My original idea was a quiet exit, entirely without fuss: out the door and back to Indiana. No explanations, no farewells, no summing up. But colleagues and friends objected: people might misunderstand, think I was leaving under duress or in a fit of pique. Since neither of these is the case—my fellow editors insist (at least for the record) that they would rather I stayed and I know I am quite without pique—I had to reconsider. The reason for my hesitation to write about my departure from FT was simple. I had nothing out of the ordinary to say about it. Retirement announcements, I pointed out, are virtually always exercises in banality. “Well,” my wife replied, “maybe it’s an occasion for banality.” (She was charitable enough not to suggest that I had met such occasions before.)
In simplest terms, I’m leaving because it feels like it’s time to leave. I’m already a year past the standard retirement age, and I had never assumed I would work much beyond that. With this issue FT completes fourteen years of publication, and fourteen years seems to me a long enough tenure as Editor. I’m not exhausted, but meeting the endless deadlines has become more and more tedious. Better to go before it becomes truly onerous.
There are also signs of ideological malaise. FT is a journal of opinion, and its editors are necessarily involved in the inevitable conflicts of ideas that mark any democratic society’s deliberations over how it should arrange its affairs. America is engaged in an ongoing and intense battle of beliefs, and FT stands, broadly speaking, with the cause of cultural conservatism and theological orthodoxy. Those on our side of the barricades are what Peter Steinfels has labeled “counterintellectuals,” people who operate in the intellectual world but who do not share the sense of alienation from the dominant values and beliefs of the middle-American majority that is prevalent in that world. My problem is that, while I am happy to be identified as a counterintellectual and am as fully persuaded an adversary of the adversary culture as I have ever been, my enthusiasm for waging the culture war has gradually declined.
A few years back I stopped writing my regular column. I had said what I wanted to say about what seemed to me the most important issues of American politics and culture and, not wishing to repeat myself, was finding it increasingly difficult to find subjects on which to write. The column had become more a journalistic chore than an intellectual challenge. Dorothy Parker famously remarked that she hated writing but loved having written. I found myself resonating more with the former than the latter. I intend in retirement to take on some writing projects, but they will be at my own pace and outside the constraints of the column format.
As with my writing, so also recently with my editorial duties. The arguments I encounter in the manuscripts that arrive on my desk for evaluation and editing seem increasingly familiar. It is rare, or so it seems to me, to find authors who have something new or striking to say about the various items—abortion, judicial activism, gay rights, theological liberalism, radical feminism, deconstruction, postmodernism, moral relativism, church-state relations, etc.—that make up the contemporary neo-Spenglerian litany of decline and fall. I don’t feel differently about those issues today than I did yesterday, but the felt imperative to engage them has waned considerably. I don’t think of myself as a burnt-out case, but if I stayed around too much longer I would be in imminent danger of becoming precisely that.
I look back on my career at FT with considerable satisfaction, but that satisfaction derives from the experience itself and not from any certainty as to how successful we have been in our efforts. Readers say nice things—sometimes extravagantly nice things—but I am fully aware of an audience of critics who would offer judgments quite to the contrary. I have never been much of a scorekeeper on such matters and am quite content to leave to history final evaluations on how well or badly we have done—and even those evaluations, of course, will depend on who is writing the history. I have always agreed with T. S. Eliot: “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
But if I have no determinate view on how well we have done what we did, I have a quite clear sense of what we—or at least I—had in mind to do at FT’s launching in March 1990. We were to be, as noted above, a journal of cultural conservatism and theological orthodoxy, and our audience would perforce be made up mainly of those who shared our preconceptions. But we did not intend merely to preach to the choir. We wanted to provoke as well as reassure. Ours was to be a voice that did not simply reject modernity, but would take it on in critical conversation. We wanted to create a community of editors, writers, and readers who knew the arguments liberal modernity had raised, and, when they rejected those arguments, had thoughtful and sophisticated reasons for doing so. Ours was not the traditionalism of those caught up in fantasies of recovering a utopian past that presumably held sway before everything went wrong at the Enlightenment, or at the advent of nominalism, or whenever. Our traditionalism had come through modernity, not around it. We preferred to avoid identifying ourselves in ideological terms, but from the beginning we were widely—and I think not incorrectly—perceived to be of the neoconservative persuasion.
Finally, a personal word. Over the course of fourteen years, I have worked with a wide range of editorial colleagues. They varied considerably in personality, but they were without exception men and women of intelligence, ability, and dedication. It is a sign of my good fortune that I can make such a blanket statement without equivocation. It is a more remarkable sign of that good fortune that I can add that they were also—again without exception—congenial colleagues. I count them all as friends; some of them I will cherish forever.
So I leave without regret and with an immense sense of gratitude. I am particularly grateful, of course, to RJN, who dreamed up FT in the first place and who is the rare exception to the rule that no one is indispensable. Thanks, friend, for inviting me along for the ride. It’s been an incredible run.
Poetry of Witness
“It’s just horrible,” she said
That’s what I’d do,” she said.
She wasn’t there, of course,
Michael S. Glaser