"At the peak of his career and in the full ripeness of his abundant talents, the intellectual historian Tony Judt was struck down by Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died before his 63rd birthday. Judt was someone America needed in these rancid times: a superbly trained intellect, magnificently informed, passionate about the truth and fearless in speaking it to power. [...]
In Thinking the Twentieth Century he insists repeatedly on the need to reacquaint ourselves with the facts of our own history, because unless we possess the facts we can never draw the right lessons from them. From this proceeds his view of what the study and writing of history is — or should be — all about: telling the story, 'reminding people that things actually happened,' and '[getting] it right: again and again and again.' It’s because they have lost sight of this essentially simple truth, and have been taught to value 'large theoretical claims about the deconstructive purpose of the research' above getting it right, that academic historians 'don’t know what they’re doing any more.' They have been seduced by the siren song of supposedly pure and beautiful 'higher truths,' saving themselves from involvement in the 'ugly and complicated' real world and, in the process, losing contact with the reading public.
Only attention to the facts, Judt says, can allow us to engage constructively in the debate that has been at the center of public life for the past century: the rise of the welfare state, and what to make of it. For him, the United States came closest to a sane and satisfying position on the question in the four decades from the 1930s to the 1960s, when something like a national consensus assumed 'that if America could afford to make itself a good society, it should want to do so.' At the root of this assumption lay a sense of community, of 'common need and shared interest.' Americans accepted that it is entirely legitimate to tax for the advancement of the public good, and even to tax all for the benefit of some (those in need of education or medical care, for example).
Today, as we don’t need Judt to tell us, such assumptions are not only marginal but objects of ridicule, and our two most recent Democratic presidents have been, in important respects, markedly more conservative than Eisenhower. The replacement consensus, the ideology that exalts the market to a position of supremacy over all other possible sources of value and seeks the destruction of social democracy, was implanted in the United States in the form of Reaganism and in the United Kingdom as Thatcherism.
The arguments for it came directly out of the University of Chicago’s economics department: Milton Friedman and his colleagues and disciples. Ultimately, however, its origins are Austrian: They reach back to Friedrich Hayek and his iconic work The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s view of politics and economics is powered by his conviction that to allow the state any interference with the workings of the market is to start down a fatally slippery slope at the bottom of which, totalitarianism lies waiting."
— G.J. Meyer, Los Angeles Review of Books