Roger Cohen: Listen to Tony Judt: Democracy Still Matters

Historians in the News

[Roger Cohen is a columnist with the NYT.]

It’s important to stanch the anti-democratic tide. Thugs and oppression ride on it.

If anyone needs reminding of that, read the remarkable Tony Judt, the historian who brought the same unstinting lucidity to his death last month from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as he did to the sweep of 20th-century European history. Judt was a British intellectual transposed to New York whose rigorous spirit of inquiry epitomized Anglo-American liberal civilization. Nobody knew better the repressive systems that create captive minds. Nobody wrote more persuasively about the struggle against them for pluralism, liberty and justice....

So I’m grateful to Timothy Garton Ash, in his tribute to Judt in The New York Review of Books, for finding in the words of a 17th-century Englishman, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, a quintessential expression of the democratic idea:

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he: and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government.”...
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