At a time when many cultural organs are in full retreat, The New Criterion has advanced ahead, even in the face of adversity.
Twenty years ago, as The New Criterion approached its twentieth anniversary, we organized a year-long series called “The Survival of Culture.” The next year, we published revised versions of the essays in a book of the same title. I am sure many of you remember it.
Who could have imagined, at the turn of the millenium, just what 2001 would bring? Looking back, I must say that the ten contributors we gathered for the series, which included Robert Bork, Anthony Daniels, Hilton Kramer, Eric Ormsby, David Pryce-Jones, Diana Schaub, Mark Steyn, and Keith Windschuttle, most certainly did. Leading off the series, in our September 2001 issue, was my friend, the late Ken Minogue, with his essay “The New Epicureans.” Writing about the decadence of our own fin de siècle, Ken noted how “We are sated on the pleasure of tranquility as we watch terrible things (real or fictional) happening to others.” How prophetic those words proved to be, eleven days after publication, as we watched the world change on 9/11, sated no more.
I know that this appeal lands at a time of uncertainty. It is uncertain for us, too.
Since its founding in 1982, The New Criterion has battled cultural amnesia and its twin enablers: presentism, which regards history as a pointless terra incognita, and political correctness, which fosters its own toxic brand of malevolent superficiality. Our mission remains partly polemical—to expose the many naked emperors populating the academy and the institutions to which we have entrusted the preservation of high culture—and partly recuperative, to reanimate the conversation that has defined the noblest aspirations of Western civilization across the centuries.
I am told that the admonition “May you live in interesting times” is not really an old Chinese curse. But it might as well be. When I last wrote to you in fall 2019, no one could have predicted what havoc a new and more insidious cold virus could wreak.
But here we are. As I write, the tornado has not quite departed. But it is on its way out. The wreckage it is leaving behind cannot yet be sorted and totted up. There are so many lives and livelihoods lost or blighted.
It will be many months before the haze of this destruction lifts and we can assess the damage and confidently plot a course forward.
The New Criterion, like many other cultural institutions, has been grievously touched by these events. Several of our most loyal funders have had to reduce their expected support for the magazine; others have had to abandon their philanthropy altogether.
This has been one of the most important years in the nearly forty-year history of The New Criterion.
For many years now, our single most important fundraising initiative has been our annual gala, at which we bestow the Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society. This year’s honoree is the great Conrad Black, distinguished author, media entrepreneur, polemicist nonpareil. Alas, our event, like everything else in New York City, was shuttered by state order. I cannot tell you how much I regret this. Yes, Conrad remains our 2020 Burke honoree, but this year the investiture of the award had to be in absentia. I am so grateful to those of you who converted your gala gifts or pledges into general support of The New Criterion. The Edmund Burke Award Gala represents nearly 25 percent of our annual fundraising. Anything we—and by “we” I include you—can do to salvage it is critical to the future of The New Criterion.
As I say, it is too early to know what the intervention of this epidemic will mean for our country and our country’s cultural institutions.
But let me leave the lamentations to one side. Omit the intervention of the coronavirus, extract that piece of pie from the chart, and this has been one of the most important years in the nearly forty-year history of The New Criterion. Has there ever been a more stellar year than this for the magazine? I cannot think of one. Both in print and online, we have gone from triumph to triumph. The quality of the magazine has been all the more remarkable these last couple of months because our dedicated staff has managed the trick of sheltering in place in various far-flung semi-secure undisclosed locations while still producing the most literate and engaging cultural review in English (I am reserving judgment on the other languages).
Before the novel crown of the coronavirus, The New Criterion had scaled new heights, achieving our greatest print circulation as well as our greatest internet reach ever. At a time when many cultural organs are in full retreat, The New Criterion has advanced ahead, even in the face of adversity.
It is because of you. The New Criterion has never taken a dime of government money. We are not lining up now for a place at the trough of untrammeled federal largess.
We depend on our supporters absolutely. But we want those supporters to be people who understand and value what we do. That is why I am writing you today.
Our New York office is temporarily shuttered, but The New Criterion is very much open for business. You’ll see that every “i” has been dotted and every “t” crossed, as every deadline has been met. There is a need more than ever for The New Criterion.
This season we celebrated the release of our latest Criterion book, The Necessity of Sculpture, by one of our long-term art writers, Eric Gibson, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s arts page. Our regular series of podcasts continues, bringing you the latest from our editorial desks as well as Jay Nordlinger’s essential fortnightly series, Music for a While. This spring we are pleased to name our eighth Hilton Kramer Fellow, Isaac Sligh, a recent graduate of Sewanee, who will join us for a year in our editorial operations through an initiative underwritten by your generosity. And after welcoming Victor Davis Hanson as our inaugural Visiting Critic, I am delighted to announce that Myron Magnet, the great editor and historian, will join us for Year Two, with a series of essays starting in the fall.
Before the novel crown of the coronavirus, The New Criterion had scaled new heights.
Mark your calendar now: Myron will also deliver our second annual Circle Lecture on the evening of September 30. As you may recall, this new initiative opens our doors to our full circle of annual supporters for a lecture and reception. Last year’s talk, titled “Leninthink,” given by our Russia expert Gary Saul Morson, was one of our most read articles of the year. Saul’s talk was also one of the signal events of the season. We are proud that Myron Magnet will be the one to continue this series.
I know that this appeal lands at a time of uncertainty. It is uncertain for us, too. There is no government bailout of The New Criterion. For nearly forty years, your generosity has sustained our independent efforts through many painful vicissitudes.
More of you contributed to our last appeal than ever before. For our returning donors, we ask that you help sustain our efforts with an extra donation in this extraordinary season. All donations received by the end of June will be acknowledged in our annual report. Simply put, our projected shortfall of $350,000 must be covered by the close of our fiscal year on June 30. The future of the magazine is in your hands.
I thank you once again for making The New Criterion possible.
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher