This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
In an era of instant, 140-character news cycles and reflexive toeing of the party line, it’s incredible to think of the 150-year history of The Nation. It’s more than a magazine—it’s a crucible of ideas forged in the time of Emancipation, tempered through depression and war and the civil-rights movement, and honed as sharp and relevant as ever in an age of breathtaking technological and economic change. Through it all, The Nation has exhibited that great American tradition of expanding our moral imaginations, stoking vigorous dissent, and simply taking the time to think through our country’s challenges anew.
If I agreed with everything written in any given issue of the magazine, it would only mean that you are not doing your jobs. But whether it is your commitment to a fair shot for working Americans, or equality for all Americans, it is heartening to know that an American institution dedicated to provocative, reasoned debate and reflection in pursuit of those ideals can continue to thrive.
The Nation has been a fixture in our household for over thirty years. Throughout that time, and for more than a century before that, it has prodded, challenged and informed readers. It has demanded that we act on the progressive values that will make our communities, our nation, and the world fairer and more just for everyone. It is an indispensable voice in our political dialogue. I look forward to reading it for many years to come.
Despite The Nation’s long and distinguished history, this magazine has never played a more important role than it does today. At a time when a handful of huge media conglomerates own and control what we see, hear and read, The Nation has filled the information void by focusing attention on the major issues that the corporate media downplays or ignores. The Nation has been in the forefront analyzing the collapse of the middle class, exposing the obscene level of wealth and income inequality in this country, and opposing Supreme Court decisions that allow billionaires to buy elections and subvert American democracy. The Nation has been loud and clear about the need to reverse the planetary crisis of global warming and make sure our children live on an Earth that is habitable. What I love about The Nation is that, decade after decade, it continues the fight for a vibrant democracy, and social, economic and environmental justice for all.
When I first moved to New York in the 1960s, I made a list of all the things New Yorkers did that made me afraid of them. They ate rare meat; they said things three times that Midwesterners wouldn’t say once; they lived by past political divisions I’d never heard of; and they argued all the time. Gradually, I discovered that repetition was passion, that those political divisions were still playing out in the present, that arguing was an evidence of caring—and that it was OK if I became a vegetarian.
I want to thank The Nation for being my most consistent and long-term instructor in all these things: for giving me the inspiration of voices like Victor Navasky, Patricia J. Williams and Katha Pollitt; for demonstrating how to argue with respect for each other and the facts; and for proving that we can lose our power only by failing to use it.
I am happy to convey my greetings to The Nation and its contributors and readers. It is very important that a magazine that stands for left-wing, progressive ideas has an audience in America. Today, such ideas are of particular relevance as a counterweight to concepts that, though they have different names in different countries, endorse and promote inequality and put vested interests above the interests of the people. My life, which spanned a large part of the twentieth century and continues into the new one, has made me a supporter of social democracy. I see social-democratic ideas as humankind’s best hope for avoiding social and environmental catastrophes and building a safer, more just and more stable world order. I am confident that The Nation will continue its thought-provoking work, bringing together concerned individuals disturbed by the current state of the world and ready to act in order to change it for the better.
Controlling what people know is a critical component of shaping how they behave. In its 150 years of existence, The Nation has brought to the table of human needs a menu of truth. Its stories enlighten us, give us choices for ascertaining how to deal with the complexities of daily life, and fuel our need for honesty. Knowing that mortality is nonnegotiable, I express regret that I shall not be here to celebrate The Nation’s next 150 years. I sincerely hope its mission and its purpose will endure.
REV. JESSE JACKSON
The Nation has fought the good fight for freedom, peace and justice for 150 years. Founded by abolitionists, it was launched just as a new America was beginning, an America based on freedom and equality. Much later, The Nation published the early writings of James Baldwin and Alice Walker, and even had the good sense to endorse my candidacy for president in the 1988 primaries.
Under the leadership of Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation has every reason to be hopeful about its future. It is one of our most useful and honorable institutions, and I offer my best wishes and my thanks for The Nation’s first 150 years of keeping hope alive.
