The Public Interest at 50

Adam Keiper, National Affairs, Fall 2015.


Before long, of course, The Public Interest would bring together policy, philosophy, morality, social science, and political economy as had never been done before. Kristol, Bell, Glazer, Adam Wolfson (the journal’s final editor), and their colleagues and writers found a way to eschew both stale ideology and the cold, dead-end empiricism of The End of Ideology.

What emerges when we consider the first issue of the magazine in its own terms, rather than through the lens of what it began, is that these editors and writers were plainly themselves in the process of learning what they would soon teach the rest of us. The mentality or disposition that ultimately became the greatest gift The Public Interest gave to America was not fully present at the birth of the journal. The intellectual drama of the quarterly issues that followed, especially in the magazine’s first decade or so, put on display the painful education endured by some of America’s wisest intellectuals as the illusions of the 1960s were shattered and both the potential and the limits of America’s postwar order presented themselves. By returning to the origins of the PI, we can more fully appreciate its achievement: It did not so much bring together wise observers who had always been aware of what no one else could see. It gathered a community of mature and learned observers who would learn together what to make of America in the late 20th century.

National Affairs