Sunday, 30 December 2012 19:27
extemporally: (Default)
[personal profile] extemporally
Sneaking this under the wire! I actually have four more books I want to review but probably tomorrow, as I want to do this justice.

Postwar, by Tony Judt.

Epic and enormous and obviously a classic - at 700 pages, Tony Judt does a brilliant job of condensing the 60-year trajectories of about 20 different European states into a volume that is as readable as it is scholarly. As someone who's grown increasingly sceptical of the idea of a European endeavour or a European culture or a European project, or anything so essentialising or exclusionary as it, I appreciated when Tony Judt acknowledged his limitations, such as his focus on the Western European powerhouses, which resulted in him having to summarise hastily the position of the Soviet satellites when the Cold War ended, which was a part I didn't find as engaging as the rest of it (admittedly, I have far less contextual knowledge to work off and I think I was also flagging by that point).

What I appreciated most of all - his critical refusal - a gift, really - to treat anything as non-ambivalent, starting right from the beginning, which explains why I place so much trust in his intellectual positions:

From the outset the German War Crimes trials were as much about pedagogy as justice. The main Nuremberg Trial was broadcast twice daily on German radio, and the evidence it amassed would be deployed in schools, cinemas and re- education centers throughout the country. However, the exemplary benefits of tri­ als were not always self-evident. In an early series of trials of concentration camp commanders and guards, many escaped punishment altogether. Their lawyers ex­ ploited the Anglo-American system of adversarial justice to their advantage, cross- examining and humiliating witnesses and camp survivors. At the Lüneberg trial of the staff of Bergen-Belsen (September i7th-November 17th 1945), it was British de­ fence lawyers who argued with some success that their clients had only been obey­ ing (Nazi) laws: 15 of the 45 defendants were acquitted.

It is thus hard to know how far the trials of Nazis contributed to the political and moral re-education of Germany and the Germans. They were certainly re­ sented by many as Victors' justice', and that is just what they were. But they were also real trials of real criminals for demonstrably criminal behaviour and they set a vital precedent for international jurisprudence in decades to come. The trials and investigations of the years 1945-48 (when the UN War Crimes Commission was disbanded) put an extraordinary amount of documentation and testimony on record (notably concerning the German project to exterminate Europe's Jews), at the very moment when Germans and others were most disposed to forget as fast as they could. They made clear that crimes committed by individuals for ideolog­ ical or state purposes were nonetheless the responsibility of individuals and pun­ ishable under law. Following orders was not a defense.

There were, however, two unavoidable shortcomings to the Allied punishment of German war criminals. The presence of Soviet prosecutors and Soviet judges was interpreted by many commentators from Germany and Eastern Europe as evidence of hypocrisy. The behaviour of the Red Army, and Soviet practice in the lands it had 'liberated', were no secret—indeed, they were perhaps better known and publicized then than in later years. And the purges and massacres of the 1930swere still fresh in many people's memory. To have the Soviets sitting in judgment on the Nazis—sometimes for crimes they had themselves committed—devalued the Nuremberg and other trials and made them seem exclusively an exercise in anti- German vengeance. In the words of George Kennan: 'The only implication this pro­ cedure could convey was, after all, that such crimes were justifiable and forgivable when committed by the leaders of one government, under one set of circumstances, but unjustifiable and unforgivable, and to be punished by death, when committed by another government under another set of circumstances.'


… It is one of the ironies of the 1960s that the ruthlessly 'renewed' and rebuilt cityscapes of the age were deeply resented above all by the young people who lived there. Their houses, streets, cafés, factories, offices, schools and universities might be modern and relentlessly 'new'. But except for the most privileged among them, the result was an environment experienced as ugly, soulless, stifling, inhuman, and—in a term that was acquiring currency—'alienating'. It is altogether appro­ priate that when the well-fed, well-housed, well-educated children of Europe's benevolent service states grew up and revolted against 'the system', the first inti­ mations of the coming explosion would be felt in the pre-fabricated cement dor­ mitories of a soulless university 'extension campus', heedlessly parked among the tower blocks and traffic jams of an overspill Parisian suburb.


