The Nation and The New Republicby BEULAH AMIDON
This year each of them reaches one of those milestones at which it is usual for institutions, as for men, to look back over the years, take stock of goals attempted and work done and look ahead. The Nation was founded in the bitter aftermath of the Civil War; The New Republic appeared in November 1914, as the first World War began.
IN LAUNCHING The Nation UNDER DATE OF JULY 6, 1865, E. L. Godkin offered no statement of policy or program, hope or faith. With Lincoln dead, the conspirators still in prison, with the country torn by war and war's brutal ending, Andrew Johnson beset by Reconstruction problemsthe brilliant, impatient editor began Vol. I, No. I of his magazine with the colorless words, "The week has been singularly barren of exciting events." A few weeks later, the magazine first carried the identifying line, "A Weekly Journal of Politics, Literature, Science and Art," and set forth a Statement of Policy. [See page 22.]
That first number is in a pattern familiar to The Nation reader of today. It begins with a series of short paragraphs on "timely topics," a mixture of news reporting and editorial comment. Then follow several long editorials, three or four articles (today they would be signed, but not then), a section of brief comment on current "book news," a group of unsigned reviews. "One principal object of The Nation," the editor announced, "is to promote and develop a higher standard of criticism." He complained, however, that "the publishing trade has rarely afforded less signs of action, even in the deepest depression of war times, than at present."
Through most of its history, The Nation has been a personal journal, one man's vehicle of expression. The founder, E. L. Godkin, Irish born, university bred, grew up in the Mill-Bentham-Grote tradition. He was twenty-five years old when he came to the United States in 1856. Journalism appealed to him, and the project of a "high grade weekly" was in his mind for several years. He discussed the possibilities with Charles Eliot Norton and Frederic Olmstead, but it was a Philadelphia Abolitionist, James Miller McKim, who finally made the new publication possible. McKim had been casting about for a newspaper to represent the interests of the freedmen. He saw it also as an opening for Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of William Lloyd Garrison, recently graduated from Harvard and about to marry McKim's daughter. McKim heard of Godkin's plan, and proposed that they join forces. He secured backers in Philadelphia and Baltimore, Norton rallied his Boston friends, and forty stockholders provided capital of $100,000. "We have got so much money," Godkin wrote to Olmstead, "that I don't think we can fail, unless by stupendous mismanagement." At that stage, editorial problems were more troublesome than finances. "It [the magazine] has been so far rather heavy," Godkin complained in a letter to a friend, "and I find it difficult to lighten it.... It is difficult to find a man to do the work of gossiping agreeably on manners, lager bier, etc., who will bind himself to do it whether he feels like it or not. In fact, it is very difficult to get men of education in America to handle any subject with a light touch. They all want to write ponderous essays if they write at all."
But the new venture attracted readers. By the third issue, the subscription list, at $3 a year, had reached 5000. Publication costs, however, were much higher than the editor had estimated. By the end of the first year, the capital was exhausted, the project forced into virtual liquidation, and E. L. Godkin and Co. took over publication. This meant that the next fifteen years were for Godkin a constant struggle to raise the necessary funds while carrying the editorial responsibility and doing much of the editorial work. But in spite of business difficulties, the magazine grew steadily in circulation and in influence. Finally, in 1881, Godkin sold The Nation to the great railroad builder, Henry Villard, who had just taken over the New York Evening Post.
UNDER THE NEW ARRANGEMENT, The Nation BECAME A weekly edition of the newspaper, with Wendell Phillips Garrison titular editor. However, with Godkin as one of the editors and soon the editor-in-chief of the Evening Post , the change in the content and emphasis of the magazine was gradual. Indeed, much of the material in the weekly was lifted bodily from the daily paper. It was only after Godkin's retirement in 1899 that The Nation became increasingly absorbed in scholarship and belles lettres, less and less active in political crusades. When, in 1918; Oswald Garrison Villard took over The Nation and returned it to the arena of public affairs, he was not creating a new magazine but reviving its original purpose and method.
Henry Villard was scrupulous in avoiding even the appearance of control over the policies or the methods of his papers. Their business affairs were managed by a three-man trust, one of the three being Godkin. The editors had free hand. Mr. Villard bore wit patience the financial writer's criticism of his railroad policies, Godkin's ridicule of woman suffrage, which both the owner and his wife advocated. There was not even protest when Godkin's British upper class scorn of "trade men," expressed in editorials in both The Nation and the Evening Post, cost the publications thousands of dollars in advertising an even more in good will.
