The value of First Things is brought home to me every time I attend a conference or lecture and people step up and tell me how much they like the magazine. They don't say why, and they don't go into details. They merely smile and express their appreciation. I assure them that their gratitude is the reason we do it.
R. R. Reno always asks us, “What do we need to say? What do people want to know? What do our readers say they need to hear?” Those aren't idle questions. The answers steer our editorial policy. We take the interests of First Things readers as guideposts. They tell us where the soft spots in contemporary life exist, and they suggest how a religious approach to them properly works. If a reader advises me, “You should do more on X and less on Y,” I take that remark to the editors.
When I came to First Things five years ago, the United States was a different place than it is now, two-and-a-half years into Donald Trump's tenure. Liberals and leftists have responded by obsessing over the person of the president—a great waste of time, but one that gives the defeated an emotional lift. First Things has responded more broadly, recognizing that the ascent of Mr. Trump poses a challenge to conservatism—a challenge, first, of redefinition.
Reno was one of the first conservative intellectuals to recognize that the consensus of the Reagan Revolution (deregulation, open borders, free markets, “no new taxes”), which establishment Republicans clung to like a security blanket, no longer met the needs of our moment. At least, not in unmodified form. He took a lot of heat for that, but developments since then have proven him right: for instance, the loud and aggressive embrace of the LGBT agenda by Big Business.
The writing of Patrick Deneen, Hadley Arkes, and other potent intellects who have critiqued longstanding (libertarian) conservative beliefs and policies have likewise opened the way for our readers to imagine a conservatism more relevant to current affairs. That, I believe, is the basis for the compliments I have heard.
To be unsure of the status of the Republican party, to doubt whether the conservatism of prominent voices on television and the press represents what you think conservatism should represent—there is no enjoyment in that uncertainty. First Things aims to relieve its readers. We strive for the pleasures of clarification. We hope you find the project worthwhile, and worthy of your support.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.