Indeed, that revolution had from the start been self-defeating. The same move­ ments that purported to despise and abhor 'consumer culture' were from the out­ set an object of cultural consumption, reflecting a widespread disjunction between rhetoric and practice. Those in Paris or Berlin who aggressively declared their in­ tention to 'change the world' were often the people most devoted to parochial and even bodily obsessions—anticipating the solipsistic 'me' politics of the decade to follow—and absorbed in the contemplation of their own impact. 'The Sixties' were a cult object even before the decade had passed.

Like - I really like the 60s and what it stands for (now), ok? And at the same time I am fully aware that it was a problematic reconstruction - like, sure, people marched for revolution, etc, but as Judt paraphrases Pasolini, "privileged children of the bourgeoisie were screaming revolutionary slogans and beating up the underpaid sons of southern sharecroppers charged with preserving civic order." The inherent fallibility of the middle-class reforming/revolutionary leftist/liberal alliance. "Movement". Yep yep yep.

And we come to the part of the review where I talk about how good he can write:

In their first years, the Red Brigades and others confined their actions largely to the kidnapping and occasional shooting of factory managers and lesser business­ men: 'capitalist lackeys', 'servi del padrone' ('the bosses' hacks'), reflecting their initial interest in direct democracy on the shop floor. But by the mid-seventies they had progressed to political assassination—at first of right-wing politicians, then policemen, journalists and public prosecutors—in a strategy designed to 'strip away the mask' of bourgeois legality, force the state into violent repression and thus po­larize public opinion.

That last sentence!!! and:

European teenagers of the late fifties and early sixties did not aspire to change the world. They had grown up in security and a modest affluence. Most of them just wanted to look different, travel more, play pop music and buy stuff. In this they reflected the behavior and tastes of their favorite singers, and the disc-jockeys whose radio programs they listened to on their transistors. But all the same they were the thin end of a revolutionary wedge.

Also dude, dude, it's so clear he was in love with the 60s even while remarking on its ironies:

Moments of great cultural significance are often appreciated only in retrospect. The Sixties were different: the transcendent importance contemporaries attached to their own times—and their own selves—was one of the special features of the age. A significant part of the Sixties was spent, in the words of The Who, 'talking about My Generation'. As we shall see, this was not a wholly unreasonable preoccupation; but it led, predictably, to some distortions of perspective. The 1960s were indeed a decade of extraordinary consequence for modern Europe, but not everything that seemed important at the time has left its mark upon History. The self- congratulatory, iconoclastic impulse—in clothing or ideas—dated very fast; con­ versely, it would be some years before the truly revolutionary shift in politics and public affairs that began in the late 1960s could take full effect. And the political ge­ ography of the Sixties can be misleading—the most important developments were not always in the best-known places.

Anyway. In what is possibly my favourite sentence in the entire book:

French President Georges Pompidou, released by De Gaulle's death from the mortgage of his patron's disapproval

tony judt your puns i am dying

Here's the section where I talk about parts where he's disingenuous - not so much in ways where it necessarily detracts from the strength of his argument (and really, one of the strengths of his argument is precisely that he has no Big Argument):

The visual impact was the worst: many countries looked as though they had been battered and broken beyond any hope of recovery. And it was true that in al­ most every European country involved in the Second World War the national econ­ omy stagnated or shrunk when compared even with the mediocre performance of the inter-war years. But war is not always an economic disaster—on the contrary, it can be a powerful stimulus to rapid growth in certain sectors. Thanks to World War Two the US surged into an unassailable commercial and technological lead, much as Britain had done during the Napoleonic wars.

... well, obviously that was massively different as besides Pearl Harbour, the US sustained no attacks on its soil and the war increased demand, filling the slack capacity the Depression had caused it to sustain. This is History 101........... so saying 'the US, for example' isn't massively helpful, as most people can list off the top of their heads why the USA didn't suffer as much from WWII, no?

And there were the parts that just bored me:

The unraveling of the wartime alliance and the subsequent division of Europe were thus not due to a mistake, to naked self-interest or malevolence; they were rooted in history. Before the Second World War relations between the US and the UK on the one hand, and the USSR on the other, had always been tense. The dif­ ference was that none of them had had responsibility for large tracts of the Euro­ pean continent. Moreover they had been separated by, among other considerations, the presence of France and Germany. But with French humiliation in 1940 and German defeat five years later, everything was different. The renewed Cold War in Europe was always likely, but it was not inevitable. It was brought about by the ul­timately incompatible goals and needs of the various interested parties.

