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we shall, I think, look back upon the half generation separating the fall of Communism in 1989-91 from the catastrophic American occupation of Iraq as the years the locust ate: a decade and a half of wasted opportunity and political incompetence on both sides of the Atlantic. With too much confidence and too little reflection we put the twentieth century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half-truths: the triumph of the West, the end of History, the unipolar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market.-Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt, pg. 1-2
In our Manichaean enthusiasms we in the West made haste to dispense whenever possible with the economic, intellectual, and institutional baggage of the twentieth century and encouraged others to do likewise. The belief that that was then and this is now, that all we had to learn from the past was not to repeat it, embraced much more than the defunct institutions of Cold War-era Communism and its Marxist ideological membrane. Not only did we fail to learn very much from the past - this would hardly have been remarkable. But we have become stridently insistent - in our economic calculations, our political practices, our international strategies, even our educational priorities - that the past has nothing of interest to teach us. Ours, we insist, is a new world; its risk and opportunities are without precedent.
Writing in the nineties, and again in the wake of September 11, 2001, I was struck more than once by this perverse contemporary insistence on not understanding the context of our present dilemmas, at home and abroad; on not listening with greater care to some of the wiser heads of earlier decades; on seeking actively to forget rather than to remember, to deny continuity and proclaim novelty on every possible occasion. This always seemed a trifle solipsistic. And as the international events of the early twenty-first century have begun to suggest, it might also be rather imprudent. The recent past may yet be with us for a few years longer. This book is an attempt to bring it into sharper focus.