Freda Kirchwey, the first woman editor of The Nation, said, “Anniversaries should be approached without awe.” That was seventy-five years ago. The Nation’s longevity over 150 years is a remarkable feat—especially in our fast-changing media landscape.
For the magazine to survive and thrive for another century and a half, however, The Nation will have to adapt. Indeed, sixty years ago, Kirchwey’s successor Carey McWilliams declared: “The Nation must change, as it has changed in the past, if only to encompass certain harsh realities of present-day American journalism.” The Nation, he added, has a “special responsibility to report the significant happening that might otherwise go unreported, to air unpopular views and controversial issues.” When every day seems to bring the demise of another iconic voice, and the news is increasingly dominated by sound bites and gossip, The Nation’s commitment to covering the issues that matter, giving space to unconventional news and views, takes on even greater urgency.
This special issue, which I have co-edited with my valued colleague D.D. Guttenplan, our London correspondent, weaves together voices from The Nation’s rich history with contributors writing about the current cultural and political moment. In three sections of archival excerpts, each representing five decades of the magazine’s history, we reprint some of the best that was thought and said in our pages—much of it inspiring and eerily prescient, some of it shocking, but all of it fascinating to read. We have also included a few selections that turned out to be less than prophetic. As we look toward the future, the mistakes of our past remind us that taking a principled stand often requires running intellectual risks.
Interspersed with the archival excerpts are three sections of newly commissioned material. In the first, “The Nation and the Nation,” writers explore the magazine’s surprising influence on everything from poetry to feminism, radicalism to right-wing conservatism, Cuba to coverage of the arts. In “Fierce Urgencies,” contributors consider topics as pressing today as at any time in the last 150 years, including the politics of fear, from anticommunism in the 1950s to Islamophobia today, and the relationship of the left to power—in movements, in electoral politics and in government. Finally, in “Radical Futures,” Nation writers map out new ideas and strategies for radicals, progressives and liberals seeking to expand the terms of our public discussion and look beyond the present moment. Throughout these sections, we republish a selection of the most dazzling poetry and art that has appeared in our pages, as well as newly commissioned work by some of the most exciting artists working today.