OFF THE GRID

Tony Judt: Did He Make It Up?

Jun 21, 10 | 7:41 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Tony Judt has become perhaps Israel’s leading Jewish critic. He is, to me, among its most eloquent and logical. I’d argue he’s one of the few original left-wing writers—the last of the intellectual rather than the programmatic left. He is, too, a very good writer—which is rare for anyone holding up a political line.

His critics, most notably his pro-Israel critics, basically fault him for—in addition to the ad hominem attack of self-hating Jew—being too good a writer: facile and glib in his treatment of complex historical issues.

Yesterday, in a piece that appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times—a dirge-like dialogue with his 16-year-old son about the failures of American political leadership—he furthers their argument.

Any of us who are writers and who have had 16-year-olds know what happened here: In our well-intentioned efforts to encourage our progeny’s careers and to slip our words into their mouths, we sometime go too far (though usually in school assignments rather than the New York Times).

Let’s say it: Judt, who sounds in the piece like he’s having a conversation with himself—or as he might imagine himself at 16—is. He’s made up his son’s part. How the New York Times could not have been wise to this is preposterous (figuring, no doubt, that if the parties in question were in agreement on their respective authorship, who could say otherwise).

Indeed, the only way his 16-year son, who is identified as a student at the Dalton School (where students are known for their ambitions, and, often, political precociousness, but seldom for their advanced writing style), could have written his part would be for this to be an even weirder tale: He’d need to have been cloned. Or to have been systematically robbed of his own identity and will and to have had it replaced by the will and identity and prose style of a 62-year-old left-wing European intellectual.

There is perhaps a fine line here. Judt surely has an eager-to-please son (Judt has ALS, undoubtedly making the desire to please ever-more fierce), who may have been a willing participant in the project and then in the deception. His son’s 16-year-old idealism might have formed the genuine basis of Judt’s systematic and professional editing and reworking—but how genuine we cannot know, because what’s on the page is not.

Is it politics that’s at fault or fatherhood?

In political polemics, we set up straw men—which is Judt’s son’s function here. Straw men, however, are a poor way to make an argument. In this instance, pretending that the straw man—and helpful and convenient foil—is actually real makes it all the more dubious. Judt is, it turns out—like most intellectuals with a political point to make—a crafty confidence man.

As a father and a writer, he is human like the rest of us. If we were rich, we could pass on our dough. But we’ve only got a line-edit to offer and a media career to launch our kids on.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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