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Just weeks ago, I and my colleagues traveled to New Haven to attend the annual conference of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale. Our subject, which proved timelier than even we could have imagined, was “The Future of Free Speech: Threats in Higher Education and Beyond.” A few aspiring agitators, sensing that their monopoly on “dialogue” might be imperiled, sat among us for almost two hours, waiting for any excuse to disrupt the proceedings. And as soon as they had their bait, they called in reinforcements via Facebook: it took less than half an hour for almost a hundred screaming undergraduates to assemble outside the doors, protesting their own right to free speech.
Ours was only one of a series of episodes to erupt at Yale and other campuses in the span of one tortured week. As I write this, a swarm of furious students are calling for the immediate removal of Nicholas Christakis as Master of Yale’s Silliman College, pronouncing him “disgusting,” and many other things beside—his crime? Defending the expressed opinions of his wife, Erika, who had objected, in the gentlest terms possible, to an email sent out by a “Campus Cultural Center” with thirteen administrators as signatories, setting out a litany of guidelines to ensure a culturally “sensitive” Halloween. Her suggestion that students might be able to set their own boundaries for “acceptable” costuming apparently constituted a direct and urgent threat to the well-being of the school’s most stridently endangered students. They could no longer eat, or pursue their studies, or sleep. Their “safe space” had been violated. “I don’t want to debate,” whimpered one student op-ed. “I want to talk about my pain.”
Are today’s students simply becoming more fragile of their own accord? Unlikely. Rather, they are being infected by the pernicious influence of academics who encourage them to see themselves as victims, and to seek out offense wherever it can be found—the more improbable the source, the better. Colleges and universities have thus sown the wind. Is it surprising that they are now reaping the whirlwind? What just happened at Yale is an early pustule appearing on the body of American academia. But the bacillus is systemic: I predict more and more, and more and more violent, outbreaks. The question is whether the patient is robust enough to weather the fevers and pustules that are on their way. One
This is precisely the sort of crisis of intellectual bankruptcy that The New Criterion is uniquely situated to combat. Hilton Kramer and Samuel Lipman started The New Criterion as an experiment in critical dissent. Was it possible for a serious journal of culture and the arts to thrive without pandering to the ever-shifting orthodoxies of political correctness or embracing the demotic inanities of a pop culture that was as mindless as it was vulgar? The longevity of The New Criterion speaks volumes. It is humbling for us to reflect that, for thirty-four years now, we have enjoyed the support of a fiercely loyal readership as our companions in this struggle. The buzzwords and controversies of the day may come and go, but the essential challenges that spurred the creation of The New Criterion in 1982 remain. Now as then, our task is the two-fold battle of exposing the many naked emperors parading about in the garish light of an ephemeral celebrity while also reminding our readers of the many riches, what Matthew Arnold called “the infallible touchstones,” of our culture.
We are immensely grateful for the trust that you, our readers, have placed in us over the years, and we once again ask for your assistance as we continue our work. We are delighted to report that some readers have been supporting The New Criterion since our inaugural 1982 issue, while new readers have added their support each year. For a small, nonprofit publication like The New Criterion, a contribution of any size makes a difference.
This past season has featured a number of superlative pieces by our ever-growing cadre of talented writers and critics. Our May issue featured an exclusive excerpt from David Pryce-Jones’s new memoir Fault Lines, published in October by Criterion Books, a new publishing imprint of The New Criterion. May also saw the debut of our new theater critic, Kyle Smith, whose incisive voice has brought sanity to the din on Broadway. In June we were proud to feature the text of Charles Murray’s speech from our annual Edmund Burke Award gala. The topic of “Curing American Sclerosis” continues to be at the forefront of our minds. The June issue also contained James Panero’s scathing critique of the spectacle that is Renzo Piano’s “new Whitney” museum. James’s essay has been widely praised for its unapologetic truth-telling on the vacuousness of the design and its implications for the museum world. A certain critic writing in The Nation called the piece “truly invidious,” which is the kind of good press that is hard to buy these days.
With a new season comes great promise, and our thirty-fourth is off to a rousing start. The September issue featured pieces that will surely be read and quoted for years to come, including John O’Sullivan’s literary obituary for our friend Robert Conquest and Gene Dattel on the “untold story of Reconstruction.” October saw the publication of an early preview from a new collection of poems by John Updike, again solidifying The New Criterion’s position as the finest destination for cultural criticism. Features to look forward to include Gary Saul Morson on the 150th anniversary of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers on Frederick Law Olmsted. We are fortunate indeed to be able to call upon some of the best, most insightful, and most intellectually independent critics now writing. But we are keenly aware that our good fortune is due in large part to our co-collaborators, to you, our readers and supporters.
The Friends of The New Criterion remain a vital part of our network of support, and it is always a pleasure to meet with so many of you at our many gatherings throughout the season. Since our last letter, our calendar has been filled with receptions, recitals, conferences, and more. In April we fêted Theodore Dalrymple’s latest book and heard John Poch read from his New Criterion Poetry Prize–winning book of poems. Our Assistant Editor and resident violinist, Eric Simpson, gave a recital for the Friends in May—expect another chance to hear him in the coming season. This fall we once again celebrated the start of the publishing year with our colleagues at Encounter Books, and we led the Young Friends on a tour of “Beat Nite: Gowanus,” one of the premier events of the Brooklyn art season. Criterion Books published two superb new volumes by Peter Pettus and David Pryce-Jones, and we were delighted to toast their successes. Likewise, our joint conference on “The Corruption of Our Political Institutions” with the Social Affairs Unit was among the strongest in the fourteen-year history of that partnership. It’s been a busy season, as you can see, but we relish the opportunity to connect with our most devoted readers and staunchest supporters. Each year, it seems, the circle of Friends grows wider—I hope you will consider joining their ranks with a donation of $2,000 or more.
The Hilton Kramer Fellowship is now in its third year and has helped to introduce bright, young writers and editors to our pages. Its inaugural recipient, Eric Simpson, remains part of our vibrant team, and the second fellow, Christine Emba, has moved on from a successful year at The New Criterion to an editorial position at The Washington Post, where she writes and edits a daily blog entitled “In Theory.” Our current fellow, Benjamin Riley, has established himself as a trenchant new voice in New York’s museum scene, covering topics such as the fiftieth anniversary of the New York City Landmarks law and others for the website and magazine. The Fellowship is our way of making sure that the pool of talent in critical writing is constantly replenished. It is your support that makes this, and all of our other endeavors, possible.
Since its earliest days, The New Criterion has made its mark not through the sheer force of mass exposure, but through the high standard and perspicacious observations of its criticism. For thirty-four years now, we have fought for and earned our reputation as one of this country’s sharpest, wittiest, and most honest critical publications. It has not been an easy road, but our loyal readers have played an instrumental role in making the project of The New Criterion possible. I hope that you will lend your support as we continue our work in the coming year.
Editor & Publisher
P.S. Contributions of any size helps us keep the doors open, the lights on, and the presses running. We need to raise $405,000 by December 31. I hope you will find your spot on the following table:
The New Criterion is published by The Foundation for Cultural Review, 900 Broadway, New York, NY 10003, a nonprofit public foundation as described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which solicits and accepts contributions from a wide range of sources, including public and private foundations, corporations, and the general public. Contributions to The New Criterion are tax deductible according to the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. All gifts in excess of $75 will be acknowledged with a written disclosure statement describing the “quid pro quo” deductibility under section 6115 of the Internal Revenue Code.