Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Unparalleled Contribution to the Study of the Past and Our Understanding of the Present

Gertrude Himmelfarb, the eminent historian of Victorian England and the European Enlightenment, died Monday night at the age of ninety-seven. The author of a prodigious number of books and essays on a wide variety of topics, Himmelfarb was among the great minds of post-World War II America. Her contributions to Mosaic can be read here; the Israeli historian Asael Abelman’s essay on her work here; and a review of her final book here.

Yuval Levin reflects on Himmelfarb and her legacy:

Just what was it that drew this young Jewish woman born and bred in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s to the world of the Victorian intellectuals? . . . She found the Victorians particularly instructive regarding two sets of questions she thought were essential to her own time and place. The first was what she would later (in a biography of John Stuart Mill) call “the paradox of liberalism”—namely 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.

The second involved the significance of intellectuals in the public lives of free societies. Himmelfarb was fascinated by the role that writers, scholars, journalists, critics, and academics played in politics and culture, and nearly all of her work takes up that subject in one way or another.

Lord Acton, [the subject of her first published book], offered her much fodder on both fronts. The elimination of mediating, moderating layers of both authority and liberty endangered them both. This would become a defining insight of a certain kind of communitarian critique of liberalism over time. But Himmelfarb, drawing on Acton, saw it early and clearly.

Acton’s answer to this problem was not to abandon liberalism, but to insist that it be tethered to traditional religion. The attachment would serve both partners, though it was destined always to be rocky and perturbed. . . . But he also knew that they needed to insist that religious freedom was a communal, not just an individual freedom, and that the moralism that grew out of serious religious conviction needed to have a place in the public life of a liberal society. The relevance of this insight for our own time hardly needs to be stressed.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gertrude Himmelfarb, John Stuart Mill, Liberalism, Religion and politics

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy