Gertrude Himmelfarb and the Connection between Religion and Liberty

Reflecting on the legacy of the late historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, Yuval Levin explains her attraction to the Victorian historian and thinker Lord Acton, who was the subject of her first book:

[Himmelfarb] found Acton and other leading Victorians particularly instructive regarding what she termed “the paradox of liberalism”—the idea that, in prioritizing individual liberty above all other political goods, modern liberalism threatened to undermine the moral foundations of individual liberty, and therefore of its own strength.

Acton was a keen student of this problem, and he understood it to be rooted in an ideal of the individual that had its merits but was frequently taken too far. His answer was not to abandon liberalism but to insist that it be tethered to traditional religion, to the benefit of both. “The liberals wanted political freedom at the expense of the church,” Himmelfarb wrote, “and the traditional Catholics wanted the church at the expense of political freedom. Acton knew that in a non-Catholic state the church’s freedom could only be guaranteed by a free society so that people who wanted religious freedom needed to be friends of genuine liberal freedom.” But he also knew that they needed to insist that religious freedom was a fundamentally communal freedom, and therefore that liberal societies must be made aware of more than individual liberties and prerogatives.

Over more than 70 years of engaging and careful scholarship, Gertrude Himmelfarb not only enabled us to know the Victorians far better; she also made it possible for us to answer the ever-present fear of irrevocable decline with a model of the replenishment of moral capital—and so of the possibility of renewal. A historian with moral clarity and purpose, her influence will continue to reverberate for as long as liberalism’s future depends upon its friendly critics.

Read more at Religion and Liberty

More about: Gertrude Himmelfarb, Religion and politics

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University