NEW YORK (AP) – Gertrude Himmelfarb, a matriarch of one of the most prominent right-wing families and a scientist from Victorian England who strongly advocated for conservatives in modern “cultural wars,” died Monday night in her home in Washington, DC. She was 97.
Himmelfarb was the widow of the neoconservative “godfather” Irving Kristol. Her son, neoconservative publisher-commentator William Kristol, says the cause was congestive heart failure.
Few families made the same contribution to modern conservatism, although they did so in different ways. Although her husband helped organize an influential network of politicians, think tanks and the media, and her son became a leading Republican scientist and strategist, Himmelfarb focused on social criticism and history lessons today. In dozens of books and essays, Himmelfarb carefully analyzed the life and culture of England before, during and after the reign of Queen Victoria, from the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and Edmund Burke to the novels by Charles Dickens and George Eliot. In discussions about the past, she directly and indirectly examined the so-called “cultural wars” of recent decades. She challenged the dull, corset look of Victorian England, finding this time of amazing dynamism and remarkable willingness to confront moral and ethical issues. She challenged the idea that the poor and working class were more liberal than the rich, and cautioned against the post-Victorian Bloomsbury circle of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and other artists and intellectuals. “Today, as never before, we have reason to fear the“ civilization ”celebrated by Bloomsbury, which rejected generally accepted morality as“ ridiculous, absurd and obsolete fashion, ”she wrote in 1985. Like her husband and other neo-conservatives, Himmelfarb was a political radical in his youth, disgusted by the upheavals of the 60s. Himmelfarb and her liberal opponents agreed that the Victorian “virtues”, as she preferred to call them, were discredited in the 20th century. And yet, their fall was not a sign of enlightenment and open-mindedness, as she often said, but a disappointment, a prospect that made her important to proponents of “family values.” In 2004, Himmelfarb received the National Humanitarian Medal “for her.” a critical analysis of history that provided insight into Victorian England and the foundations of our culture. ” Himmelfarb was widely respected as the authority of the Victorian era, but opinions about her social and political views, which is not surprising, were divided. She was criticized for having found the “obvious connection” between the “homosexuality” of the liberal economist John Maynard Keynes and his famous – and often misunderstood – observation that “in the end, we are all dead.” In the New York Book Review, Alan Ryan wrote that her conservative views hurt her position as a historian. “There is room for disagreement about the quality of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s work as a historian and a place to worry about how much she was damaged by her political concerns – some may have obsessions,” Ryan, a Princeton professor and political scientist, wrote in 2004. “What leaves no room for disagreement is the quality of her writing, in which there is no sharpness and harshness that is absent in most academic prose.” The manufacturer’s daughter, Himmelfarb, was born in New York in 1922. She studied at Brooklyn College. a student, and also studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The enemy at this time of her life was not a welfare state, but capitalism. She was a Trotskyite who attended the meetings of the Youth Socialist League, if only because she liked the company of “the smartest people around.” One of them was a fellow traveler named Irving Kristol, who proposed to her after four dates. They got married in 1942. She received a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and her first book, Lord Acton: A Study of Conscience and Politics, was published in 1953. Other works included Victorian Minds, The Idea of Poverty, and Marriage and Morality Among Victorians. For many years, she taught at New York City College and at various times worked as an adviser to the Library of Congress, the National Council for the Humanities, and the American Enterprise Institute. Kristol and Himmelfarb remained together until his death in 2009, and they had two children: Elizabeth and William. Himmelfarb, privately known as Beah Kristol, did take into account at least one modern detail in her life; she continued to write under her maiden name. She explained that the decision was practical and not political, as she was already professionally known as Gertrude Himmelfarb. But this did not stop the reviewers from comparing her with her husband. “Critics have not ceased to mention the fact that I am married to the notorious conservative Irving Kristol and so on,” she told Brian Lamb of C-Span during a 1991 interview. “One critic … the whole topic of his essay on me was this:“ Gertrude Himmelfarb is a brilliant historian as long as she is Gertrude Himmelfarb, but she fails as soon as she becomes Mrs. Irving Kristol. ”