A historian whose work exhibited a striking combination of breadth, depth, and perspicacity, the late Gertrude Himmelfarb focused her scholarship on the history of morals and manners from the 18th century to the present. While hardly sanguine about the future of America in the face of the “moral revolution” of the middle of the 20th century, she hoped that what she called the “dissident culture” of religious tradition could counteract the “demoralization of society.” She also devoted much of the latter part of her life to writing about Victorian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism. William Kristol, Matthew Continetti, Jerry Muller, and Samuel Moyn discuss her ideas and their continued relevance. (Moderated by Alan Levine. Video, 1 hour and 50 minutes.)
Gertrude Himmelfarb’s History of Morality
How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign
In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:
In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.
While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.