(p. B10) 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.
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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).
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And, perhaps more in sorrow than in anger, he quoted former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York as saying that his fellow Democrats had “rewarded the articulation of moral purpose more than the achievement of practical good.”
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. . . in 1991, Mr. Siegel argued: “Middle-class citizens, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced that modern liberal urban government is mostly about letting the poor misbehave at the expense of the middle class, and paying public employees very well to deliver services very poorly.”
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Mr. Siegel’s metamorphosis — from a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute and a voter for the independent John Anderson in 1980 and the Democrat Walter F. Mondale in 1984 (each time voting against the Republican Ronald Reagan) — reached its apogee (depending on one’s political point of view) in 2020.
After a lifetime of sitting out presidential elections or mostly voting for losers, he cast his ballot for Mr. Trump.
He listed his reasons for doing so in 2020 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, lauding Mr. Trump for “crushing ISIS, pulling us out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving our embassy to Jerusalem and making fools of those people who insist that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” He also favored Mr. Trump, he said, for displaying an “ability to withstand a prolonged coup attempt by the Democrats and the media” and for championing “bourgeois values.”
In an online tribute this week, Brian C. Anderson, the editor of City Journal, wrote that Mr. Siegel had identified what he called a “riot ideology” that took hold of public officials in major cities, “making them reluctant to confront public disorder and crime for fear of violent opposition.”
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The essayist Irving Kristol famously defined a neoconservative, a breed Mr. Kristol epitomized and popularized, as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” But Mr. Siegel’s conversion wasn’t the result of a single personal experience, his son said — even though a thief once grabbed a bag of $100 worth of kosher meat from him on the subway and several of the family’s cars were stolen.
If Mr. Siegel approached a philosophical epiphany, though, it was during the blackout of 1977, when looters raged through parts of Brooklyn, stripping stores of merchandise and setting them ablaze in a night of rioting.
Mr. Siegel, whose favorite restaurant, Jack’s Pastrami King, was among the places destroyed, reflected in 2017: “The city itself had been mugged, I realized. I’m still haunted by that moment from 40 years ago, when my political re-education began.”
For the full obituary, see:
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated May 15, 2023, and has the title “Fred Siegel, Urban Historian and a Former Liberal, Is Dead at 78.”)
The most recent of Siegel’s books mentioned above is:
Siegel, Fred. The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.