In the magazine business, survival is the ultimate test of success. Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation from 1955 through 1975, once observed, “It is precisely because The Nation‘s backers cared more about what it stood for than what it earned that the magazine survived where countless other publications with circulations in the millions have gone under.”
There is, in my judgment, another reason for the survival of this cultural treasure, founded by the great Anglo-Irish journalist E.L. Godkin the year the Civil War ended. Over the years its stewards have shared the vision of its founders. The Nation‘s original prospectus in 1865 promised that the new weekly “will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body.” It was going to be a conscience, a gadfly “to wage war upon the vices of…exaggeration, and misrepresentation.”
In studying Nation transitions past, I have come to believe that, important as what one does when one is on the job is, more important is what happens after one moves on.
It is therefore with a sense of accomplishment and institutional reassurance I report that this week Katrina vanden Heuvel will replace me as The Nation‘s publisher and general partner. Katrina is the latest in a long line of Nation publisher-owners who include yours truly and extend back to Freda Kirchwey in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s and Oswald Garrison Villard, who took over from his father in 1918. Katrina is the only woman editing (and now publishing) a political weekly in this country.
Katrina vanden Heuvel has an invaluable understanding of the role of the opinion magazine in general and the mission of The Nation in particular. I believe she is the ideal steward to carry forward The Nation‘s extraordinary tradition. She has the trust and confidence of the Nation community.
As editor of the magazine for the past ten years, Katrina has defined The Nation‘s voice in the aftermath of the cold war and in the traumatic post-9/11 years. The magazine under her leadership has clearly staked out the intellectual and political alternative to the Bush Administration’s extremist agenda and has done much to mobilize our readers and the country against the misbegotten war in Iraq.
Carey McWilliams once said that the editor (and by extension the publisher) of The Nation is a captive of its tradition. I didn’t quite understand the full meaning of that remark until I was privileged to live it. It has been an honor to be a part of that tradition. I look forward to continued contributions as publisher emeritus and a member of the Nation editorial board.