At The New Criterion, we will always call things by their real names.
As we cast our eyes over contemporary culture, the title of Charles Mackay’s nineteenth-century classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds comes to mind. I won’t go into the particulars of that amusing admonitory book other than to note that it is as pertinent today as it was when first published in the 1840s.
A leitmotif in the pages of The New Criterion since our first issue nearly forty years ago has been the pernicious influence of those popular delusions and the crowdlike madness that followed upon the cultural assaults we now sum up with a temporal epithet, the Sixties. It is all now so familiar that I think we are tempted to downplay or neglect how radical an assault it was then.
The first indispensable step towards freedom is the willingness to call things by their real names.
Radical, and also thoroughgoing and sweeping. It wasn’t just protests against the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, the new hedonism. The goal was nothing less than what Nietzsche called “the transvaluation of all values.” Among other things, it represented a categorical repudiation of the American consensus, not just its engines of prosperity and individual liberty, but also the basic tenets of our self-understanding, tenets that went back through English liberalism and the Scottish Enlightenment to the political meditations of the Greeks and the Romans.
We see something similar today in a different modality. In some ways, indeed, the assault on the fundamental values of our civilization is more complete than it was in the Sixties. This is partly because those conducting the assault are not launching their fusillades from outside the establishment but are themselves well integrated into, and often highly placed members of, the establishment. They are, in a word, the Elite. It is also partly because the assault is no longer undertaken in the name of freedom and truth, however spurious, but, strange though it sounds, against both.
George Orwell was right when he observed that the first indispensable step towards freedom is the willingness to call things by their real names. The triumph of political correctness has encouraged an epidemic allergy to candor. The hope is that the embrace of euphemism will alter not only our language but also the reality that our language names.
At The New Criterion, we will always call things by their real names. As a reader and supporter of our efforts, you have stood with us on the front lines in this battle for culture. The truth is, we would not be here today without the steadfast support of readers like you. This is why I urgently write to you for help with our year-end appeal.
The atmosphere of supine anesthesia in which we find ourselves today is an invitation to tyranny. A reluctance to speak the truth instills an unwillingness or even inability to see the truth. Thus does the reign of political correctness quietly aid and abet habits of complacency and unfreedom.
It is a melancholy fact that what took ages to achieve can be undone in the twinkling of an eye.
It took several centuries and much blood and toil to wrest freedom from the recalcitrant forces of arbitrary power. It is a melancholy fact that what took ages to achieve can be undone in the twinkling of an eye.
It seems to me that we are at a crossroads where our complacency colludes dangerously with the blunt opportunism of events. I am fond of noting that Aristotle identified courage as the most important virtue because without courage we are unable to practice the other virtues. The life of freedom requires the courage to recognize and to name the realities that impinge upon us. Day is Night. Peace is War. Love is Hate. Out of such linguistic capitulations, as Orwell showed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, totalitarian tyranny is born. We’ve all read the book. But have we learned that hard lesson?
Apparently not. I do not think many people properly appreciate just how bizarre it is that socialism appears to be making a serious comeback, not just as a common-room amusement among ignorant students who have no idea what socialism is, but also among presidential candidates and members of Congress, some of whom, anyway, know only too well what that murderous ideology entails.
Winston Churchill was too kind when he said that socialism was “the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.” All that is correct. But beyond that, socialism rests upon two fundamental goals: the abolition of private property and the equalization of wealth. A corollary to the achievement of those goals, as socialist totalitarians the world over have quickly realized, is terror and a police state. And yet here we are with serious proposals to institute socialism in the United States.
In September, this specter of socialism was the topic of “Leninthink,” our first Circle Lecture, delivered by Gary Saul Morson. In his speech, published as our lead feature in the October issue of the magazine, the eminent Russian scholar enumerated the dangers of state-sponsored revolutionism as illustrated by the cult of Lenin. Ultimately, what makes socialism, and the revolutionary thinking that underpins it, so dangerous is the way it upends what Lenin called “any morality based on extra-human and extra-class concepts.” The Leninist experiment, the most deadly experiment in human history, is a revolution of the soul as much as an overturning of the state.
It was, however, thrilling to see so many supporters of The New Criterion on hand to witness the first of what we expect to be many years of enlightening talks. When we introduced the Circle to readers of The New Criterion, we wanted to offer a new way to engage with the magazine beyond the page. We have been overwhelmed by the response to this initiative, which has brought so many new faces into our fold with an annual contribution of just $100 or more.
As a nonprofit operating in an increasingly distressed publishing world, The New Criterion is fortunate in the stalwart fidelity of our key supporters. But we are equally pleased that the yearly number of donors contributing to The Cause continues to increase. Every dollar The New Criterion receives supports our sole project: to defend the values of high culture while serving as an articulate scourge of artistic mediocrity and intellectual mendacity wherever they are found. Every contribution matters. To be blunt, your support is essential to the future of The New Criterion.
The sustaining force of our operations remains a core of key donors and the Friends of The New Criterion. Our Friends, who contribute $2,000 or more each year, in turn receive the kind of cultural benefits available nowhere else. From book launches to exclusive symposia, Friends gain access to the authors, thinkers, and artists who shape our world.
Every contribution matters. To be blunt, your support is essential to the future of The New Criterion.
Thanks to your support, the reach of The New Criterion is greater than ever. In expanding, we have become more focused on how to ensure what began in 1982 as an experiment in critical audacity remains so for many years to come. With that in mind, two years ago we initiated the Galliard Society, The New Criterion’s planned giving program. Named after the elegant font that has graced our pages since the first issue, the Galliard Society is a way for your partnership with The New Criterion to be made permanent for posterity. If you have already added The New Criterion to your will, please let us know so that we may recognize you. If you haven’t yet, please contact us for more information. We look forward to carrying on the great Western tradition together.
It is a fragile tradition, but a vital one. During the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai in 1932, the Austrian essayist Karl Kraus was anguishing over the placement of commas in a column. It might seem futile at such a moment, he told a friend, but he concluded that “if those who are obliged to look after commas had always made sure they were in the right place, then Shanghai would not be burning.”
Was that hyperbolic? Perhaps. But the general point holds: language matters. Achieving the accurate representation of the world is not only a linguistic desideratum, it is also a political imperative. Much of our culture has colluded against such accuracy in the name of a politicized agenda of one sort or another.
I hope that you will renew your support for The New Criterion. The stakes are high. William Faulkner was right when he observed that “the past is never dead. It is not even past.” Help us at The New Criterion as we strive to ensure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher