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As I write, the repercussions from Middlebury College’s shameful treatment of Charles Murray are still echoing. I suspect everyone reading this letter knows about what happened in that elite Vermont fastness on March 2. One of America’s most distinguished public intellectuals, a man who for decades has intervened in the debate of exigent policy issues with insights that are as humane as they are wise, was shouted down by a cabal of angry students and sympathetic faculty.
Two things seared the event into the public consciousness.
First, an amateur video of the event was posted to the Internet, where it went viral. The forty-three minute clip vividly captured the fetid atmosphere of mindless hatred and group think, as some four hundred students stood with their backs turned to Mr. Murray, loudly cycling through a clearly rehearsed round of chants: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Charles Murray’s got to go,” etc. As with the video of the female student shouting obscenities at the Master of Silliman College at Yale in the fall of 2015, the fact that this episode was captured on digital tape impressed the truly toxic nature of the event on the public imagination. It is one thing to have an eyewitness account of depravity. It is something else when technology allows you to be the eyewitness. With both the crybullies at Yale and the more minatory know-nothings at Middlebury, the fact that their disgusting, anti-civilizational behavior was captured in real time for all to see made the public’s outrage all the more vivid.
Indeed, from our very first issue in September 1982, we have been expatiating on the woeful effects of the politicization of cultural life.
The second thing that etched Middlebury’s meltdown into the public’s mind was the aftermath. As far as we know, no video exists of what happened later, when Mr. Murray and Allison Stanger, a Middlebury professor accompanying him, were set upon by mask-wearing thugs who pushed and shoved and grabbed them, sending Ms. Stanger to the hospital where she was treated for a neck injury.
As I say, these events will be familiar to most people reading these words. What I hope will also be familiar is the attention that The New Criterion has long devoted to the constellation of issues that have made such eruptions of mindless intolerance masquerading as progressive “resistance” a commonplace on college campuses and elsewhere in American cultural life. Indeed, from our very first issue in September 1982, we have been expatiating on the woeful effects of the politicization of cultural life. “The cultural consequences of this leftward turn in our political life,” we wrote in our inaugural note to The New Criterion, “have been far graver than is commonly supposed.”
For well-nigh thirty-five years, The New Criterion has been an attentive chronicler and critic of these developments throughout the world of culture, in the art world and the media no less than in the academicindustrial complex. We have striven to provide, in clear and mellifluous prose, an honest account of the naked emperors and intellectual mountebanks who litter our cultural landscape. We have endeavored to discover and praise the genuine, uncover and criticize the spurious, and above all to set the cat among the pigeons of political correctness.
The longevity of The New Criterion is one testament to our success. Another is our continually expanding circle of readers. We are vividly aware that we could never have succeeded without the generous support of our readers who care about the health and vibrancy of Western culture.
With your help, The New Criterion has stood as a beacon of intelligent dissent for thirty-five years.
By the standards of our elite academic and other cultural institutions, The New Criterion is tiny. Yet our position on the outskirts of establishment culture has given us a rare independent perspective on its inner metabolism and habits of exchange. Existing outside the imperative of the politically correct consensus, we are better able to discern and describe its lineaments. But life is parlous at the margins. We have depended, and continue to depend, on your generosity to carry the flag of independent criticism into the belly of the politically correct, intolerant beast.
Free speech, and the freedom of thought that free speech helps to underwrite, has never been under greater threat in the post-war world than it is now. With your help, The New Criterion has stood as a beacon of intelligent dissent for thirty-five years. I hope you will help us continue the crusade for the next thirty-five by making a generous contribution.
Of course, it is not only on college campuses that passions have been stirred to extremes in the past year. With our long view of cultural history, The New Criterion has been uniquely positioned to comment on these turmoils, running an acclaimed series on “The perils & promises of populism.” This set of essays, featuring contributions from George Nash, Daniel Hannan, Victor Davis Hanson, and many others, comes in addition to our popular special sections, which devote extra attention to art and poetry, and the results of our annual conference with London’s Social Affairs Unit. The complete collection of our essays on populism will be published by Encounter Books in November, in a volume entitled Vox Populi.
