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At least since Oedipus met King Laius on the road from Delphi to Thebes, the image of a crossroads has signaled a dramatic and morally fraught turning point. It was with that cargo of significance in mind that we decided to publish a special series of essays on “Western civilization at the crossroads” throughout this fortieth-anniversary season. As I write, we are nearing the home stretch of that endeavor. If you missed any of the installments, be of good cheer: the whole lot will be published in book form this fall. Rest assured that our messengers and town criers will seek you out with the appropriate Oyez, Oyez to alert you when that gestation is over and delivery is nigh.
The question of how best to nurture this delicate plant of culture is our main concern.
In the meantime, as we near the end of our ruby anniversary, I wanted to write with a few further thoughts about the crossroads The New Criterion has traversed over the years and our preparations for the journey ahead. Regular readers will know of my fondness for the image that the literary critic Lionel Trilling deployed to locate his own work: “the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet.”
Taking the term “literature” broadly to mean cultural endeavor generally, I have always thought that Trilling’s image provided a good description of the field of action we inhabit at The New Criterion. The New Criterion is a journal of culture and the arts, not politics. But because politics has insinuated itself so deeply and insidiously into the metabolism of culture in our society, any honest cultural criticism must perforce conjure with the imperatives that would subordinate intellectual and artistic life to politics.
In his deep though curiously titled book Physics and Politics—it has nothing to do with physics, and politics enters only obliquely—the Victorian essayist Walter Bagehot traces the course of civilizations from savagery to “the age of discussion.” We are not permitted to describe savage societies as “savage” any longer, which is one reason that Bagehot’s book is no longer read with the intensity it deserves. But the censorious dictates of political correctness cannot obscure Bagehot’s calm and commanding observation that “government by discussion”—“slow government”—is both “a principal organ for improving mankind” and “a plant of singular delicacy.”
We have strengthened the bonds of civilization together.
The question of how best to nurture this delicate plant is Bagehot’s central concern. It is also ours. Part of the answer lies in facing up to the unpalatable realities about power that make civilization possible. The other part lies in embracing what Bagehot calls “animated moderation,” that “union of life with measure, of spirit with reasonableness,” which assures that discussion will continue without descending into violence or anarchy. It seems like a small thing. But then achieved order always does—until it is lost.
For forty years, The New Criterion has fought on the front lines of that battle. Some of you have been with us since the beginning, in 1982. Many more have joined us along the way. As I write, the circulation of The New Criterion is at an all-time high. And the vibrancy, I am happy to say, extends to our online presence and our many in-person events as well. Over the last couple of years, as much of the world seemed to grind to a halt, I have watched this publication rally as never before. We never missed an issue, and if we had to work around shuttered venues and canceled events, we negotiated the panic and hysteria with aplomb and, mirabile dictu, emerged all the stronger for the experience. Your show of support, in numbers that have never been higher, has made that all possible.
Looking back on our anniversary season, I am proud to report that The New Criterion is an enterprise at full strength, in person, with more events and editorial initiatives than ever before. Some of you were able to join us for our Edmund Burke Award gala at the end of April. It was the first gala we have been able to convene since the pandemic and the politicians’ attendant strictures swept across the world. Our honoree this year was Larry P. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, an institution that has been a beacon of sanity and intellectual maturity in that rancid swamp of encroaching wokeness that has poisoned the educational establishment of the West. An expanded version of “Consistency in politics,” Dr. Arnn’s address that evening, will appear in our June issue. It vividly limns some of the major dangers our culture faces in these turbulent times.
Nearly 250 of you joined us in support of this signal marker of our anniversary year, but this was only one of several events this season with our Friends, Young Friends, and greater Circle of Supporters. In September we gathered for a book party in celebration of The Critical Temper: Interventions from The New Criterion at 40. The next month we joined Megyn Kelly as she interviewed Victor Davis Hanson about his new book, The Dying Citizen. In December many of you joined us for our annual holiday party—now in our newly renovated offices. In February we reconvened with our Young Friends in the office to welcome Kelly Jane Torrance, the op-ed editor of the New York Post, as she discussed life on the ramparts of journalism. A week later we migrated south for a series of events with Friends in Palm Beach. Back in the offices in April we celebrated the two latest winners of The New Criterion Poetry Prize, Nicholas Pierce and Bruce Bond. And this month we will host an evening with Douglas Murray celebrating his new book, The War on the West.
It has been a whirlwind of activity, both joyful and urgent, as we have strengthened the bonds of civilization together. The anniversary season has given me many moments to reflect on what we have accomplished over these forty years and the challenges of the years ahead. I trust you have found this season, from our anniversary series and special issues to our podcasts and newsletters, as fructifying as I have. Reflecting on the generous support of our readers, I join my colleagues in expressing our heartfelt gratitude as we cross the threshold into our fifth decade.
To those who are long-time supporters, I salute and thank you for your contributions and welcome you again to the fold. As you well know, The New Criterion accepts no government money and could not exist without the generous benefactions of our Friends and Supporters. We now ask that you consider making a final fortieth-anniversary contribution in commemoration of the season and in support of our upcoming initiatives, including our forthcoming compendium of the essays from “Western civilization at the crossroads.” To those who are new to the magazine, I hope that you will take some time to savor our wares and, duly impressed, that you will want to join the ranks of our supporters. You are supporting not just a magazine but an extended family of artists, writers, and critics—a family, moreover, that very much includes you, our partners in the labor.
Thank you for your time and your support.
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher
P. S. We must again set a campaign goal of $400,000 to be raised from at least 1,000 donors. Every dollar and every donor makes a difference. Only you can ensure the future of our operations. All donations received by the close of our fiscal year on June 30 will be acknowledged in our 2022 Annual Report.
From mugs to boat bags, we have some anniversary gifts to share. This spring we also offer a special anniversary slipcase—individually signed and perfectly sized to our ten-issue anniversary volume. We will send this together with a record set of the volume for your collection as a token of our extra thanks.
In the fall our Circle Lecture returns with an event that will honor our full Circle of Supporters of $100 or more. Whether you are a first-time donor or a founding Friend of The New Criterion, this is a welcome point of entry to our culture of events. Stay tuned for details; we look forward to seeing you there.
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