Long before I ever wrote for The Atlantic Online, I admired the voices its editors assembled, and that they continue to assemble: that Ross Douthat, Megan McArdle, Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Matt Yglesias, Michael Kinsley, Marc Ambinder, James Fallows, Jeffrey Goldberg, and so many others have done excellent work under this masthead is an impressive testament to the magazine's intellectual openness, a quality that has endured down through the decades in print, as any student of the Atlantic archives or its 1857 statement of purpose can attest. The Atlantic Monthly would "be the organ of no party or clique," and would "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."
Any magazine aspiring to that standard has a difficult if not impossible task, and none more so than political publications that are ideological in nature. There is an inherent tension between pushing a system of beliefs and the uncompromising scrutiny that written ideas demand if we're to avoid slovenly thinking.
For this reason, I am so pleased and impressed to read this note from Franklin Foer, editor of the already impressive New Republic:
One of the pleasures of TNR is disagreement, the regular encountering of arguments that one instinctually dislikes. These essays might not always convert, and may occasionally provoke the hurling of the magazine at the wall, but at their best, they prod you to sharpen your thesis and wield more persuasive evidence. Of course, disagreement already exists in spades on our website. But as an experiment, we've decided to formalize it. We've asked Jim Manzi (several clicks to our right) and Michael Kazin (several to our left) to regularly disagree with us--to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions. They will dispute us in their columns, as they see fit. (And when TNR writers see fit, as Leon Wieseltier does here, they will respond.)
Manzi and Kazin were my first picks for in-house adversaries. They have ideological commitments, but they write to persuade those with different ones entirely. Even if they don't share our politics, they share our sensibility about argument. And they are both wicked smart.
That Mr. Manzi and Mr. Kazin were his first picks says a lot about his taste, and suggests an impressive confidence in what the TNR publishes -- those two aren't easy critics! The larger project is particularly impressive because I find it so hard to imagine other DC based political magazines undertaking anything similar.