The front of Wednesday Arts section featured book critic Dwight Garner good notices for leftist Tony Judt's latest book "Ill Fares the Land." Under the ideologically loaded headline "Renewing An Old Idea: Common Good," Garner lazily nodded along to Judt's pompous arguments.
After admitting that Judt "has long been an engaged and unpredictable intellectual of the left, one who is sometimes given to controversial opinions," he dug into Judt's "slim and penetrating work," regurgitating large chunks of undigested text in obvious sympathy with Judt's sneers:
Mr. Judt's new book, "Ill Fares the Land," is a slim and penetrating work, a dying man's sense of a dying idea: the notion that the state can play a significant role in its citizens' lives without imperiling their liberties. It makes sense that this book arrives now, not merely during the hideous endgame of the national health-care debate but during mud season; this book's bleak assessment of the selfishness and materialism that have taken root in Western societies will stick to your feet and muddy your floors. But "Ill Fares the Land" is also optimistic, raw and patriotic in its sense of what countries like the United States and Britain have meant - and can continue to mean - to their people and to the world.
Mr. Judt surveys the political and intellectual landscape in Britain and the United States since the 1980s, the Reagan-Thatcher era, and he worries about an increasing and "uncritical adulation of wealth for its own sake." What matters, he writes, "is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is," and he sees growing and destabilizing inequality almost everywhere. He reminds us that the word "public" - in terms of what a government can provide for the majority of its people - "was not always a term of opprobrium in the national lexicon."
Wistfully, Mr. Judt cites some of the achievements of the Democratic-led Congresses of the 1960s, achievements that would be nearly impossible in today's political climate: "food stamps, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, Medicaid, Head Start, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."
Some of these programs are endangered, he writes, thanks to an unhealthy suspicion of our public authorities that has been "elevated to a cult by Know Nothings, States' Rightists, anti-tax campaigners and - most recently - the radio talk show demagogues of the Republican Right." About the absurdities of anti-tax campaigners, he observes that the notion that taxes might "be a contribution to the provision of collective goods that individuals could never afford in isolation (roads, firemen, policemen, schools, lamp posts, post offices, not to mention soldiers, warships, and weapons) is rarely considered."
Back in August 2009, Garner waxed enthusiastic over "Marx's General," Tristram Hunt's biography of founding Communist theorist Friedrich Engels, cooing that Marxism is "back in vogue" and adding that the founding communist comes across as a "jovial man of outsize appetites."