The Next Forty

December 2017

This month we conclude our commemoration of the New Oxford Review’s 40th year of continuous publication. In celebration of this milestone, in each issue this year we have reproduced an article from our archives. We kicked things off with “A Protestant Considers the Catholic Magisterium” (Jan.-Feb.) by David Hartman, which originally appeared in September 1989. In each issue thereafter, we featured the following:
- “Turning Catholics into a Stiff-Kneed People” (March; orig. Jul.-Aug 1999) by J.A. Gray
- “The Soul of Man Under Secularism” (April; orig. Jul.-Aug. 1991) by Christopher Lasch
- “‘No Enemies to the Left’ — Still!” (May; orig. Jul.-Aug. 2001) by Kenneth D. Whitehead
- “The Politics of Abandonment” (June; orig. Jan.-Feb. 1988) by L. Brent Bozell
- “Why Was Christ a Male & Why Did He Ordain Only Men?” (Jul.-Aug.; orig. Jan.-Feb. 1996) by Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J.
- “The Bishops’ Pastoral on the Economy & the Scandal of Catholicism” (Sept.; orig. Jan.-Feb. 1987) by Dale Vree
- “A Letter from a Concerned Episcopalian” (Oct.; orig. Oct. 2003) by Fr. Edward B. Connolly
- “The Truth About the Homosexual Rights Movement” (Nov.; orig. Feb. 2006) by Ronald G. Lee
In this issue, we offer a special treat: “A Trialogue with C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther & Thomas Aquinas” (orig. Jul.-Aug. 1994) by the incomparable Peter Kreeft. Like all classic Kreeft, this trialogue is at once imaginative, instructive, and entertaining. It retains a certain timelessness, though its re-appearance is particularly timely: Not only is 2017 the NOR’s 40th anniversary, it is also the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This article is, we think, a fitting finale to our retrospective.

Over the past 40 years, the NOR has published thousands of features. How did we narrow down four decades of possibilities to a mere ten selections? We set a few parameters: We would focus solely on major articles, eliminating editorials, New Oxford Notes, columns (by guests or regular contributors), and book reviews. Each article would address a major topic of its time. Each would have been penned by a prominent contributor or made a notable impact. We would restrict our search to authors whose work hasn’t appeared in our pages in at least ten years. We wouldn’t reprint more than one article from any given year or by any given author, and we wouldn’t duplicate topics. Most importantly, each article would display the characteristics that distinguish NOR material — it must be thoughtful, engaging, relevant, and well written. We hope you concur that we’ve at least come close to realizing the goals we set. And we hope you have enjoyed taking this trip through the past as much as we enjoyed mapping it out and making it happen.

If you missed any of the 40th-anniversary reprints, you can find them in the 2017 archives at our website (click here). They also reside in that area of the archives specific to the issues in which they originally appeared — meaning, for example, that Fr. Connolly’s Episcopalian-vampire sendup can be found in both the October 2017 and October 2003 listings. Reprints are also available in hard copy; see the notice on page 41 of this issue for information on how to order back issues.

The expansion of our online archives is one of our ongoing, long-term projects. In that regard, we are pleased to announce that we have uploaded all the 1987 and 1988 issues to our website. Our archives now contain 30 years’ worth of issues!

Who remembers the late 1980s? In the U.S. it was the era of Operation Rescue, potential imminent nuclear destruction, the Iran-Contra scandal, Black Monday, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and the falls from grace of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. In Rome it was the heyday of the long reign of Pope St. John Paul II, a time during which he made his third pastoral visit to his native Poland, which was still under communist rule, and his second to the U.S., which was still under the rule of so-called trickle-down economics. He also issued his first Marian encyclical, Redemptoris Mater (“Mother of the Redeemer”), and his second social encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“The So­cial Concerns of the Church”).

