Beware of thirty-year-old billionaires who think that being rich makes them smart.
Beware of thirty-year-old billionaires who want to use their money to better the human species.
Especially, beware of thirty-year-old billionaires who believe that they should be masters of the marketplace of ideas.
By now everyone knows what happened to The New Republic. Its immature billionaire owner decided that he had had enough of ideas. He wanted to make the magazine into a media platform… whatever that means.
So he started firing people. He fired the editor-in-chief, Franklin Foer, without even having the courtesy to tell him first. Then, he fired venerable literary editor, Leon Wieseltier. Before you knew it, most of the masthead had resigned.
The next issue of the magazine has been canceled.
You don’t have to be a liberal to mourn the demise of this venerable and honorable American institution. With the end of The New Republic, David Greenberg reminds us, we have lost one of the few liberal publications that fearlessly criticized liberalism.
Greenberg explains that The New Republic fell victim to a polarized intellectual climate:
The New Republic was hurt by something more specific: the polarization of a media environment that leaves little room for a strain of liberal thought that not only attacks the right and the far left but also prods and questions liberalism itself.
Founded in 1914 by some of the leading minds of the Progressive Era—Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and Walter Weyl—the New Republic from the beginning sought to challenge conventional thinking, including among its own readership. These editors recognized that while liberalism (like all political creeds) needs foundational principles, one of those principles specific to liberalism is openness to debate, experiment, and reconsideration. Dogmatism, even more than conservatism, was its bête noire.
Keep in mind, The New Republic launched the careers of some very serious conservative thinkers:
Some old-time subscribers and confirmed partisans disliked the magazine for its willingness to publish conservative voices—Fred Barnes was its ace White House correspondent for years while staff writer Charles Krauthammer migrated during his time at the magazine from Walter Mondale speechwriter to neoconservative paragon. Critics assailed its perceived hawkishness and its unapologetic Zionism, which had long been anathema to the hard left and was now becoming distasteful to certain high-minded progressives as well.
But to other readers, the sense of freewheeling debate—as opposed to bien-pensant wisdom or party-line doctrine—gave the magazine its exciting appeal. As a college student in the late 1980s, I found its pages more stimulating than those of rival publications, which tended to toe what was already being called the “politically correct” line. I never agreed with all of the magazine’s positions—its support of the Nicaraguan contras, its opposition to affirmative action—but its pieces made me think in ways that few newspaper columnists or television pundits did. Beyond affording the pleasures of contrarianism, this breed of journalism honored the journalistic imperative to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Who, after all, was more comfortable than one’s own loyal readers?
It’s a sad day for American intellectual life.