BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller, who was a student of Gyorgy Lukacs and later taught political theory for 25 years at the New School for Social Research in New York City, died at the age of 90 on Friday, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences said.
Born 1929 in Budapest, Heller was a survivor of the Holocaust but she lost most of her family who perished in concentration camps.
She was a student of Lukacs since 1947, and later assistant professor in his department. She was dismissed from her academic position together with Lukacs for political reasons after the failed 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule.
She was a core member of the Budapest School philosophical forum.
After Lukács’ death in 1971, the School’s members became victims of political persecution and were made unemployed.
Heller and her husband the philosopher Ferenc Feher, along with many other members of the School, chose exile in Australia in 1977.
She returned to Hungary after the 1989 collapse of communism, while also keeping her position at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Heller has written widely on the philosophy of history and morals, and the theory of modernity.
She was an advocate of liberal democracy and a strong critique of ruling Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accusing him of undermining democracy.
“Mr. Orban calls Hungary an “illiberal democracy.” In some ways, he’s telling the truth. But that means traditional checks and balances have eroded,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times in September 2018.
She remained active until her last day. According to Hungarian media, she died while going for a swim in Lake Balaton on Friday.
Before the May European parliamentary elections, she was part of a small group of prominent European thinkers invited by French President Emmanuel Macron to talk about the future of Europe.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Marguerita Choy)