Editor’s Page

Editor’s Page

This issue marks forty-five years of Dissent. It is easy to imagine that our founders would have been a bit surprised if told back in 1954 that this magazine would still be a vigorous venture at the century’s close. After all, they started with just enough money for a year’s publication, and small, independent journals rarely have abundant staying power. Moreover, they were well aware that their politics represented a minority position in mainstream intellectual life, as in the broader left. They would be gratified, much so, that their radical democratic values still resonate. Surely they would have been cheered if reproaches to inequality and conformism were less relevant. Undoubtedly, they would be disheartened by the state of American democracy. Dissent’s founders understood a great deal about sectarian fanaticism, left and right. The same can hardly be said of the current Republican leadership. It seems to hate a president more than it cares for the country’s political health. McCarthyism’s malodor was still present when Dissent was founded; today’s Republican majority has manufactured its own stink.

Dissent’s anniversary coincides with another marker. It is a decade since the communist breakdown began. Our founders would undoubtedly be content that their old nemesis on the left, Stalinism and its progeny, self-destructed. “Was its bankruptcy, its pillage of every precept the left should espouse so difficult to see?,” they might query. The lesson seems so obvious: if your end dictates appalling brutality (not to mention mass murder), then either you give it up or change it into something else—something that does not exact such means. No elaborate exegesis needed here, just old-fashioned humanism, just some democratic values.

On the other hand, Dissent’s founders would also shake knowing if sorrowful heads at those folks—still at it, are they?—for whom anticommunism is intellectual Viagra.

Dissent continues to speak from the left unabashedly. We don’t offer formulaic answers. This is not because we lack an all-encompassing response to issues like globalization (in fact we don’t have one). It’s because formulas have substituted for left-wing ideas a little too often. Better to leave the formulas at a left-luggage repository for those who cleave to the unity of theory and patience. But best be in no rush to replace them with postmodern (tenured) torment. Or, in a different vein, with a muddled “Third Way” that would demobilize everyone—except capital, that is.

Dissent won’t follow the herd of autonomous liberals that claims that distinguishing “left” from “right” is now meaningless. Instead, we’ll continue to provide a pluralistic forum for left voices, concerns, and questions—reflective voices on behalf of a liberal but equality-friendly America; stubborn concern for social suffering and for racial and gender ...