Elegy for The New Republic
"Corporal Nobbs," he rasped, "why are you kicking people when they're down?"
"Safest way, sir," said Nobby. --Terry Pratchett, Guards, Guards
And so to the demise or at least translation of the New Republic. Corey Robin:
The New Republic is coming to an end. And the autopsies have begun. So have the critiques. But the real problem with The New Republic is not that it was racist, though it was. It’s not that it was filled with warmongers, though it was. It’s not that it punched hippies, though it did. No, the real problem with The New Republic is that for the last three decades, it has had no energy. It has had no real project. The last time The New Republic had a project was in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when it was in the journalistic vanguard of what was then called neoliberalism (not what we now call neoliberalism). That is what a great magazine of politics and culture does: it creates a project, it fashions a sensibility. The Spectator did it in the early 18th century, Partisan Review in the 1930s did it, Dissent in the 1950s did it, and The New Republic in the 1970s/1980s did it. I’m not saying that I like that last project; I don’t. I’m just saying that it was a project, and that it was a creation. Love them or hate them, great magazines gather the diverse and disparate energies of a polity and a culture and give them focus. .... That’s why virtually every obituary for the magazine that’s been written by people of roughly my age opens or closes with a memoir of one’s high school experience; the entire constituency of the magazine seems to be suffering from a Judd Apatow-like case of arrested development.
Which is really funny in a way; showing my age, I too was introduced to TNR in high school, but by a terrible teacher, so whatever the lesson was meant to be, it didn't take. Anyhow, I thought Robin's notion of a magazine's "project" was interesting.
I'm wondering if there are other once-great magazines that have a similar problem. Could the now sadly diminished New Yorker be said to have lost its project? How about The New York Review of Books? (Both magazines I read regularly starting as a child, and abandoned oh, around 2008.) I was working toward the idea that we were seeing the enervation of a particular stratum of society, as evidenced by the failure of its publications, but perhaps not: The Atlantic and Harpers, which I also read as a child and onward, seem to be going strong.
So, I'm going to trail off now, lacking a thesis. Nice picador work by Corey Robin, though.
UPDATE This is so horrible. Hendryk Herzberg, the man who finally wrecked the New Yorker in 2008, reminiscences about -- you guessed it -- reading TNR in high school, and how he was mentored at Harvard by "Marty" Peretz. Charles Krauthammer on the masthead, then as until yesterday.