Polemics & Exchanges, September 2022

A Letter from Our Publisher: Continuing the Fight

You may have noticed that in the August issue a new name appeared on the masthead under the title of “Publisher.” I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and to reaffirm Chronicles’ commitment to excellence.

I mark the true start of my education nearly 40 years ago, when I began reading Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Like many of our readers have told us, I have learned more from this monthly magazine than all the courses I took as an undergraduate and graduate student. Writers such as Katherine Dalton, Thomas Molnar, Theodore Pappas, Samuel Francis, E. Christian Kopff, Paul Gottfried, John Shelton Reed, Garet Garrett, and Thomas Fleming took a raw, foolish young man and helped to shape him into a person with a better idea of the good life and how to live it.

Chronicles’ pledge remains what it has been for 45 years: to publish the finest thinkers and writers in the English language on topics of culture and politics. We do this through timely, carefully crafted essays and reviews from a perspective that is grounded in something deeper than what is in vogue in America’s academic and political institutions. One could say that the magazine’s paleoconservative (i.e., “old-fashioned” conservative) perspective lies in resisting the Edenic impulse that has plagued man from the beginning.

In a sense, this notion defines a paleo­conservative: we understand that man sins in a fallen world and that redemption is not to be found within this temporal realm. Whether you read this magazine’s  articles on literature, poetry, religion, film, music, or politics, it becomes  apparent Chronicles is not on a utopian quest. We recognize, of course, that elites will always have an outsized influence upon American culture, whether in politics, education, media, or even our churches. And we also know that today’s elites have betrayed us. Yet, from the pages of Chronicles,readers may take strength in the hope that a new and finer elite will someday lead a Middle American Revolution and see the rebirth of the West.

Some who read Chronicles have prospered during this postmodern age, yet they also recognize that Middle America and much of the West is on its knees. Chronicles, however, has not and will not take the posture of defeat; we will never forget what has been lost; our writers will continue to seek victory over the forces aiming to destroy the West, even against overwhelming odds. As a former Chronicles editor once put it, “Every human institution inevitably fails; our job is to fail brilliantly.”

Careful readers know that Chronicles also practices diversity. Not the nonsensical, empty slogan of committee rooms and corporate suites, but a real diversity of thought that eschews ideological conformity. Our recent articles written from significantly different perspectives on the war in Ukraine demonstrate as much. In the pages of this magazine, we will continue to provoke and to argue—sometimes with grace, sometimes not!—as in any decent family.

When I read a particularly insightful article in Chronicles, I often think of Wendell Berry’s famous character, Burley Coulter, who, echoing Saint Paul in the short story “The Wild Birds,” explains what he means by “membership.” “The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t.” Chronicles readers are members of a place, and that place, broadly put, is Western Civilization. In a narrower sense, we call that place—which is our home—by many names; for Burley, it is the city of Port William.

I remember sitting on a multicolored couch in my parents’ home in 1986, reading an article in Chronicles by—or about (I do not recall which)—Russell Kirk. It would be just two years later that I would drive 400 miles to hear Kirk speak at Washington and Lee University, where my brother went to school and oversaw securing speakers for the campus. While sitting across the dinner table and conversing with Regnery Publishing Senior Editor David Bovenizer, I heard Kirk’s wife, Annette, ask my brother, John, to come study at Piety Hill, where Kirk’s work is taught in seminars. He had to say no, since he was in school, but he pointed at me and said, “I bet my brother will.” Mrs. Kirk asked me when I could start, and I replied, “Tomorrow!”

I soon would return the favor by sharing Chronicles with John, who became an enthusiastic reader. Two years after that, Chronicles Editor Thomas Fleming spoke at Washington and Lee, and John took two of his friends and recent Chronicles converts, Raymond Welder and Paul Lagarde, with him to see the speech. All three of these men now serve on the governing board that publishes Chronicles. Further proof that Providence does work in the affairs of men.

—Robert Roach
Frankfort, Ky.

Staying Sane

Prof. Gottfried in the July Chronicles provided a succinct description of the changing meaning of “liberalism” (“Bourgeois Liberalism”). In its current, and probably final version, it refers to whatever the progressive, global elites want it to mean. The journey to oblivion he chronicles is also paralleled by an analogous collapse of the term “conservative.” 

Mirroring the collapse in the meanings of “liberal” and “liberalism” has been a collapse in the possibility of political debate in this country. It is quite sufficient to attribute to an opponent one or more of the standard –isms and –phobias to prevent any discussion. What is hated by today’s liberals and progressives is not their opponents’ positions, it’s that their opponents exist at all. Hillary Clinton, speaking with uncharacteristic honesty during the 2016 election, described her opponents as “Deplorables” deserving only contempt.

In addition to the end of political debate, we are seeing an unparalleled and widespread refusal—at least in this country—on the part of elected and appointed officials to enforce the laws they recently swore to uphold. Their refusal is arrogant. They claim neither that the laws are unjust nor that they have some other impediment. They just ignore the law. 

The mobocracy seen recently in various U.S. cities, especially during the riots of 2020, provides a sad case study in the profound deterioration in language. There are no longer generally accepted meanings to words. Lives lost, billions of dollars of property damage, businesses destroyed and the police vilified. Speaker Pelosi shrugged and remarked that “people do what people do.” Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan described the months of burning as “a summer of love.”

George Orwell offered an insight to the progressive elite’s motivation. In his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the character O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, tells his prisoner Winston that the Party is interested only in power for its own sake and has no interest in the good of others. Orwell clearly described today’s progressive elites.

He also offered, in the same work, a view of hope. Describing Winston writing in his diary of the Party’s endless lies, Orwell wrote:

He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.

Professor Gottfried’s editorial reminds us that we can and must stay sane.

—William C. Vinck
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Top image: A hand taking a clear shot of hanging lights with the camera of a smartphone (via rawpixel.com, in the Public Domain)

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