The New Republic is (or was) probably the most respected left of center journal of opinion in the United States. It has a venerable history, having been founded a century ago by impressive intellectual figures like Herbert Croly and Walter Lippman. Now, it seems, it has been destroyed.
Not literally destroyed. It will continue to exist. But the changes that its new owner–Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes–has in mind have prompted all of TNR’s senior staff to quit. He apparently plans to move the magazine from DC to New York City and turn it into a “digital media company.” The staff evidently regard this plan as a betrayal of the magazine’s traditional identity as a journal of politics, culture, and literature. It is hard to see how it can continue to be the same thing with this new mission–and with all of its human continuity gone.Herbert Croly, co-founder of The New Republic
One thing that strikes me as interesting in all this is the way the staffers talk about the transformation/destruction of the institution they love. Here is an example, drawn from the Politico article linked above.
“The New Republic is a kind of public trust. That is something all its previous owners and publishers understood and respected. The legacy has now been trashed, the trust violated.”
Why is this interesting? The New Republic is a progressive journal, yet its editorial staff think of it in conservative terms. The people who made up The New Republic are all progressives in relation to American politics, yet they are all conservatives in relation to the identity of The New Republic. They say it is a public trust. This means that it does not really belong to the people who happen to own and manage it for the time being. Rather, it is bigger than they are, and they have an obligation to preserve its traditional identity and pass it on to the next generation.
That is a fine way to think about a long-established journal. It is also a fine way to think about one’s country. Yet the staff of The New Republic have not thought about their country that way for as long as I can remember. They have instead been in favor of the transformation of America in both law and morals. There is irony here.
Maybe the people at The New Republic have been implicitly committed to an enterprise that could not, in the end, be sustained. After all, if you dedicate your energies to convincing people that they are not bound by their country’s traditions, you should not be surprised if a new owner has no respect for the traditions of a mere magazine.