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Midge Decter, who died at age 94 earlier this month, was a crucial figure in 20th century politics, but also a much misunderstood one. She’s received many tributes from the political right that have cast her as an inspiring writer and editor, as well as obituaries from the mainstream media that tend to whitewash her hard-right politics.

Neither the tributes nor the obituaries actually explain why Decter was important. To get at her true story, I spoke with Ronnie Grinberg, an assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma. In her forthcoming book, Write Like a Man: The New York Intellectuals and Jewish Masculinity, Grinberg places Decter in the larger history of social conservatism, showing how Decter was formed by the revisionist Freudianism of the mid-20th century, which she later recast in her stinging critiques of feminism and gay rights. This social conservatism went hand in hand with militarism, as Decter connected traditional gender norms with a militant foreign policy.

This illuminating discussion with Grinberg helped clarify not just Decter’s life but also the triumph of social conservatism in the Republican Party.

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