Starting with the evils of pew renting, and rapidly going on to the "blunders" of Andrew Johnson, the Grant scandals, railroad lobbies and the Blaine campaign unreasoning party "loyalty," civil service, Negro suffrage, Tammany, The Nation urged and, even more vigorously, campaigned against evil doers and their devious practices.
A publication so definitely a one-man creation was inevitably stamped with the limitations as well as the greatness of that man. Godkin's liberalism was in effect a utilitarian adaptation of laissez faire. Any tampering with "natural law" seemed to him to entail more evils than benefits. Hence while he fought valiantly for reforms. and against militarism, imperialism, corruption, he opposed government interference in business and industry, distrusted public education, and viewed agrarian and proletarian movements with contempt as evidences of "democratic decay." He disliked "the vulgar West" In 1896 The Nation was loud with his contempt for "the boy orator of the Platte," the "roaring mob" that put him in nomination, and the "anarchistic platform', of the Populists. In the final choice between tolerance and pessimism, the editor who had so greatly influenced the thought of his day, chose pessimism and at the time of his retirement, he wrote: "I came here fifty years ago with high and fond ideals about America...They are all now shattered, and I have apparently to look elsewhere to keep even moderate hopes about the human race alive."
It was in 1897 that Oswald Garrison Villard, son of the proprietor, began his long connection with the Evening Post and The Nation as reporter, Washington correspondent, foreign correspondent, publisher, editor. It was not until 1918, however, when the Evening Post was sold in wartime to Thomas W. Lamont that Mr. Villard took over the active management of The Nation. Once more The Nation became the voice of a militant editor. As Villard wrote in his recent autobiography, "Fighting Years": "Those were stirring months and called for in supercargo, purser and recruiting officer, and I had the complete satisfaction of molding my historic journal according to my exact wishes and beliefs."
The new editor-in-chief served without salary or expense account. For the first two or three years he put substantial sums from his own fortune into rebuilding the paper. After that, he sought and secured generous support from friends who believed in him, and in the value of an outspoken and independent liberal magazine. The exact amount of these contributions is not available. They made possible the special international relations section, and in the many lean years, they prevented or covered operating deficits. These were always handled as personal and his friends, and were not regarded by either party as formal business arrangements.
If Oswald Villard did not continue to put his private fortune into The Nation he did give it his courage, strength and talent through the grueling years of war, "red baiting," boom and depression. He gathered around him a few seasoned journalists among them: the historian, William MacDonald; the economist, Henry Raymond Mussey; the versatile Arthur Warner; and a brilliant group of younger people. To The Nation for a brief or longer service he brought, among others, Freda Kirchwey, daughter of George W. Kirchwey, former dean of Columbia Law School; Lewis Gannett; the four Van DorensCarl, Mark, Irita, Dorothy; Lincoln Colcord; Arthur Gleason; Raymond Gram Swing; Stuart Chase; Albert J. Nock; George Soule; Margaret Marshall; and that stormy petrel of the press, Heywood Broun. It has been a shifting group, as are most journalistic staffs, but continuously able and stimulating.
The Nation has had checkered years since Mr. Villard's retirement from active editorial control in 1932. He turned it over to an editorial boardFreda Kirchwey, Henry Hazlitt, Joseph Wood Krutch, Ernest Grueningwith himself as contributing editor, writing a weekly page. For three years The Nation made modest profits. Then it ran into a small deficit which Mr. Villard felt he could not cover. After a half century, The Nation passed out of the Villard family. It was sold to Maurice Wertheim, the financier who had built up the Theater Guild. The final result was unhappy, for the owner and the editors, largely because of Mr. Werthelm's unwillingness to assume responsibility for policies he did not control (and, to his credit, did not want to control) and with which at many points he sharply differed. Three years ago, The Nation was purchased by Freda Kirchwey, for twenty years one of its outstanding editors and now the first woman to become editor-in-chief of a national weekly
By lopping off some expenses and proceeding cautiously with new plans, The Nation has been self-supporting under this management. It has built upon its great tradition. Joseph Wood Krutch, dramatic critic, and Margaret Marshall, literary editor, have, in Godkin's phrase, "promoted and developed a higher standard of criticism. Through a group of regular correspondents, including Louis Fischer, Robert Dell, Harold Laski, Alexander Werth, the journal continues, less pretentiously, the realistic coverage of Villard's foreign relations section. Perhaps the chief change under the present ownership has been in tone and temper. The Nation of today is less shrill (less solid and scholarly, too), readier to offer an occasional word of commendation, not quite so sure that there are no gradations between black and white, that The Other Fellow and his point of view can only be Wrong.
