Leon Wieseltier, the famed and now former literary editor of The New Republic magazine, has had some important things to say lately about science and scientism. He’s out of a job, and in the news, after much of the staff of the magazine quit in protest at the way TNR‘s new owner, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes (pictured at right), was handling the decisions and responsibilities that come with his role.
If you haven’t followed this story, you should. It’s the rare development in the news that you can feel almost entirely good about. Although TNR is a liberal journal, and not quite representative of my picture of reality, the staff is talented, and Wieseltier can be brilliant. If you haven’t read his column on Thomas Nagel’s book Mind & Cosmos, blasting “Darwinist dittoheads,” you should read that too.
You can feel good about this story because, don’t worry, Leon Wieseltier, now ex-editor Frank Foer, and the rest of TNR‘s ex-staff will all land on their feet. They are the subject of near universal praise, across the media, for their guts. They will not starve for new work. The magazine itself recently turned a century old. Well, one hundred is a nice round number. If it perishes, it won’t be the first fine old magazine to do so.
The morality tale here, to be relished, concerns Hughes and his lieutenant, CEO Guy Vidra. The latter is the object of mockery for introducing, in a bullying and vulgar speech to editorial staff, the phrase “vertically integrated digital media company” to high-toned Washington political journalism. You don’t need me to recount the narrative of how Hughes and Vidra successfully alienated more than fifty staff members and contributors to the magazine they wanted to lead. Again, read the coverage elsewhere.
From everything I’ve heard about what happened, they sought to remake a magazine that saw itself as a cause — as charging a field with a battle cry in a war of ideas — into just another vapid, cynical Internet venture. Hughes and Vidra brought money to this endeavor but, it seems, no wisdom. Hughes purchased something special, if flawed, and destroyed it. He and Vidra will have a hard time living this one down.
I like to see idealism and ideas vindicated, even if I disagree with those ideas, and that is why I like this story. I identify with Wieseltier & Company. That’s not only because, having been literary editor of National Review for a decade and having a surname that sounds a little like his, I’ve sometimes been mistaken for Leon Wieseltier. Recently, I was at a wedding and another guest congratulated me on my book Kaddish — a book authored by Wieseltier. (Candidly, I doubt he’s been mistaken for me very often.)
I identify with TNR‘s ex-staff, too, in a more fundamental way. In the evolution controversy, it’s supporters of intelligent design who stand for ideas (disagree with us or not) and idealism. We’ve paid a heavy price for that. No one has ever gone into the field of ID in search of career security. By contrast, whatever the merits of Darwinian theory as science, its advocates often seem to be a cynical lot, too comfortable in the role of bully, short on respect for ideas and debate, more interested in punishing and silencing than in arguing.
The general view is that Hughes has proven himself unworthy of owning The New Republic. Publications like TNR and National Review do not, as a rule, make money. NR as I knew it was always supported by gifts from patrons who understood and appreciated its vision, not least owner William F. Buckley Jr., a great man.
The same is true of Discovery Institute. As one of our worthy readers, you know where I’m going with this. Click here:
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