Maurice Meisner

I did not know Daniel for very long. Only for a few short years, beginning in the early spring of 1998. Of course, I knew of him long before then, having read several of his superb books, especially Prelude to Revolution (on the 1968 student movement) and The Road to Gdansk (on the Polish Solidarity movement, in the exciting days when it was still a revolutionary movement). And it was with great anticipation that I awaited the appearance of his remarkable articles in The Nation in the 1990s. He was, I concluded from those superb essays, a worthy successor to Isaac Deutscher, one of my youthful idols.

The Nation articles also made me eager to meet this man whose writings I so much admired. So I arranged to invite him to Madison for a lecture at the University of Wisconsin, an invitation he kindly accepted. Daniel and Jeanne arrived in late March 1998 for a stay of three-to-four days. Daniel gave a marvelous public lecture on globalization and its discontents, talked with my students, was interviewed on a local radio station, and so forth. Once the formalities were over, we had a chance to talk in relative leisure and I immediately recognized a uniquely kindred spirit--and, if I might be permitted a much abused but honorable word that has gone out of fashion--a true comrade. The visit and Daniel's lecture were so successful we decided to do it again the following year. So Daniel and Jeanne once again came to Madison in the autumn of 1999.

Beyond the two lecture trips to Madison, I saw Daniel twice in Paris, once at his home in the spring of 1999 and for the last time early this past summer, in a Parisian hospital.

So I knew Daniel only for a relatively short time, barely two years in all, and our meetings over that brief period were infrequent, separated as we were by an ocean. But the remarkable thing was how close I felt to Daniel and Jeanne from the first time we met -- close politically, intellectually and personally -- We were new friends, but it felt like we were old friends from the outset. I don't think I've ever known anyone for whom I've felt so warm a friendship and comradeship so quickly. I attribute this not only to the remarkable similarity of our political and intellectual values, but also to Daniel's exceptional kindness and profound humaneness.

Through his prolific writings, his lectures and his conversations with friends, Daniel Singer left a very rich legacy that -- as today's Tribute demonstrates -- will not be forgotten or ignored. There are many strands in that legacy, but the part that I will treasure most was the great sense of hope and optimism he conveyed about the future in depressing times, even when discussing or writings about the greatest horrors of the 20th century.

Indeed, Daniel was a utopian, in the very best sense of that term. He was a utopian in the sense that he firmly held to a vision of a future good society, a truly socialist society (which he never confused for what passed for socialism in the 20th century), a good society that he believed was possible although not inevitable, keenly recognizing as he did the enormous historical obstacles that lay along the long road to a better future. He had little patience for the common but false equation between utopianism and totalitarianism. And no one demolished more incisively the academically popular but silly notion that all the evils of the 20th century are to be traced to the utopian strivings and ideas of Karl Marx.

Daniel called his vision of the future a "Realistic Utopia," the title of the last chapter of his final book, Whose Millennium? By "realistic utopia," he meant (among other things) the need (so rare these days) to retain a vision of a radical social alternative to the present order of things -- while recognizing that although such an alternative was possible and indeed necessary, it was not necessarily inevitable. He was acutely aware of the historical truth that the arrival of a good society was ultimately dependent on human consciousness and collective human action. Daniel Singer did as much as any single person can to bring about that consciousness, to encourage that collective action, and to keep alive a vital vision of the future. He was proud to call himself a "utopian." And I am proud to have known him, albeit all too briefly.

Tributes   *   danielsinger.org