These past months, neither the medical pandemic nor the pandemic of street violence with which we are still conjuring could silence us.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were all assured that history had come to an end. A gentle liberalism, it was said, was overtaking the entire world. Enlightenment was breaking out everywhere. Since all fundamental problems had been solved, mankind’s chief worry in the future would be boredom.
It hasn’t worked out quite that way. It turns out that history still has some tricks up its sleeve. We were promised a diet of universal peace and comity. Other fare has been on offer.
In such an environment, how could a small, independent journal of cultural criticism make its way?
In these yeasty times, when many things that we had taken for granted about our society seem suddenly up for grabs, The New Criterion stands as a beacon of thoughtful sanity and historically literate perspective.
Last spring, I wrote to you about the parlous circumstances in which we found ourselves. Our annual Edmund Burke Award gala, the magazine’s single largest fundraising event, became a casualty of government fiat in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the near term, we faced a $250,000 shortfall in our fundraising goals. By year’s end, we expected that number to reach $500,000.
As we noted this summer in our Annual Report, our readers rallied to the cause. Your response to our spring appeal was nothing less than extraordinary. More readers joined our ranks as supporters than ever before. Returning donors renewed their support. Many increased their gifts. We were also heartened by the many messages of encouragement you sent along.
As we worked remotely to produce what many consider to be among our best issues to date, the appearance of every donor and every dollar became a vote of confidence in our enterprise and a rebuke to those mandarins who have shown themselves to be dedicated to silencing cultural dissent and erasing our civilizational inheritance.
I write to our readers for support but twice each year. As 2020 hastens to its end, I once again look to you to help us meet our essential fundraising goals.
These past months, neither the medical pandemic nor the pandemic of street violence with which we are still conjuring could silence us. Nor would you be silenced. Your support and encouragement provided a critical lifeline at an exigent moment. Now we are poised to enter our fortieth season. Our world headquarters in New York, long shuttered, is open once again. Our editors are back laboring away, and we eagerly await leave from our masters in City Hall and in Albany to recommence in-person events.
Recognizing the great success of last spring’s challenge grant, a consortium of generous donors has once again come together to magnify your efforts by issuing a new matching challenge grant of $150,000. By responding to this letter, every dollar you give will be doubled.
The New Criterion began in 1982 as an experiment in critical audacity. Was it possible, we wondered, to produce a magazine that was at once serious but not academic, lively but not beholden to the demotic and antinomian fashions of the moment—a magazine, in short, that was dedicated to the true and truly liberal principles of thoughtful conservatism?
If The New Criterion has been blessed with its writers, it has also been blessed with its audience and its supporters.
The odds, certainly, were against the enterprise. The pressure everywhere was—and is—towards the lowest common denominator. And this, ironically, was especially true in those institutions we had entrusted with preserving the noblest, most enlivening values of our culture. How they have let the side down in their minatory scramble for fake virtuousness!
In such an environment, how could a small, independent journal of cultural criticism make its way? But, mirabile dictu, it did—thanks to you. Here we are, nearly forty years later fielding the most intellectually ambitious program of activities in our history.
John Milton, when asked about the readership of Paradise Lost, replied that it was “a fit audience, though few.” The audience for The New Criterion is similarly select, though it pleases me to report that we now enjoy our largest circulation, both in print and online, in our history.
That achievement is due in part to our stable of writers who, month in and month out in print— day in and day out on our website—bring you the best written and most incisive cultural criticism available anywhere.
Quite simply, The New Criterion is a key to unlock the storied treasures of our past. For while it is true that The New Criterion is well known for its vigorous polemics against the toxin of political correctness and other forms of cultural meretriciousness, it has also proven to be a rich resource in the battle against the enervating onslaught of cultural amnesia. And I might point out that while it now costs some $70,000 a year to attend an elite college or university, a subscription to The New Criterion can be yours for a mere $48 per annum—a bargain, surely, but a sum that does not nearly cover the true costs of producing the magazine.
William Faulkner once wrote that the past is never dead. It’s not even past. At The New Criterion, we understand the urgency of that observation. We are dedicated to the great battle against the stupefying lure of presentism, that cynical and toothless bane of thoughtfulness which would dissolve our humanity in a chattering cavalcade of cliché-ridden conformity.
But if The New Criterion has been blessed with its writers, it has also been blessed with its audience and its supporters. People, that is to say, like you. It is for you that we produce The New Criterion, and everything else we now do under our banner—our lectures and symposia, our books and prizes, our podcasts and online initiatives, and our cultivation of authors and thinkers.
One such event was our second annual Circle Lecture. Last year, Gary Saul Morson, the great scholar of Russian literature, presented our inaugural Circle Lecture to a large and enthusiastic audience at the Union Club in New York. This year we have been forbidden to congregate. But we are not—not yet— forbidden to speak.
Accordingly, the distinguished editor and commentator Myron Magnet invited us into his home earlier this fall to broadcast his talk “The Founders’ priceless legacy.” It aired on September 30.
It was our first time producing such an event, and we appreciated your enthusiastic response to Myron’s talk and the follow-up interview with my colleague James Panero. If you missed the event, you can read the text of Myron’s talk in our November issue. You can also watch the entire event by visiting our growing library of broadcasts online at newcriterion.com/media—a new benefit of supporting the publication, and one underwritten by your generosity.
There is more to come, this we promise you. Through this letter, for those readers who have yet to contribute to our campaigns, we invite you to join our growing ranks of supporters. For our returning donors, we extend our thanks and hope that you will consider renewing or even increasing your gift in response to our new challenge grant.
Your support, moral as well as material, has not only made our work possible, it has also made it joyful and invigorating for us laborers in the cultural vineyard.
Thank you again.
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher