Quarterlies are often late to cover the politics of the moment, but sometimes we anticipate arguments to come. We carried important articles on torture in the Summer 2003 issue, and we have come back to it again and again in the years since—most recently in an online article by Lillian B. Rubin. We haven’t yet discussed the question of how the country as a whole can best acknowledge and repudiate the Bush administration’s policy on torture. That administration’s more general abuse of executive power is the subject of Sanford Levinson’s strong review essay in this issue. Dissent writers have argued about how other countries should reckon with their past; now we have an American reckoning to consider.
But looking forward is even more important, and we mean to carry articles online and in coming issues on Barack Obama’s decision to make the war in Afghanistan his own. This is the part of the “war on terrorism” that has looked most like a legitimate military operation, but it is being fought at a high cost to the civilian population. The United States needs a more wide-ranging and critical debate about what we are doing there and what we should (and shouldn’t) be doing. Michael W. Doyle’s piece on “democracy promotion” is a good beginning for what will be a long argument.
We are happy to feature a group of articles on cities in this issue—dealing with the shape and character of the modern city, with manufacturing and transportation within it, and with murder on its streets. Urban life has always been a special interest of the Left, even if the medieval maxim that “city air makes a man free” hasn’t been true for a long time. It is as easy to be oppressed in our city centers as in the supposedly backward countryside. If cities are to be decent places, if they are to provide space for sustaining work, lively conversation, and culture (high and low), political programs and government policies are necessary, designed by people who live in cities and who love them and want to make them lovely.
Martha Nussbaum’s systematic critique of all the arguments against gay marriage is one of the most devastating pieces (as well as one of the longest) that we have ever carried. She leaves, it seems to me, no argument standing. I hope that her essay is widely disseminated and read in every state where same-sex marriage is an issue. In 2006 and 2007, we carried a series of articles, three or four in each issue, on the politics of the family—in an effort to deny that politics to the Right and to work out a liberal/left family policy. Think of the Nussbaum essay as another in that series, for the freedom to marry is also the freedom to start families and to accept the obligations they entail.