Monday, July 17, 2006

The American Conservative is Shutting Down

By Nicholas Stix
Updated 9:57 a.m., Monday, July 17, 2006.

On Saturday, I learned that The American Conservative magazine is shutting down. This is a shame, because:

1. It was the first conservative magazine since National Review almost fifty years earlier, that was founded not to curry favor with the powerful, but to criticize them, and seek to change their minds. NR had long since turned largely into a coven of neocon court propagandists. And though TAC’s demise may suggest otherwise, there is a healthy market for a semi-weekly magazine showcasing highbrow conservative intellectual writing and journalism.

2. I had a number of friends and acquaintances there, who are among America’s greatest intellectuals, and who must now seek elsewhere after work; and

3. I never got to sell an article there, and go through the cycle of freelancing for it, enthusiastically supporting it, getting stiffed by the editor, and becoming embittered towards the rag, that I have gone through with so many other media outlets where I lacked (or lost) a “rabbi,” and so was seen by the editor as “of use” for a time, before being tossed aside.

TAC (it calls itself “AMCONMAG,” but that sounds too much like “ECOMCON,” the clandestine military unit poised to take over the country in a coupe d’etat, in the movie Seven Days in May), could have become wildly successful, by the admittedly modest standards of political magazines. It had star-power (editor and writer Pat Buchanan), a few million bucks behind it (courtesy of editor/gossip columnist and Greek shipping and textiles heir, Taki Theodoracopulos), and a stable of brilliant writers.

Millions of Americans, almost all of them white, have been mad as hell for years about what passes for “conservative” journalism and political debate in this country. Their legions variously read, post, and sent letters to hundreds of Web sites such as Free Republic, VDARE, American Renaissance, Liberty Forum, Pipe Bomb News, ALIPAC, and hundreds more blogs.

But no matter how sophisticated paper-free media has become, there’s something special about a magazine. Once upon a time, National Review served this niche, but no more. Chronicles magazine could have served this niche, but it has long been run by classicist Thomas Fleming, who while a brilliant writer and thinker (at least he was prior to the lapse of my subscription in early 2000), is an incompetent and vindictive editor. Under Fleming’s leadership, while I wrote for Chronicles (1992-1999), its readership shrunk from over 20,000 to just over 5,000.

(And abusing editors and stiffing writers is also no way to go through life. In 1999, Ted Pappas left Chronicles after carrying Fleming for ten years. Rather than publicly thanking Ted for his yeoman-like efforts, Fleming coldly noted in a box that Ted had left Chronicles. No thanks, no nothing. By the way, Fleming still owes yours truly $150, for a 2,200-word, “Letter from New York” on Rudy Giuliani that he commissioned but never ran, never formally killed, and for which he never paid me a kill fee. I managed eventually to chop up the manuscript and sell the scraps, but that has no bearing on Fleming’s obligation to me. As best I could figure, Fleming’s stiffing of me just after Ted gave notice was some perverse form of revenge by proxy, sort of like stories I’ve heard of one tenured academic slugging a rival’s student. I guess Ted Pappas was my “rabbi” at Chronicles. You'd think an editor would realize just how vindictive writers can be.)

Middle American News, which is largely devoted to immigration reform but has published some work on race, has over 100,000 readers, but has never had the financial backing necessary to make a big splash.

American Renaissance has ably exploited the Internet, with a Web site that is read daily by tens of thousands of conservatives unhappy with the GOP. It is also read by conservative writers who would never admit to perusing it, and yet many of the articles they discuss or link to, clearly came from AR’s invaluable daily roundup. However, AR’s strength is also its weakness: It is about race, period. It is also not, to my knowledge, lavishly funded.

TAC would have prospered, had it given its readers straight talk about race, and laid out that “humbler” approach to foreign affairs that George W. Bush had promised the electorate in 2000, and which was characteristic of the Old Right, whose spirit TAC sought to evoke. An isolationist or neo-isolationist approach would have been respected, had it been intelligently argued.

Instead, TAC caved in on race, without even putting up a fight, and its foreign affairs position, rather than intelligent isolationism or neo-isolationism, often amounted to little more than “Die Juden, er, Neocons, sind unser Unglueck!”

The attacks on the, ahem, neocons, were to give the editors the illusion that they were fearless. Straight talk on race would have replaced such illusions with the reality of courage.

And what, then, is the legacy of the less than four-year run of TAC? That is impossible to say, at present. Its friends and enemies will seek to spin its demise this way and that, but the magazine’s true legacy will reside in what its most talented writers go on to do, including whether they manage to found another conservative magazine, and if so, whether they avoid repeating the mistakes they made this time around, or give in even more to paranoid obsessions with Jews, and cowardice on race.

I called TAC this morning, to get a comment. A staffer, Daniel McCarthy, said “O.k., one moment,” and went to confer with his bosses. He then came back and told me, “I’m sorry, there’s no one here who can help you at the moment."

I opined that I would think that his bosses would want to comment on such an important story. McCarthy replied, cooly, "Well, thanks for calling.”


Hal K said...

I have been a somewhat regular reader of the magazine. "Straight talk on race" sounds like code for something divisive.

I just got around to subscribing. I would be disappointed if it shut down right away.

Nicholas said...

If you knew my work, you'd know that I don't speak in code.

Besides, if you're so concerned about the appearance of "divisiveness" (talk about code words!), what on earth are you doing subscribing to TAC?!