A Note on Tony Judt

Forgive me for missing his passing. From his obit:


"The historian's task is not to disrupt for the sake of it, but it is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly," he told Historically Speaking. "A well-organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves."

That really put some of the carping I've been doing about America in perspective. It's necessary carping, I guess. But it's worth remembering that the search for comfort comes natural to us. The last part of that quote displays a kind of optimism which I have tended to avoid. It's hard for me to believe that, without the influence of some great force, we will ever "know the truth about ourselves collectively." 

We blame politicians. We blame business. We blame rich people. Not that they are innocent, but the more I consume American history, the more I think that it is us, that we are not seeing some conspiracy to pervert the essential goodness of mankind, but that we are seeing who we really are. 

But I take Judt's optimism as a challenge too. It's a mistake to believe things have to be a certain way. And cynicism is pointless.

Condolences to his family and friends. My tardiness is unbecoming.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

From This Author

Just In