I got to know Herb London in one of the final roles in which he excelled during a lifetime of excellence: that of grandfatherly mentor. Over a series of breakfasts, podcast sessions, and correspondences—interactions that I will forever cherish —he was kind, genial, and unflappable, generous with his time and even more so with his praise. Herb was an athlete, a scholar, a political luminary, and a true mensch. He was a speaker who commanded the room, and a raconteur in the old style. He was humble despite his many accomplishments.
Herb was deeply devoted to Western civilization and the Judeo-Christian values and principles that underpin it, with America as its apotheosis. As London Center colleague Anthony Schaffer put it, “Herb was a Renaissance man’s Renaissance man” who “knowledgeably and comfortably could discuss history, philosophy, art, science, and the latest baseball scores.” He advocated for the West and its values as a public intellectual, publishing 30 books and countless columns on topics from foreign affairs to economics and culture. He hosted a television program called Myths that Rule America, created a 47-part CBS series called The American Character, and co-hosted CNN’s Crossfire for a year. He appeared frequently on the radio, and happily engaged ideological foes, even hostile ones.
Born in Brooklyn in 1939, and raised in Queens by a family of modest means, Herb was a star basketball player, first on the New York high school circuit, then at Columbia University, before being drafted into the NBA by the Syracuse Nationals—predecessor to the Philadelphia ’76ers. During this time as a scholar-athlete, he recorded a pop song that charted—“Sorry, We’re Not Going Steady”—the proceeds of which he used to fund his education. Though he loved basketball, injuries prevented him from pursuing a pro career.
Herb’s contributions as a public intellectual and conservative luminary can be measured in the institutions he founded and led, the campaigns he ran, and the work that he published. After receiving a Ph.D. from New York University in 1966, Herb launched and led its Great Books-focused Gallatin Division as dean from 1972–1992, and also served as John M. Olin Professor of Humanities, later holding the title of professor emeritus. Herb was president of the Hudson Institute from 1997–2011 and presided as chairman of the National Association of Scholars. In 2013, he founded the London Center for Policy Research, dedicated to advancing U.S. national interests as a “think and do” tank involved in crafting policy in collaboration with senior national security and foreign policy officials, and educating the public. He was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, City Journal’s publisher.
Herb was also a “man in the arena.” He mounted several serious runs for office in New York: for New York City mayor in 1989; for governor in 1990; and finally as Republican Party nominee for New York State comptroller in 1994.
A few days before Herb passed, I spoke to him on the phone. I could sense all was not well, as his normally booming and lively voice was suddenly more hesitant. Rather than linger on his own health, however, he stayed focused on the country and the world. He insisted that we get another one of our podcast sessions on the calendar to discuss foreign affairs.
None of this is to mention Herb’s role as a loving husband, father to three daughters, and a close friend to many. He will be greatly missed.