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Ill Fares the Land

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,307 ratings  ·  363 reviews
Something is profoundly wrong with the way we think about how we should live today.

In Ill Fares The Land, Tony Judt, one of our leading historians and thinkers, reveals how we have arrived at our present dangerously confused moment. Judt masterfully crystallizes what we’ve all been feeling into a way to think our way into, and thus out of, our great collective dis-ease abo
Hardcover, 237 pages
Published March 18th 2010 by The Penguin Press HC (first published 2010)
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Mar 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the young, those of a lefty disposition
Tony Judt is attempting to do three things here: (1)- make an argument for the virtues of "the state" in general, (2) make a more specific argument for the particular system of social democracy and (3) to "give guidance to those- the young especially- trying to articulate their objections to our way of life." He wants people of my generation (at least those of a lefty disposition) to realize all the reasons they have to be angry about things and to be WAY angrier than most of us are now.

The main
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Yawn yawn. The world is a miserable mess, billionaires are greedy, politicians do nothing because the dogma of free markets and small government is running the show, pretending private sector booms aren't just cashing out years (decades) of careful public sector investment and development. Nod nod nod. I can't figure out why Judt thinks he's so original here. he must be hanging out with the wrong crowd.

He certainly isn't hanging out with the crowd I read anyway. Didn't Naomi Klein write a much l
Dec 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: with a nose for commotion and stolen goods now tell me what the fuck am I supposed to do?
Recommended to Mariel by: maroon the traitors expecting acres of edelweiss
We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

Last night a citizen in my county had another citizen Marchman acted because they "fit the profile" of a mass murderer; bullied in school and a loner now by choice. I expected the reaction to the recent school sh
Maru Kun
When I finished Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land” I finally understood the complicated feelings I had held inside of me for so long. Here at last was someone who knew the real me. I could imagine the emotional turmoil a teenager feels after he finishes “Death in Venice” and realizes he is gay. I can now come out. I can now stand proud as a Social Democrat.

I realize I have a lot of challenges in front of me. Those on the left will pretend to like me but secretly despise me. Those on the right will
Justin Evans
Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc, essays

Last night I told a lawyer that I was a professor in a department of Liberal Education. He took this to mean that I taught people to vote Democrat, although he wasn't so completely oblivious to assume that that meant I myself voted Democrat. He went on to describe his experience in a 'Peace and Justice' university course, which he'd thought would be about world war II, but ended up being, and I quote, "propaganda way to the left of Communism". Anyway, lucky for both of us that I hadn't read this
Bryan Alexander
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
Ill Fares the Land is passionate, brooding, ultimately hopeful analysis of Western politics. Judt applies his vast knowledge of the 20th century to political recommendations.

Remarkably, this is a short, elegant book. Drawn from speeches, it aims at a general, non-academic audience. Judt compresses huge swathes of history, economics, and ideology into brief, accessible chapters.

Ill Fares the Land is a jeremiad against neoliberalism. From the title/epigram on (Goldsmith: "Ill fares the land, to ha
Steven Borowiec
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
“We know what things cost, but have no idea what they are worth,” Tony Judt writes in the introduction to his latest work, Ill Fares the Land. Judt is one of the English-speaking world’s most accomplished academics, and he shamelessly identifies with the waning Left. His latest book is an impassioned plea to change the way we live, to broaden the limits of public conversation.

Faith in the market and insistence on “efficiency” have led us, according to Judt, to lose our ability to do the things m
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2017
I read this on the heels of Judt's opus, Postwar, and found it to be a fitting summation of many of the points implicitly contained in that work. Social democratic states are something that, at best, we have begun to take for granted. Created in response to the experience of the wars and the degradations of industrial capitalism, these states were laboriously created as a means of preventing a repeat of these human calamities.

