New magazines should be honest with themselves and their readers from the start. We are born out of failure. The Critic finds itself in a world deeply imbued with bad ideas. Our purpose is to say that. Self-censorship and state-policed opinions go hand in hand in common purpose. A self-regarding consensus of virtue does not welcome critical voices. It finds them troubling, triggering, insensitive and disrespectful. This is the closed mind we exist to speak against.
Where is the failure? Everywhere. Popular votes can be won and parties can be returned to office, but it turns out that there are stronger forces than majorities. They stand resolute in the face of petty elections and referenda, the arguments made in them, the mandates won, and the politicians produced by them. These stronger forces have time on their side and they are righteously convinced of the self-evident truth of their worldview. To disagree with it is not just to be wrong; it is, in their eyes, to be morally deficient.
This is a truth we should not neglect or dismiss: they have beliefs, indeed dogmas, even if they are markedly reluctant to make these clear in public as arguments. Their march through the institutions was not solely for the sake of self-promotion, though it entails much of that. Belief, indeed moral certainty, is what underpins this settled frame of mind. The opinions which govern modern Britain should be seen as such — opinions — and dragged kicking and screaming into public view. We are ruled by ideas, and they should not be beyond criticism. Seeing them for what they are is the first step.
We are ruled by ideas, and they should not be beyond criticism. Seeing them for what they are is the first step
Who they are is obvious and they are legion. They are in the civil service, the BBC, the courts, the churches, the arts and the quangos. They are found in the great and apparently free-standing institutions, be they museums, galleries, publishing houses, theatres or much of the press.
Even business now dances to their tune. Or at any rate, outwardly conforms, solemnly affirming the hashtag and dutifully wearing the appropriate lanyards that each festival day or week or month requires. The irony is that the businesses which do most to prostrate themselves in front of the new gods — such as Facebook and Google — eventually find themselves, too, on the wrong side of the right thinkers. The high priests of the new faith pass their thoughts down through the universities, which have become finishing schools of moral conformity and careerist mannerliness.
What then should be the response of a magazine like ours to opinions which deem themselves to be nothing of the sort; that declare themselves to be quiet common sense combined with unquestionable moral truth, with their critics being obscene where they are not actually blasphemous? Honesty. Honest criticism freely expressed. The point is not provocation or the higher trolling. Nor is the aim to dissolve morality and to sink into a cacophonous quagmire of postmodernist relativism. The point of honest criticism is to better approach truth, not deny its possibility.
The mid-century diarist Chips Channon said, “What is more dull than a discreet diary? One might just as well have a discreet soul.” The same spirit informs our criticism. There is no point in speaking up if all the registers of criticism are not employed. It should be playful, sincere, earnest, knowing, informed, pointed, scabrous and refined all in turn.
Ossified thought and a lack of intellectual rigour are depressing features of all sides of our political and cultural debate. Our writers will subscribe to no editorial line nor serve the interests of any party, faction or cause. We ask them to write because we expect them to be honest, and lucidly so. Look to our contributors and fault us if they are not.
No enterprise like ours would be possible without the generosity of friends. The Critic is indebted, in every sense, to the munificence of Jeremy Hosking. A donor and supporter of many good causes past and present, he has endured much criticism for his tokens of support. We exist because we have the support of people willing to stand up to criticism too. Without Mr Hosking, The Critic would not be coming into existence. There are others too, both intentionally and otherwise, who were harbingers of our birth.
When Sir Walter Scott was setting up The Quarterly Review two centuries ago, he wrote to a friend: “The real reason for instituting the new publication is the disgusting and deleterious doctrines with which the most popular of our Reviews disgraces its pages.”
We should be honest about our opinions, too. For we exist not merely because we think others are mistaken, or secretly opinionated in addition to being wrong. We have views too. Our view is that a culture is made by the ideas people are willing to express and the practices they are willing to tolerate. We shall tolerate an open mind from all our writers. It’s what we think our readers deserve.
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