The newest issue of The American Conservative reached my mailbox today, carrying an announcement that the next issue, dated May 7, will be the last unless the publishers receive major infusions of funds. At least one allegedly neocon blogger is gloating over the magazine's imminent demise. The Conservative offended the blogger by opposing an interventionist American foreign policy. In Mr. Radosh's view, the anti-war magazine combined the worst tendencies of the far left as well as the far right, especially a pronounced skepticism toward the moral claims of a certain Middle Eastern country. He characterizes the magazine as borderline anti-Semitic, which any actual reader of the publication (Radosh has apparently seen only the premier issue from 2002 and the latest) will tell you is a hysterically asinine characterization.
If the Conservative goes down, though, the worst thing won't be the victory neocons and interventionists will claim in the marketplace of ideas. Worse than that will be the victory sure to be claimed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his loyal listeners, who will want to declare that the same marketplace of ideas has proclaimed theirs to be the true, authentic American form of conservatism. The Conservative insulted Limbaugh by portraying him as a baby in a stroller a few months ago, although the cover story criticized his manner more than his matter. Overall, however, the Conservative has been positioning itself in evolving opposition to a distorted form of conservatism identified with Ronald Reagan that fetishizes freedom and optimism at the expense of a more philosophically conservative consciousness of inherent or necessary limits on ambition and consumption. While the magazine is often called "paleoconservative," as if it expressed an outdated ideology, at its best it represents intelligent conservatism engaged in self-criticism and receptive to ideas from outside the "movement."
I wonder whether the Conservative will be a victim of history rather than economics. Above all, its identity was anti-war and anti-Bush. I'm sure I'm not the only non-conservative who subscribed because the magazine offered incisive critiques of Bushism (or Dubyaismo, if you prefer) that couldn't be dismissed as knee-jerk liberalism or cynical partisanship. But George W. Bush has departed from the political stage, and Barack Obama is the President.The American Conservative inevitably opposes Obama. This has probably cost them subscribers from outside Republican circles. At the same time, there may have been Republicans who subscribed to the Conservative to show that they didn't agree with Bush, but now may see no reason for the magazine to exist as a distinct voice when all "conservative" mags oppose Obama. In recent months, the Conservative has been trying to retain a distinct position, which is why it has tried to define itself as not like Limbaugh. But without W. as a lightning rod, there may not be enough of a trans-partisan audience out there to sustain the magazine. That would be a shame, because it represents a flickering ember of an alternative force in American politics, one that might have been best positioned to take advantage of the TEA Party enthusiasm of recent weeks under different circumstances. I would never call myself an American conservative, but most of the writers for that magazine were members of that class whom I could somewhat respect. The magazine's demise would leave them isolated voices in an online wilderness. I wish them luck.