Fred Siegel, Urban Historian and Liberal Turned Law-and-Order Conservative, Dies at 78Historians in the News
tags: conservatism, urban history, riots, Law and Order
Fred Siegel, a passionate urban historian whose rejection of the liberal establishment’s response to crime, poverty and public civility transformed him from a spokesman for the Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 to a voter for Donald J. Trump in 2020, died on Sunday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 78.
The cause was complications of a series of infections that had left him hospitalized on a trip to California, his son, Harry, said.
Mr. Siegel was a professor emeritus at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Manhattan, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, and an author.
His ideological evolution was evidenced in the titles of his books: “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of America’s Big Cities” (1997); “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life” (2005), which he wrote with Harry Siegel; and “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class” (2014).
Mr. Siegel had been an adviser to Rudolph W. Giuliani when Mr. Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City in 1993. He came to regard him as the city’s greatest mayor to occupy that office since Fiorello La Guardia, who presided during the Great Depression. The Giuliani administration, he argued, greatly reduced crime and debunked the conventional view that the city was ungovernable.
Mr. Giuliani “revived the republic with more than a touch of Machiavelli’s corrupt wisdom,” Mr. Siegel wrote.
As a historian, he would identify the roots of liberalism in the writings of Herbert Croly and H.G. Wells, who had envisioned college graduates as a new elite class that would lead an enlightened democratic government where the European aristocracy had failed.
Even as a disillusioned liberal, Mr. Siegel maintained a love affair with his Ditmas Park neighborhood in Brooklyn, which he never left despite his disillusionment with what he viewed as New York City’s wayward progressive government. He defended the rights of immigrants and mocked Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who was speaker of the House in the late 1990s, for asserting that New York was dependent on Washington when in fact Mr. Gingrich’s own district benefited from enormous federal government subsidies.