First Things : How did you get involved in the magazine? Where and when did you meet Fr. Neuhaus?
George Weigel: I first met Father Neuhaus in May 1978, in New York, when I was arranging a conference on international human rights in Seattle, where I then lived and worked. We quickly became fast friends and coconspirators. The magazine was planned in conversations between us on the deck of Father Neuhaus cottage in the Ottawa Valley in the summer of 1989, in the aftermath of the Rockford Raid; our deliberations were aided by a liberal use of bourbon and cigars. As I recall, we thought the top circulation would be 20,000, and we worried that wed not have enough authors to fill a quality monthly (the predecessor journal, This World , was a quarterly). Turns out we were wrong on both counts: The circulation quickly exceeded 20,000, and an entire generation of writers we hadnt known about came out of the woodwork. It was a great example of If you build it, they will come.
FT: What were you doing before the magazine got started?
GW: Working in the think tank world at the interstices of moral argument and public policy, writing books, and generally making a nuisance of myself to the then-regnant Catholic Establishment.
FT: What role did you play in the founding of the magazine? And after it got started?
GW: See above for founding. Ive been on the board since the git-go and have contributed regularly.
FT: How would you describe or characterize the early years?
GW: Richard had an ability to energize and inspire other people in the way thats the essence of a true leader. And America was clearly waiting for something like First Things . So it was all exhilaration, all the way.
FT: What contributed to the magazines early success? Was there one thing in particular that helped it succeed?
GW: Obviously, RJNs personal stature and scintillating prose gave the whole enterprise an enormous jump-start. Just as obviously, it filled a need, particularly among Catholics and evangelicals, for a serious journal of religion and public life. If you take that, in the case of the Catholics, as an implicit criticism of America and Commonweal , you wont be mistaken.
FT: Looking back over the years, the magazine, in its own particular way, influenced the course of certain debates in American society. Which of the magazines contributions to public discourse are you most proud of?
GW: (1) Creating a new awareness that the First Amendment was at the service of free exercise, meaning that religiously informed moral argument must have a place in our public life. (2) Strengthening the intellectual architecture of the pro-life movement but insisting that the cause of life was the natural successor to the civil rights movement. (3) Providing a forum for the authentic interpretation of the pontificate of John Paul II (a regular reader, by the way). (4) Giving a platform to the new ecumenism embodied in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. (5) Raising the flag about the judicial usurpation of politics.
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