The Bulletin, RIP

The Bulletin is to join the the magazine graveyard in my spare room, if I can find a copy of its last issue, supposedly out today (I checked three newsagents, with no sign of it). Its weekly sales had dropped below 60,000, down from 100,000 in the mid-1990s.

The Bulletin hasn’t had a niche for a long time now. While it still occasionally broke stories, on a week-by-week basis it wasn’t providing much you could not find more promptly and at lower cost in the newspapers. I haven’t bought it on a regular basis for at least 15 years.

But I am still sorry to see it go. Handed-down copies from my grandfather’s subscription in the late 1970s and early 1980s were an important part of my political education. And it provided some of my earliest mainstream media coverage. In 1995, they ran a cover story under the title ‘Young, bright and right’,with a photo of me, John Brogden, Marise Payne and a bust of Sir Robert Menzies. The NSW Young Liberals used this cover in their promotional materials, and for years afterwards I’d meet Young Liberals in Sydney who knew of me via that cover.

So The Bulletin, RIP. (And wasn’t Crikey tacky in putting ‘The Bulletin does a Ledger’ in their subject header today?)

Quadrant’s vacancy filled

As The Australian reports this morning, the Quadrant editorial vacancy has been filled – by controversial historian Keith Windschuttle.

Windschuttle’s first target will be the arts:

Windschuttle is not feeling charitable towards luvvies. “I’ve become concerned in recent years about the cynicism and decadence that you get in the opera, in the theatre, in other parts of high culture – even the dance companies,” he said.

Consider Wagner’s Tannhauser, that myth of the sacred and profane now on show at the Sydney Opera House. “There’s a guy painted in gold (who) stands there with a giant erection – symbolises lust or something,” Windschuttle said yesterday. “That kind of gratuitous offensiveness is almost everywhere.”

Those who have the print version of The Australian will see a photograph of Windschuttle next to one of the ‘Look Right’ warnings painted on Sydney streets, to try to reduce the number of tourists run over after forgetting which side of the road cars drive on here. That perhaps doesn’t bode well for the ‘sceptical and non-ideological’ spirit Paddy says he has tried to revive during his editorship.

The end of the Cold War made Quadrant a less necessary place for the anti-totalilatarian left (as opposed to the merely non-totalitarian left), so it was always bound to narrow ideologically in the 1990s. But it would be good to have a magazine in which genuine diversity and debate was a constant feature, even if only within the broad centre-right and right.

A vacancy at Quadrant

This month’s Quadrant announces that Paddy McGuinness is stepping down as editor at the end of the year. Blogging on Quadrant‘s 50th birthday last year I thought the magazine’s best years were behind it, but I still think there can be good years ahead.

So far as I can tell, as an occasional contributor and mixing with others who contribute to it, editors have rarely done much to shape its content. With the luxury of a steady flow of OK articles coming in, they haven’t had to cultivate authors or put a lot of effort into deciding what topics should be covered. Doing so could achieve articles of more even quality (though as with all essentially voluntary publications, things will always be a bit patchy).

There are some obvious things that can be done to make the magazine more attractive, such as improving its design and website. Writers are attracted to an audience, and the larger the audience the more willing people will be to write for you.

If I was 25 years older I’d think of applying myself, but from what I hear about the salary it would be a hard job to take unless you were already financially secure.

Libertarians for oppression?

One for the beyond wrong file:

The libertarian logic is that, since personal freedom and the existence of free markets are inextricably intertwined, and since as [Robert H.] Bork puts it ‘vigorous’ economies are vulnerable to being ‘enfeebled’ by particular cultural practices, then the champions of personal freedom have a licence to police cultural practices – in the interests of freedom and economic vigour. Thus libertarians can reason that difference (for example multiculturalism, homosexuality) must be eliminated so that the economy can function better…

That’s from Christine Wallace’s ‘Libertarian nation by stealth’, in the latest Griffith Review. In the unlikely event that you want to read a dozen or so pages of ignorance and silliness, you can download it here. This is normally a reasonably good magazine, but Julianne Schultz must have been sleepediting when she approved this article for publication.

How many people read The Monthly?

If you are still reading The Monthly, you’re part of a pretty exclusive group – just 42,000 people, or 0.2% of the population, according to the Roy Morgan Readership Survey. Admittedly, Morgan’s call centre would have to ring a lot of people before they found any readers of the magazine I edit, but then again Policy never set out to be an antipodean Atlantic Monthly.

Apart from lacking the Atlantic Monthly‘s circulation, this month’s Monthly was lacking The New Yorker’s famous fact checkers. Crikey had a go at them for publishing Mungo MacCullum’s claim that Robert Menzies had an affair with Elizabeth Fairfax, wife of media proprietor Warwick Fairfax. There is no evidence that such an affair ever took place.

Several people (including me) have criticised Kevin Rudd’s article ‘Howard’s Brutopia: The Battle of Ideas in Australian Politics’. But none of us have yet challenged the claimed origins of the term ‘brutopia’:

Contemporary British conservatives such as Michael Oakeshott have starkly warned against a ‘brutopia’ of unchecked market forces.

It is some years since I have read Oakeshott in detail, but I doubt this is true. Oakeshott wrote little on economics, but what he did – such as ‘The Political Economy of Freedom’ in Rationalism in Politics – is generally sympathetic to markets, though in a non-ideological way. More to the point, it is hard to imagine an elegant writer like Oakeshott using an ugly neologism like ‘brutopia’. And he wasn’t really the type to quote from Donald Duck comics, where the term originated in the late 1950s, in a clear reference not to market dystopias but a dystopia lacking markets, the Soviet Union. Putting pop culture references into academic writing did not start until decades after Oakeshott did his main work.

If it wasn’t Oakeshott, who was it? The closest I can get via Google to a ‘British’ reference is a 2000 article by an academic in Belfast. Rudd clearly defines ‘contemporary’ rather broadly (Oakeshott died in 1990) so perhaps it was a print only usage. But like Mungo’s Menzies affair, Rudd’s conservatives warning of market brutopias sounds like something New Yorker-style fact checkers wouldn’t have allowed into print.

Literary dating

In possibly the first ever book made of up of reprinted classified advertising, the London Review of Books is publishing a collection of its personals ads. Personals have long been a feature of The New York Review of Books, and over the last few months Australian Book Review has been trying to imitate the northern book magazines.

I can see why The New York Review of Books had such success with its personals classifieds. If books are your main interest in life, meeting possible partners can be hard. Not only is reading an inherently solitary activity, even reading the same book separately can be rare. Serious readers tend to take the bestseller lists as a guide to what not to read, on the grounds that what’s appealing to the masses can’t be much good. But this attitude sacrifices their opportunity to at least have something to talk about when they do meet other readers.

Personals columns in literary publications are an attempt to get around these problems. A friend of mine once considered putting an ad in The New York Review of Books even though he knew it sold few copies in Australia, because he thought it might help him find a girl with the right book collection. A NYRB ad would reach a small but well-targeted audience.

But as the examples from the London Review of Books James Button quotes in The Age this morning suggest, it’s not clear that its advertisers are always serious:

Continue reading “Literary dating”

Quadrant at 50

Tonight in Sydney Quadrant is celebrating its 50th birthday. In The Australian this morning, Owen Harries and Tom Switzer offer high praise. Noting the now ‘mainstream’ nature of conservative ideas, they say that we should thank Quadrant for its part in this change:

Quadrant is the most successful and influential magazine of ideas in Australia’s history.

In Crikey, Charles Richardson is more critical. After noting its golden days as an anti-communist journal, he says:

Since then, and especially since the fall of communism, Quadrant has struggled to retain relevance. Harries and Switzer acknowledge that it “has had its ups and downs”, and mention “clashes of personalities”. But they fail to appreciate the basic dilemma that publications like Quadrant face.

Anti-communism depended on an alliance between conservatives and liberals: although philosophical enemies, they recognised that they faced a common threat, and could unite on a common program of defending western democracy. The conservative side was always the more prominent at Quadrant, but most of the time they were too busy with communism to turn their fire on the liberals.

In the last twenty years, things have changed. Communism and old-style socialism have mostly disappeared, leaving conservatives and liberals to face each other in the trenches. Quadrant has continued to produce some work of high quality, but the sort of liberals who would once have seen it as an ally in the greater struggle are now its main target.

Harries and Switzer seem oblivious to this. They see themselves as promoting “conservative ideas and those of classical liberalism”, without realising how deep the contradiction is between them.

I’m inclined to agree that Quadrant’s golden years are behind it, though this is as much due to changed technology as changed intellectual circumstances. Blogs and essays on the internet can attract much wider audiences than a $7.50 monthly magazine printed on newsprint and with terrible covers, depriving Quadrant (and other little magazines) of both writers and readers. I don’t know of anyone under 30 who reads Quadrant , so demography is very much against it in the long term.

But I disagree with Charles on the liberalism and conservatism issue. The Harries and Switzer piece does blur them more than it should, and Charles correctly notes that there are tensions between the two ideologies. But this is an opportunity for Quadrant rather than a problem. There is no need for it to be a house journal for one view or the other, and in practice it is one of the few places where in-depth liberal and conservative views can both be read.

For many on the right, this debate is as much a working out of their own inner tensions as a clash between rival tribes. If anything challenges liberal anti-paternalist views it is remote Indigenous communities, on which Tony Abbott wrote in the September issue. John Stone offered a characteristically blunt assessment of what he calls the ‘Muslim problem’, which is posing the largest intellectual and practical challenges for liberal tolerance in decades. The magazine has published many conservative views on what’s happening to the universities, but also Max Corden’s excellent liberal critique of higher education policy.

I doubt Quadrant will celebrate its 100th, but there is still a role for it.

Update: For us over 30s (actually, it’s probably mid-30s – the dividing line is likely to between those whose political views were shaped by the Cold War, ie born in the early 1970s or before, and those whose political views were formed after the collapse of European communism that began in late 1989) the IPA is also holding a Quadrant turns 50 function, on 19 October. Ken Minogue, whose lucid and insightful essays once graced the pages of Quadrant and its now-defunct upmarket English equivalent, Encounter, will also be there.