Having let our memories recede, over the last several decades we have
Will Ansbacher
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
the last book Tony Judt wrote before The Memory Chalet. This is a really insightful and searing look at what has gone wrong since the concept of social democracy went off the rails in the 70’s. Fundamentally it is due to the rise of the Chicago School and how disastrous it has been for everyone except what is now called the 1%. The only thing I didn’t really agree with him on was what caused the change. He says it was a reaction to the counter-culture. But I remember those times; we were young a ...more
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
I disagree with Judt on a whole slew of things, but I do enjoy reading his work and wish he was still around to debate with (and probably shit on) the rising radical left that I'm a part of.
Darran Mclaughlin
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Tony Judt's final book, written under the burden of Lou Gehrig's disease and paralyzed from the neck down, is the swansong of one of the greatest public intellectuals of our age. It is essential reading. Judt casts a critical eye upon the current political, economic and moral situation in the West, lamenting what we have lost and trying to nudge us back onto the righteous path. He is a Social Democrat and moderate leftist, critical of both right and left wing ideologies, and he would argue that ...more
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
There is much to admire in Judt's reasoned and reasonable defence of social democracy (in the form of 'acceptable' State intervention - and therein lies the rub). In the light of the banking crisis he has turned a personal displeasure (which I share) of unregulated capitalism into an effective political call-to-arms. Nonetheless to this political innocent there seems something counter-intuitive about suggesting long term social cohesion can be built upon a basis of civil dissent. This only seems ...more
John David
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-history
It has often been said that Americans know the value of everything and the worth of nothing. This book serves to historicize why precisely that is the case, and is also a clarion call extolling the virtues of social democracy. According to Judt, we need to completely re-think how we view our neighbors and human community.

Social democracy, as I said, is at the heart of the book, and Judt makes it quite clear that this isn’t just a generic term for liberalism. “They [social democrats] share with l
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is an extended essay on the benefits of social democracy. It is also an extremely good potted history of the development of political thought/discourse in Western Europe and North America since the last war.

He is not averse from criticising the indulgences and absurdities of the left, but his main target is neo-liberal ideology and the damage it has wrought. However, this book is by no means a rant, but rather a carefully considered assessment of the role of ideas/ideology in contemporary s
Lauren Albert
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
"Ill Fares the Land" is Judt's cri de coeur for social democracy, an interventionist state and the return of a feeling of common purpose. "One of my goals is to suggest that government can play an enhanced role in our lives without threatening our liberties" (5). I found his analysis of American's suspicion of centralized government interesting. I also liked his use of national railroads as a concrete example of successful and unsuccessful social and economic policies. I would like to read it ag ...more
Sandra Štasselová
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great reading! I highly recommend to everybody who was growing up in a post-socialist country. In Slovakia "right wing " is the only "correct" opinion on any politics. The liberal (or libertarian?) economy is being presented as the only path to democratic and developed society. Even now, after 27 years of deep shit a.k.a hypercapitalism.

The worst thing about the communism is what comes afterwards.
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is fine, but feels like a watered down version of other works by political theorists...
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wish I had discovered Tony Judt earlier and that he had lived longer to write more books! I had just finished his impressive Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, when I came across a couple more of his books at my library.

Ill Fares the Land is a short, little book that packs quite a punch as Judt asks how is it possible that we have so quickly and easily forgotten the value of the hard-fought economic reforms of the 20th Century. After two horrific world wars, Keynesian economics and socia
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's interesting that this book has been so frequently referred to as a 'polemic'; the word suggests a deliberately controversial and opinionated tirade when for the most part this book is simply a clear and sustained explanation of how and why western societies (mainly the UK and USA) have turned out the way they are in the early twenty-first century, and what we should do to bring about a better world. Above all this involves a serious effort towards social equality and a recalibration of econ ...more
Mike Lindgren
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Last week I drove down to Lansdale, Pennsylvania, to discuss this book with my father and old friend and classmate Dan Mayland -- the inaugural session of our famous "Men's Book Club." What a nice time we had! I had suggested Prof. Judt's book to my father, who found it very simpatico indeed. We sat outside and drank iced tea and pontificated. Mayland makes no more sense than he did in 1991, but the late Prof. Judt carried the day. This book is a wonderfully concise overview of the political dev ...more
Gina Scioscia
Aug 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A short but sweeping overview of the political and economic tides of the 20th Century and our present political climate. I don't usually read in these areas, but Judt is a teacher and historian who makes you want to learn more. He indicts the short sightedness, shorter memories, and ill formed opinions of those who rant "get the government out of my Medicare" and who are blind to the idea of the common good, the fact that the state exists for the sake of its citizens. Judt gives us language for ...more
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essay-ideas
I read this book when it was first published in 2010, but I felt that reading it again might be a wise thing given where we find ourselves today. The author implicates our ever-growing obsession with wealth creation, the cult of deregulation and privatization, and the resulting dissolution of the public sector. It’s an objective look at what we’ve lost, where we are today, and where we might be headed. Ultimately, the message is that extremes of income inequality have bred a disintegration of co ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Typically brilliant analysis by Judt, who was already deep in the grip of ALS when he wrote this book. Being a former Marxist though, Judt suffers the myopia of his background when analyzing why socially democratic policies fell out of favor with the Anglo-European west. He can't understand why large populations would fall back on nationalist tendencies and not ascribe to the state the wealth created over the last 30 years if it results in really good public rail travel.

