a demonstration of the value of a few other things, and this really is the last thought. It's a demonstration of the value of books because the knowledge and the references and the very ability that Tony and I had to converse all came from the books that we had read in common. If we hadn't had the books in common, then this book couldn't have arisen.
I like to think also that it's a demonstration of the value of conversation. The book takes the form of a conversation, and it arose from a conversation, a conversation that actually happened over months, the sort of thing, which we don't often get to do. And of course, for me having this conversation with Tony was a great pleasure.
And finally, and this is really the last thing, I like to think that it's an example of something of which there's way too little in our own public life, and that is admiration. The fundamental reason I did this book, to summarize everything else, was that I admired someone else. I thought that in some very important material respects, someone else was better than me, and therefore I ought to do something with that person.
You can think of that as friendship, and it was friendship, and you can think of that as love, and there was some love in this. But it was also an act of admiration. And that's one of the many reasons why I'm so happy that this book exists. Thank you.
FRED LOGEVALL: Professor Snyder has kindly agreed to take some questions, and I'm going to use my introducer's prerogative and maybe pose the first one for you, Tim. And that is, today we woke to the news that another historian has passed away, namely Eric Hobsbawm, a name that will be familiar to many of you. He lived to the ripe old age of 95, which is marvelous.
And I'm interested, Tim, if you could say a word about Eric Hobsbawn. Maybe he, indeed, did this. But if he didn't, if you could speculate on how he would respond to what you talked about today with respect to pluralism. He's a man who had not the same kind of midlife crisis, but maybe one of his own, I would say. But could you just say a word or two about Eric Hobsbawm and how he might fit into this.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: So most of you will know that Eric Hobsbawm was one of the great historians of the 20th century. He was also a member of the Communist party from the time he was a teenager. Tony and Eric, as some of us were talking about earlier, were in a kind of personal relationship. Eric was much older than Tony, a generation and a half. But Eric was one of Tony's teachers, if not literally, at least figuratively. They both went to Kings College Cambridge. Eric wrote letters of recommendation for Tony during the long years when Tony was trying to get a job. They both came out of a Marxist tradition.
And at that point, then, the resemblances start to end. So in some sense, Eric is an example of what I said Tony was not. So Eric is someone whose books, to the end, are structured by the structure that Marxism gives you, for better and for worse. It gives them a certain elegance, but also, precisely that elegance is a way of dodging certain questions and suppressing certain subjects.
What I was trying to argue about Tony was that he gave up on the schemes in any form, and that therefore, Postwar is a pioneering book not just because it manages to do Eastern and Western Europe-- literary, cultural, economic, as well as political, diplomatic, and military history-- but also because it has this sort of openness in its structure, which other accounts of the postwar period lack.
So Tony and Eric had a personal relationship where this difference in ideas came through very, very clearly. Tony criticized Eric for not issuing a kind of mea culpa, and Eric's response was something like, I'm not going to give in to all of those people who dominate the world of intellectual life now. And this is my reading of the late Eric Hobsbawm. This exchange that you're talking about actually happened. It happened twice. It happened while Tony was alive. It also happened after Tony was dead. At Tony's memorial service, Eric and I were supposed to be the ones talking about Tony's life. And we did end up doing so, although Eric sent a text because he was too ill by that time to do it.
One place where there's disagreement is precisely whether there are two sides to the question. So what Eric said about Tony's later move is that this means that you, Tony, are objectively on the side of the neocons because there are only two sides. If you take up these dissidents, if you try to justify this new kind of liberalism, that means that you are objectively-- this is the way that Marxists talk about things, and it's extremely useful to be the one who says what's objective-- you are objectively on the side of the neocons.
You are with them. You may seem to disagree with them, but you are with them, whereas what I'm trying to argue is that Tony was trying to break free of a history which had these two sides, and where the struggle of the two sides was the motor of history. In the end, with his pluralistic kind of liberalism, he was trying to find a way of building up a history that would move forward, but not according to a logic of progress, or the substitute logic, which is the logic of conflict, the conflict that sort of brings about the progress.