Croly's New Republic
THE NEW REPUBLIC HAS LIVED A MORE sheltered economic life than has The Nation. Its background is the Progressive movement of the optimistic pre-war years. Its genesis is Herbert Croly's "The Promise of American Life," published in 1909. This was a time when something in American life The seemed about to flower, until the promise was blasted by the irrelevance of war. In his biography of Willard Straight, Croly told how Straight, home from his successful financial mission in the Orient, and married to Dorothy Whitney, "began to search for a vehicle of personal expression commensurate with the larger number of associates whom he now felt the need of reaching and influencing. Asia was one symptom of his interest in opening means of communication between himself and a larger public. The New Republic was another." Straight rose to Croly's book, looked him up and the two men formulated a plan for a weekly which would "apply to American life, as it developed, the political and social ideas which I had sketched in the book." It was to be a periodical which would not seek mass circulation, but would endeavor to "liberalize and leaven American political and social opinion." The magazine would not represent "personal journalism," like The Nation under Godkin and Villard, but "a little society of like-minded equals," which would operate in all important matters "by practically unanimous consent." Mr. and Mrs. Straight were to furnish the necessary funds, they would be consulted on important questions of policy and management, but they were not, so it was explicitly understood, to possess the power of vetoing the publication of any article which their associates all considered desirable."
Croly's stiff and labored prose is difficult to summarize or to quote. In "The Promise of American Life," as distilled by John Chamberlain in The New Republic public's recent twenty-fifth anniversary issue, Croly's starting point was an "active and intense dislike of the [average American's] mixture of optimism, fatalism and conservatisma mixture that results in 'the expectation that the familiar benefits [of American life] will continue to accumulate automatically.'" He held that only conscious political organization could attain the desired ends of a more just distribution of adequate resources. His hope was that democracy would entrust power to its exceptional men. He had no confidence in ''reform" by the crusading technique. Government must be "reformed" on all fronts at once, and thus, he wrote: "In becoming responsible for the subordination of the individual to the demand of a dominant and constructive national purpose, the American state will in effect be making itself responsible for a morally and socially desirable distribution of wealth." In Chamberlain's crisp summary, "his was a Hamiltonian emphasis on strong central government, a Jeffersonian bias in favor of opportunity for the common man."
Probably Croly's book is read today only by delvers into backgrounds and beginnings. It is hard to realize that a whole generation has grown up which scarcely knows Herbert Croly's name, and has no sense of the kindling enthusiasm of those years before the shadow of war fell across us all. In the months when the plans for The New Republic were being discussed, Croly was the center of an eager ferment. He was a painfully shy man, his speech so soft and mumbling that it was often difficult to follow what he said. His eyes, as he talked, were usually on his hands, clasped in his lap. But he would look up sometimes, a gaze of startling penetration out of his strange green eyes, and you saw the mind and will of the man, and his eager spirit. He enjoyed gamestennis, bridge, poker. At least, people who played with him say he did. I can't think of him as playing, but only as withdrawn into a cool, relentless, almost arid region of the mind, where emotion was excluded.
The other editors were Philip Littell; that gay, Puckish scholar Francis Hackett; Walter Lippmann, somewhat pontifical, even at twenty-four; Walter Weyl, goad to tired radicals; with Charlotte Rudyard in charge of the mechanics of the magazine, and Robert Hallowell, the publisher who later turned artist, as business manager. While not a member of this editorial board, the bitter and brilliant Randolph Bourne was for a time a contributing editor and often met with the others. Alvin Johnson, Signe Toksvig, Charles Merz were early additions to the staff. It is hard to believe that there was ever such good talk such high hopes. One was sureeven Croly, in his shy fastnessthat something basic would be swiftly brought pass by this magazine and what it stood for. Perhaps that seems too naive to set down today. But it was a kind faith I wish youth in America could rekindle.
"The New Republic is frankly an experiment. It is an attempt to find a national audience for a journal of interpretation and opinion. Its success inevitably depends on public support, but we are unable to achieve that success under the conditions essential to sound and disinterested thinking, we shall discontinue our experiment and make way for better men. Meanwhile, we set out with faith."
