The obituaries for Midge Decter, the writer and intellectual activist who died last week in Manhattan, age 94, were lengthy and largely respectful in tone. Which is as it should be. As one who, in the words of the New York Times, "helped lay the intellectual foundation for the neoconservative movement," and, in the words of the Washington Post, whose "acerbic, stylishly written essays and books assailed Soviet communism as well as American liberalism, denouncing feminism and other progressive movements," Midge Decter was a primal force in the clash of ideas in late 20th-century America and fully deserved the attention and column inches.

Yet it would hardly have surprised her to observe that the Washington Post and New York Times didn't quite seem to comprehend, or, perhaps, understood all too well, that she was not just a trenchant critic of modern liberalism and feminism, perceiving their destructive instincts and contemptuous attitudes, or an implacable foe of the Soviet Union and its global ambition and oppression of Jews. She was also, and at heart, a shrewd observer of the human condition and sharp analyst of human frailty.

In her heyday, in the 1980s and ’90s, Decter enjoyed more than a measure of renown and influence. Having evolved from the liberalism of her youth to the conservatism of maturity ("The time comes when you have to join the side you're on"), Decter found herself, as she wrote in her memoir An Old Wife's Tale (2001), "truly welcomed and truly close to the political action" during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Yet it's important to note that her aim never was power, much less celebrity, but perception and, above all, understanding. Her paramount ambition was to remind American women and men of who they are and what they have been, and in the midst of social and political upheaval, to warn them about what they might become. In three books published in a remarkable four-year period — The Liberated Woman and Other Americans (1971), The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women's Liberation (1972), and Liberal Parents, Radical Children (1975) — she described in detail not only the damage that liberal ideology, including "women's liberation," was doing to the fabric of American life and culture, with its baleful effects on the young, but in terms that sound strikingly resonant at the present moment.

In that sense, Decter was a prophet as much as polemicist, a brave, generous, plain-spoken, and humorous prophet.

Born Midge Rosenthal in St. Paul, Minnesota, she spent a year at the University of Minnesota before decamping to New York's Jewish Theological Seminary and New York University. In 1948, she married the writer-publicist Moshe Decter. When the couple divorced, she took a job on the staff of Commentary where she met and, in 1956, married its associate editor (and later editor) Norman Podhoretz. All four of her children, two by Decter and two by Podhoretz, became writers.

Her own career was protean, combining tenures as managing editor at Commentary and executive editor of Harper's, managing editor of Saturday Review and senior editor at Basic Books. As the author of three bestselling critiques of the New Left and the radical politics of the 1960s, she was in the vanguard of the nascent neoconservative movement and, in 1981, became a founder and executive director of the Committee for the Free World, which, during the following decade, helped to steer U.S. foreign policy away from the post-Vietnam isolationism of the 1970s and toward a more robust opposition to Soviet expansion around the world.

Midge Decter's political activism was amply rewarded, but her faith remained constant. If this American society, she once wrote, "spent some part of its time in a state of simple gratitude for the beneficence bestowed upon it; and [if we] were daily to remind ourselves that this beneficence is a gift, not a mere entitlement, we might at last [find] our way out of all the treacherous byways of this new territory and back to where our nature truly beckons us."

Philip Terzian is the author of Architects of Power: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the American Century.