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Gerhart Niemeyer Obituary

Gerhart Niemeyer



It is with great sadness that The Philadelphia Society notes the death of one of its Distinguished Members, Gerhart Niemeyer. His great love for The Philadelphia Society, as seen below, was reciprocated by our great love for him. He personally touched us by his dignitas and gravitas which were reflected in his spiritual counsel.

“There is a joy of discovery of personalities and acknowledgement of common values. Friendships are begun that way. Many younger people decide to switch colleges or graduate schools and to study with men whom they first encountered there. Careers are decided, as it turns out later…

If The Philadelphia Society did not exist, it would have to be invented.”

The following obituary is drawn from material provided by his son, Paul V. Niemeyer.

Obituary for Gerhart Niemeyer

Gerhart Niemeyer, Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Notre Dame, a political philosopher, and one of the intellectuals associated with the move toward conservatism in the United States, died on Monday, June 23, 1997, of cancer at his apartment in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 90.

Since 1955, Dr. Niemeyer has taught political theory at the University of Notre Dame, teaching the difference between philosophy and ideology. He taught his last course in 1992 when he was 85. Dr. Niemeyer contributed frequently to The National Review, Modern Age, The Review of Politics, and other journals, and has authored ten books. He has written principally on classical and modern political theory, ideology and problems of modernity, foreign policy, Christianity, and the relationship between faith and philosophy. About his recent writing, the Review of Politics has written, “Niemeyer engages not only in a critique of ideology but also in the announcement of a path towards recovery, the restoration of humanity, and the world to its full meaning,” subjects to which his recent books, Between Nothingness and Paradise and Aftersight and Foresight are devoted. 

Dr. Niemeyer has characterized the twentieth century as the “Terrible Century,” which he believed future historians may rank “as one of the worst centuries of human history.” He has written that it has been a period of “disorientation” and “dissolution,” relying on “the vision of freedom they hoped to gain from purging the mind of residues from the past.” Dr. Niemeyer has observed that “the onslaught of totalitarianism’s mass movements” is the product of these philosophers’ ideologies, having in common their “total critique of society,” which creatively rejects knowledge of ethics, metaphysics, politics, and religion. Noting that nazism and fascism are but “latecomers,” Dr. Niemeyer has traced the growth of ideologies back through Lenin, Marx, Babeuf, and others. He has frequently lamented how these ideologies have systematically destroyed “our cultural patrimony” in favor of a more limited view of humanity.

Viewing his work as a continuation of that of the great political philosopher Eric Voegelin who began the effort to restore the “science of politics,” Dr. Niemeyer sees the path to recovery through the recognition of solid truths and solid principles found in tradition about the “full meaning” of human existence. In the introductions to Dr. Niemeyer’s most recent book, Within and Above Ourselves, Essays on Political Analysis, Professor Marion Montgomery writes that Dr. Niemeyer is a “traditionalist, in a special sense of the term beyond how it is used in popular jargon. That is, he is a philosopher and theologian as prophet: he is concerned with the abiding truth of things.”

In honor of his teaching, three of Dr. Niemeyer’s former students published a festschrift entitled The Good Man in Society, Essays in Honor of Gerhart Niemeyer. The students announced that the book was to celebrate a man, who from contemplation of human nature and affairs, has attained the wisdom of knowing how to love the truth and how to live well as a human being.” 

Beginning in the late 1950’s Dr. Niemeyer because internationally recognized as an expert on Communism. Together with J.M. Bochenski, he edited Handbook on Communism, contributing the chapter on ideology, and he also authored An Inquiry into Soviet Mentality and Deceitful Peace. He was commissioned by Congress to write The Communist Ideology, which was widely circulated in 1959-1960.

Dr. Niemeyer was born in 1907 in Essen, Germany, and he was educated at Kiel University in Germany and at Cambridge University in England. In 1933 he left Nazi Germany and joined his friend and mentor Professor Hermann Heller in Madrid, Spain. With the expansion of Hitler’s influence in Germany, he emigrated to the United States in 1937 and began his teaching at Princeton University. From 1950 to 1953 he served at the State Department on the Planning Staff in the Office of United Nations Affairs. During this period he engaged in extensive political dialogues with other conservative thinkers and formed his long and enduring friendship with William F. Buckley, Jr. For two years thereafter Dr. Niemeyer served as a research analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He taught for a year at the National War College in the late 1950’s and served as foreign policy advisor in 1964 to the presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. From 1965 to 1968 he was a member of the Republican National Committee’s Task Force on Foreign Policy, and in 1981 President Reagan appointed him to the Board of Foreign Scholarships which elected him chairman. Dr. Niemeyer has lectured widely, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of the ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute), which educates and publishes about traditional political ideas.

In 1973, Dr. Niemeyer was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church and in 1980, when he was 73, a priest, devoting his work predominantly to hospice care. He was named canon in 1987. Recently he converted to become a Roman Catholic.

Particularly fond of renaissance and baroque music, Dr. Niemeyer played the recorder and the viola da gamba, and he served as president of the American Recorder Society.

Dr. Niemeyer was married to Lucie Lenzner for over 55 years before she died in 1987. He is survived by his five children, A. Hermann Niemeyer of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Lucian L. Niemeyer of Aston, Pennsylvania, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer of Baltimore, Maryland, Lisa M. Silver of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Dr. Christian B. Niemeyer of Nashville, Tennessee, and by eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.


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