Editors Discuss Neo-Conservatism

Magazine Leaders Debate Impact of Journals on Politics, Elections

Five editors of controversial political magazines debated the advent of neo-conservatism and the impact of magazines on American politics at the Kennedy School of Government last night.

Speaking before an audience of approximate 300, the editors disagreed about magazines' influence on the political process and on the Republican's success in the November elections.

"Not any of these new right political elites are influenced by journals," said New Republic editor Martin H. Peretz. "This is a group in power which likes the idea of ideas."

Michael Waltzer, editor of Dissent, agreed with Peretz. "Dissent is not responsible for what is going on in Washington; there is some moral satisfaction in that, but also a sense of defeat."

Public Interest editor Irving Kristol disputed Peretz's claim and argued that magazines can have a great impact on political thought.

"We [at Public Interest] have influenced the New Republic to become more conservative. The same is true for Newsweek and Time," Kristol said.

Norman Podhoretz, Commentary's editor, argued even more strongly that political trends find their source in academic debate.

"My argument would be that when some great event, or some feeling reaches a critical mass, the climate of opinion will not change unless there is a structure of ideas to legitimize new ideas, to make them thinkable and sayable," Podhoretz said.

The speakers focused primarily on recent conservative trends rather than on magazines' influence on politics, the scheduled topic.

Walzer painted a dour portrait of the shift towards conservatism.

"We are heading towards a dismantling of the only power which counters the power of the market--the government," Walzer said.

Walzer argued that the shift towards the right was not caused by an triumph of neo-conservative ideology, but by the failure of liberals to organize their constituency.

He offered a solution for the liberal malaise. "We should work at ideological renewal, rethinking every aspect of the doctrines of the left, and launch a spirited defense of people in trouble."

But Podhoretz voiced his approval of recentpolitical trends. "We are seeing something verycheerful--an attempt to undo the damage of thepolicies of the Left going back to the New Deal,"he said.

Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C.Mansfield Jr. '53 who moderated, said after thedebate that the evening had been a success for theconservatives.

"It was something of a triumphant evening forneo-conservatism," Mansfield said. "ProfessorWalzer excelled by showing what neo-conservatismis against."

The discussion was sponsored jointly by theHarvard Program on Constitutional Government andthe Harvard Center for Jewish Studies.

The talk was the culmination of a conferenceheld this weekend in honor of the 50th anniversaryof the journal Commentary.