One of the common misbeliefs in Modern Orthodoxy is that Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch was a founder of the movement. However, historical analysis and a look at where his followers are today quickly disabuses one of that notion. Rav Hirsch was a strong proponent of a meticulous Torah lifestyle complemented by secular knowledge but he never moved from the Torah-first position that he espoused. For him, the secular world was full of God's handiworks and needed to be appreciated but only as a stepping stone towards a better worship of the Creator. This, in essence, was Torah im Derech Eretz.
As opposed to actual Modern Orthodoxy, the Hirsch model of combining Torah with a wordly approach received a relatively sympathetic attitude from the Eastern European Jewish leadership of the day. These great rabbonim generally understood that German Jews were not isolated from their surrounding society like a large number of Eastern European Jews were. As a result, the Torah-first-and-only approach used with such success in Poland and Lithuania was unlikely to be viable in Germany. With Rav Hirsch's approach, however, Jews who might otherwise be at risk from contact with secular culture could now interact without compromising their Jewishness. Not ideal, to be sure, but better than the alternative.
This closeness in relations has not waned over time. Rav Hirsch's followers generally belong to the Agudas Yisroel and practice with a Chareidi level of devotion. But in other things, they have managed to remember that Rav Hirsch believed an observant Jew could excel in both Judaism and the study of secular subjects and that this was a great option for many.
Unfortunately, Rav Hirsch left no official successors and, as a result, although there are many Hirschian rabbonim there is no one to unify and champion the Torah Im Derech Eretz movement. Now, even during Hirsch's time there were those in the Eastern European leadership who insisted that Hirsch's approach was specifically for his community and his time period as an emergency compromise but that it should never have been considered as an actual perpetual philosophy within Judaism.
It appears that the inheritors of that belief are now moving to rewrite history to ensure that it become the official Hirschian position. During a recent social function in New York, one Rav Yisroel Mantel, leader of Khal Adath Jeshurun which is the central synagogue in the Hirschian world, said:
that the philosophical credo of Rav Hirsch, Torah Im Derech Eretz, is not viable in the absence of its chief advocate. According to the report, Rav Mantel said that only Rav Hirsch, a great man who knew the fine boundaries between what is religiously permissible and what is prohibited, could make Torah Im Derech Eretz workable. Our generation, he said, must follow today’s gedolei HaTorah.
According to the article, this statement was not well received by many in attendance including the shul president who subsequently resigned. Well, can you blame him? He took the job as president of a Hirschian shul only to discover that his Rav intended to turn it Chareidi.
The significance of this latest move is clear. Having delegitimized the religious authority of both Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi, the Chareidi world is clearly committed to eliminating contemporary Hirschians as historical abnormalities who did not understand the intent of their founder.
Would that there was a leader, any leader, in the non-Chareidi crowd who could stand up to this bullying before it's too late.