Small American Magazines in the Public Sphere, the Personal, and the Political: A Note
It was pretty clear to me back in the late 1980s that, if you went to work for Marty Peretz at Old The New Republic, you either got yourself fired in relatively short order, or you demonstrated that you had a badly defective moral compass.
And this badly defective moral compass has indeed shown itself not just in OTNR's prose but in its treatment of its writers on both the personal and the career level. Cf, most recently, the revelations of the Wieseltier offenses—and the continued silence of people like Kinsley, Hertzberg, and Sullivan, whom am I driven thereby conclude were active and knowing conspirators in the Wieseltier offenses—indicate.
Yet as somebody-or-other said on the internet, the New Criterion was more dickish than OTNR in its politics and its prose, yet it always seemed to me from everything that I heard swinging from the gossip vine that Hilton Kramer managed to create and maintain an attractive and nurturing space for his writers.
In Plato's Πολιτεια, one of the exchanges between Sokrates and Thrasymakhos goes like this:
S: Please me in one thing more and tell me this: do you think that a city, an army, or bandits, or thieves, or any other group that attempted any action in common, could accomplish anything if they wronged one another?
T: Certainly not...
Some people have tried to maintain that injustice-to-the-world will inevitably rebound on itself, and produce injustice-to-one's-own community as well. Cf.: Jeet Heer's obituary for Hilton Kramer.
I suspect that things are more complicated. I suspect that there are three vectors here:
- The “being a total dick” vector
- The “being a bully” vector
- The “conservative ideology” vector
These are three different vectors. They do all lie in the same half of the Hilbert space. But their correlation is not that high.
To the extent that conservative ideology arises from a lack of empathy, it is very likely but the same mental architecture that makes you a conservative makes you a bully and a dick.
On the other hand, conservatism as an ideology is supposed to teach restraint--which keeps your bullying and dickishness under control. (Or, it would perhaps be better to say, moves it to the system rather than into the your agency level.)
To the extent that left wing ideology arises from a mental architecture predisposed to bully, the habits of intellectual engagement you acquire in your political practice are likely to make you into an even bigger dick as well.
And if your mental architecture predisposes you to the center, will you see and sympathize all points of view—including that of the dicks and the bullies (Cf.: E.J. Dionne on Marty Peretz), as well as with those who have different opinions of the shape of the earth? That is a question.