Since 1857, The Atlantic has been challenging assumptions and pursuing truth.
As we reflect on our past and look toward the future—in a world where ideologically narrow or simple answers are less adequate, and can even be more destructive, than ever—we decided to put to words a handful of ideas we thought represented authentic guiding commitments for us and to our audience.
We know great storytelling is part of great journalism. But honest reporting and analysis, and the integrity they represent, are what matter most to us, even if their pursuit requires giving up on an alluring narrative.
Certainty can be comforting, but it can also get in the way of understanding. For us, the end of every story or argument should be the beginning of a conversation, and the end of every conversation the beginning of another—or even another story or argument.
We see it as part of our job to help keep our audience up-to-date on the most important news and current events across the United States and around the world. But the bigger part of our job is to work out—through reporting, argument, and debate—what that news means now, and what it could mean for the future.
No story is ever complete, no argument is ever perfect, and debates worth having tend to shift and turn more than they end. So we can never rely on a single point of view, or even on a “balance” of two. Important ideas, observations, points, and counterpoints can come from anywhere—from across the political spectrum—so we have to look everywhere for them.
People are connected today in ways they’ve never been before, through established media, new media, social media, or otherwise. But these kinds of connection have also balkanized, filtered, alienated, and inspired retreat—into private concerns, into entertainment, into ideological comfort zones, and so on. We want to connect with the world by fully engaging with it, and with people who see it differently from how others see it.
Our hope is that these commitments orient us in a way that not only is genuine for The Atlantic, but that helps us be as meaningful as possible to you in your life, and as good a force as possible for the world around us.
When the founders of The Atlantic gathered in Boston in the spring of 1857, they wanted to create a magazine that would be indispensable for the kind of reader who was deeply engaged with the most consequential issues of the day. The men and women who created this magazine had an overarching, prophetic vision—they were fierce opponents of slavery—but they were also moved to overcome what they saw as the limits of partisanship, believing that the free exchange of ideas across ideological lines was crucial to the great American experiment. Their goal was to publish the most urgent essays, the most vital literature; they wanted to pursue truth and disrupt consensus without regard for party or clique.
Here is the mission statement published in the very first issue of The Atlantic, in November 1857, and signed by many of the greats of American letters, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne:
First: In Literature, to leave no province unrepresented, so that while each number will contain articles of an abstract and permanent value, it will also be found that the healthy appetite of the mind for entertainment in its various forms of Narrative, Wit, and Humor, will not go uncared for. The publishers wish to say, also, that while native writers will receive the most solid encouragement, and will be mainly relied on to fill the pages of The Atlantic, they will not hesitate to draw from the foreign sources at their command, as occasion may require, relying rather on the competency of an author to treat a particular subject, than on any other claim whatever. In this way they hope to make their Periodical welcome wherever the English tongue is spoken or read.
Second: In the term Art they intend to include the whole domain of aesthetics, and hope gradually to make this critical department a true and fearless representative of Art, in all its various branches, without any regard to prejudice, whether personal or national, or to private considerations of what kind soever.
Third: In Politics, The Atlantic will be the organ of no party or clique, but will honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea. It will deal frankly with persons and with parties, endeavoring always to keep in view that moral element which transcends all persons and parties, and which alone makes the basis of a true and lasting national prosperity. It will not rank itself with any sect of anties, but with that body of men which is in favor of Freedom, National Progress, and Honor, whether public or private.
In studying this original mission statement, we came to understand that its themes are timeless. The core principles of the founders are core principles for us: reason should always guide opinion; ideas have consequences, sometimes world-historical consequences; the knowledge we have about the world is partial and provisional, and subject to analysis, scrutiny, and revision.