So these were clearly two of the greatest historians of the 20th century. But they differed, I think, fundamentally, and they knew it, on this issue of what Marxism is. Tony ended up thinking that Marxism was an idea from which you might draw some things, but which had some fatal flaws. That's not where Eric ended up.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. I so much enjoyed reading the book. One of the surprises to me was that here was this, as you say, someone who grew up in Britain but spent his life studying in France and Eastern Europe, and then ended up in American, and how big a role Britain and history plays in the book.
And there was one kind of throwaway line of the book that I was trying to figure out for myself, and I'm wondering if you can help me, which is where Judt is reported to have said, because I was in high school, I studied this very traditional [INAUDIBLE] view of English literature. So I studied Donne and [INAUDIBLE].
And he says in the throwaway line, you know, I think that helped me later on come back from radical leftism into liberalism. And [INAUDIBLE]. And I just wonder if you could help me figure that out a little more.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: OK. I'm going to start broad, and I'm going to narrow in on the question. So one thing which is interesting about Tony is that he had these different stages in life. He was a bright British Jewish schoolboy. He was a Zionist at Cambridge University. He was then a British historian of France in France. He was then a British historian of France in the US for a while, then a British historian of France back in the UK, and then later a historian of Europe, but in the United States.
And in the middle of all that is the thing which I dwelled on, which was this ability to shift to a kind of East European identification. So when Tony talked about all of these things, he talked about them in terms of being an outsider. That was the comfortable way for Tony to talk about these things, So wherever he was-- if it was English primary school, he was an outsider as a Jew. If he was a Zionist, he was still an outsider because he knew he was going to come back to Cambridge. In France, he was an outsider because he was British, and so on and so forth.
So the way Tony talked about it each time was that he was always on the outside looking in, whereas I tended to see it more as a kind of accumulation, or a kind of cumulative interaction of real identifications. That each of these identifications was real. He learned things from each of them. Sometimes he learned was what he rejected. But he learned things from each of them, and they continued throughout life, that there wasn't a stage where you got to be an outsider, and the only permanence was outsider, and the only difference was outsider in what.
But instead, life has a kind of wholeness. And part of this project was my attempt to get Tony to help me understand what that hole was, when he didn't believe there was such a thing at the beginning. So all the biographical arguments here are a response-- and this doesn't always come through because I edited myself out a lot. But like repeated questions, repeated questions, repeated questions about something until we get to something about the example that you give, which I think is beautiful and very important.
What Tony thought was that the historical contingency, which brought him A, an excellent what we would call public education in general, combined with B, a very traditional curriculum, especially in English literature, meant that he was always strongly identifying with English as a means of expression, even though he learned other languages, but also that it forced upon him a clear-- here's the liberals, in part-- a clarity of expression which helped him to work against arguments which were not carefully presented, where liberalism tends to favor deductive arguments, and arguments, for example, for the primacy of cultural history, or the primacy of individual experience and such like that he found so irritating-- tend to work not from deduction, and so not from clearly formulated sentences one after the other, but from appeals to experience.
So that, I think, is where it comes through. So he saw his education as helping him weather 1968 and all that followed from 1968 because it imbued him with a certain clarity of expression, which helped him with clarity of mind. And from there, it's not hard, then, to take another step and see why he liked Orwell.
FRED LOGEVALL: Holly?
AUDIENCE: I have a question about authorship because some of the points you raised toward the end of your talk is about how the book is a kind of example of pluralism in this very form. And so I'm wondering about the extent to which-- and also at the beginning of your talk, you talked about Yellowstone and the possibility of fracking.
I wonder if you wanted to recover a strand of this thought that you thought was not actually sufficiently articulated, and that is partly also your thinking. And I'm wondering if this is also, in your mind, your book that recovers-- what do you [INAUDIBLE] under the category of-- what would the fracking of Tony Judt's thought look like? And where do you see your role in preventing that threat?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: OK. So referring to the previous question, if I can get my analogy straight, then the thought should also come clear. So when I refer to the fracking of Yellowstone, which was an image which came to my mind in October of 2008, the moment, basically, when I understood what it was that I needed to do, and that I just had to persuade Tony to do it with me.
The idea was not that someone else was going to come along and frack him, but that his death, his coming death was going to be the end of this beautiful thing, and that in the meantime, one had to make that beautiful thing as beautiful as possible for as many other people as possible. That was a thought. Not that he was going to somehow be perverted, but that he was going to cease to be.
