April 24, 1950
Mr. Jasper E. Crane
Dear Mr. Crane:
Thank you for your letter of April 7. I was glad to hear that you agree with me about the article COMPULSORY VOTING? and I hope that you will be able to prevent the further publication of articles of this nature in PLAIN TALK.
I am greatly disturbed by the news which I heard from Mr. Luhnow and Mr. Cornuelle of the Volker Charities Fund, whom I met recently. They told me that they had been working with you for sometime on plans to publish a new magazine devoted to the ideas of freedom—and that you have chosen Mr. Levine to be its sole editor, with Henry Hazlitt and John Chamberlain acting merely as columnists for the magazine. I am so disturbed by this prospect that I feel I must offer for your consideration the reasons why I think that this would be nothing short of disastrous.
Mr. Levine is not the editor for a philosophical-intellectual type of magazine. The realm of abstract ideas and political principles is not Mr. Levine’s specialty or interest. He is a very able journalist and is very good on the factual kind of articles or journalistic [exposés]. His past work and career have been devoted exclusively to that field. He has demonstrated no interest in or understanding for the field of pure ideology. Yet ideology is what we most desperately need at present and the magazine we need is a magazine of ideas, not of journalistic reporting.
Mr. Levine’s type of reporting can be of great value only when and if it serves as a concrete illustration for an intellectual campaign aimed at the rebirth of free enterprise. But taken by itself, mere factual reporting is futile at present. The value of facts lies in their proper appraisal and interpretation.
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The mere description of Communist horrors will not make people turn against Communism. The horrors are quite generally known by now, yet they do not arouse people to fight for free enterprise—because people have been saturated with the idea that the horrors are necessary, that the end justifies the means, that the Capitalistic system is just as bad, that Statist controls are proper, practical and unavoidable, and that nothing better is possible in the world anyway. We have to give people the ideas which will make them reject Collectivism root and branch. This is the basic, central, crucial part of the battle against Communism—and this is precisely the part on which Mr. Levine has failed dismally.
The history of PLAIN TALK is a practical proof of my contention. If Mr. Levine’s editorial views and methods had been valid, PLAIN TALK would have grown, developed and acquired a following. I had high hopes for the future of PLAIN TALK, based mainly on Mr. Levine’s assurances that he would develop it into an intellectual magazine. He has not done it and the history of PLAIN TALK indicates that he is unable to do it. I have tried, at first, to recommend the magazine to the attention of every reader I knew who was anxious to find some intellectual food on our side. The reaction of the readers has been most disappointing, but inevitable and logical in view of the magazine’s policy. After a very short while the readers became indifferent to the magazine and stopped reading it, even though their own eagerness for our side had not diminished. To put it bluntly, they became bored. They did not need to read month after month more detailed [exposés] of Communist treachery. They wanted intellectual food, they wanted ideas, they wanted ammunition and arguments to help them fight for our side in their encounters with Collectivists. They wanted an intellectual approach, appraisal and interpretation of world events from the viewpoint of a consistent, clear-cut philosophy—a philosophy of individualism and free enterprise. The ideas of freedom are not expressed anywhere nowadays and they certainly have not been expressed in PLAIN TALK.
PLAIN TALK has had plenty of time to demonstrate whether its kind of policy can arouse a vital public response. The evidence is conclusive that it cannot. It is not a question of the fact that PLAIN TALK has never had much money to work with. If it had had the right policy, it would have grown by popular demand, by word of mouth—just as my novel THE FOUNTAINHEAD has grown, just as any idea grows without great financial or advertising push, if the idea is there to
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grow and attract people. But only an idea will do it. Journalism won’t. Since PLAIN TALK has failed to create a following, why repeat the same failure on a larger scale?