... I mean, does anyone actually argue otherwise? (People who are far more well-versed in history: HA HA TOTALLY!)

And then there were the parts I wanted to hear more about: European non-Europe!

And then there was the Commonwealth. In 1950 the British Commonwealth covered large tracts of Africa, South Asia, Australasia and the Americas, much of it still in British hands. Colonial territories from Malaya to the Gold Coast (Ghana) were net dollar earners and kept significant sums in London—the notorious 'ster­ ling balances'. The Commonwealth was a major source of raw materials and food, and the Commonwealth (or Empire as most people still referred to it) was integral to British national identity, or so it seemed at the time. To most policymakers it was obviously imprudent—as well as practically impossible—to make Britain part of any continental European system that would cut the country off from this other dimension of its very existence.
Britain, then, was part of Europe but also part of a world-wide Anglophone imperial community. And it had a very particular relationship with the United States. The British people tended to be ambivalent about America—perceiving it from afar as a 'paradise of consumer splendours' (Malcolm Bradbury) in contrast to their own constricted lives, but resenting it for just that reason. Their governments, however, continued to profess faith in what would later be called the 'special rela­ tionship' between the two countries. In some degree this derived from Britain's presence at the wartime 'top table', as one of the three Great Powers at Yalta and Potsdam, and as the third nuclear Power following the successful test of a British bomb in 1952. It drew, too, on the close collaboration between the two countries during the war itself. And it rested, a little, on the peculiarly English sense of su­ periority towards the country that had displaced them at the imperial apex.

After that tantalising link he draws between the Commonwealth and the USA, Tony Judt just MOVES ON AND NEVER COMES BACK. COCKTEASE. ... but, I suppose, the whole point of an epic is that so many strands get left out through sheer necessity, which is a bit sad, as it's so clear that Tony Judt could write a 700 page volume about each of the (Western) European states after WWII. We're left with bits like this:

What made the difference, of course, was that these people were brown or black—and, being Commonwealth citizens, had a presumptive right of perma­ nent residence and eventually citizenship in the imperial metropole. Already in 1958, race riots in west London alerted the government to the perceived risk of permit­ting 'too many' immigrants to enter a historically white society. And so, even though the economic case for unskilled immigrants remained strong and the overall to­ tals insignificant, the UK brought in the first of many controls on non-European immigration. The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 introduced 'employ­ ment vouchers' for the first time, and placed rigorous controls on non-white im­ migration to the UK. A successor Act of 1968 tightened these still further, restricting UK citizenship to persons with at least one British parent; and in 1971 a further Act, overtly directed at non-whites, severely restricted the admission of the dependents of immigrants already in Britain.

The net effect of these laws was to end non-European immigration into Britain less than twenty years after it had begun. Henceforth, the growing share of non- whites in the U K population would be a function of high African, Caribbean and South Asian birth rates within the UK. On the other hand, these drastic restrictions on the right of blacks and Asians to enter the UK were accompanied, in due course, by a considerable improvement in their life chances once there. A Race Relations Act of 1965 banned discrimination in public places, introduced remedies for job dis­ crimination, and set out penalties for incitement to race hatred. A successor Act eleven years later finally outlawed all discrimination based on race and established a Commission for Racial Equality. In certain respects, the new, non-European pop­ ulations of the U K (and, later, France) were more fortunate than the second-class Europeans who found work north of the Alps. English landladies could no longer display signs announcing 'No Blacks, Irish or Dogs'; but notices forbidding entry to 'dogs and Italians' were not unknown in Swiss parks for some years to come.

... which, btw, is something I read about in my Criminology unit in race.


Doctrinal differences over the ostensible goals of the state might noisily oppose Left and Right, Christian Democrats and Communists, Socialists and Conserva­ tives, but almost everyone had something to gain from the opportunities the state afforded them for income and influence. Faith in the state—as planner, coordina­tor, facilitator, arbiter, provider, caretaker and guardian—was widespread and crossed almost all political divides. The welfare state was avowedly social, but it was far from socialist. In that sense welfare capitalism, as it unfolded in Western Europe, was truly post-ideological.


