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“I am a patriot for Russia; the Future is there; Russia will win out and it will save the world. That is my belief.”
—Lincoln Steffens, popular 1920s journalist for The New Republic.
Martin Peretz is stepping down as editor-in-chief of The New Republic. As noted at FrontPageMag last week, he is assuming the title of editor-in-chief emeritus, an honorary position, though he is retaining his popular blog at TNR’s website. I’m sure the reasons for this are varied, but it seems the culmination of a long-term falling out between Peretz and the hard Left. More than that, it says a lot about the status of the Left in general, particularly the direction of the “progressive” movement over the past 100 years.
For the record, I’ve never met Martin Peretz, nor even exchanged an email with him, but I can say this much: In my opinion, Peretz single-handedly saved and brought broad respectability to The New Republic. He bought the magazine in the mid-1970s. By the late 1980s, when I started subscribing as an undergraduate, it was a bulwark of thoughtful liberalism, and regularly full of surprises. TNR’s contributors argued logically, methodically, with facts. It was a refreshing change from the emotional outbursts I usually encountered from liberals. My files are still packed with TNR articles from that period.
In fact, in one of my courses, I still use a handful of TNR pieces on the first Gulf War, dated 1990-91, from Morton Kondracke, David Korn, a superb analysis by Stephen Solarz, and the second-to-none reporting from Kuwait by the late Michael Kelly, God rest his soul. It was wonderful work, and much less predictable and more interesting than what was being published by the flagship of the right, National Review—with no disrespect to NR.
And when it came to competitors on the Left, from the crazies at The Nation to the silly New York Times—which always feigned the appearance of objectivity, like CBS News—you could trust The New Republic. One had faith that its writers thought things through.
So valuable was TNR to me personally, that when I entered grad school in the early 1990s, and was virtually penniless, it was one of only two subscriptions I kept.
That turned out to be a wise choice in another important way that speaks to Martin Peretz’s leadership. The post-Cold War TNR was, at long last, and long overdue, excellent on the sins of communism, giving seminal books like The Black Book of Communism the exposure they desperately needed among an American Left that always viewed Joe McCarthy and anti-communism as a greater concern than Joe Stalin and pro-communism. In the 1990s, TNR made amends for more recent Cold War meanderings, such as its juvenile April 4, 1983 editorial ripping “Reverend Reagan” for his “Evil Empire” speech, and, further back still, for the scandalous nonsense that filled its pages from the 1910s to 1930s.
As to that older history, it’s especially revealing of what Martin Peretz changed at TNR. What the early TNR reported on Bolshevism and the Lenin-Stalin state was outrageous. In a just world, the magazine would not have survived the ignominy that should have come its way. If a conservative magazine had a similar track record regarding the far Right, it would have never survived.
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