I came to First Things seven years ago, before Michael Brown, Trump on the escalator, the “deplorables,” Jussie, #MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings, COVID, George Floyd, CHAZ, Georgia going blue. Apart from two and a half years in the federal government (in W's administration), I had spent all my professional life in academia. I was at UCLA and then Emory University (I took a very early retirement two years ago), with stints at Princeton and Colorado in between. That put me in touch with scholarly organizations such as the Modern Language Association and Educational Testing Service, and with scholarly journals and presses, for whom I evaluated manuscripts.
And yet none of those experiences has been as intellectually exciting—and challenging—as working at First Things. Rusty assigned me to consult with this or that author on a variety of topics, and they taught me a lot more than I taught them. He stepped into my office every week and asked, “What needs to be said?,” a question a humanities academic never asks (topics are dictated to him by the field). In the pieces I edited and the ones I wrote myself, I had to combine knowledge and accessibility in a whole new way (often in academia, obscurity is identified with brilliance). Fresh developments in the United States had to be assimilated, and academic training doesn't prepare you for that.
For all of this I am grateful. I am grateful for Rusty and Matthew and the rest of the staff, and for the authors whose work has received one of the most valuable of compliments: sincere respect from our smartest ideological adversaries. And that makes me grateful for our supporters and subscribers and listeners, too. They are the foundation, we are the builders—that's how I see it. When I encounter someone at an event who tells me, “Hey, good podcast with so-and-so, I listen all the time,” I smile and nod and give the same reply as always: “We love you, and you're why we do it.” And I mean it. When one suggests a podcast guest or corrects me on something I wrote, I listen. In fact, I encourage our audience to send in more criticism, more judgment. We take your disagreements seriously—and constructively.
Your support has enabled us to hold a steady course through the confusions I noted above. A loyal and discerning readership emboldens us against the daunting forces that wish a conservative religious magazine such as First Things would just go away. The culture war goes on, the theaters of battle are shifting, the sides themselves keep evolving (for better and for worse), but in my years at First Things I have seen a praiseworthy consistency of belief and firmness in battle. You deserve a lot of credit for that record. I thank you.
Mark Bauerlein is contributing editor at First Things.