Gertrude Himmelfarb Articles

In Memory of Amy Kass

2:45 PM, Aug 20, 2015

Amy Kass’s family and friends, students and colleagues, will testify to her many virtuesher love and devotion to husband, children, and grandchildren (so amply reciprocated by them in these last painful months), her keen intellect and sensibility, her faith in Judaism as a heritage and ethic, her passion for her country. For this and much else, I count Amy as a dear and memorable friend.

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Into the Abyss

From the halls of academia to the cover of Vanity Fair.
Jul 20, 2015

The Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner case has engendered if not a new subject at least a newly publicized and sensationalized one. For an old-timer like myself, transgenderism is reminiscent of the postmodernism that swept the universities several decades ago. Indeed, transgenderism now looks like a more dramatic, audacious, and, it may be, perilous form of postmodernism. Like postmodernism back then, so transgenderism today is moving very far, very fast.

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Einstein in Theory

The scientist as public intellectual.
May 11, 2015

This year is the centenary of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and the occasion for revisiting that momentous discovery by paying tribute to one of the most famous scientists of modern times. Steven Gimbel’s brief book is a welcome contribution to that event, placing Einstein in his “space and times,” as his subtitle has it. “It was relativity,” he declares, “that made Einstein Einstein”—that gave the scientist the authority (the standing, a jurist might say) to pronounce on public affairs.

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Culture’s Champion

On rereading ‘Culture and Anarchy.’
Dec 01, 2014

It was by chance that my first reading of Culture and Anarchy with my students coincided with the centenary of its publication. But it was not by chance that I chose to read it then, in 1969, at the height of the culture war. Anticipating that war by more than a century, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) wrote a passionate defense of culture—high culture, we would now say—against the prevailing low culture that he saw as tantamount to “anarchy.”

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From Robespierre to ISIS

Edmund Burke’s war on terror—and ours.
Sep 29, 2014

The war on terror is over, the president assured us a year ago. Now, we are told, that war is very much with us and will be pursued with all due diligence. The president was obviously responding to the polls reflecting the disapproval of the public, but also to critics in his own party. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sadly commented on his admission that he had “no strategy yet”: “I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is: He’s very cautious—maybe in this instance too cautious.”

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Winston vs. the Webbs

A century-old precursor to the Obamacare debate
Apr 21, 2014

The debate over Obamacare may remind a student of British history of the debate in Britain over the National Insurance Act of 1911, which was in effect until the initiation of the welfare state after World War II. The protagonists in that debate (like ours, not formally a debate, but implicitly that) were Winston Churchill and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Churchill, a rising star in the Liberal party and a member of Herbert Asquith’s cabinet, heartily promoted the act.

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The French Connection

How the Revolution, and two thinkers, bequeathed us ‘right’ and ‘left.’
Dec 09, 2013

Hard cases, it is said, make bad law. So, too, extreme situations make bad policy and worse philosophy. The French Revolution was just such a situation; compared with the French, the English and American revolutions are almost unworthy of the title of revolution. No one took the measure of the extremity of that revolution better than its contemporaries Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. And nobody drew the most far-reaching, antithetical, and enduring political and philosophical lessons from that revolution.

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Meet Mr. Bagehot, cont.

8:03 AM, Oct 07, 2013

Meet Mr. Bagehot

How ‘the greatest Victorian’ speaks to us.
Sep 09, 2013

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877)—“the greatest Victorian,” as an eminent historian of that period memorialized him, editor of the Economist, author of The English Constitution, and a prolific essayist—is almost unknown today.

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The Victorian Lady

Margaret Thatcher's virtues.
Apr 22, 2013

I was at a reception at the British embassy here in Washington in the early 1990s, I believe, when I was introduced to Margaret Thatcher by John O’Sullivan, her friend and former “Special Adviser.” Gertrude Himmelfarb, he told her, had recently delivered the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in Tel Aviv on a subject dear to her, Victorian values. “But of course, I know Gertrude,” she replied, “we’ve met before. And what a great subject, Victorian values.

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Compassionate Conservatism

Properly understood
Jan 14, 2013

Defeat, like death, concentrates the mind wonderfully. It also liberates the mind. People venture to think the unthinkable, or at least, the impermissible. A new generation of conservatives may be moved to reconsider some ideas that have fallen into disuse or even disrepute. Compassion is one such idea. 

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Our Dignified Constitution

Fourth of July reflections on the Queen’s Jubilee.
Jul 16, 2012

It was perhaps inevitable that our Fourth of July celebrations last week might have seemed anti-climactic after the four-day festivities a month ago accompanying the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Fireworks, however spectacular, cannot compare with the thousand-boat flotilla on the Thames cheered on by masses of river-side spectators (shivering and soaking in torrential rain) or the horse-drawn carriage procession (again, the streets lined with people) from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace, the Queen regally bedecked and costumed.

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Civil Society Reconsidered

Little platoons are just the beginning.
Apr 23, 2012

In the conclusion to Coming Apart, after describing a society that is in even greater disarray (literally, coming apart) than we had supposed, Charles Murray holds out one hope for the future: “a civic Great Awakening.” Previous Great Awakenings in America had been religious. The new awakening would enlist the spirit of evangelicalism in the cause of civic revival, regenerating those aspects of life—family, vocation, community, and faith—essential to human happiness and to a healthy society. Murray has been hailed (in some circles berated) for making morality rather than economics responsible for the ominous divide in American society.

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Friends Indeed, cont.

10:43 AM, Dec 14, 2011

Steven Amarnick reviews Gertrude Himmelfarb's The People of the Book in the Wall Street Journal:

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Friends Indeed

How and why the Jews have thrived in England.
Dec 12, 2011

In the last words of this book, the author quotes her brother Milton Himmelfarb in one of his last essays: “Hope is a Jewish virtue.” Nobody embodies that virtue more felicitously than Gertrude Himmelfarb, who over a long and fruitful life of scholarship has given hope to all who have encountered her, whether in person or in print.

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