Slow pitch to the lefty slugger

Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic quotes Gerald Marzorati, the editor of the NewYork Times Magazine, who was recently asked if his magazine has an ideology. Marzorati answered yes, and then explained:

Call it Urban Modern. That is, I think it reflects not a left-or-right POLITICAL ideology but a geographical one, the mentality of the place it is created: 21st Century Manhattan. So: the Magazine reflects a place where women have professional ambition, where immigrants are welcome, and where gays and lesbians can be themselves (if not marry, yet). The Magazine also reflects a place where being rich is not a bad thing, where fashion is not a sign of superficiality, and where individualism is embraced. Here, arguing is not bad manners. Here, a chief way of loving your hometown is criticizing it: For, say, not doing enough for those (children, the poor, the homeless) who are most vulnerable. Here, art is never spoken of in moral terms, and most aspects of everyday life—food and drink and bathroom fixtures—are mostly spoken of in aesthetic terms. And here, as E.B. White famously wrote, it tends to be those who come from elsewhere full of longing who make the place what it is. More generally, we reflect a place where change is not a threat, where doubt and complexity are more TRUE than certainty, and where most everything non-criminal is tolerated--except a bad haircut.

Wieseltier's response to this is both predictable and satisfying:

[W]hat is being celebrated here is the ideology of no ideology—the ascendancy of the Nora Ephron view of the world, which may be succinctly described as "food and drink and bathroom fixtures." What moves such a heart most (aside from children, the poor, and the homeless) are amenities and trivialities. The conferring of importance upon the unimportant, and of unimportance upon the important: this is a mark of decadence, the cognitive inversion of people who live "mostly in aesthetic terms" because they have secured themselves materially—or so they would like to believe—against philosophy and pain. They live for lightness and distraction. Their laughter is the sound of luck. They acquit themselves of their intellectual obligations with opinions. The anxiety that arguing may be bad manners is plausibly held by someone whose primary arena of political action may be the dinner party. (Darling, were we wrong about Obama?) [...] [W]hen Marzorati jauntily protests that in Manhattan being rich is not a bad thing, it has the effect of concealing that in Manhattan being poor is a bad thing. That is how high spirits work in hard times. And what is so terrifying about seriousness, anyway? I like to think of it as nothing more than proof of consciousness. Happy is the man whose worst misfortune is a bad haircut, but no such man lives.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

Please email comments to and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads