The End of Conservative Magazines

Thomas Fleming

By

December 14, 2018

A few years back, from the safe perch of the Bushido  in the waters of the Ionian Sea, Taki goaded me--suffering from an almost lethal hangover-- to gloat over the Weekly Standard's collapse.  They were rescued for a time, but finally an entirely pointless exercise in ignorance and duplicity is coming to an end.

National Review doesn't actually need to quite printing since no one of any intelligence or discernment has picked it up for 20 years.  The  American Spectator was, at best, a college rag that poked fun in the right directions until its editor--a stage Irishman--was afflicted with the delusion that his staff could do investigative reporting.   It has been decades since friend or foe drew my attention to anything the publish.  A great deal of smoke was generated by the firing of John Derbyshire.  It was a dastardly betrayal of a decent man who had made the mistake of trusting such people, and, while the man had a decent prose style, he was, to put it mildly, no Joe Sobran, much less a Sam Francis.

Then is there anything remotely conservative making its mark in the world of print?  The question is absurd.  "Nothing gold can stay," was Frost's rueful judgment, and whatever good might have been expected of conservative institutions and publications that have survived has been destroyed by the pettiness and corruption of people who own and operate conservative institutions.

There are no exceptions.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

21 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    As of this month, for the first time in 15 years, I no longer subscribe to any magazines.

  2. Harry Colin says:

    I’m tempted to ask, “to which conservative magazines are you referring,” given the neo-Trotsky mindset that animated at least the first two of them, but I won’t be a wise guy. It could be said that they fulfilled their missions – they whipped up support for illegal and immoral wars and successfully smeared honest, and decent and talented conservatives.

    I think AmSpec’s move inside the beltway signaled their demise; it was more entertaining when they were in Indiana.

  3. Ben says:

    Jones’ culture wars?

  4. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Ben: Touch pitch and be defiled. Read ignorance that rejects truth, and you become servant to lies.

  5. Dan Bartolo says:

    Chronicles is still going stronng. I read it cover to cover still plus Fleming Foundation. Am I supposed to choose? No exceptions seeems so.

  6. Allen Wilson says:

    Dan,

    I’m still reading it, too, all the while keeping an eye out for signs of decline. I’ve seen what happens even to non-political magazines, and know how to spot some of the signs of that creeping leftist infection that engulfs them all sooner or later. I remember a certain Archaeology magazine, a little over fifteen years ago, when the editor retired and a new (feminist?) editor published her first editorial, which, in my perception, read: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin”. I let my subscription expire.

    The late Claude Poulin was worth the subscription price alone, and there are still good writers, and I have noticed no signs of decline as of yet. My plan has always been to keep my subscription up as long a I can learn something worthwhile from the content, then let it go. I really hate to have to say such a thing, since I always loved that magazine, but then, I also loved Southern Partisan, even in it’s not-so-great 1990’s incarnation, and sorely regret that I didn’t know of it’s existence when it was really great, during the 80’s.

    Perhaps someday, old back issues of such magazines will have to serve as samizdat.

  7. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I am writing in general terms about the state of conservative institutions and their publications. In the 1980’s conservatives could point to a variety of publications of every sort, from the lowbrow Human Events and Conservative Digest (to say nothing of the Spotlight–and I’d rather say nothing of the Spotlight) to broad circulation NR, TAS to more specialized journals like The New Criterion, The Public Interest, Modern Age. I am not saying any of them were very good–TS Eliot gave the verdict on NR after only a few issues–or coherent or even sincere, but a lot was going on.

    I have nothing to say about the magazine I ran for three decades, because I do not receive it, but no real magazine–not even The Readers Digest–is a collection of articles. Magazines are driving forces propelled by a point of view expressed by the editorial direction. Variety of competing and compatible points of view are important but even more important is the philosophy, which cannot be merely a borrowed tradition but something that unfolds issue by issue. In such a way a magazine may illuminate certain aspects of events as they unfold and make clear the implications of movements and fads. Whether any of this is goin on in a nominally rightwing publication is up to others to decide, but I see no evidence.

    Who or what is to blame? Certainly the death of print is a contributing factor and so is the aging of the conservative base, but conservative magazines, it seems to me, are far worse off than their leftist counterparts. The reason is to be sought in the failure of conservatives to develop a coherent point of view and the combination of ignorance and cynicism that permeates the class of well-to-do people who fund and direct the corporations that fund the publications. Dealing with such people for nearly four decades, I frequently thought of poor Mark Twain singing for his supper to the Morgans and Carnegies.

