January 13, 2005


A reader who wishes to remain anonymous, reacting to this earlier B.D. post, writes in:

Your posting on the new "ism" and the need for a cultural and intellectual persuasion is very apt. During the Cold War, magazines such as Encounter provided an intellectual platform for intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to share views and develop a common agenda. Unfortunately, Encounter turned out to be subsidized by the CIA and therefore lost its legitimacy when this was disclosed. The concept, however, remains valuable, and long before 9/11, there has been a need for shared intellectual and cultural ventures that encourage ideals of tolerance and freedom across conventional national and religious boundaries.

During the American Civil War, Francis Lieber led the Loyal Publication Society and its efforts to use persuasion on behalf of the Union. Lieber was the preeminent legal academic in mid-nineteenth-century America, and he well understood cultural differences, for he was a refugee from Germany. Today, the sort of publication we need has changed--no longer pamphlets, but the internet, radio, and television. The goal, however, of defending our ideals and of doing so by means that transcend the burdens of government organization has not passed with time. If anything, our failure to recognize the power of ideals makes the need for such an effort all the more important.

Speaking of the mailbag, I'm somewhat behind on the blog-mail. Please be assured I read everything that comes in--but don't appear to have time to reply to all of it on a consistent basis. My apologies, but do keep it coming. I like the feedback and, to stress, do read it all (as with all comments, btw).

Posted by Gregory at January 13, 2005 04:25 AM

"Encounter" certainly had its place. But so, too, did "Problems of Communism", a publication by the US Information Agency.

There was no hidden agenda there: it was out-and-out refutation of communism. It was published by an agency of the US government, as publicly acknowledged. But it still had enormous clout both in the West and the Eastern Bloc.

It succeeded, I believe, because it was forthright in its message: "communism is bad". It made the arguments and readers could take them or leave them. It provided the nuance that many found otherwise lacking in US pronouncements. It certainly provided fodder for useful discussion within the target region.

The readers in the East certainly thought it was on-target. They mourned the demise of the magazine even after the fall of communism. They appreciated that the US could talk cogently about political issues on a level above that provided by the mass market monthlies and TV.

The USG should consider a resurrection of the concept of a politically oriented magazine putting US views out there in depth.

Posted by: John Burgess at January 13, 2005 03:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hmph. Can't see why CIA backing would invalidate a magazine. Res ipsa loquitur, right? I can understand a certain "ewww!" reaction, and it's hardly unreasonable for tenured intellectuals to be very gravely concerned about cooties, but really: It is what it is, whoever's behind it.

Posted by: jh at January 13, 2005 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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