Donald Kagan, an academic who helped set U.S foreign policy under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, died last week in Washington, D.C, at age 89.
A Cornell and Yale University professor, Kagan was considered a foremost scholar of Ancient Greece.
“Professor Kagan was later associated with neoconservatism, though he objected to both the label and the affiliation,” the New York Times wrote Friday. “He brimmed with opinions on the politics of the day, but remained aloof from Washington and policymaking circles.”
The younger President Bush awarded Kagan a National Humanities Medal in 2002 for his “distinguished scholarship on the glories of ancient Greece” and for teaching “the vital legacy of classical civilization.”
Born in Lithuania and raised by a single mother in New York City as a liberal Democrat, Kagan’s political views moved right during his adult life.
He attended Brooklyn College and earned a master’s degree in history from Brown University and a doctorate from Ohio State University. Kagan and his wife, Myrna, were married for 63 years before her 2017 death. His sons are famed historians and scholars, Frederick and Robert.
“He was the best of the best, always prepared, wore a suit, and lectured from his 3 x 5 note cards on difficult subjects, such as Peloponnesian War and the reasons for Rome’s fall,” Myron Kaufman, a student of Kagan’s in 1965, recalled. “Three hundred students in a lecture hall for ancient history is unprecedented. It was maybe the most popular course at Cornell.”