On August 6 2010 Tony Judt passed away at 62 due to the complications of the neuro-muscular disease ALS. Judt was a historian specializing in post-war Europe. But above all he was a great thinker about the political landscape we inhabit. His last will was the lecture ‘What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy’, in the fall of 2009 in New York.
In this lecture Judt explains how the Western welfare state had its roots in the horrors of the first half of the last century. The years after World War II were drenched with the widely supported insight that a welfare state was needed to prevent a recurring of the wartime violence of recent decades: Europe had just experienced the bloody consequences of inequality and insecurity.
But Judt also observed how these carefully constructed social arrangements had been demolished at a breathtaking pace during the last thirty years. Social-democracy suffered from its own success. Precisely the prosperity and the social peace that where its main results made people forget the reasons for the existence of the welfare state. In the recent past we thought about public arrangements in moral terms of good and bad, today everything is measured by economic output.
Today we witness an attenuation of the political debate and a hollowing out of concepts like solidarity. This is both regrettable and dangerous, warned Judt. And foremost Judt was angry about the fact that the demise of neo-liberal politics did not lead to a renewed cry for a more just society.
In his last public appearance Judt’s passionate plea therefore was to vividly remember social-democracy. In ‘Tony Judt’s Last Will’ Backlight shows crucial parts of Judts appeal. And his words ring through in three portraits of current victims of the market-fundamentalism Judt so despises. John Gerrits from Sittard in the south of The Netherlands, where Wilders’s populist Freedom Party has gained a lot of votes, witnessed the demolition of the community-centre he ran for thirty years because the municipality wanted to speculate with the plot. Mark Goossens worked in the Opel-factory in Antwerp, Belgium for fifteen years when General Motors decided to close the plant by December 2010. And Laurent Giacomelli lost his job and his health due to the privatization of the French public telephone-service France Télécom.
Director: Chris Kijne/Maren Merckx/Alain Hertoghe
Research: William de Bruijn/Maren Merckx
Production: Bella Boender
Commissioning editors: Henneke Hagen/Jos de Putter
We would like to thank the Remarque Institute and victoriadeluxe.be