Opinion: Daily Journal

Why I Read the Mainstream Left

Today’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Kory Swanson, executive vice president of the John Locke Foundation.

RALEIGH – We are readers at the John Locke Foundation. Our research staff, Carolina Journal staff, administrative staff, and interns all do a great amount of reading. From arcane academic literature to the popular press, we peruse writing from the Right, the Left, and anything in between on a wide array of topics.

Our reading provokes vigorous debates as we challenge each other’s assumptions and beliefs. As a result, we have a better understanding of what we need to do to be effective agents of change.

Each JLF staffer has a reading regimen. What I want to share with you are the Left-leaning magazines that I subscribe to. I have read Boston Review, New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and The New Yorker for many years.

What has kept me an avid reader of these publications over the years is the challenging and wide range of well-written political, cultural, and literary analysis and commentary. Rarely is there an instance where my thinking is not challenged. And this is the draw.

It is not often that I agree with what I read. However, I know that if I pick up any of these magazines, what I read on a particular topic is going to make me re-examine how I think about it. If what you read, no matter where it lands on the ideological scale, challenges you to re-examine how you think, then you should keep reading it.

Boston Review

If I were to have access to only one magazine on the Left, it would be Boston Review. It is published six times per year and is edited by MIT philosopher Joshua Cohen. The highlight of each issue is the “New Democracy Forum.” Each issue’s forum addresses a particular topic. A lead article generates supportive and critical responses, concluding with a response from the lead author. The lead article is almost always critical of the Right, but the give and take in the exchange section, when the Right will participate, is some of the best you will find.

Recent forum topics have included discussion of an exit strategy for Iraq (for which the Review could not get anyone on the Right to participate), what makes schools work, what do we owe our parents, Islam and the challenge of democracy, what’s wrong with our national defense, what’s hurting the middle class, and democracy and double standards after 9/11.

New York Review of Books

Older, and with a larger readership, this biweekly magazine emerged in 1963 during the New York publishing strike. Like its Boston counterpart, the magazine concentrates on political, cultural, and literary ideas. The Review regularly highlights the views of political radicals, and it has been vocal in opposition to President Bush. The contributors to each issue are well-known authors, journalists, and academics. No matter what the topic under discussion, you can rest assured that you are getting cutting-edge views from the Left. On occasion, the Review will sponsor discussions that will include scholars and journalists from the Left and Right. An upcoming issue features a discussion on the NSA wiretapping issue.

The Review is also an excellent source for keeping up with fiction and non-fiction publications. Publishers of all types run extensive ads in each issue.

The Atlantic Monthly

Started in 1851 by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, The Atlantic Monthly is now published ten times per year. It features articles in political science and public and foreign affairs, as well as book reviews. Once a year it publishes an issue dedicated to new fiction writing.

The lead articles are always thorough. They provoke thought and provide insight into how Left-leaning journalists, analysts, and academics think. The current issue profiles the new pope, looks into Pakistan and the nuclear bomb, offers an unauthorized peek at plans for the George W. Bush presidential library, and speculates about John Roberts’ leadership of the Supreme Court. It also examines the evolution of sophisticated bombing techniques by Iraqi insurgents, military veterans running for Congress and their tilt to the Left, illegal immigration, and consideration of the NSA.

Harper’s Magazine

A year older than The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine is the second oldest continuously published magazine. Only Scientific American is older. Harper’s, like the other magazines I subscribe to, covers literature, culture, politics, and the arts.

It has criticized U.S. domestic and foreign policy, taking on administrations of both political parties. Topics addressed this month include incisive pieces on the Abu Ghraib court-martial proceedings, the Dover intelligent design case, and an entertaining essay on what it means to be a “player” in the game of politics.

As with The Atlantic, I find the contributions to the magazine provide a welcome insight into thinking on the Left.

The New Yorker

The New Yorker appears 40 times per year – publishing journalism, essays, criticism, reviews, poetry, and fiction. It has expressed liberal and nonpartisan politics, but this has been changing. A big supporter of John Kerry, it broke 80 years of tradition and formally endorsed Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. The magazine also hired famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh to report on military and security issues. Hersh’s stories in the pages of The New Yorker on the Iraq war and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal were widely reported in other media.

I continue to read The New Yorker because I find literate and thought-provoking commentary and perspective on political and cultural matters that I just don’t find elsewhere. The current issue has insightful commentary on the George Clooney film about Edward R. Murrow. It examines green-card holders and immigration policy. The magazine profiles Ariel Sharon through six years of conversations with the Israeli prime minister. It also offers a great review of the new “Battlestar Galactica” series that I must pass on to John Hood and Chad Adams.

In my next Friday column, I will discuss what I am reading on the Right.