The thirty-two pages of the first number included short, unsigned editorial paragraphs, five longer editorials, articles by Frank H. Simonds, H. N. Brailsford, Hugh Walpole, Alvin Johnson, Rebecca West, Roland G. Usher Randolph Bourne, reviews by Francis Hackett and Philip Littell. Within a few months came the first of the supplements affording something between article and book-length treatment of timely subjects.
The New Republic quickly found its audience. It did not pretend to pay its way. The exact size of the subsidy it received from Mr. and Mrs. Straightcontinued by Mrs. Straight after her husband's early death in 1918seems to be a delicate matter. As long as Herbert Croly lived, he virtually had a blank check, to be drawn as the magazine required. Certainly there were few years when the amount was less than $75,000; undoubtedly there we years in which it ran to six figures.
The whole arrangement was changed in 1935. Mrs. Straight, now Mrs. Leonard Elmhirst, made her home in England, and that year renounced her American citizenship. She continued her interest in the four magazines she had underwritten, Asia, Antiques, Theatre Arts, and The New Republic, and wanted to see them go on playing a part in American life. Mr. and Mrs. Elmhirst established a trust for the benefit of the magazines, administered by a board of five, one member of which is the family lawyer. Under this arrangement, The New Republic's present subsidy is much smaller than it used to be, but it is substantial.
The New Republic has moved from its original quarters in the mellow old brownstone houses in Chelsea. It now shares offices with the other three magazinesoffices designed by Lescaze in chrome steel and blue, streamlined and modern. Most of the editorial writing is done by Bruce Bliven, a progressive journalist with Pacific Coast and Midwest background, and a rangy "feel" for the value and tempo of news; and by George Soule, research economist, and author of a dozen significant volumes in his field. Malcolm Cowley is literary editor, Stark Young and Otis Ferguson write on theater and cinema, and Robert Morss Lovett, now governor of the Virgin Islands, is still a member of the group. In addition there are a dozen contributing editors. John T. Flynn writes a weekly column on "Other People's Money." An outstanding feature is the column "Washington Notes," signed only with the initials "T.R.B." which gets behind the scenes at the Capital.
The New Republic keeps in constant touch with Mrs. Elmhirst, who has continued her interest in the details of the magazine. While its masthead still carries the strip, "A Journal of Opinion," the editors emphasize the magazine's responsibility for reporting equally with its responsibility for comment and interpretation. "I like to think of The New Republic as 'progressive,"' says Bruce Bliven. "We try to avoid the word 'liberal' which seems to us so vague as to be almost meaningless. We try to be positive. We don't do much scolding. None of us would feel comfortable on a soapbox."
Liberals in Crisis
While Villard, grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, had thrown himself into the anti-preparedness and anti-militarism movements after 1914, once faced with the situation of 1917, The Nation saw the World War as a clear issue between "autocracy and democracy, and threw its wholehearted support behind Wilson in his declaration of war. But even in the fervor of April 1917, it was warning the country: "Every war measure urged by the President and approved by Congress should be plainly stamped 'for the duration of the war.' . . . At its best the war will transmit a heavy burden and a political hampering; but we should strive to see to it from the first that the war shall not be permitted to lay a dead hand upon the coming years of peace."
For The New Republic the issue was not so simple. It arrived at support of Wilson's position by a long and painful exercise in logistics, beginning with a special supplement in early February 1917, calling for a break in diplomatic relations with Germany, and continuing through increasingly pro-war numbers: "We are forced to choose between maritime absolutism and maritime anarchy." . . ."Germany cannot be permitted to terrorize international territory and rather than permit a reign of terror, the United States, which is born of maritime freedom and order, has every justification for fighting." . . ."Unless the world emerges from the war a more liberal and a more peaceful world, America is beaten, no matter how badly Germany is crushed." . . ."The cause of the Allies is now unmistakably the cause of liberalism and the hope of enduring peace."
As soon as Mr. Villard took the helm of The Nation [in the summer of 1918] he began to demand a statement of peace terms, and to put forward the highly unpopular opinion that Germany could not and should not be crushed. He went to the Peace Conference at Versailles, and from there managed to make his way to Germany. Returning to Paris, he reported the barbarities of the blockade, the inhuman pressure being put upon Germany to force her to sign a dictated peace. In words of pity and indignationin some of the best writing of the periodhe pled for reason and justice.