So fracking, in a way, not a radical enough image. I mean, like opening Yellowstone up to complete development, or whatever would most thoroughly destroy Yellowstone. I mean the death, the irrevocable death of something unique and beautiful.
So what follows from that, if I got my analogy right, is that when I started the project, I didn't know the answer completely to your question. I didn't know what the book was going to be about fully. The most urgent sense was that we have to start because if I can persuade him to start, then something will come out of it.
And even if that something was only that he does some kind of work, I thought that would be good in and of itself. And if I was wrong about that, then he could tell me. But he decided to do it with me. And if it does lead to a book, that will almost certainly be better than the non-book which he had then decided to write.
So my personal view was that Tony should work at a time when he had decided he was not going to work. And I prevailed upon him. I found a formula which could help him work, and I think, in the end, which he liked, and which turned out to be productive in various ways.
So at the beginning, I didn't know what it was that I was creating. I'm not saying analogy has to be wrong because I didn't I hadn't explored Yellowstone completely myself at that point. So obviously, a lot of this is exploration. And it couldn't have worked if it hadn't been exploration. So I was authentically curious about the things that I said I was curious about, like why do you dodge the Jewish question your whole life until now? I really cared about that.
How is it that the Holocaust is so important in some ways that you express yourself and irrelevant in other ways? When exactly do you stop being a Marxist? These questions really animated me. I really cared, and I didn't know the answer in January of 2009. In July of 2009, I think I did know the answer to these questions. So part of what's happening is that I'm not just preserving this pristine national park from a distance. I'm actually trying to map my way through it. And the maps aren't known, so to speak, to the park itself either.
AUDIENCE: So he didn't know the answers to those questions in January 2009 either.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: No. No. I mean, so some of this, obviously, is the development of thoughts that Tony was trying to get to himself. So a good example of that would be Beveridge and Keynes and the justification, the non-ideological justification of the 21st century welfare state. He was working that way on his own.
Another place he was working on his own, which didn't have anything at all to do with me, is this idea of a long middle of the 20th century, where the '30s, the '50s, is not actually about the war or even about fascism and anti-fascism, but about the maturation of a certain idea of the state, et cetera. These are things that had nothing to do with me. And it was just a matter of my kind of trying them out of him.
But the things about his life, ironically, are the things I think he had interrogated himself about the least. And this whole argument that I just made about the counter '68, Jan Gross, [INAUDIBLE], those things I pieced together after ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, after questioning him over and over and over again, and also as a result of knowing those people independently and personally, and also in a kind of scholarly way. Like I knew what [INAUDIBLE] was doing in the 1980s for completely other reasons. I knew what Jan Gross was doing in the 1980s for reasons that were unrelated to Tony, which helped me to come back at him with questions about them.
But no, that whole account of the counter 1968, although he came to agree with it and endorse it, came not out of him or out of me, but out of me trying to figure him out. So I mean, there's more in your question, but that's part of an answer to your question about authorship. Tony, in this book, is inevitably, to some extent, not just an author but a subject, which is a kind of authorial plus relationship.
So I certainly do think about this as my book. I mean, I'm protective of it as my book. In some ways, I'm much more sensitive about it than I am about my other books, but that's because the person who it's about, and who did more for it than I, is dead, is where that sensibility arises. So yes, I do think about it in my book, although I think about it as more Tony's book than mine. If I have to choose, I say it's Tony's book.
But the point of what I was saying at the end is that you can legitimately be in a situation where you don't have to choose, where both things can be true.
FRED LOGEVALL: Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: So you say that Tony discovered an alternative '68 through these two, Gross and [INAUDIBLE]. You're also saying that the liberalism, the pluralism, is the way to go. I'm thinking, though, what does Tony get, in the end, from the tradition he had beforehand? I mean, those of us who work on Eastern Europe know that liminality has been central to it. By Eastern Europe, we understand not Russia, but that central Eastern Europe. I mean, you could find some of that same pluralism, some of that same liminality from Karl [INAUDIBLE], Frankfurt School, or western Marxism, which Tony's early work was not a western Marxist critique. As you say, it was a critique from a Marxist point of view, but just objecting to it.
