Paul Baumann is the editor of Commonweal.
By this author
I realize I'm a bit tardy with this comment, but the pace of the blogosphere remains intimidating for those of us still marveling over the immediacy of e-mail. A post last week on Christopher Hitchens by Robert Imbelli provoked a lively exchange about the value of what Imbelli called Hitchens's "devilish knack for pricking the pieties of both left and right."Devilish is right.
Dear Commonweal Reader,
Over the years, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve told you something of the challenges of publishing a small magazine—skyrocketing postal rates, inexorable cost increases, even a tectonic shift of readers away from print media. Seeing a “Letter to Readers” addressed to you, you might be expecting more of the same, perhaps even an ominous message about the outlook for the Commonweal enterprise.
The New York Times ran a brief “Appreciation” titled “‘The Bishop’s Wife’” at the bottom of its column of editorials on Christmas Eve. The author, Verlyn Klinkenborg, regularly appears in that space with a signed feature called “The Rural Life.” His reports from his farm in upstate New York are marvelous.
I have spent a fair amount of time over the past ten years, both in print and at cocktail and dinner parties, defending unfashionable ideas such as hierarchy, the celibate male priesthood, restrictions on abortion, sacramental religion, and the virtues exemplified by professional ice hockey. At the moment, my brief for ice hockey seems the most secure.
In its issue of October 6, 1995, the Times Literary Supplement printed a list of the "hundred books which have most influenced Western public discourse since the Second World War." Works by Ludwig Wittgenstein, George Orwell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Albert Camus, Erik Erikson, and Primo Levi were among the expected selections, along with Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism and Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
Kim Philby’s My Silent War disclosed how he rose to head the British Secret Service’s counterespionage operation while working as a Soviet spy. In the introduction to that book, Graham Greene compared Philby to "Catholics, who, in the reign of Elizabeth, worked for the victory of Spain."
Greene, of course, had a soft spot for those committed to duplicity or betrayal, especially if belief or passion rather than ego or greed motivated their crimes.