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Midge Decter, an Architect of Neoconservatism, Dies at 94


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Midge Decter, a author and editor who abandoned liberalism to assist lay the mental foundation for the neoconservative movement and the so-called culture wars over feminism, gay rights and other social issues, died on Monday. She was 94.

Her daughter Naomi Decter confirmed the death. No other details were provided.

Ms. Decter was within the forefront of an ideologically evolving generation of public intellectuals. Cutting their teeth on leftist politics within the Nineteen Thirties and ’40s, they settled into anticommunist liberalism within the Nineteen Fifties and early ’60s. Jolted by the turbulence of the scholar and girls’s movements, they later broke from liberals to embrace a latest type of conservatism — championing traditional social values, limited free-market economics and muscular American foreign policies — that reached its zenith within the early twenty first century within the administration of President George W. Bush.

Ms. Decter wielded her influence as editor of Harper’s and other magazines, as an writer and book editor, and as a political organizer and frequent speaker.

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As conservative politics in America gained steam within the Nineteen Eighties, her voice got here to be increasingly heeded by a select group of individuals within the elite circles of presidency, academia and mental journals. Gore Vidal, an mental foe, put it one other way in The Nation in 1981, calling her “very well-known indeed to those few who knew her.”

Ms. Decter’s ideological shift within the late ’60s stemmed from a rising concern that she expressed in her 2001 memoir, “An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Many years in Love and War.” Liberalism, she said, reasonably than chatting with the common man and woman because it had previously, was veering off the tracks into “a general assault within the culture against the way in which atypical Americans had come to live.”

She and her husband, the author and fellow former liberal Norman Podhoretz, apprehensive in regards to the effect the brand new pondering, particularly that of the counterculture, might need on their children and succeeding generations.

Their concerns were shared by similarly disaffected liberals, and in informal conversations they helped seed a movement called neoconservatism, a strain of aggressive conservative thought that will begin to grow in the course of the administration of Ronald Reagan and flower in that of George W. Bush, influencing lots of the policymakers who argued for the invasion of Iraq.

Theirs was an influential cadre, led by the scholar and editor Irving Kristol and joined by, amongst others, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Diana Trilling, Seymour Martin Lipset and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Mr. Kristol gave neoconservatism a platform in The Public Interest, a magazine he founded with Daniel Bell. And if neoconservatism could never be precisely defined, he was pithy in describing someone who subscribed to it — as a liberal who had been “mugged by reality.” (His son, William Kristol, carried on the cause because the founding editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard and as a commentator, now with The Bulwark.)

Ms. Decter got here to call herself simply a conservative. She captured attention within the Seventies as a number one critic of feminism and other social movements, and within the Nineteen Eighties as an ardent Cold Warrior at a time when relations between East and West were thawing a bit.

She argued that the true revolution that allowed women to have careers was not the ladies’s movement but the supply of recent types of contraception. To Ms. Decter, women had a biological destiny to be wives and moms, and people who tried to flee it evinced self-hatred.

In her 1972 book, “The Latest Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women’s Liberation,” she wrote that girls’s “true grievance” isn’t that they’re “mistreated, discriminated against, oppressed, enslaved, but that they’re — women.”

She offered an answer: Single women should remain chaste, because women are naturally monogamous. And withholding sex, she said, was a type of power over men.

Her next book, “Liberal Parents, Radical Children” (1975), kicked up a storm of criticism by calling the youth of the Sixties an aimless generation and blaming their parents’ permissiveness for that failure.

She also took on affirmative motion, the gay rights movement and the defense establishment, which she accused of being dangerously lax in military preparedness. Her Committee for the Free World, began in 1981, was successful in pushing for greater military spending under President Reagan. (She disbanded it when the Soviet Union collapsed.)

She was born Midge Rosenthal on July 25, 1927, in St. Paul, Minn., the youngest of three daughters of Harry and Rose (Calmenson) Rosenthal. Because the last born, she wrote, she became “a form of honorary son,” meaning she was given an extended leash because more was expected of her.

She worked in her father’s clothing and sporting goods store as a young person and took part in her highschool’s literary magazine. After attending the University of Minnesota for a 12 months, she went to Latest York to check on the Jewish Theological Seminary of America from 1946 to 1948. She never earned a university degree.

Shortly after moving to Latest York, she married Moshe Decter, a author and Jewish activist, and located a job as secretary to the managing editor of Commentary, the mental journal published by the American Jewish Committee.

Ms. Decter left Commentary when she became a mother — she and Mr. Decter had two children — devoting herself to child-rearing full time and socializing with other homemakers in Queens. She found being around a 2-year-old “a sensual and social pleasure of the extremest kind,” she told The Each day News in 1980.

She and Mr. Decter divorced in 1954. (Reviewers noted that she didn’t mention his name in her memoir, regardless that she kept if for herself.) She married Mr. Podhoretz in 1956, when he was associate editor of Commentary. He later became its editor.

Mr. Podhoretz once said that she first caught his attention several years earlier when he was attempting to impress one other young woman by quoting T.S. Eliot. Overhearing him, Ms. Decter corrected him; he had misquoted the poet.

After returning to the workplace, she began constructing her résumé: assistant editor at Midstream magazine, managing editor of Commentary, editor on the Hudson Institute, editor of CBS Legacy Books.

She was executive editor of Harper’s from 1969 to 1971, working with the renowned editor Willie Morris during a very fertile literary period for the magazine. When Mr. Morris resigned in a dispute with the owner, Ms. Decter followed suit.

Saturday Review soon hired her as book review editor. From there she went to Basic Books as senior editor. She remained there until 1974.

Ms. Decter wrote books as she moved from editing job to editing job. The primary, “The Liberated Woman and Other Americans” (1970), was mainly a set of essays written for magazines. Michelle Murray, in The National Observer, wrote that Ms. Decter had “joyfully seized an adversary role” as the ladies’s movement gained traction.

After leaving Harper’s, Ms. Decter immersed herself within the literature of the ladies’s movement after which challenged it with “The Latest Chastity.” She concluded that feminists saw children because the enemy — as “alternately demanding and boring.” She herself became “the requisite bad guy” on feminist discussion panels, she wrote in her memoir.

The book on permissive parents followed in 1975, but she didn’t write one other book until “An Old Wife’s Tale” in 2001. Within the intervening years she largely devoted herself to her anti-communist work, cheered what conservatives called the Reagan revolution and condemned politics based on gender, race and other ascriptive traits. She served on the boards of conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Security Policy and the Hoover Institution.

Along with her daughter Naomi, her survivors include her husband and a son, John Podhoretz, the present editor of Commentary. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

A daughter from Ms. Decter’s first marriage, Rachel Abrams, a author and artist and the wife of Elliott Abrams, the diplomat and White House foreign policy aide, died in 2013. Mr. Decter died in 2007.

“Decter has made her mark as a public mental of consequence,” Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote in 2001 in National Review, a pillar of American conservatism.

Many on the left had other views, including Mr. Vidal, who called her “a virtuoso of hate” for her criticisms of the gay rights movement.

Ms. Decter countered that liberals had develop into unable to acknowledge unacceptable behavior and condemn it. Legalizing abortion, as a philosophical matter, was one thing, she said, but when there are more abortions than live births in some places, something in society has gone flawed.

“One has someway got to make distinctions, draw lines,” she said, “and liberalism has did not accomplish that.”

Jordan Allen contributed reporting.

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