The revolutionaries of evunthelibrul you-know-what
A TNR writer remembers:
Over the last century, TNR did not always live up to this original promise. In the 1930s, under editors who admired central economic planning, it sometimes veered toward an unthinking defense of Joseph Stalin. A decade later, publisher Michael Straight, son of the original owners and briefly a member of the famous Cambridge University ring of Soviet spies, turned it over to former Vice President Henry Wallace to serve as the organ of his left-wing third party presidential campaign. By the early 1970s, under owner Gil Harrison, it had relapsed into a boringly reliable liberalism. “If I had wanted a New Republic editorial,” I heard the philosopher Robert Nozick remark in 1973, after a particularly predictable Rosh Hashanah sermon, “I would have bought a copy.”How inspiring.
Under Peretz, a Harvard lecturer who bought TNR in 1974, the magazine moved away from conventional postwar liberalism. Contrary to what the critics have charged however, it did not simply move to the right. Peretz and most of his editors indeed believed that conventional liberalism had grown stale and ineffective. But few of them had any real sympathy for Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party — the most prominent of those who did, Charles Krauthammer, soon left to become a fixture of the conservative commentariat. Mostly, they longed for a new, regenerated liberalism that could compete more effectively with Reagan. In the spring of 1983, the magazine ran a cover story by Henry Fairlie (a brilliant and famously hard-drinking British journalist who periodically took up residence in TNR’s Washington offices) declaring that the Democratic Party needed to lose the 1984 election. Longtime liberal subscribers recoiled with horror. But Fairlie wanted a defeat that would shock a sclerotic party into reform and recovery, not a Republican triumph. In fact, the essay did a good job laying out the path that Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council would follow on the way to the election of 1992.
As Corey Robin archly observes:
When The New Republic makes this argument from the right, TNR-style liberals like David Bell, writing in the LA Review of Books above, welcome it as a healthy dose of clear-eyed realism.
When leftists make this sort of argument from the left, TNR-style liberals like Sean Wilentz, murmuring darkly of “left-wing utopianism,” invoke Dostoevsky.
I also blame the Village, which is always running at least a decade, if not two, behind the times. When Peretz took over they undoubtedly were still clinging to the 1930s version and by the 1990s had moved up to the 1970s. The New Republic had been a centrist publication for a very long time even as the political establishment continued to use it as their avatar of liberalism, noting how remarkable it was every time they noticed that it was actually promoting centrism.
But we knew that. Robin's point is more on target and it's something I hadn't thought of before. These "reformers" thought it was good idea to let Reagan stay in office in order to "shock" the sclerotic Democratic Party into making what they believed to be necessary changes. How revolutionary of them. For all the caterwauling about lefties being nihilistic and destructive when they refuse to enthusiastically embrace the status quo etc, etc., it seems such tactics are ok as long as such a challenge comes from the right. Of course they are ...
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