So I guess my question is. what is brought by Tony's tradition before he's discovered this alternative '68? Is it just that the market is great and that it can be maintained? It seems like most of what he becomes, he gets from imbibing an essential European experience rather than from what he had had before.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: All right. So the East European part I present here because I think it's the most interesting part. It's about the middle of life, which is a nice part because the end has its own sadness and the beginning has its own determinism. But the middle of life is interesting because it's where you might change yourself if you could. And Tony's middle of life, as you know, happened at a very interesting moment, namely the 1980s and this transformation of Eastern Europe, this transformation of our subject so dramatically.
Tony, though, does get a lot out of what comes before. I think what Tony breaks out of is, first of all, the Marxist idea that you can, in fact, have a kind of coherence to history, and the case study of that, which is, roughly speaking, Western civilization. So long as you're handling just France or just Germany, but especially just France, you can say, yes, here we have a story of industrialization and political progress. There are these little blips here and there, and these moments where bad things happen. But those are due to German occupation or something else.
Basically, here, you have a story of progress. And even where it goes wrong, it goes wrong because of things that you can point to. So the French socialist party makes tactical errors in 1924 or whatever it might be. But as long as you just look at France, and especially France before Vichy, you can kind of keep up this pretense that the Marxist idea that there's a coherence to history, and even a progress within history, is possible.
If you break out of France, which is what Tony really did-- it wasn't so much he broke out of Western Europe. He broke out of the dominant hegemonic paradigmatic West European state into Eastern Europe. And what Eastern Europe does is that it makes this whole notion of progress seem daft, partly because this notion of progress has been embodied by Communist states, which kind of drive it to parity by their own actions, and then partly because the people who are thinking against those Communist states are thinking against those sorts of determinisms and totalisms so gently, so persuasively, so individually.
And so were you what you end up having to do, then, is not think of Eastern Europe as a kind of liminality. I don't think it's liminality that he gets. What he feels, I believe, is shame. I think he's ashamed that he has been so French. And what he wants to do is elevate Czechoslovakia, as it then was, or Poland to histories that have equal rights with French history, and then see what that does.
And of course, if you seriously undertake that, it breaks up the whole pattern of European history, either the nice positive story you're trying to tell, or even our negative story, with our version of the second war and our version of the Holocaust, which leaves out most of the Holocaust and leaves out Soviet terror.
So I think what happens is it's not liminality as a category. I think it's more that he was looking for a sort of co-centrality, that in a way-- I'm brutally simplifying-- and here is where Tony is an intellectual-- the existence of East European intellectuals means that Eastern Europe becomes real. And if Eastern Europe is real, then it's real not in the liminal sense-- it's not that it orbits around France. It's that you have to make it as real as France, and then you see what happens to history after you've done that.
But I think Tony had a lot of things remained from before this moment. One of them is one of them is the Englishness of expression. One of them is the empiricism. So think of his life as more of a kind of accumulation and rejection, and not a kind of total turning point in '89.
I"m just going to try to go this way. So yes, please.
AUDIENCE: For Tony, writing in the latter stage of his life, you say in his 50s, can you regard that as a way of dealing with a midlife crisis? Did he perceive it that way?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: So this metaphor, this idea of midlife crisis is my own. The time when Tony was in a kind of crisis was the early 1980s. Tony was born in 1948, so significantly earlier than the period that you're describing. I think the crisis was what allowed him, in various ways-- I'm leaving out the personal ones, but they are in the book-- was what allowed him, in various ways, to cut loose from certain moorings, drift a little bit, accumulate some new things, and come back much better than he was before.
But that moment of crisis, for me, is in the early 1980s. So by the time he's writing Postwar, his life has been reconsolidated on different foundations, where his friendship is Eastern as well as West European. His institutional base is in New York. He has a family. These things have all changed significantly from the period that I'm describing as being the turning point. So no, I don't think he would have described his 50s as a midlife crisis. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: I was impressed with the [INAUDIBLE] the critics of public life work, but the forms with which they could make a criticism. And we see over the course of that century this impressive specialization of knowledge, that one can be very poetic, scientific, and artistic. You would have politicians, which would be writers, philosophers on the side, that wouldn't happen by the end of the century, either in Europe or the United states, where the demand for such expertise almost precludes this call to pluralism.
