Morning Must-Read: Peter Orszag: The Battle Over Douglas Elmendorf
Noted for Your Morning Procrastination for December 10, 2014

Morning Must-Read: Alfred Kazin (1989): The New Republic: A Personal View

(Via Corey Robin:) Alfred Kazin (1989): THE NEW REPUBLIC: A PERSONAL VIEW: I am just a vear older than THE NEW REPUBLIC and have been writing for it, on and off, since I was a 19-year-old City College senior in 1934. I was literary editor in 1942 and 1943 and a contributing editor for some years after that.

Before I ever dreamed of writing for it I knew something of its political history—-its founding at the height of the Progressive Era and its supposed link with Woodrow Wilson (the last intellectual to occupy the White House) through the "Promise of American Litfe" agenda of its first editors, Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, Philip Littell. and Walter Weyl. Later I learned of the bitter disillusionment with the Versailles Treatv that turned it "isolationist" in the '20s.

I came to see for myself its "left-leaning" during the Depression and its sudden support of World War II, not unconnected with the promptings of Willard Straight's widow Dorothv Whitney, who had funded the paper from the beginning and was now married to the English educational reformer Leonard Elmhirst. I had a long meeting with the Elmhirsts when I was a reporter in England in 1945.

From my reading of the paper and the books of Croly, Lippmann, Van Wyck Brooks, Jobn Dewey, Randolph Bourne, and others of the "progressive generation," I was all loo familiar with the many causes, arguments, doctrines, lashions, exclusions, and petty fanaticisms of American liberal democracy that had tramped through TNR from 1914 on. I knew even better and valued tar more highly the literary side of the paper, which had championed supposedly "difficult" American moderns (like Robert Frost!) from the beginning. Under Edmund Wilson's sporadic tenure and Malcolm Cowley's longer stay, TNR had been crucial to the encouragement and protection of supposedly "unreadable" and "unacceptable" American talents.

Wilson's epoch-making introduction to Stein, Proust, Joyce, and Yeats in Axel's Castle (1932) was first serialized right in tbe middle of the paper, not in "the back of the book." The same central place in the paper was later given to selections from Wilson's To the Finlaud Station (1940); earlier his remarkable reporting in The American Jitters: A Year of the Slump (1932) had also been featured in the most notable place. What Wilson believed in those days (TNR had good reason to assume) was what all thoughtful Americans, united by progressive ideals, now turning eagerly left, would sooner or later want to think....


As things go now, I cannot imagine ever appearing outside the literary section.... What I read in the front of the book is informative, saucy, in tone terribly sure of itself. It gives me no general enlightenment on the moral and intellectual crisis underlying the crisis of the week, above all no inspiration. There is no discernible social ideal behind all the clever counter-punching. Washington is more beautiful and imposing than it has ever been, is a wonderful town to look at—-if you overlook Anacostia and Shaw.... The many clever people in and out of government are not “intellectuals” in the old sense--thinkers with a sense of prophecy--but “experts,” no-nonsense minds that can chill me....

I wish I conld think of TNR as moving beyond post-leftist crowing—-beyond a certain parvenu smugness, an excessive familiarity with the inside track and the inside dope, and, above all, beyond that devouring interest in other journalists that confines so many commentaries out of Washington to triviality. I wish I could think of TNR as moving beyond the bristling, snappv, reactive common-sense of the disenchanted liberal. There are worlds within worlds, even in Washington, that are [not] apparent... to the wearilv clever, easily exasperated, heirs and guardians of the liberal democracy that is the one tradition we seem to have left.