    I hope I have not given the impression that I’ve turned into the kind of busybody who tells people what and what not to read or think or what flavors of ice cream are acceptable. You pays your money and you takes your choice is an old American principle.

  8. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    PS. There are no exceptions to this tendency because it is part of human nature. Like the rest of the universe, human achievement is entropic. As a studio songwriter once put it, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.” Vergil of course put it much better in his analogy for human progress: a man rowing with all his might upstream against the current. He slowly makes his way but if slacks off on the oars for a brief moment, he is swept downstream. That, presumably, is what is meant by going with the flow.

    Traditions and institutions with roots take centuries to decline, though the Spectator has gone further downhill in just 5 years than I should have thought possible, and the vulgarization of opera performances–or rather spectacles–and religious liturgies is proceeding at a terrific speed, because they have entered into the slipstream of modernization. A small magazine depends on the energies of a few people, and when those energies are spent, “It’s time to call it. day.”

  9. Harry Colin says:

    I think another ingredient in the toxic brew that is killing off conservative magazines is the character of people writing and editing. I’ve often thought much of the new breed of conservative writers is comprised of folks whose conservatism is two parts opportunism and three parts skin-deep. Instead of Russell Kirk, Sam Francis and Pat Buchanan, we’re getting writers and editors whose grasp of conservative principles is, shall we say, modest. I also remember the passing of Joe Sobran and how before he was even accorded a decent burial so-called conservatives were falling over themselves to denounce him, never failing to play the anti-Semitic card early on. So much for conservative principles. Say what you will about Ann Coulter, at least she stood tall in Sobran’s defense and acknowledged the help he’d apparently given her on her way to blonde book covers and TV gigs.

  10. not not says:

    I never met Ann and have rarely read her stuff. What I have read—and what little I know of her character from people who do know her–has not inspired respect or even interest. On the other hand, she has been loyal to friends, especially friends who have run afoul of the movement, and that one good quality sets her apart from the vast number of her competitors. Thanks for pointing this out.

    Most but not all conservatives are opportunistic snakes. There are those–and I’d rather not name them–who would not willingly betray a friend but are too self-centered to help very much. Then there are a few like Sam Francis and Clyde Wilson who can be relied upon. Having watched conservatives from three angles–when I was in a position to help them, when I was powerless but not a pariah, and as a target for attack, I learned many lessons–now that I am liberated from such things–I no longer need. In sum, friendship is the binding virtue for Christians and pagans. Those whose loyalty cannot be relied upon–and most have to be presumed guilty unless they can prove otherwise–are of no use. There are no exceptions.

    More interestingly, perhaps is the question of who among people labelled conservative–rightly not-is writing well, honestly, and with originality?

  11. Frank Brownlow says:

    The demise of conservative magazines is an episode in the general collapse of civilization, traceable, I suppose, to the inevitably disastrous effects of stupid ideas. Sitting in Church among overweight men in shorts and flip-flops, I find myself thinking, “Thank you, Rousseau.” Or, contemplating the present state of schools and universities, we could all mutter, “Thank you, Marx,” and so it goes on.

  12. Ben says:

    DrTJF: I always love an apt Kohelet reference, thank you. But I’m left wanting more, meaning, the hows/whys/whens it soured on him? I assumed there was an alliance at least of a strange bedfellows nature, after I thought I recalled him speaking of you in a positive note.

  13. Kellen Buckles says:

    I find I need a source of information about current topics that approaches them from some kind of conservative angle. For example: I have no idea whether the law could jail Trump for the latest offenses. Personally I don’t care but with young people I know being influenced so heavily by the Left, it helps to be able to discuss issues that don’t concern my soul, garden, chickens, library, or trip to Sicily. One quickly learns whom to trust.

  14. Brent says:

    “More interestingly, perhaps is the question of who among people labelled conservative–rightly or not-is writing well, honestly, and with originality?”

    Besides the contributors to these pages and some of the writers whose works appear in Chronicles and at the Abbeville Institute, I’d submit the name “Theodore Dalrymple.” But that’s about it, I have to admit.

  15. Dan Bartolo says:

    Appreciate yalls insights. Thank you Dr. Fleming.

  16. Carl Hildebrand says:

    Honestly Chronicles isn’t what it used to be… I miss Dr. Fleming’s editorials. I’m thus happy for this venue.

  17. Dominick D says:

    That reminds me – there is no “Donate” button on this website.

  18. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Dominick D, you are a kind and good man. This needs to be remedied immediately.

  19. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dr. Fleming – Do you mean that Dominick D. is to be changed into an unkind and bad man or that you are going to add a donate button?

  20. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I need to hire AGVS as my gag writer!

  21. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    And grammar-check