That's a snarky simplifi
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about social democracy and the importance of the state (but not so much collective action). It's generally focused on America and its political experience (especially the death of socialism in America). Some parts are rather reminiscent of a call to action:-

We have entered an age of insecurity - economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity. The fact that we are largely unaware of this is small comfort: few in 1914 predicted the utter collapse of their world and t
Aaron Arnold
Aug 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
At 28, I think I'm probably past the age where I'll have a sudden road-to-Damascus moment and convert to conservativism. Not even because I consume large amounts of liberal/progressive/left-wing media (though I do), or have mostly left-wing friends (true), or because I find modern conservatives to be mostly repellent (also true), but because I'm no longer really worried about whether I can "prove" deep philosophical foundations for every last nuance of what I believe. I'm comfortable with a cert ...more
Brian Gowthorpe
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
I bought this the year it was published, the year that he died but have only now managed to read it. His trajectory from sixth form Marxist to Kibbutzim to left wing public intellectual me university teacher left him with a powerful sense that the baby boomers have attempted to dismantle the welfare state in the U.S and UK particularly. The aftermath of the 2008 crash led him to warn how much we lose if we lose the idea ad mechanisms of social justice and a striving for a more equal society. Not ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a recitation of all the bad things we already know about--rising inequality, torn communities, identity politics (yawn!) and no real solutions beside tepid calls for unity. I was really hoping for more
Tiffany Elliott
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A guide to the future

Again, Judt takes on the world we once took for granted. Clear-eyed, he notes where the Right and the Left, has gone wrong - and just how we can do better. The time has come for us to take these lessons to heart.
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wish I could remember who recommended this book to me. I remember the conversation (me: I was basically burnt out on fiction and worrying that a steady diet of it was affecting my ability to parse the rest of the world; unknown person: enthusiastically recommending this extended essay as a remedy!)- but the rest of it- the person's face, voice, gender or relation to me- is totally and completely lost. I really feel bad if it's one of you, and I apologize. I also offer my gratitude- this was a ...more
Fernando Pestana da Costa
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A passionate defense of Social Democracy as the solution to the present social and economic problems of western societies. Setting social democratic solutions and the welfare state in historic perspective, this text is an excellent antidote to the neoliberal policies and arguments that still inform the mainstream political discourse in Europe and North America in spite of the great world crisis that started in earnest in the last third of 2008 and still plagues us two years afterwards.
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NYTimes Review of "Ill Fares the Land" 1 41 Mar 17, 2010 04:26PM  

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Born in 1948, Tony Judt was raised in the East End of London by a mother whose parents had immigrated from Russia and a Belgian father who descended from a line of Lithuanian rabbis. Judt was educated at Emanuel School, before receiving a BA (1969) and PhD (1972) in history from the University of Cambridge.

Like many other Jewish parents living in postwar Europe, his mother and father were secular,

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78 likes · 22 comments
“Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: Is it good Is it fair Is it just Is it right Will it help bring about a better society or a better world Those used to be the political questions even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.

The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation the cult of privatization and the private sector the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets disdain for the public sector the delusion of endless growth.

We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come.”
“We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.” 17 likes
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