And so he's expressing some skepticism as well about even academics not being fully intellectual And then at the same time, we find [INAUDIBLE] called self-described intellectuals, [INAUDIBLE] influence to make influence as opposed to impart objectivity. And of course, with technology being what it is, anyone can really be a critic. But at the same time, how does one do that, and especially answer that call, if not through the traditional means which define that type of intellectual debate?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, this is the question that animates the whole last chapter, as you know. And it begins from your observation, namely that the technique of criticism has changed, and the people who were the critics have changed. So Emile Zola, j'accuse. You have someone who is a writer of fiction issuing what is remembered as the most important political text of the Dreyfus Affair.
It's difficult, as you say, to imagine that happening now, although I think not quite impossible. Then with the rise of the social sciences, you have also the rise of expertise. And it's difficult, in places that are pluralistic societies, precisely, for intellectuals to have this kind of total claim to be the voice of the nation. Interestingly, in places that are not pluralistic societies, like Communist Eastern Europe, it's actually easier to be an intellectual without expertise because then you have the notion that you're working against the state, and that's enough.
When you're not working against the state, then anyone can ask. Then the question becomes, who are you working for, which is the question of our society, who are you saying not for? That's the problem because the fragmentation is not just expertise. The fragmentation is one of interests. So it's not it's hard to make the case that you're actually speaking for the nation. Who can make that claim now? It's a very difficult kind of claim to make.
Anyway, then the media then changed things as we moved from print to radio to television. Radio and even television, for a while, actually support long interventions, but only for a while. Television begins to cut things shorter, and then the internet cuts things much shorter as well. So how, then, do you function that in that technical environment?
And the only answer that the Tony and I have in this book is that all you can do is throw yourself back upon the perfecting of, as you said, the perfection of the traditional means of intervention in the hopes that you can then stay alive in these media as well. And that turns out not to be impossible.
Tony is an example of how it's not actually impossible. The writing that he did at the end of his life was extraordinarily traditional in all sorts of ways. And yet it did have a certain kind of effect. But there's no question that it's technically a lot harder than it used to be. And there's a view which says it ought to be impossible, that nobody ought to be able to have this sort of influence. But that view is generally held by those who currently have that kind of influence, but just not as intellectuals.
But it's a really, really hard question. And what Tony thought about academics was that we, by becoming specialized, not just in terms of tilling a small field, but tilling it the same way everyone else is tilling it, becoming comprehensible to everyone else. And therefore we can't even hit the softballs that are thrown to us by real life, so that in public life, there are things that we should be able to just get out of the park, really easy questions, but we're no longer able to hit even those questions, and that there is a business for intellectuals, which is just to say certain kinds of arguments that now seem to be dominant are, in fact, wrong for one reason or another, and that we've disqualified ourselves from doing that, and that maybe we could do a little bit better on that front.
FRED LOGEVALL: We have just one last question.
AUDIENCE: You talked a long time about progress, progressives. And then suddenly you just killed the whole notion by saying, progressive toward what? Where the hell did progress ever have an objective?
TIMOTHY SNYDER: In the logic of the word.
AUDIENCE: No, [INAUDIBLE].
TIMOTHY SNYDER: Pro means forward. So you can't go forward unless you know what forward means. That's a direction, to answer your question.
AUDIENCE: Well, I think you really use the word by saying progress toward what.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: No. I'm afraid the problems with the idea are contained within the idea, and that I haven't introduced them. I wish that you were right. I wish that if Snyder were gone, progress would come back. But I'm afraid the problems are within the idea itself.
FRED LOGEVALL: OK, well I think the best thing that I can say to wrap up this afternoon is that if you have not had the opportunity to read this book, I think that this talk and this discussion is all the incentive that you should need. I do, as I said before, recommend the book.
We haven't talked today about Bloodlands , which came out-- it's a very interesting comparison, actually that can be made in terms of the publication of the books and so on. But that's a subject for another day. But I do encourage you to read it. I thank you all for coming out, and join me now in thanking Professor Snyder.
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Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, gave a talk entitled "Thinking the 20th Century" October 1, 2012 in Lewis Auditorium as part of the Einaudi Center's Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.
Snyder began his talk by discussing his collaboration with Tony Judt, who worked on as many as three books in the time between his diagnosis of ASL (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and his death in August of 2010.
Snyder received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris and Vienna, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in modern East European political history.