The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling by Gertrude Himmelfarb - review by Michael Burleigh

Michael Burleigh

Intellectual Lives

The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling


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The American historian and public intellectual Gertrude Himmelfarb is almost as well known for her trenchant criticisms of the modern Western academy as for her major writings on morality in Victorian Britain. These writings were almost guaranteed to outrage the easily provoked academic Left, since they coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s all-too tentative efforts to re-moralise what, in the interim, has degenerated into a uniquely unappetising British underclass, whose equivalent the Victorians controlled with deportation, the lash and the noose, rather than ‘Asbos’ and electronic tagging. Some regard this as progress. 

In her latest collection of essays, Himmelfarb reveals a gentler side, since the subjects of these biographical sketches are people she admires. The intention is straightforward:

My only purpose has been to do justice to the ideas of men and women who have enriched my life, the lives of generations before

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