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An Inspiration to Freethinkers

City Journal

May 8, 2023

Some of us still subscribe to the view that we didn’t leave the Democratic Party; it left us. For such apostates and freethinkers, Fred Siegel was an inspiration and a role model (though I never asked him directly about his party affiliation). His writing was the product of careful observation by one of the best-read people in the world, who was nonetheless unafraid to advocate commonsense propositions: that Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on crime was a prerequisite to a healthy city for all social classes, and that the liberalism once meant to uplift the poor had now evolved to hold them back—a crucial point of one of his last books, The Revolt Against the Masses. This book, it’s important to note, was not an op-ed-style screed about the Left. It deployed Fred’s deep understanding of American history to link current liberalism with the elitism of earlier generations. He was as upset with Herbert Croly as he was with Nancy Pelosi.

City Journal editorial meeting with Fred was an intellectual feast for those less knowledgeable than he—in other words, everyone else. He could offer informed opinions about the politics of cities from Chicago to Berlin to Buenos Aires, with specific references to elected officials and relevant voting blocs. To include him in a group discussing one’s book manuscript could be a nerve-wracking experience, but it always led to a wealth of constructive criticism.

As someone with immigration in his family background, Fred understood in his bones the importance of the promise of a pluralistic America and why the Left’s infatuation with identity politics was so wrongheaded. He understood cities as engines of opportunity whose streets must be safe and whose schools must prepare and uplift future generations. Such was the imprint his work left on City Journal, which has always shared this understanding.

New York and America are in desperate need of Fred Siegel’s wisdom. Today, sadly, we have lost its source.