For 150 years, The Nation has provided consistently uncompromising and important journalism and, in so doing, has made itself a vital, influential voice in the American discussion.
It’s worth the subscription price for its deep-digging investigative reports alone, but there’s so much more: thoughtful coverage and analysis of international affairs, domestic policy and elective politics, plus opinion pieces and commentaries that regularly touch off new sunbursts of thought, whether you agree with them or not.
The Nation is America’s oldest weekly magazine, but it hardly shows its age. When I chide Democratic politicians to grow a spine, it is to the truth-seeking prose of The Nation that I could point them for an example of what I mean. The Nation has sought to cast a beam of disinfecting sunlight on the murky messes in both the public and private sector. (It railed against the excesses of the Catholic Church, for example, long before I was an atheist or, for that matter, a zygote.)
As the producer of a weekly TV show that features (hopefully) smart and witty panelists, I often turn to The Nation’s stable of workhorses. The crosshatched section in the Venn diagram of Nation contributors and my guests over the years includes Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens, Jeremy Scahill, Hunter S. Thompson, Melissa Harris-Perry, Ralph Nader, Tom Hayden, Kurt Vonnegut, Naomi Klein, Calvin Trillin, Amy Goodman and, of course, Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Early in 1959, I dropped by Carey McWilliams’s office to give him my article “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy,” reprinted elsewhere in this issue. The Nation’s publication of it was only one example of that venerable editor’s sense of what was newsworthy, in contrast to his advertisement-indentured peers in the mainstream press. McWilliams’s office was regularly piled high with newspapers from all over the country. He scanned them and ripped out interesting items that could become articles or material for his editorials in The Nation. Those editorials awed his peers: they were fresh, cogent, courageous and beautifully written. His workload and output were prodigious. McWilliams put out, with very few assistants, a weekly edition of The Nation during some very lonely, bigoted and redbaiting times. It wasn’t for him to give up discovering young (or older) writers, or to settle for the “least worst” of the political parties or candidates. Long before Jimmy Carter used the phrase, he was driven by the question “Why not the best?” On The Nation’s 150th anniversary, let us remember Carey McWilliams and learn from his exemplary stewardship of this magazine for so many tumultuous years. I and many others owe him much for his editorial genius and for the forces of change that he helped put into motion.
center for community change
The Nation is the indispensable vehicle for news, reflection, debate and strategic thinking for progressives in the twenty-first century, constantly renewing a tradition it has exemplified for 150 years. The Nation’s reporting has helped define the terrain for activism—not only by diagnosing and explaining what we’re up against, but also by providing a vital forum to debate what we stand for. The Nation’s engaged and passionate coverage of social movements has helped progressives see ourselves as connected across issues and geography. The Nation’s respect for our differences, and its commitment to honest dialogue and the presentation of different views, has made our strategies better and our movements stronger. Above all, The Nation has been a beacon of hope, inspiration and ideas—one that has nourished our minds and spirits through the dark periods of our history, and positioned us to seize the moment as the country once again opens to progressive possibilities.
editorial board member
I began to read The Nation at age 12, in 1938. I have been with it, then, for half of its lifetime and most of mine. Its large and steady contribution to the education of successive generations (my late daughter was an intern) has been to combine the depiction of immediate events with a historical perspective. Culture and politics, for The Nation, remain inseparable. I am sure that my younger contemporaries are worthy of the inheritance, and that the next seventy-five years will see The Nation rise to the challenge.
I long ago pledged allegiance to one Nation under Victor Navasky and his worthy successor, Katrina vanden Heuvel.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
I think no one would ever accuse The Nation of seeking to become a popular organ. It has, through its long history, often appeared to stand alone. It does not matter whether one agrees with The Nation or not. The important thing is that everywhere and always—particularly in a democracy—minorities shall have a means of expressing themselves, and The Nation, we all know, has often represented minority opinion and mighty unpopular minority opinion at that.
