A Eulogy of Herbert London

Norman Podhoretz

Editor's Note: This is a eulogy given by Norman Podhoretz at the memorial service of Herb London on November 13, 2018. 

My name is Norman Podhoretz and I come not to bury Herb London but to praise him, not because this is what a eulogist is expected to do, but because he has never been praised enough or for the right reason. To be sure, the list of his professional accomplishments alone speaks loudly for a career so rich, so broad, and so deep that it is almost impossible to find its equal among his contemporaries. Who else, after all, has achieved great distinction in so many ways or in so many fields of endeavor: the academic world, the world of practical politics, the think-tank world, and the world of regular cultural commentary? He even had the makings of a professional basketball player, and believe it or not, he cut a rock-and-roll hit record in his youth. To do all these things required more talent, more energy, and more intellectual versatility than very few of us even aspire to, let alone possess. And to top it all off, Herb had a generous and loving spirit—so loving and so generous that even after lavishing it on the wondrous Vicki, Stacy, Nancy, and Jaclyn, he had enough left over for the innumerable friends who were irresistibly drawn to him, among whom I was privileged and honored to be counted for many long years.

Winston Churchill, one of Herb’s heroes, is supposed to have said about a rambling speech that it was a pudding—what the English call dessert—without a theme. Well, Herb London’s career, and indeed his life, most certainly did have a theme. To put it simply, it was love of America. This may sound banal, but in our time, when, as we have just seen from the conference in Paris commemorating the end of World War I, the love of country—whether by the name of patriotism or nationalism—has to an amazing degree become controversial. And when the country is America, loving it has to an even more amazing degree been deemed as complicity in a host of alleged evils, ranging from racism and sexism to a variety of such newly invented bigotries as what is now called Islamophobia. The perverse upshot is that instead of being as easy as it naturally should be, it takes courage to defend, let alone to celebrate, America in spite of the incontrovertible fact that, as Herb never ceased reminding us, it provides more freedom and more prosperity to more of its people than any country in human history.

Herb London had such courage to spare. The usual slings and arrows rained down upon him with vituperative fury, but never faltering he fended them off with the armor of conviction, and in doing so he set an example for countless others. It is for this that he has never been sufficiently praised and it is this I want to stress as his brave and generous spirit leaves us to be sheltered mi takhat canfey ha-Shekhina—under the wings of the spirit of the God in whom he believed and which surely helped his own mortal spirit to find and sustain the courage that ennobled his life. As for me, I loved and admired him and I will sorely miss the shelter I was blessed to enjoy under the wings of his irreplaceable friendship.

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