I am not sure whether you agree with me on the kind of magazine which is needed. I am convinced that it must be a magazine devoted primarily to ideas and, above all, a magazine that does not write down to the populace. This does not mean that it has to be a stuffy, academic sort of publication. It must be, on our side, what the NATION or the NEW REPUBLIC were at one time on the leftist side. It must be a magazine for intellectuals, for writers, teachers, professors and all those who in turn spread those ideas down to the masses. That is the way in which the influence of the NATION was built. Incidentally, the general mass of readers would, at present, support a serious magazine of our side. I know and have demonstrated in my own career that the so-called average reader has a much higher intellectual taste and a better mind than our intellectuals give him credit for. He can and will appreciate ideas, but he will not go for any kind of self-conscious popularization. Therefore, a serious, dignified magazine would appeal both to the intellectual and to the general readers, but a “popularized” magazine will appeal to neither.
Mr. Levine’s approach, I am afraid, is strictly that of popularization. The editorial style of PLAIN TALK indicates that he would not be able to assume the tone, style and method necessary for a serious, intellectual magazine. Judging by his policy, he does not believe that abstract ideas have influence and that the battle has to be fought on that level. He is not an ideologist and that is the primary qualification of the editor for the kind of magazine we need. I do not mean this as necessarily a reflection on Mr. Levine’s ability. He may have the intelligence to be an ideologist, but that is not the specialty which he has chosen. The difference between a journalist and an ideologist is like the difference between a mechanic and an engineer. One deals with concrete appliances, the other with general abstract principles. Both may have high ability in their particular fields. But just as you would not put an expert mechanic in the job of chief engineer to run a factory—so you would not put a journalist to run an ideological magazine. If you attempt it, the results would be equally disastrous in both cases.
I say “disastrous” for the following reasons: The magazine would fail and its failure would have much
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wider consequences than just its own fate. Of any one national event of recent years, the Willkie campaign has had the most disastrous consequences for our side, because the public at that time had high hopes and a high enthusiasm for a rebirth of free enterprise. The miserable performance by Mr. Willkie killed these hopes, killed the enthusiasm and did more than anything done by New Dealers to create a mood of discouraged apathy among the supporters of free enterprise. The impression it made on them was, in effect: If this is the best fight that can be put on for our side, then the battle is not worth fighting. Precisely the same thing will happen in the case of the proposed magazine. The need for a magazine of ideas is desperate right now. The public is ready and eager for it. But if such a magazine turns out to be vague, confused, ineffectual and contradictory, the public will not only lose interest in it, but will lose interest in and hope for our side. The public will feel, in effect: If this is the best that can be said for freedom, then there is no real case for freedom and it is not worth fighting for. The failure of such a magazine at the present time will discourage anyone else from ever attempting a similar publication, it will discourage the readers from reading it when and if the right magazine appears, and it will be taken by everybody as proof that the ideas of free enterprise have no popular appeal, no public, no audience. It will be just one more demonstration of the futility of our cause—and it might well turn out to be the last and fatal demonstration.
It has always been my hope that if the right kind of magazine were started, Henry Hazlitt or John Chamberlain would be its editor. To my knowledge, they are the two best men available in this field. They are both ideologists and both have a distinguished career of ideological writing to their credit. I urge you as strongly as I can and for whatever value you may attach to my opinion, to place either Mr. Hazlitt or Mr. Chamberlain in charge of the proposed magazine. If this cannot be done, I urge you to wait until you can find the right man for the position, but not to put your own effort and high intentions into a project which will be only a bitter disappointment to you and another Willkie campaign to our country.
AR:je (see next page)
April 24, 1950 Page 5.
P.S. Thank you for your suggestion that I write “an article for PLAIN TALK demolishing the idea of compulsion.” I appreciate the compliment implied. I am hard at work on my new novel which, I think, will demolish the idea of compulsion. It is a novel dealing with free enterprise and American industry. I hope to finish it this year, so I am unable to do any other writing at present. When I finish it, I would like very much to write some political articles and I would like to hope that there will be a magazine for them, but I do think that they would not fit the present editorial policy of PLAIN TALK.