In the NOR the topics of interest included all of the above — the events themselves as well as their themes and causes — and much more. Consider some of the article titles (by some impressive writers) from 1987-1988:
- “America in the 1980s: Under the Sway of ‘Conservative’ Constantinianism” (Apr. 1987) by historian John Lukacs, an NOR contributing editor
- “Mariology: The Essence of Rome’s ‘Errors’?” (Apr. 1987) by Fr. Paul van K. Thomson, the sixth married former Episcopal priest to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood in the U.S. under the Pastoral Provision
- “Socrates Meets the Modern World (or, the Myth of Progress)” (May 1987), another delightful dialogue by Peter Kreeft
- “A Glimpse of the ‘Gay World’ in San Francisco & the ‘Fast World’ in Los Angeles” (Jul.-Aug. 1987) by Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, an NOR contributing editor
- “On Human Robots, Yuppies, & the Meaning of Work in America” (Jul.-Aug. 1987) by Paul F. Scotchmer, a Presbyterian minister and part-time carpenter
- “An Inside Look at a Moonie Training Session” and “A Summer with the Moonies” (Jan.-Feb. & March 1988), Thomas W. Case’s two-parter on his experiences being recruited by followers of Sun Myung Moon and living in one of their compounds
- “The Spiritual Thrust of Just War Doctrine” (March 1988) by Richard J. Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary
- “Nuclear Deterrence, Christian Conscience & the End of Christendom” (Jul.-Aug. 1988) by legal scholar John Finnis
- “The Nihilism & Atheism of Allan Bloom” (Oct. 1988) by philosopher Philip E. Devine. Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind was a number-one New York Times bestseller
- “The Social Thought of Michael Novak” (Nov. 1988) by John C. Cort, then a regular columnist for the NOR. A democratic socialist vs. a neoconservative? Buckle your seatbelts!
In those years, we published two symposia, one on “Roman Catholicism & American Exceptionalism” (March 1987), with contributions from Robert George, Robert N. Bellah, Sheldon Vanauken, and others, and another on “Humane Socialism & Traditional Conservatism” (Oct. 1987), with contributions from Christopher Derrick, Michael Lerner, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Russell Kirk, among others.

The esteemed psychologist Robert Coles was still penning his celebrated Harvard Diary column, which was serialized in book form in 1988 (vol. 2 in 1997); notable entries include “Teaching and Learning, Strutting and Conniving” (March 1988), “Sinner Swaggart & Our Smugness” (June 1988), and his four-part series on “The Secular Mind.” The aforementioned John C. Cort was churning out his Christ and Neighbor column; notable entries include “The Redistribution of Wealth: A Christian Imperative” (May 1987), “Feeling Good About Greed?” (March 1988), and “Cafeteria Catholicism & the Pope’s Encyclical” (May 1988; it was a problem back then too).

Putting our back issues online is a slow, painstaking process. Unlike other publications, we don’t have the manpower to devote to the conversion of old newsprint hardcopies to modern-day HTML. Our editorial staff is shorthanded and harried as it is, without piling on more tasks. Yet this year we’ve managed to upload a record three years’ worth of issues (we announced 1989 in Jan.-Feb.). We were able to do this because we went against our usual custom and offered an internship to a college student — not on a volunteer basis but a paid position, for, as St. Paul says, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). What we saved in sweat and man hours we lost in our bottom line, and a shoestring budget can only take so much stretching.

As the afterglow of this 40-year milestone recedes, we are sobered by the knowledge that no celebration of the past is complete without an assessment of the present and a consideration of the future. We’re happy to report that the death of print has been mercifully delayed — we’re still here, doing our thing, as are a handful of other survivors. But how long will we enjoy this reprieve from the reaper’s scythe?

We’d love to take Lincoln Millstein at his word. The “future is in print,” the senior vice president at the Hearst Corporation recently wrote (Editor & Publisher, Oct. 13), and digital media is a “killing field” where publications go to die. He should know, since he helped launch the online versions of the Boston Globe and The New York Times in 2001-2002. Both publications are struggling mightily as a result of their fateful decisions to pursue a “digital first” strategy — a “fatuous promise if there ever was one,” Millstein rues. And he was one of the strategy’s most vociferous early promoters! The imagined unlimited online ad revenue never materialized, and print subscriptions plummeted as these and other publications began giving away their content online, in essence “cannibalizing” themselves. Why pay for something you can get for free?

Though Millstein is writing specifically about the newspaper industry, his insights are relevant to all print publications. These days, he says, the smart ones are “tightening up” their paywalls — charging a fee for online access to their content. This is something the NOR has done since day one, not because we had any special foresight but because it was the only way we could make a website work within our budgetary constraints.

It took massive losses for the big dogs to learn the hard lessons austerity has been teaching us little guys for decades.

