Bravo and Happy Birthday to Harper’s Magazine, and to Lewis Lapham and John (Rick) MacArthur (editor and publisher, respectively). In late May the esteemed monthly celebrated 150 years of distinguished publishing even as hundreds of literati descended on New York’s Grand Central Station and danced to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and other vintage standards to mark the occasion. And felicitations to Anne Fadiman (editor) and The American Scholar, which, the same night, down the street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, celebrated its 275th issue, which included among other elegant pieces Stephen Jay Gould’s love song to Gilbert and Sullivan, “The True Embodiment of Everything That’s Excellent.”
And, indeed, at their best that’s what these periodicals are–the embodiment of everything that’s excellent. How discordant, then, is the note sounded by the US Postal Service, which has proposed a rate increase that would penalize publications like Harper’s and The American Scholar. Here at The Nation it would raise mailing costs by 18.6 percent, or $140,000. That’s what the paper for nineteen issues costs us; our annual editorial budget for freelance writers is $250,000.
As we told the Postal Rate Commission in 1995, when it was considering a proposal to eliminate second-class mail entirely, we believe that the Founding Fathers correctly saw the dissemination of opinion as the precondition of self-governance. That’s why George Washington himself believed that all newspapers, which in those days were the equivalent of journals of opinion, should be delivered free. Maybe someday e-mail will make that possible, but right now the postal system continues to constitute the circulatory system of our democracy.