I’ve finished reading Postwar and I’m wondering if I’ve done an especially bad job. I said in my last post that Judt made me want to take a closer look at a lot of things, but nothing stands out to me now. My immediate reading plans don’t seem to include more recent European history. Two general thoughts occur to me:
Despite the book’s seemingly centering on the Cold War, I don’t think I learned much about communism from this book. Its place in intellectual and political debate is still a huge mystery to me. Judt does not slight the treatment of communist ruled states, especially Poland and Czechoslovakia. I gathered that communism was not monolithic; upheavals like 1968 were as much between communist leaders as between the central soviet and the oppressed population. Examples of communist economic catastrophes are fairly straightforward. I guess I’m not sure what I think is missing. But I feel little sympathy for either continental theorists, Marxist and otherwise or those who strenuously opposed them, and I wonder why there’s so little room otherwise.
On the other hand, I think I have a better grasp of the European Union. I knew about agricultural subsides in European politics, but I didn’t know the extent to which the whole union had accommodated with one another on this matter. I also learned that the EU independently spends quite a bit of money in regions that it deems to be especially needy. Given that EU decisions can be vetoed basically by any member, that seems like an accomplishment, as does the basic idea of a customs and passport union. I get the impression that economic protectionism and jostling for resources played a big part in the outbreak of world war and so all of this seems like a tremendous step forward.
I may be overestimating this, however. In his conclusion, Judt contends that the most important question facing Europeans is whether and how to expand the EU. He observes (as of 2005) that despite the EU’s epochal economic importance, it’s not yet a country because it doesn’t tax and it doesn’t have military or police powers. I think the situation is more or less the same today. He seems to imply that European cooperation in this sphere is necessary to Europe’s truly functioning as the paragon it appears to be, but he doesn’t set out an explicit case. I’m skeptical of his claim because he says explicitly that questions of right vs. left in politics have lost importance. It seems to me, though, that it’s just in the matter of economic policy that the EU has had its greatest impact, and this is where left and right should, in theory, diverge. I know that in pieces written after the 2008 crisis Judt took a more progressive stand than he does in this surprisingly non ideological book, but I don’t recall what he might have said about Europe in particular.
Even if I don’t delve into the technicalities of European integration, I’ll go looking for some of those articles. I’m also still trying to wrap my head around the upcoming Scottish referendum. Perhaps the British just need to find a different kind of union. I’ve started reading Human Smoke. On the other hand, I’m well along in a really gripping account of a 1932 expedition to the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, so maybe I’ll manage a change of pace around here after all.