The Old New Republic

The Face of Five Decades: Selections from Fifty Years of The New Republic

edited by Robert B. Luce
Simon & Schuster, 450 pp., $7.95

On the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary last year The New Republic put out a special number which was then followed up a few months later with an anthology of selections from its entire history. The special number was poor; the anthology is wonderful. Are any conclusions to be drawn from the contrast? I believe there are, even allowing for the obvious advantage the editor of the anthology (Robert B. Luce) enjoyed over the editors of the special number in having more than 2500 issues of a distinguished magazine to choose from as against whatever talent happened to be currently available.

The New Republic today is probably about as good as a weekly journal of opinion in America is capable of being under prevailing conditions. Certainly it has been a much better magazine in the past five years than it was in the Fifties—livelier, more assured of its own relevance, steadier, more authoritative in tone, more consistent in literary level. With Eisenhower out and Kennedy in, a dramatic change came over The New Republic: after a decade or more of marginality it was hooked into power once again and the voltage brightened a countenance which had been growing somewhat dim. The fact that it was a product of much the same Washington milieu that was now running the country had a profoundly tonic effect on The New Republic. A sense of alienation from political power may be good, even necessary, for the health of magazines based in New York, allowing them to look at the world from a perspective that is not automatically bounded by the going terms of discussion or limited by the available alternatives. But for a magazine based, as The New Republic is, in Washington, there is only enervation to be gained from living on the periphery. Washington, after all, has little to offer an editor besides intimacy with national affairs. What he does with such intimacy is up to him, but let it once be withheld, and he might as well move his offices to Peoria. If I am a Washington editor, the capital is my lady—and if she be not so to me, what care I how fair she be?

We have it on the authority of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (who has written a brief preface to each of the anthology’s five sections, divided into decades) that the lady was very fair indeed to The New Republic during the Kennedy administration.

In the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Truman [The New Republic] had enjoyed a relationship, however intermittent and conditional, to power. Now [in the Eisenhower years], as in the nineteen-twenties, the country had entered a time of contentment, with power apparently predisposed against ideas, against intellectuals and against all rockers of the boat…The New Republic’s decision to support John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1960 disappointed faithful Stevensonians…But Kennedy as President fulfilled the magazine’s best expectations, and to an astonishing degree, in the brief time permitted to him, revived the atmosphere…

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