Last week, John Patrick Diggins, celebrated historian, author, and professor, passed away. Diggins was well know for his work on American political ideology, sometimes in the pages of TNR. In December of 1984, he wrote a great historical retrospective of the magazine to honor its 70 years of "enlightened mistakes, principled compromises, and unconvential wisdom":
Priced at ten cents a copy, The New Republic appeared on November 7, 1914, three months after the cannons of World War I roared across Europe. The popular impression was that TNR was founded in response to the war--and hence the "crisis" of liberalism--but the true story is less dramatic. The war that would shape the rest of the twentieth century seemed to have crept up on Herbert Croly, the progressive journalist who was planning the magazine, and on the other young progressives whom he recruited for its staff. Walter Lippmann, who would become one of the magazine's editors and after that the nation's most influential journalist, later recalled that he had been visiting the English Lake District in the summer of 1914, when TNR was being planned and had been oblivious to the Serbian crisis. Lippmann's travels were later stopped by the closing of the Belgium border; he could remember being only mildly "annoyed" that his vacation plans had been disrupted. "So I know at least one young man," he wrote, "who was not mentally prepared for the age he was destined to live in."
TNR proclaimed itself "A Journal of Opinion," in part to indicate its openness to new ideas. But opinion, especially misleading opinion, was precisely what TNR set out to examine and, if possible, correct. To identify politics with opinion was to leave government to whim, to the vicissitudes of private interests that were at variance with the public good. What TNR wanted to put before the public was theory, interpretation, perspective--the ability to analyze and elucidate the realities of politics that had been conditioned by the forces of history.
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