Ed Driscoll

'Obviously, it's Tempting to Paint MacArthur as a Hypocrite'

It’s “Harper’s versus the Atlantic” at the National Interest, where Jacob Heilbrunn writes of Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur:

Obviously, it’s tempting to paint MacArthur as a hypocrite. But there is a reason that he’s right to recoil at his staff’s manuevering. Essentially, MacArthur is running a philanthropic enterprise. He’s not out to make money. He’s trying to prevent his magazine from going under. Magazines such as Harper’s resemble racehorses or yachts—they’re the playthings of wealthy owners who run them as they please. The latent tensions in such an arrangement, of course, are exposed in a time of economic crisis, when the owner, eager to stanch the fiscal bleeding, starts lopping off staffers, which is apparently what MacArthur, who already terminated editor Roger Hodge, the author of a new book called The Mendacity of Hope that excoriates President Obama for straying from the true faith.

Now the Harper’s staff is making the same charge about MacArthur, lamenting that, unlike the Atlantic, he’s been far too tardy in embracing web innovations such as the iPad. But he’s committed to hiring topnotch writers Tom Frank and Zadie Smith. It could be that MacArthur keeps Harper’s afloat to maintain the critique of capitalism by himself resorting to free market principles—outsourcing. With outside contributors and a minimal staff, he might be able to keep Harper’s alive, if not thriving. The surprising thing may not be that MacArthur is trying to save Harper’s, but that he has kept it going as long as he has. For that alone he deserves more credit than he is receiving.

As Brian Doherty quips at Reason, “Unions are Very Important, Unless You Work for Progressive Intellectuals.”

Progressive intellectuals who aren’t big fans of the Internet, Doherty adds:

People whose intellectual lives began this century might know this venerable publication Harper’s, available to most only on “paper,” as but a dim memory. But trust me, as someone who has felt its intensely frightening weight in my very hands this very month, it’s out there. And someday, you might find that out for yourself. (The New York article effectively mocks MacArthur’s fear and hatred of using the Web as a way to communicate with readers, make money, or allow the world to know the mag still exists.)

Heh. But beyond that, if magazines such as Harper’s are indeed the rich man’s intellectual equivalent of racehorses or yachts, isn’t it time to cut back? After all, if “we can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” shouldn’t those who support such ideas economize as well? And besides, think of the trees.

Or to quote from Doherty’s 1998 look at the hypocrisies of Harper’s, isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?