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Now that we are in the full swing of our thirty-fifth anniversary season, I wanted to write to share a few thoughts about what we are up to at The New Criterion.You have already seen some of what this anniversary is about with our expanded issue in September and our October issue which carries the second in our year-long series on populism—just two of our special initiatives underwritten by reader support.
Given the ambient tintinnabulation of this election season, when passions run high and both reason and charity are often drowned out by the static of ideological parti pris, I thought it might be worth stepping back to remind ourselves of the essential non-ideological mission of The New Criterion.
That may sound strange to some readers. Isn’t The New Criterion known above all as a conservative journal of culture and the arts, celebrated or disparaged as such depending on the political coloration of those issuing the opinion?
Well, The New Criterion certainly is conservative, but not in any overt political sense. Our conservatism takes its cue from Edmund Burke. We start from the premise that civilization is a hard-won achievement that we, its contemporary stewards, must labor to conserve. That conviction stands at the center of our conservatism.
Civilization is a hard-won achievement that we, its contemporary stewards, must labor to conserve.
It may be worth noting, as I did in my last letter to you, that if the task of defending civilization is conservative, it is also eminently liberal in the sense that it is a battle to conserve the institutions, the habits of mind and character, that make civil liberty possible. The fact that a conservative disposition is a prerequisite for the thriving of liberty helps to explain the Janus-faced orientation of The New Criterion. On the one hand, we have always been committed to the celebration and perpetuation of what Matthew Arnold famously called “the best that has been thought and said in the world.” In this sense, The New Criterion has set itself against the forces of forgetfulness, the forces of cultural amnesia, which threaten to erase the past in a mindless orgy of present-tense ephemera. On the other hand, The New Criterion has also always had a strong polemical aspect. We early on discommoded the left-liberal cultural consensus by calling attention to the many naked emperors littering the cultural landscape on our college campuses, in the media, the art world, and anywhere else that the passion for conformity and political correctness stymies a robust engagement with important cultural issues.
So while The New Criterion regularly sallies forth to do battle at what Lionel Trilling called the “bloody crossroads where politics and culture meet,” at the end of the day it does so in service of a non- or even anti-ideological goal: to conserve the habits, sentiments, institutions, and liberties that have made our civilization possible and which we see under siege at home and abroad.
Fraught though these times are, it is important to understand that it was ever thus. Multiplying terrorist attacks, inner-city violence, a gloomy and unsettled international situation: they all underscore not the fragility of normality but the normality of fragility. This is a point that C. S. Lewis made with great eloquence in a sermon he preached at Oxford in 1939. “I think it important,” he said,
to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. . . . If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. . . .
Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. . . .
[Men devise] mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.
Lewis’s meditation is by turns cheering and sobering. On the one hand, it testifies to the heartiness of culture, which is the heartiness of the human spirit. Sonnets in Siberia, mathematical formulae in the besieged fortress. There is no time when cultural instructions are not pertinent. On the other hand, Lewis’s meditation reminds us that culture, and the humanity that defines it, is constantly under threat. No achievement may be taken for granted; yesterday’s gain may be tomorrow’s loss; permanent values require permanent vigilance and permanent renewal.
This means, as I’m sure you are keenly aware, that The New Criterion is just as vital now as it has ever been in its thirty-five-year run. The characters and disputes may change over time, but the fundamental principle remains the same: that proper custody of our culture is essential for the continued flourishing of our society. We are proud to carry the banner in that fight; but we cannot do so without your help. I hope you will consider making a donation to support The New Criterion’?s continued efforts.
Lionel Trilling’s “bloody crossroads” touches particularly on our theme for this year. Throughout our thirty-fifth anniversary season, we have published and will continue to publish a series of essays on “The perils and promises of populism,” examining how populism, broadly defined, has shaped our culture for millennia. You have already read the superb articles by George Nash, Barry Strauss, and Daniel Hannan framing the topic within the contexts of twentieth-century American conservatism, Ancient Rome, and the “Brexit” debate. We are looking forward to sharing with you further pieces by James Piereson, Andrew C. McCarthy, Fred Siegel, and others of our most distinguished contributors.
I like to say that, more than just the issue that you receive each month, The New Criterion is an entity made up of like-minded individuals committed to our cultural well-being. This includes our editors and contributors, of course, but it also includes the many individuals who have read and supported our work over these many years. In this regard, the Friends of The New Criterion are exemplars. It has been our pleasure to gather with our most ardent supporters to celebrate new books by Anthony Daniels and Michael Spence, ring in our new season with our associates at Encounter Books, and discuss the future of America’s museums with leading critics and curators in a symposium organized by our Executive Editor James Panero. An evening affair in the Berkshires, generously hosted by two Friends and featuring the musical talents of Eric Simpson and Rich Miller, was especially memorable. And of course our fourth Edmund Burke Award gala, honoring the formidable work of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was a smashing success. I hope you’ll join us this April when we fête Philippe de Montebello’s many years of service to fine art. Engaging with the Friends is one of the unique pleasures of being part of the New Criterion team; if you haven’t already, you can join in on these discussions by making an annual contribution of $2,000 or more.
The last year has been a remarkable one for The New Criterion, and not only because of our anniversary. Since last March we have received more than 1,000 new subscriptions, an extraordinary number for a magazine of our size. This means that we are now reaching more people than ever before, sharing our important message of cultural curation with an ever-expanding group of readers. You can help us broaden our audience even more: when you make your holiday gifts, consider buying an astute friend a subscription to The New Criterion, now available at a special introductory rate of $19.95. You can do so by visiting the subscription page of our site at newcriterion.com/intro.
The New Criterion is an entity made up of like-minded individuals committed to our cultural well-being.
When we inaugurated the Hilton Kramer Fellowship in 2013, we saw it as a way to give young writers interested in criticism the start they needed to build a career and hone their abilities. Already it has been enormously successful: the inaugural Fellow, Eric C. Simpson, now an Associate Editor, is in his fourth year with the magazine, and Benjamin Riley, who just finished his term, will rejoin us on a permanent basis after a brief sojourn at the Courtauld Institute in London. We were delighted in June to welcome Mene Ukueberuwa; as the newest Hilton Kramer Fellow, he will be fully involved in all aspects of the magazine’s production for the next year. We are thrilled to be able to continue this initiative, which has been funded entirely through your contributions.
Thirty-five years is a significant marker for a serious cultural monthly like The New Criterion. We could never have done it without the dedicated support of our readers. When The New Criterion began, it had only a handful of supporters. Over the years, this has grown into an ever-extending family of collaborators; I hope that we can count on your support as we forge ahead into The New Criterion’s next chapter
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher
P.S. Contributions of any size help us to keep the presses running. We need to raise $405,000; all contributions will be acknowledged in our annual Friends Report. I hope you will find your spot on the following table:
|4 people give $25,000||$100,000|
|10 people give $10,000||$100,000|
|12 people give $5,000||$60,000|
|16 people give $2,000||$32,000|
|35 people give $1,000||$35,000|
|55 people give $500||$35,000|
|82 people give $250||$27,500|
|200 people give $150||$30,000|