TIMOTHY GARTON ASH QUOTES

British historian and author (1955- )

Europe is a woman, now middle-aged, who has already had a number of heart attacks and is currently experiencing the biggest health crisis of her life, but one that need not be fatal.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, Spiegel Online, Nov. 25, 2011

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Ordinary Americans, and especially the small minority active in Democrat and Republican primaries, must learn more of what people across the globe are thinking and saying about the US. For if you follow that, you realise that the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted -- while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "Americans need to discover how the world sees them", The Guardian, Oct. 15, 2013

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Tags: America


The first job of the historian and of the journalist is to find facts. Not the only job, perhaps not the most important, but the first. Facts are the cobblestones from which we build roads of analysis, mosaic tiles that we fit together to compose pictures of past and present. There will be disagreement about where the road leads and what reality or truth is revealed by the mosaic picture. The facts themselves must be checked against all the available evidence. But some are round and hard--and the most powerful leaders in the world can trip over them. So can writers, dissidents and saints.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, preface, Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name

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Tags: facts


Except for its worst inner-city slums, America is not the primitive capitalist jungle of European imagination, where human beings slink away like wounded animals to die in bloodstained holes.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West

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Edward Snowden's revelations about massive data-mining by American and British spying agencies show that most of the sources they are digging into are privately owned. Often they merely exploit the piles of revealing data that we have ourselves consented to share with the commercial giants of the IT world, usually by clicking the "I Agree" button on legal terms and conditions we never read. What our spooks collect directly, through undercover agents and the like, is a tiny proportion of what they gather electronically from these commercially owned sources. The conclusion is clear: were Big Brother to come back in the 21st century, he would return as a public-private partnership.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "If Big Brother came back, he'd be a public-private partnership", The Guardian, Jun. 27, 2013

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Russia has lost an empire but not yet found a role. Russia has to decide what it wants to be. And as we know in Britain, that takes some time. It is quite tough to lose an empire and Russia lost its empire very rapidly and very admirably, that is to say peacefully, it didn't fight.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, Radio Free Europe, Mar. 16, 2013

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The trouble is that privacy is at once essential to, and in tension with, both freedom and security. A cabinet minister who keeps his mistress in satin sheets at the French taxpayer's expense cannot justly object when the press exposes his misuse of public funds. Our freedom to scrutinise the conduct of public figures trumps that minister's claim to privacy. The question is: where and how do we draw the line between a genuine public interest and that which is merely what interests the public?

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "Whether it's hacking or the NSA, some of us don't accept that privacy is dead", The Guardian, Oct. 31, 2013

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Tags: privacy


In a democracy it is ultimately for us, the citizens, to judge where to place the balance between security and privacy, safety and liberty. It's our lives and liberties that are threatened, not only by terrorism but also by massive depredations of our privacy in the name of counter-terrorism. If those companies from which governments actually take most of our intimate details want to show that they are still on the side of the angels, they had better join this struggle for transparency too.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "If Big Brother came back, he'd be a public-private partnership", The Guardian, Jun. 27, 2013

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Tags: democracy


It is not just that it is profoundly offensive to the leaders and people of a democratic Germany to paint Hitler on the wall (or on the remnants of the Wall). It is also consummately counterproductive. Such sauce does not make the meat of substantive criticism more interesting. It means that the whole dish is pushed away. It does not mean that Britain's voice is listened to more attentively in the councils of Europe. It means that it is listened to even less.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s

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So what were Europeans telling their leaders? The general message was perfectly summed up by the cartoonist Chappatte, who drew a group of protesters holding up a placard shouting "Unhappy" -- and one of their number shouting through a megaphone into the ballot box. There are 28 member states and 28 varieties of Unhappy.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "Europe: the continent for every type of unhappy", The Guardian, May 26, 2014

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America is replicated at every level of British life, from the taxi driver to the prime minister.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West

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I find Chinese debates about their political system domestically, but also about China's claims in the international system, to be among the most original and surprising and exciting of our time. The starting point is a system that none of us had anticipated, which I call Leninist capitalism, but also obviously because it is the most important emerging power. The question of China's relations with the United States in particular, and the rest of the world in general, is the question of war and peace in the 21st century.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, E-International Relations, May 3, 2013

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Well, that's the way democracy works. We have to build this Europe with the material we have at our disposal. And this material is national democracy.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, Spiegel Online, Nov. 25, 2011

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What is the elephant in all our rooms? It is the global triumph of capitalism. Democracy is fiercely disputed. Freedom is under threat even in old-established democracies such as Britain. Western supremacy is on the skids. But everyone does capitalism. Americans and Europeans do it. Indians do it. Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes do it. Even Chinese communists do it.... Karl Marx would be turning in his grave. Or perhaps not, since some of his writings eerily foreshadowed our era of globalized capitalism. His prescription failed but his description was prescient.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name

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Tags: capitalism


I have a dreadful feeling in my bones that future historians may write of the May 2014 elections: "This was the wake-up call from which Europe failed to wake up."

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "Europe: the continent for every type of unhappy", The Guardian, May 26, 2014

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Europe's biggest problem is its success.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, Spiegel Online, Nov. 25, 2011

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Facts are subversive. Subversive of the claims made by democratically elected leaders as well as dictators, by biographers and autobiographers, spies and heroes, torturers and post-modernists. Subversive of lies, half-truths, myths; of all those "easy speeches that comfort cruel men."

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, preface, Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name

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America is divided by a great argument about itself. Europe is divided by a great argument about America.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West

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I think that many of us in the 1990s, in the historical optimism that followed the incredible non-violent dissolution of the nuclear armed Soviet empire, and the emergence of a new model of revolution in 1989, fell prey to a certain historical optimism. We cherished at least the hope that liberal international order would be spreading with liberal democracy, and that perhaps the European Union as a model of international governance had at least elements of the shape of things to come--although I never thought of it as strictly a model for the rest of the world. And so clearly, the last decade or more has been very sobering, starting with 9/11 and the return of war and the terrorist threat and Islamism. But as important, arguably more important, is the rise of non-Western powers, and the sense that international order in the next 20 years is going to be shaped as much by their interests, priorities, and values as by those of the traditional West.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, interview, E-International Relations, May 3, 2013

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There is already a generation of European graduates who feel they have been robbed of the better future they were led to expect. They are members of a new class: the precariat.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, "Europe: the continent for every type of unhappy", The Guardian, May 26, 2014

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