The Nation is unique in American journalism for one thing; it is read by its enemies. They may damn it, they may have it barred from libraries, they may even—as they did during the war—try to have it put down by the police, but all the while they read it…. To an editorial writer The Nation is indispensable. Either he reads it, or he is an idiot.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
It is certainly curious that so outspoken a journal as The Nation should have survived for sixty years in a country where Truth is tarred and feathered, lynched, imprisoned, clubbed, and expatriated as undesirable three times a week or so.
I have not always agreed with The Nation, but I have never doubted its integrity. I hope that its voice will be lifted for many years to come in behalf of the causes in which it believes—even if they may be unpopular at the time.
Reading The Nation makes me yearn for the days of the “red diaper” baby! Oh, how I wish I had been a communist sympathizer in the ’50s. But no, I was born too late, so I had to settle for being a Yippie and then, as I matured politically, morphing into a bleeding-heart liberal with admittedly “limousine” tendencies. Preaching to the converted is not necessarily a bad thing, and I depend on The Nation to keep me thinking in the right way—left—just in case I get too big for my social and financial britches.
BILL de BLASIO
We are better people as Americans because of the Nation magazine.
What fearful mental degeneracy results from reading…The Nation as a steady thing.
In my lifetime, the most significant nontechnological change in the area of politics has been the transformation of the media. Traditionally liberal outlets have taken to pulling their punches. Hard news that exposes the essential friction between democracy and capitalism—and how that conflict may best be managed—is viewed as castor oil that should be taken only on an as-needed basis.
Concurrently, Fox News has achieved ratings supremacy by offering the culturally and economically disenfranchised a series of convenient scapegoats. Perhaps its greatest success has been in pulling moderates to the right and liberals to the center by demonizing liberal thought as un-American, even seditious, while its indefatigable online armies attack their chosen liberal targets 24/7. There are few places where one can still read thorough, courageous journalism. The Nation, thankfully, is one such place.
publisher and editor in chief,
new york amsterdam news
The Nation and the New York Amsterdam News have stood shoulder to shoulder in so many campaigns over the decades. While The Nation is the oldest weekly magazine in the country, the Amsterdam News, founded in 1909, is considered the oldest continuously published black newspaper in America. The struggles that both publications have faced have made us kindred spirits. I salute The Nation for 150 years of honest, steadfast and unbending reporting and its commitment to the truth in a world that sometimes would much rather hear fiction.
president of the afl-cio
The Nation and America’s first labor union were founded within a year of each other. Over the last 150 years, both have served as strong voices for working men and women. We celebrate The Nation’s tremendous achievements, while recognizing the work that remains. Across our country and around the world, workers are falling behind, while big corporations continue to put profits before people. Falling wages have made it harder for families to get by, and corporate money funds right-wing efforts to silence the voices of men and women in the workplace. In the face of long odds and determined opponents, publications like The Nation are needed now more than ever. Where there are dark places, The Nation will be there to shine a light. Where there is injustice, The Nation will be there to speak out. Where workers are in need of a voice to tell their story, The Nation will be there to help; and just as they have for the last century and a half, Americans will be reading.
former mayor of new york city
The Nation has been a tireless advocate for the progressive voice since its founding right here in New York City in 1865. Distinguished writers and intellectuals like Langston Hughes, Howard Zinn, W.E.B. Du Bois, I.F. Stone and too many others to name have contributed their unrivaled insights into the pressing issues of the day. From the need for civil-service reform during the Gilded Age, to the expansion of social programs in the decades following World War II, to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in 1962 and his subsequent release twenty-seven years later, The Nation has illuminated these issues and promoted important writers long before widespread recognition brought them to the forefront of the national consciousness.
Throughout its 150 years, The Nation has endured as “the flagship of the left” and has served as a beacon for those dedicated to the promotion of liberal ideals—even as other periodicals have shut down production. I have no doubt that as a new wave of progressivism sweeps across New York City and the country as a whole, The Nation will continue to adhere to its principles and launch the kinds of essential conversations that have earned it its place as the iconic progressive American publication. May The Nation continue this fine work for 150 more years.
