Opinion

The Passing of a Giant

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Posted: Nov 29, 2018 12:01 AM
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The Passing of a Giant

WASHINGTON -- On Nov. 10, the conservative movement lost a giant: Herbert London, a Renaissance man, a scholar steeped in the Great Books tradition, a principled politician and a warm, personal friend of mine. I am running out of friends such as Herb.

When I say he was a giant, he was 6 feet, 5 inches tall, led his high school basketball team to a city championship in New York City, and played ball well enough for Columbia College to be recruited by the NBA. An injury made his career in the NBA unthinkable, and so, he returned to Columbia. Studying under such great minds as Jacques Barzun, he acquired a lifelong interest in the Great Books of Western civilization. At Columbia Teachers College, he earned a master's degree. He went on to earn a doctorate at New York University and a Fulbright scholarship to Australia. Returning to New York University, he began a distinguished career as an educator and eventually founded the school's Great Books-orientated Gallatin Division in 1972, which he directed until 1992.

Thereupon, he became a figure in the world of think tanks, heading the Hudson Institute and later his own center, the London Center for Policy Research, of which I am proud to be a member. The London Center's great claim is to be a "think and do" tank. At the London Center, the fellows are action-oriented, particularly in foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.

Herb did a lot in his time, turning out scores of serious students, writing some 30 books and innumerable essays and shorter pieces. He had, however, a mischievous streak in him. When he headed the Hudson Institute, it was based in Indiana, and he often met with the state's high and mighty. One day he was talking with Myles Brand, then the president of Indiana University, which I had attended before founding The American Spectator and, after 20 years in Bloomington, Indiana, taking the magazine to our nation's capital. There we created a stir or two.

While talking with Brand, a light went off in Herb's mind, or was it his mischievous streak? He told Brand it might be a good idea to memorialize the founding of the Spectator at IU by giving him an honorary degree. The feat had never been attempted before. Herb delighted in telling me that the president of my university had laughed aloud. He actually laughed out loud to Herb. Well, I responded, at least we could say we got a laugh out of the agelastic old fool. Among Brand's other accomplishments, he is the mediocrity who fired Bob Knight, the winningest basketball coach in the school's history with 11 Big Ten Championships to his credit and three NCAA titles. IU has never won another NCAA title.

Herb and I had many such conversations in New York and Washington, for beyond being a scholar and think tank impresario, he had run for office as a conservative in New York. Had he run for office in almost any other state, he would have been a mayor, and then a governor. But he ran for both positions in New York, and he was never shy about presenting in a political forum, free market ideas, arguments for a strong foreign policy, and none of the politically correct nonsense. In much of the country, he would have been elected to high office, and I would have had no one to talk to if he were in Kansas, Texas or, come to think of it, Indiana. Herb would have been in the mayor's office, the governor's office and probably the Senate.

One of the things he talked about most passionately was the conservative movement. Early in Donald Trump's political career (that would be about four years ago), Herb was leery of the real estate tycoon-turned-presidential candidate. I gave him my reasons for thinking Donald would be an acceptable president and -- with greater confidence -- an invincible candidate, especially against Hillary Clinton. Herb was unmoved. Yet upon Trump's inauguration, he kept his counsel. He was no never-Trumper. He seemed to follow the rule allegedly attributed to Lord Keynes: "When the facts change I change my mind."

Herb took note of President Trump's appointments, especially those to the courts. He took note of the Trump administration's policies. He followed the progress of the president's domestic and foreign policy. In time, he had little to quibble with the Trump administration, and he could not believe the younger generation of conservatives' rejection of the president.

Herb was for building on the foundations laid by an earlier generation of conservatives. During his every waking hour, that is what he did until the day he died. He was a giant.