Humanizing the Technocracy

Damon Linker in Notes From the Middleground: I first became a TNR (The New Republic) subscriber in 1992, when one of my teachers in graduate school told me it was required reading for anyone aspiring to be an intellectual—someone who devotes himself to ideas, thinking, and the life of the mind. He was right. The magazine—especially the back of the book overseen by Leon Wieseltier—provided an education to rival the one I acquired in my graduate studies in history and political science over the next six years. (You can read my tribute to Leon and his enormous contribution to American culture in the essay I wrote shortly after he resigned from the magazine in protest of Hughes’ (and his team’s) ambition to break shit.)

In his memoir published last year, Martin Peretz, the long-time owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, reflects on a life devoted to cultivating a distinctive and fractious form of liberalism

This means I began reading back during Andrew Sullivan’s tumultuous but incredibly fruitful editorial oversight of the magazine, from 1991 to 1996. These days, know-nothing critics on the left would have you believe Sullivan (with Peretz’s backing) turned TNR into a right-wing rag during these years because in 1994 he published an excerpt of The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein (alongside nearly two dozen essays, many of them severely critical of the book, its argument, and its methods) and a handful of other articles considered heterodox for a left-of-center magazine.

The truth is Sullivan continued and deepened what Peretz started during the 1980s, when he began gathering together a fractious group of brilliant editors and writers, ranging from the left to the center-right, to wage intellectual battle with each other as well as conventional wisdom in Washington. There was Mike Kinsley, an all-purpose skeptic. And Rick Hertzberg, a refugee from the Carter administration and the irascible house lefty. And Charles Krauthammer, another former Carter administration staffer whose hawkish views on foreign policy placed him closer to Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party than to the Democrats of the time. And Wieseltier, a stunningly erudite and combative editor and writer who took his intellectual cues from Isaiah Berlin and Lionel Trilling—the great pluralist liberals of the postwar decades.

It was quite a group, eager to make a big splash in the normally placid and chummy wading pool of the nation’s capital. And that’s exactly what they did—with Peretz himself serving as editor-in-chief while maintaining a multi-decade-long perch in the interdisciplinary Social Studies program at Harvard University, where he served both as a charismatic undergraduate teacher and a gifted talent-scout for the magazine.

More here.