National Affairs Magazine a Bold Move in a Weak Industry

A mind-blowing business decision

Is there room in the market for another print publication? Image from

Is there room in the market for another print publication? Image from

Did I just read this New York Times commentary correctly? It says a new quarterly magazine called National Affairs started yesterday (Monday). David Brooks says that National Affairs magazine is meant to continue the work of The Public Interest, a magazine that shut down in 2005.

Brooks writes that National Affairs magazine aims to occupy “the bloody crossroads where social science and public policy meet matters of morality, culture and virtue.” Whew, I am glad they are not in this to make money. The newspaper, magazine and general printed publication industry has been steadily tanking for years — that is, until the recession began, when it took a sharp nosedive.

The one that came before

Apparently mortgage loan restructuring was not an option for The Public Interest, which lasted 40 years, from 1965 to 2005. The Public Interest Closed when the last of the original editors retired. Brooks writes:

Their idea was that the great ideological clashes between socialism and capitalism were in the past. In the age of consensus what was needed was a policy journal that would pragmatically weigh costs and benefits.

It really is a lovely, peaceful idea. Unfortunately, I think humans have shown that they will always be politically polarized. Politicians will always use disdain for the opposing party as a unifying element. But the people running National Affairs magazine have more faith than I do, apparently.

What is at this crossroads?

According to Brooks, the first essay in National Affairs magazine focuses on how we can tackle the recession. Brooks writes:

Creating a new and sustainable middle-class social contract isn’t only an accounting matter. It’s also a question of responsibility.

He says this essay states that the nation’s leaders have made a series of “lavishly unaffordable promises.” Brooks also points out the flaw in logic behind the first essay in National Affairs magazine. The essay says the nation’s leaders should skip special interests and hand power directly to the people. However, Brooks points out this strategy was implemented in California, and now that state’s budget is a total disaster.

Thoughts on National Affairs magazine

With newspapers and magazines shutting down at alarming rates, I think it’s a very bold move for editor Yuval Levin and his colleagues to give National Affairs magazine a shot. Perhaps they should get one of those motivational posters that says “you never fail until you stop trying.”

After all, its predecessor, The Public Interest, didn’t seem to make a whole lot of progress in shaping public policy. In its 20th anniversary edition, James Q. Wilson wrote:

At root, in almost every area of public concern, we are seeking to induce persons to act virtuously, whether as schoolchildren, applicants to public assistance, would-be lawbreakers, or voters and public officials.

Is there no way to control spending?

Brooks points out that we’re not at a point, as a country, where we can decide whether we should control spending, we must decide how to control spending. After explaining all of the catastrophes that resulted from direct democracy in California, Brooks says concentrating power among public-policy professionals doesn’t work either.

So what’s the answer, Mr. Brooks? Apparently, he says, National Affairs magazine’s job is to figure this out. Good luck!

Other recent posts by bryanh