Reading TNR in the mid-2000s, late in high school and early in college, taught me what it meant to be a thinking, liberal person. It taught me what liberals believed, in specifics, about health care, about human rights, about political process. It opened my eyes to far more. And it told me I didn’t have to leave behind the art and culture I was so drawn to, that one could care at the same time about books and people, about history and the present, about other places and my own home.
Maybe what I took from reading that magazine was idiosyncratic, or ignored plain reality. Its lifetime provides many examples of contributions that could not have achieved what I have given the magazine credit for – writing that limited, that discarded, that denigrated. Writing embodying active ignorance or latent hate, to which an appropriate reaction is to find nothing to mourn.
It is difficult to believe this judgment is wrong. Any intellectual development I and others gained from the magazine’s pages does not justify its other sins, nor forgive them. And it would be more convenient if I had found a more pure source of awareness. Yet I wonder if I would be in a position to even hear these reactions and critiques, and understand them, if I had not grown through what I read. If I possess any real empathy or self-doubt or a willingness to revise beliefs, it is in part due to a magazine now condemned for lacking all three qualities. And I wonder if I could have actually learned from a teacher who did not embody something of what it imparted.
Few valuable things come to us in wholly valuable ways. There are many paths to awakening. TNR was one of them, and now it sleeps. I hope other voices will speak forcefully enough to let someone else have what TNR gave me. May they do better and may they, too, exhaust themselves in doing so.