At thirty-five, The New Criterion is as essential a part of the country’s cultural discussion as it has ever been, a fact to which our recent successes can attest.
As we’ve observed with pride many times before, the experience of The New Criterion extends beyond the eighty-some pages that arrive at your door each month: it is a society of like-minded individuals held together by our shared appreciation for the gifts of high culture. While our editors and contributors may be at the center of the magazine’s production, no less essential are the many proud accomplices who have read, supported, and promulgated our work over these past thirty-five years. In that regard, the Friends of The New Criterion stand out as our true stalwarts. Over the past year, we have had the pleasure of gathering with our supporters many times, ringing in the new season with Encounter Books, bringing holiday cheer to the office, introducing our Young Friends Advisory Board to our theater critic Kyle Smith, and celebrating John Foy’s New Criterion Poetry Prize–winning Night Vision, just to name a few. Our conference on the state of America’s museums this past October was among the most successful symposia we’ve ever organized. And by the time you receive this letter, we’ll have held our fifth Edmund Burke Award gala, honoring Philippe de Montebello’s many years carrying the torch of civilization at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a privilege for us, the members of The New Criterion team, to meet with the circle of Friends throughout the year for cultural discussion; if you haven’t already, I invite you to join their number by making a donation of $2,000 or more.
At thirty-five, The New Criterion is as essential a part of the country’s cultural discussion as it has ever been, a fact to which our recent successes can attest. While many publications have struggled to adapt to the new challenges of a digital age, The New Criterion has only flourished: in the past year our print subscriptions have grown by nearly 40 percent, which for a magazine of our size—or indeed any other—is an extraordinary increase. Our social media following has more than doubled, and visits to our website have gone up by 60 percent since we unveiled our redesign a year ago. All of this means that the magazine is now reaching more readers than ever before—it is an exciting time to be at The New Criterion, and we are grateful to have you on our side.
Over the years, we’ve taken special pride in the fact that The New Criterion has helped talented young writers cut their teeth in the world of criticism. To that end, we established the Hilton Kramer Fellowship in 2013 in order to bring one recent college graduate each year into our office to apprentice in the editing of a cultural magazine. The results speak for themselves: the inaugural Fellow, Eric C. Simpson, remains on the masthead as an Associate Editor, soon to be joined by the third Fellow, Benjamin Riley, who will return to us in July after a year of study at London’s Courtauld Institute. Mene Ukueberuwa, the incumbent, will move on to the coveted Bartley Fellowship at The Wall Street Journal at the conclusion of his term, while Christine Emba, our second Fellow, continues at The Washington Post. And we look forward to introducing you this summer to Andrew Shea, who will join us for the 2017–18 season. The Hilton Kramer Fellowship has become an integral part of The New Criterion’s efforts, and, like all of our initiatives, it is funded entirely through your contributions.
At the conclusion of our thirty-fifth season, we look back with pride on what we have accomplished in our first three-and-a-half decades. Since its inception, The New Criterion has maintained a firm commitment to the life of the mind, championing the very best of our culture and exposing the insidious counterfeits that threaten it. We are grateful that over these many years we have been able to count on the support of our readers, without which none of our work would have been possible. As our fiscal year draws to a close in June, I hope you will continue to stand with us as we turn our attention to civilization’s newest challenges. Here’s to another thirty-five!
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher
P.S., I know it is customary to conclude such appeals with a recitation of dollars and cents. It is certainly true that a small organization like The New Criterion is deeply cognizant of the importance of that great Sumerian invention, the zero, especially when multiplied and preceded by a suitable integer. But the truth is, The New Criterion simply would not be possible without the support and encouragement of all of our friends. Every year since we’ve been soliciting your aid, our circle of supporters has grown. There really is safety in numbers. I hope you will be generous in your benefaction: know that we are deeply grateful for whatever you can give to help The Cause.