The New Republic went to the recordWilson's speeches and state papersto prove that what was going on behind locked doors at Versailles was a betrayal of everything for which the United States had gone to war. By their separate methods the two magazines finally arrived at the same point and were among the first to voice the disillusionment and outrage of forward-looking Americans.
The Nation: "After nearly five years of strenuous effort and high expectancy, the hopes of the people have been destroyed. The progress of democracy as either a theory or practice of social righteousness has been suddenly and forcibly checked."
BOTH JOURNALS WERE THE TARGETS OF ANGRY PATRIOTS, particularly The Nation, because of Mr. Villard's strain of German blood. But The Nation's bitterest experience came in the hysterical red-baiting period after the war. As Henry Raymond Massey, managing editor in the war years, pointed out in The Nation's sixtieth anniversary issue (1925), the magazine's opinions were never more unpopular than when it stood for "a just peace of reconciliation," and for tolerance and fair playthen called "treason" and "bolshevism." There were batches of cancellations from "grieved and scandalized oldest subscribers." At this time, it reached the lowest paid circulation in its recent history27,593. Its average during the post-war decade was about 31,600; for the thirties, about four thousand higher, with the "top" of over 43,000 in 1937.
The New Republic has also suffered sharp ups and downs. When the majority of its audience was still opposed to American entry into the World War, The New Republic came out in favor of American participation; at a time when most of its readers still favored the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations, it repudiated both. In recent years, its stand for Soviet Russia had alienated many liberals. On August 30 of this year, it drew a close parallel "between Chamberlain's action in September 1938 and Stalin's in August 1939. . . . In the face of Hitler's determined threats, both surrenders seemed to save the peace of the world." The editorial added: "We do not expect that out of this appeasement will grow that great bogeyan offensive and defensive alliance between Soviet Communism and German Nazism, any more than a firm partnership between Britain and the Reich grew out of Munich." This was much farther from general liberal opinion in this country than The Nation's vigorous handling of the same event, though it has been criticized with equal harshness by communist writers.
Some critics view The New Republic's "lack of common sense" in such instances as the outgrowth of its economic irresponsibility; to others, this occasional disregard of currents of liberal American opinion is evidence of the journal's independence and courage. Both magazines suffer from the provincialism of Manhattan Island. They tend to overemphasize the interests (and the prejudices) of urban intellectuals, and to overlook other and often more significant points of view.
Not So Tired Radicals
AS REFLECTED IN CIRCULATION FIGURES, The New Republic's course shows, with an average of 35,000, a nose dive in 1919 from its all-time high of 42,000, to "a much lower point." The twenties were difficult for liberal effort in fields, and particularly in journalism. On the crest of a boom, people are indifferent to economic, social and political problems. The New Republic's lowest point was 1929, when it "got down to about 20,000." There has been a gain every year since 1930, and "a very rapid gain since the crisis in Europe."
But it is not by the size of their subscription lists, number of copies sold at newsstands that the importance of such journals as these can be gauged. Their influence is largely indirectin the thought, discussion, writing those who read them, particularly the editorial writ of the daily press. As Godkin believed and Herbert Cr. hoped, they have served as leaveners of public opinion. In its long lifetime, The Nation has seen the demise many weekliesamong them the Independent, Observer, Freeman, New Freeman, Outlook, Review, Literary Digest. And as Mr. Villard has observed, ". . . doubtless The Nation and The New Republic, had it not been for the large means behind them," would have gone the same way. But there have been weeklies, and dailies, too, which have starved to death not for lack of funds, but for lack of ideas, convictions, and the wit to escape dullness. Their harshest critics could not see this as the fate of either these journals.
The New Republic has held to its unexcited clarity, poise and balance, its broad outlook and mature temper Through a longer course, The Nation has kept its c insurgent spirit, its eloquence on behalf of its causes, ability, even when clearly wrong, to make men think The unwearied crusader that did not hesitate to brand the induction of Rutherford B. Hayes into office a "most deplorable and debauching enterprise," and in a scathing obituary, to point to Mark Hanna as one in whom "the grosser and more repulsive policies of his own party beheld themselves as in a mirror," has diminished neither its stock of vigorous adjectives nor its readiness to use them.
It is impossible to measure the influence of these journals through the years. Not always rightas so often they have been the first to admitthey have been constant reminders of the soft spots in American life, and inveterate spurs to positive lines of action. Their long ranks of bound volumes are an impressive record of public service, and a promise for the years to come.