Was it Cyril Connolly, the founder of Horizon, who said that every young man of spirit wants to start a chicken farm and a magazine? We are content to file that away under the category “too good to check.” But whoever was the author of that mot, he was right that the advent of a new intellectual magazine often signals a shift in the intellectual or political climate, the sounding of a new note in the chorus of the Zeitgeist.
We think of National Review, which William F. Buckley Jr. started in 1955. NR provided a critical focal point for the nascent recrudescence of American conservatism. Similar stories can be told about other editors and their magazines: Irving Kristol and The Public Interest (1965–2005), Richard John Neuhaus and First Things (begun in 1990), Kristol fils, William, and The Weekly Standard (begun in 1995), and, indeed, Hilton Kramer and The New Criterion, which entered the world in September 1982.
A new intellectual magazine often signals a shift in the intellectual climate.
None of these magazines was a commercial enterprise. Each was started to fill an intellectual or political gap, to espouse a point of view, articulate a perspective on the world. So it is with two new quarterly magazines. American Affairs (AmericanAffairsJournal.org), headquartered in Boston, is edited by a thirty-year-old Harvard grad and hedge-fund veteran named Julius Krein. The Conservative (theconservative.online) is a European quarterly based in Brussels and edited by the Tory politician and writer Daniel Hannan.
American Affairs, which debuted last month, aims to provide a thoughtful and intellectually sophisticated exploration of the many initiatives swirling around the epithet “populism.” In the mission statement that accompanies its inaugural issue, the editors note the host of problems besetting American society. “Economic mobility is down and inequality is up,” they write,
while growth, productivity, and wages are nearly stagnant. Trust in government is at historic lows. Crime and drug abuse are increasing, while families and communities are disintegrating. Social discord, frequently inflamed by proliferating versions of identity politics, is becoming more prevalent. The foreign policies of the last two decades have resulted, too often, in failure and strategic incoherence.
Policymakers and intellectuals from both parties have failed to address, or even to diagnose, these problems effectively. “Instead, they bemoan the rise of a populism—from both the Right and the Left—that is said to endanger the very foundations of our political system, of our national mores, and even of democracy itself.”
This conventional narrative is as false as it is self-serving, revealing only the insularity of our politicians and the status anxieties of our intellectuals. . . . [W]hat if public discontent is a reasonable response to a misguided and complacent elite consensus? What if the people are not too populist, but rather our elite is not truly elite? . . . The leadership of both political parties has tried and failed to fit burgeoning popular discontent into the old definitions of conservatism and progressivism. Far from clarifying the most critical issues, however, these categories only obscure them.
The name “Trump” does not occur in the mission statement for American Affairs (though it appears frequently in the body of the first issue). It is clear, however, that the magazine is responding to the same social and political pressures that brought Trump to political potency and, to the lingering surprise of many, to the White House. But American Affairs is not a partisan organ. With long, invigorating essays on political economy, foreign policy, the influence of James Burnham, and lessons from Hegel on the “place of work in a good life,” the magazine lives up to its ambition “to provide a forum for the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas, and a platform for new voices distinguished by originality, experience, and achievement rather than the compromised credentials of careerist institutions.”
If a certain species of populist dissatisfaction was the catalyst for American Affairs, dissatisfaction with the European Union was an important catalyst for The Conservative. But the magazine, which debuted in September 2016, is much more than a vehicle for Euro-skepticism. It ranges widely on matters cultural (Jay Nordlinger, for example, writes a column on music, Iain Martin writes about wine) as well as political. Its primary attitude is affirmative. Walter Bagehot once observed that “the essence of Toryism is enjoyment.” That spirit, coupled with a Burkean embrace of “the decent drapery of life . . . the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination,” is the cynosure of this handsome and elegantly designed new enterprise. Accordingly, Hannan writes in his prefatory note to the first issue, The Conservative welcomes, “Centre-Right writing of every hue, from monarchist to minarchist.”
The one thing that the contributors have in common, as conservatives, is that we are driven by love rather than hate. Not for us the grievance and victimhood that characterises large parts of the Left. Not for us the desire to tear things down. We are moved, rather, by respect for the things that make us what we are: our nations, our laws, our families, our customs.
The Conservative seems a natural adjunct to Brexit just as American Affairs seems a natural accompaniment to the rise of Donald Trump. But we suspect both are independent of parochial political coefficients. Both, that is to say, are responses to as well as reflections of the Zeitgeist, a purely notional fabrication except when its operations change the existential calculus of our lives.
We welcome these new intellectual endeavors, worthy partners both in the evolving conversation that is civilization.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 35 Number 7, on page 2
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