We sometimes wish Thanksgiving came in June. That way we could synchronize that important national holiday and collective opportunity to express gratitude for blessings received with our end-of-season tribute to those who make The New Criterion possible. We understood from the beginning that an enterprise that combined uncompromising critical standards with a keen awareness of the fragility of cultural achievement would be difficult to sustain. For one thing, although The New Criterion might be influential, it could never be popular. Indeed, it could neither be popular in the sense of appealing to a mass audience—for its concern with the monuments of Western civilization would naturally circumscribe its appeal—nor could it be popular in the sense of pandering to the windy, politically correct pieties that define establishment taste today. T. S. Eliot, in many ways the tutelary genius who inspired The New Criterion, defined criticism as “the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste.” Those ambitions may be compatible with a lively and inspiring publication; they are not compatible with a publication that reflects and reinforces the pseudo-avant-gardish spirit of today’s academic and artistic culture.
The question in 1982, when The New Criterion began, was whether such an experiment in critical dissent (and dissenting affirmation) could succeed—succeed, we meant, in establishing a space for intelligent dissent on cultural and intellectual matters and for writing that was clear, vivid, and serious without being academic or specialized. The evidence of a quarter-century shows that the answer to that question was a rousing Yes. The New Criterion began as an experiment in critical audacity—a publication devoted to engaging, in Matthew Arnold’s famous phrase, with “the best that has been thought and said.” This also meant engaging with those forces dedicated to traducing genu- ine cultural and intellectual achievement, whether through obfuscation, politicization, or a commitment to nihilistic absurdity. We are proud that The New Criterion has been in the forefront both of championing what is best and most humanely vital in our cultural inheritance and in exposing what is mendacious, corrosive, and spurious.
But we are under no illusion that we could have done this alone. From the beginning, we have depended absolutely on a cadre of individuals and institutions that understood the connection between the vitality of criticism and the vitality of culture. For more than twenty years, from 1982 until it closed its doors a few years ago, The John M. Olin Foundation was a stalwart supporter of the magazine. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation have also been indispensable allies and supporters. Indeed, the visionary interventions of these three foundations made possible not only The New Criterion but also an entire constellation of conservative cultural and intellectual endeavor. We hear a lot about “diversity” in the university and media today; these institutions made genuine diversity a reality by supporting countless initiatives that gave voice to opinions and work that dissented from the left-liberal consensus. We are immensely grateful to all three of these institutions, without whose support The New Criterion would not exist.
We are also deeply grateful to the ever-widening circle of friends and supporters who have stepped in at this critical juncture in The New Criterion’s history. Thank you for making The New Criterion possible! It would take several pages even to list all who have rallied to our cause, but we would like to mention a few individuals who have been especially critical in ensuring our survival this year. Arthur and Johanna Cinader, James Piereson, Paul and Heather Mansour, Michael and Marilyn Fedak, William and Arete Warren, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Smith, and Bagley Wright have been instrumental in keeping The New Criterion alive and well. We are profoundly grateful to them. And we reserve special thanks for Donald Kahn, a dear friend whose extraordinarily generous support of our efforts for more than a decade has helped transform a brash experiment into a continuing adventure. Thank you, Donald. And thanks to all who have helped make The New Criterion what it is today. We are much in your debt.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 26 Number 10, on page 3
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