Dissent at Seventy

Dissent at Seventy

A democratic left is still the best chance that we have of building a more just society.

The front and back covers of the first issue of Dissent, published in January 1954.

The kind of person who makes it to the last page of Dissent already knows the line I’m supposed to quote in a celebration of our seventieth birthday. “When intellectuals can do nothing else, they start a magazine,” Irving Howe said about Dissent’s founding.

True enough, in 1954. Seventy years later, I’m not so sure. An intellectual who can do nothing else today is more likely to start a Substack, realize that it takes too much work, then go back to tilling the soil on Elon Musk’s content farm.

It’s not the most inspiring of sights, and it’s one more reason that Dissent’s survival is worth celebrating. The quickest and easiest way to make a living as a writer today is to find a few thousand people who agree with you and then devote your life to explaining just how noble those lucky readers are. Disagreement is great, but only if you direct the righteous fury safely at the out-group. Inside the tent, your job is to make things nice and cozy for everyone.

Dissent would not exist today without the long years of work that have gone into sustaining this journal. But it deserves to exist because a democratic left is still the best chance that we have of building a more just society. That hope needs defenders who understand that facing up to the world is the only way to make a better one. Delusions and naivety are luxury goods that only the wealthy and powerful can afford. Dissent has never fallen into either of those camps. But, seventy years later, we are still here. And still fighting.

Timothy Shenk is co-editor of Dissent.