Friday, November 14, 2014

The New Republic Turns 100 Years Old

The New Republic just issued its anniversary issue, which arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  The magazines' first issue came out on November 7, 1914.

I've been a subscriber to the New Republic since May, 1986.  The subscription was given to me as a birthday gift by a friend who thought the magazine reflected my politics, which it pretty much did at that time, my final year of being an undergraduate geology student at the University of Wyoming, interested in politics, and about to graduate into unemployment. Just as Jonathan Chait, who wrote about his personal history with the magazine in this issue, I used to read it cover to cover when it came, usually in a single sitting.  It was a somewhat thinner magazine at that time, as it was a weekly, as it had been since November 1914.  I was always amazed by the brilliant content of the magazine back then, and amazed that they were able to produce those results every week.  I continued on to devour it that way throughout my resumed college career as a law student, and even thought about trying to submit some articles to it from time to time, in hopes they'd take notice of them.  When the magazine endorsed Albert Gore the first time, when he was a free thinking, pro life, anti Gun Control, candidate for the Presidency, I followed that primary season eagerly.

Over time, I've become less enamored with the magazine, but that seems to be part of the history of the magazine itself.  Founded by Herbert Croly, and Willard and Dorthy Straight (the financial backing), the 1914 magazine, which fits right into the time period this blog is focused on, was an unofficial organ of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party, which seemed to also sort of reflect its views in the mid 1980s.  Croly was a late blooming middle aged intellect at the time who was attracted to Progressive Politics and hence the really quite radical final effort of Theodore Roosevelt to regain the Presidency.  The early magazine reflected his, and the Straights, Progressive Party views, even after the Progressive Party rapidly fell apart.  That early history, when I learned of it, appealed to me, as I was a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt at the time.  I'm less of one now (I've migrated more towards admiring the views of the founder he disliked, Thomas Jefferson), although I'm still a fan of him in many ways, and that's also true of The New Republic, except more so.  That is, I'm much less of a fan of The New Republic today, but I still renew my subscription.

In fairness to myself, however, any student of the magazine knows that its particularly honest about the quirky history its had in terms of quality.  The initial magazine yielded from being a Progressive organ to being a Liberal one in the 1930s.  Probably reflective of the evolutionary nature of the time, it's interesting that a son of the Straights evolved out of the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party in to the Communist Party, where they became a spy for the Soviet Union.  The magazine itself went bankrupt in 1924, at which time Croly ceased to be an editor, but he continued to contribute until his death in 1930. By that time, the magazine had become solidly left leaning, and was made up of an eclectic bunch of Progressives, Liberals, and hard left Liberals.  That New Republic became very significant during the Great Depression, where it was virtually an intellectual organ of the more left wing New Dealers and influenced FDR's actions to a significant degree.

As the New Deal waned by the late 1930s, so did the magazines intellectual abilities.  It tacked increasingly towards the left, and when Henry Wallace became the editor following his failure to secure a renewed spot on FDR's ticket, it became a hard left organ.  One later editor of The New Republic has flat out stated that Wallace was a Communist, which is different, to say the least, from the more accepted view that he was a rather naive and unrealistic hard left Liberal.  At any rate, Wallace nearly wrecked the magazine and the magazine seems to have been glad to see him go when he departed for his final Quixotic run for President.

After that, the magazine revived and it was in good shape, free thinking, not ideologically rigid and widely ranging when I first became a subscriber.  It was neither liberal or conservative, in a true sense, but something else.  By its own acknowledgment, it entered into a slump some time later and the final years of Martin Peretz' ownership did not seem to be good ones.  Indeed, in the last years of that era the editor became so obsessed with Israeli politics that the flagship editorials or the comments in the back often seemed more appropriate for an Israeli weekly than an American one.  If I recall correctly, there was at one time even an article on the mayoral race in Jerusalem, which is hard for an American reader to really care much about.

Since that time the magazine has sold, and it's now a monthly.  It's thicker, and its resumed some of its eclectic nature.  However, perhaps reflective of my own evolution in political thinking, or perhaps reflective of the fact that many who were once regarded as "Liberals", perhaps inaccurately, in the past no longer are, as they have no home in current Liberalism, or perhaps because the magazine seems so solidly Democratic Party Liberal, rather than Progressive Party Progressive, or whatever, I don't like it nearly as much as I once did, and I never read it cover to cover anymore.  Indeed, I haven't for quite some time, probably since the mid to late 1990s.  Some issues I'll hardly read a single article from, and  in the last decade I've found at least a couple of the articles so offensive to certain views I hold, that I've thought about dropping my subscription.  It sure doesn't interest me the way it once did.

But, achieving 100 years in a print magazine is quite an accomplishment.  So, happy birthday New Republic.

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