So if you’re interested in reading any (or all!) of our archived articles, you’ll have to pony up for a website subscription or pay a nominal per-article fee. Website subscriptions are distinct from print subscriptions, but we do offer a discounted combo sub. Website subscriptions give you access not only to archived back issues but to each new issue that is uploaded during the term of your subscription. The options and pricing can be found here.

Other publications that have both print and online operations are finally coming to realize, that, as Millstein observes, digital media is “not a replacement for print.” That’s why we’ve been determined not to have to reduce the NOR to an online-only operation. Print subscriptions “remain a salvation” for most publications, Millstein writes; they still get “two-thirds of their revenue from print.”

But what about the online outlets that are happy to give their content away for free, that are content to have an audience of any kind? You know what we mean: the blogs. How can pay sites that support print publications compete with them (some of whom actually produce good work)? Millstein suggests that print publications recapture the spirit of the early 19th century, when they were “a high-priced item for the literate and the influential and they co-existed with bloggers (pamphleteers).”

A high-priced item for the literate and influential? That rather suits the NOR — though we aren’t high-priced (relative to other print publications) and we don’t kowtow to the influential. But an item for the literate? Yes. And, admittedly, our no-frills, black-and-white layout wouldn’t be out of place in the 19th century. Print has a certain “permanence” to it, Millstein says, that digital offerings cannot duplicate. “When reading on your smartphone,” he asks, “how often do you correctly recall the source?” We would add that print has an ancient quality, a tangibility that stimulates sensory recollection. In this day of dizzying digital delights, a newsprint magazine is an anomaly, even an absurdity, like a relic from a simpler time. Might that be to our advantage?

To distinguish ourselves from the glut of hot-take bloggers, Twitter warriors, and other mavens of smartphone discourse, to achieve the kind of permanence of which Millstein speaks, the NOR must provide challenging, in-depth fare for the literate — if you’ve gotten this far into this editorial, that means you! — not clickbait outrage porn for the undifferentiated masses. If you’ve read critically over the past year, you’ll have noticed that this is what the NOR has been doing consistently for the past 40 years, in season and out, and is still doing. The old and the new stand shoulder to shoulder: A. James Gregor’s “Why the West Abandoned Standard Rules of Conduct” sets the stage for Whitehead’s “‘No Enemies to the Left’ — Still!” (May); Gawronski’s “Why Was Christ a Male & Why Did He Ordain Only Men?” segues into Frederick W. Marks’s “Is the Future ‘Female’?” (Jul.-Aug.). You could pair Bozell’s “The Politics of Abandonment” with Fr. James V. Schall’s “The Shadow Over All Politics” (Jan.-Feb.), or Vree’s “The Bishops’ Pastoral on the Economy & the Scandal of Catholicism” with Will Hoyt’s “Why the Murray Project Failed” (Jul.-Aug.). It’s all of a piece.

In that sense, our 40-year retrospective is an affirmation of a consistent witness, a solid rock amid the shifting sands of time and technology, movements and mores. Consistency and longevity are nothing to sneeze at. But surviving and thriving are entirely different things.

Another constant in the NOR’s 40 years of publishing has been fundraising appeals. The NOR has no stable funding source to fall back on — no endowment, no institutional sugar daddy in the form of a think tank, policy group, university, or religious order to underwrite its existence. Subscription income can’t cover our operating costs, not in this age of contraction when literate readers are rare birds, an endangered species. It never has. Neither can declining ad revenue. Even with a paywall, our website barely breaks even. We operate at a deficit every single year, whether we hire an intern or not. For the past 40 years, the NOR has been sustained entirely by the generosity of readers. If you appreciate the paper product you hold in your hands, please take a moment to reflect on the costs and contingencies involved in its predictable (thus far) appearance in your mailbox month after month. Print strives for permanence but is at risk. It is a needful thing but fragile. Its future — and the future of the NOR — is very much in doubt. Can we count on your support?

To help ensure that our 41st year of publishing the NOR will be the first of many more to come, send your donation to:
New Oxford Review
1069 Kains Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94706
No amount is too great or too small. Checks and money orders may be made payable to: New Oxford Review. We also accept VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit-card donations at our website (click here) as well as by U.S. mail (at the above address) and by telephone (510-526-5374, ext. 0). The NOR has 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service; donations are, therefore, tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Please remember the NOR in your prayers. With your help, this little newsprint relic will defy the digital age and survive well into the future.

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