Friday, August 13, 2004

Belated Mission Statement

Here is a kind of mission statement I wrote a month ago, when I thought my friend Mike Merrill and I were launching the same boat. Then he went and got himself a new job as Dean at Empire State College, in NYC, and got way too busy. Hence the apparently royal "we" in what follows. Yesterday I filled out the Profile part of the blogspot.com site because I noticed in reviewing the settings that 32 people had visited that part of it. I guess the personal is still political. Just ask our humorless vice-president, who "felt better" after telling Patrick Leahy to fuck off on the floor of the Senate. Or our governor here in beautiful New Jersey (the anecdotal evidence so far suggests that McGreevey has a lot of sympathy and support, and I haven't bee talking to academics about it). The shit will fly once the sexual harassment suit is filed. Can't wait to hear largest Limbaugh weigh in on this.

The Next Republic: An Irregular Journal of Politics and Letters

In the United States of the early 20th century, dozens of “little magazines” suddenly appeared to address the questions raised by the coming of corporate-industrial modernity, and to compete, accordingly, with the established journals of opinion. Most of these magazines folded quickly (as The Freeman and The New Review did), but they almost always left their mark. Some of them (like The Masses) lasted long enough to shape cultural criticism into the 1920s and 30s, either as a usable past or in new incarnations (like The New Masses). And one of them, The New Republic, a magazine founded in 1914 by Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and Walter Weyl, has survived to this day.
The “little magazines” of our time are the web-based journals and blogs we all visit, print, and discuss as part of our everyday routine. Like their predecessors from a century ago, they take advantage of new technologies and new reading publics (we call them “segments” or “niches”). Like their predecessors, they are often animated by a muckraking attitude that occasionally veers toward outright paranoia regarding the powers that be (whatever they may be). Like their predecessors, they are a lot more readable and a lot more fun than the established journals of opinion—such as the strangely stodgy New Republic—because they have no bottom line, only ideal readers.
Our foray into this old but new genre is The Next Republic: An Irregular Journal of Politics and Letters, a little magazine that will avoid a paranoid style until it becomes rational. We hope the connotations of our title are clear--we want to compete with the established journals of opinion like the other TNR, and we assume we can do that only by addressing the questions they can’t, or won’t, acknowledge. But we’re realists. We also have day jobs.
Let us deconstruct the title of our venture as a way of explaining its premises and purposes. Like Croly, Lippmann, Weyl, and their cohorts and competitors, we think this culture, this society, this polity, reached a verge in the 90s, and we want to know what comes next in the new century. We’re not in the business of prediction. Instead, we want to think about the future, but we know we can’t do that without historical knowledge and perspective. We live forward but we understand backward, as Kierkegaard put it. So we’re interested in reconciling previous truth and novel fact because we think that’s the intellectual condition of designating, and creating, what comes next.
The republic we have in mind is a political order that presupposes a certain citizenry. It looks backward in the sense that we admire the revolutionary force of classical republicanism (especially as it informed the American Revolution and subsequent struggles for justice), but it faces forward in the sense that we want to detach our political and intellectual agendas from the gravitational pull of the polis—from the idea that we discover ourselves only in political action, only by removing ourselves from the idiocies of private life and consumer culture. We don’t want Americans to renounce the pleasures and possibilities of consumer culture because we don’t believe that this renunciation would make them more attentive or virtuous citizens. Besides, we also believe that the culture of consumption has been good for the majority of workers, and for that matter the majority of Americans. If you disagree with us, ask your grandparents, and stay tuned—we’ll have a lot to say about this topic.
The next republic we have in mind enlists what late-19th century Americans called “economic republicanism”—that is, socialism. We want to discuss socialism as an order of events as well as an order of ideas. So we won’t be equating it with the Soviet or Chinese or Cuban attempts to abolish the market and command civil society, and we won’t be reducing it to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Instead, we will be trying to demonstrate that socialism is a species of market society, that it happened right here in River City--yes, in the United States--and that it still shapes our political expectations because it’s more than high-minded compassion. We will acknowledge, accordingly, that socialism has taken many political forms in the past, and that certain of these forms (for example, fascism) are incompatible with democracy. By the same token, however, we will want to define democracy as something more than a function of “free markets” and majority rule, in the egregiously ahistorical manner of Michael Mandelbaum, Fareed Zakaria, Thomas Friedman, and other neo-liberal celebrities.
The Next Republic will be an irregular journal because its periodical character is subject to the schedules of its creators and (eventually) its contributors. We have no idea when the thing will appear, in other words. But we want you to look for it. There is another connotation of “irregular” we will be remarking with regularity, however, and that flows from the history of socialist politics and polemics in the 20th century. We are “revisionists” in the sense Lenin meant when he banished Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, among others, from the ranks of the real revolutionaries. But we will resisting the notion that socialism is somehow monolithic, in theory or practice, and so we will be resisting the notion that there is an inert socialist truth to which all the faithful must adhere. In short, we don’t like the “revisionist” label, but we welcome the intellectual possibilities of accepting and arguing about it.
We call The Next Republic a journal of Politics and Letters for three reasons. First, we want to recall Raymond Williams’s “little magazine” of the same title, which was a short-lived but successful effort to extricate literary criticism and political analysis from the standards of “socialist realism” (it was the distant echo of V. F. Calverton’s Modern Quarterly, but it had more immediate consequences). Second, we want to foreground the origins, manifestations, and results of cultural politics. We think this domain of political expression and movement has been overlooked except by those who want to lament its salience. Third, we aim to make reviews of books, articles, op-eds, etc., an integral part of the conversation we want to start and, with luck, to continue. Like all the blogs we admire, we’ll be “sampling” our sources—with the consistent kind of “professional failure” Gramsci conjured when comparing medieval copyists to workers on the Ford assembly line, we’ll be transforming what we read by repetition.
So, here’s to it. If you play a sport, go ahead. You commit yourself, and then you see.