The American left has always contained a cacophonous assortment of passionate (and often grumpy) beings: visionaries and angry idiots; saints and provocateurs; rationalists and mystics; artists and policy wonks; those who live mostly in the past, and those who thrust themselves far into the future. Having read The Nation since my teenage years in the late 1960s, I remain amazed at its ability to encompass that entire range of energies. While dozens of media comets have blazed for a time and then crashed to earth, The Nation has been a lighthouse whose vivid beams shine through the fogs of lefty neurosis and self-destruction, fearlessly opposing authoritarianism, oligarchy, and whatever trendy philosophies du jour are cooked up to protect the privileged few at the expense of the public at large. Its uniqueness and relevance have uncannily gotten stronger in the twenty-first century.
executive director, jobs with justice
As the number of journalists covering the labor beat grows smaller and smaller, and as the shifting media landscape makes it easier to cover the sensationalist stories rather than the serious ones, The Nation has forged a much bolder path. The Nation has set a standard for journalistic excellence, choosing to bring the voices of working people directly to its pages, and telling the real stories of poverty, healthcare, aging and other issues facing the 99 percent. Whereas other outlets may devote 250 words to these issues, The Nation devotes a cover story. It offers insight into organizing strategies and ideas for the future of work in this country. When workers walk out on the job and stand up for better wages, The Nation is there. It is a critical ally in lifting up those workers’ voices, making sure the larger conversation reflects their side of the story. The magazine has blazed a truly progressive trail. For all of us working in this movement, it feels good to have The Nation on our side.
house minority leader
For 150 years, The Nation has achieved the highest standards of journalistic integrity with courageous reporting, brutal honesty, and a refreshingly progressive voice in our civic discourse. From the shadow of the Civil War through the present day, it has left an enduring imprint on the lives of its readers and on our country. In every era, The Nation has been defined by new thinking and new ideas, and devoted to the core American principles of justice, equal treatment and a free press. Its contributions will remain vital, essential and invaluable for decades to come.
Having come from a conservative upbringing, I discovered The Nation late in life—only in the early 1980s. But it has certainly affected me in profound ways, by opening my imagination to an alternative way of seeing the world.
I am grateful to The Nation for its 150 years of consistent, enlightened journalism. We so desperately need it as our country slips further and further into a militarized security state.
former texas secretary of agriculture, grand populist
For many of us, The Nation actually is a nation. It’s a large, sprawling, complex society—people from all walks of life who share a broad domain of progressive thought and cultural sensibility. What unifies this conceptual nation is that everyone who chooses to enter has a passion for actually implementing America’s core democratic values of economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all.
Every week, The Nation brings us together to observe and absorb, piece by piece, the larger world, and to consider how we as individuals and as a progressive community both fit into it and can affect it (or not). Like the town square bulletin boards and taverns of revolutionary America, this magazine is a natural gathering place for twenty-first-century thinkers, activist, strategists, dreamers, iconoclasts, provokers (and, yes, some hotheads, oddballs and blowhards)—all of whom help plant, enrich, refine, protect and advance progressive thought in our time.
In this day of digitalization and electronic isolation, we need a place to belong, collaborate, and build something important together. To help achieve the astonishingly rich potential for our nation, be a part of The Nation and make it your own.
Serious Investigative journalism has been abandoned in the last twenty years by all but a handful of American media organizations as many outlets have become mere profit centers for large corporations. Fortunately The Nation continues to stand out as a fearless publication that is willing to take on the tough assignments that upset corporations, entrenched interests and particularly the authoritarian-leaning far right. Katrina vanden Heuvel and those who have gone before her over the last 150 years have not always been right, but they have always provided a perspective that has allowed America to have the debates we must have and that have saved our Democracy when it was most endangered.