And also, there is just no getting away from the fact that, he was just plain sexist:

And she unquestionably had appeal. Indeed, a surprisingly broad range of hard­ bitten statesmen in Europe and the United States confessed, albeit off the record, to finding Mrs. Thatcher rather sexy. François Mitterrand, who knew something about such things, once described her as having 'the eyes of Caligula but the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.' She could bully and browbeat with less mercy than any British politician since Churchill, but she also seduced. From 1979 to 1990 Margaret Thatcher bullied, browbeat—and seduced—the British electorate into a politi­ cal revolution.

Ughhh, really?

Anyway - moving on - it might just be my bias, but I thought that the European Union stuff, especially towards the end of the book, was especially important to his entire project (in talking about the history of Europe as a whole). Here he articulates exactly what I've been struggling to in throwing light on the fundamental paradoxes of the European project:

… Seen from Brussels, however, the picture was quite different. From the outset the European project was deeply schizophrenic. On the one hand it was culturally inelusive, open to all the peoples of Europe. Participation in the European Economic Community, the European Community andfinallythe European Union itself was the right of any European state whose system of government is founded on the principles of democracy' and which agreed to accept the terms of membership.
But on the other hand the Union was functionally exclusive. Each new agree­ ment and treaty had further complicated the requirements placed upon member- states in return for binding them into the 'European' family; and these regulations and rules had the cumulative result of building ever-higher fences to keep out countries and peoples who could not meet the tests. Thus the Schengen Treaty (1985) was a boon for the citizens of participating states, who now moved un­ hindered across open borders between sovereign states. But residents of countries outside the Schengen club were obliged to queue—quite literally—for admission.

Maastricht, with its rigid requirements for a common currency and its insistence that all aspiring member-states integrate into their systems of governance the ac­ quis communautaire, the rapidly burgeoning code of European practices, was the ultimate bureaucratic exclusion zone. It posed no impediment to Nordic applicants or Austria, but presented an awesome hurdle for would-be candidates from the East. Committed by the terms of its own charter to welcoming the new Europeans into its fold, the EU in practice sought to keep them out as long as possible.

As much he hints at it, though, this is assuredly not a history of the margins. Discussion of women's rights, the colonies, immigration, and the hypocrisy of the EU is there, undoubtedly - but at the margins. Here he talks about Turkey, as a country vying for candidacy of the EU, but again, geographically and culturally on the margins:

Whatever else they were, Turks were assuredly not Christian. The irony was that precisely for this reason—because they could not define themselves as Christian (or 'Judeo-Christian')—would-be European Turks were even more likely than other Europeans to emphasize the secular, tolerant and liberal dimensions of Euro­ pean identity. They were also, and with increasing urgency, trying to invoke Eu­ ropean values and norms as a lever against reactionary influences in Turkish public life—a goal that the member-states of Europe itself had long encouraged.

But although in 2003 the Turkish parliament finally removed, at European bid­ding, many longstanding restrictions on Kurdish cultural life and political expres­sion, the lengthy hesitation-waltz performed by governments and officials at Brussels had begun to exact a price. Turkish critics of EU membership pointed in­sistently to the humiliation of a once-imperial nation, now reduced to the status of a supplicant at the European door, importuning support for its application from its former subject nations. Moreover, the steady growth of religious sentiment in Turkey not only produced an electoral victory for the country's moderate Islamist party but encouraged the national parliament to debate a motion to make adul­tery, once again, a criminal offence.

My one Big Gap, more obvious than the stuff that is debatable, more obvious than the stuff (I argue, from my very limited knowledge) that he got wrong, is his neglect of terrorism as it relates to the fundamental insecurity of the European Union (so to speak, due to the relentless securitising of its borders). I really would like to know what he would have made of it - especially the EU's attempts to standardise its transnational pursuit of crime and criminals? The effect of terrorism on a regime that prides itself on a universal respect of human rights? When he released this book in about 2005 these were themes that were rapidly becoming Big and Obvious; it's hard to think that if he'd released it even five years later he would have been quite as (barely-) justified in leaving that out entirely. (I would also really really like to know what he would have made of the Eurozone crisis, but that issue doesn't stir me as much as continental security.)

Anyway: last sentence I tabbed, open-ended, very fitting for this kind of venture, acknowledging Fukuyama, shit Tony Judt thanks for killing it yet again, etc:

But that door is not so easy to close. Hungary, like the rest of central and east­ ern Europe, is still caught in the backdraft.


Anyway, who wants to talk about Europe with me?!
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