Putin and Xi: Our cover story this month reminds us of the perils still posed by Russia and China (Illustration by Michael Daley)
You are reading a copy (real or virtual) of Standpoint’s 100th issue. Think for a moment what that means. The BBC can lavish licence-payers’ millions on a series on Civilisations that gives viewers nine hours of documentary that are, depending on your point of view, either a globalised and updated version of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, or a riot of random rubbernecking and relativism (see David Herman elsewhere this issue). What is certain is that over the past decade Standpoint has done more to celebrate Western civilisation, for a fraction of the cost, than the BBC.
Any intellectual periodical today faces formidable, at times almost insuperable, obstacles. Advertising has been monopolised, colonised and expatriated by Google et al. And so the press has followed suit. As Tibor Fischer puts it in his new novel (reviewed by Lisa Hilton), “technology has betrayed us”. It has never been cheaper to start a magazine, but it has also never been more costly to keep it going.
In his inaugural lecture at University College London last month, Anthony Julius argued that the law and the arts are mutually antagonistic, yet enjoy a symbiotic relationship. He cited Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary, charged with blasphemy and obscenity, was vindicated in court. Flaubert despised everything about the legal system, but his implicit message to his fellow authors, Julius declared, was: “Lawyer up!” That advice holds good in today’s world, where writers and publishers risk numerous forms of litigation, censorship, intimidation and worse. Courtroom dramas such as Flaubert’s, however, are now beyond the means of all but the largest media organisations. Standpoint survives only by the loyalty of its readers, the generosity of its donors (including pro bono legal services), and the grace of God. Without new donors, we will close.
Many people suppose that Western civilisation is simply a given. Yet our complex network of law and liberty, of tradition and enterprise, is quite precarious. Culture only thrives in a political and economic framework that leaves creators alone. Organs such as Standpoint act as guardians of that intellectual infrastructure.
With Voltaire’s bon mots, there usually less than meets the eye (Overrated: Voltaire). He adapted one of the best-known — “God is not on the side of the big battalions, but of the best shots” — from the Comte de Bussy-Rabutin. For one thing, Voltaire did not believe in God; for another, in war the big battalions do usually win. But if there is a place for a sharpshooter that defies the odds, then it’s Standpoint — “the Great Dissenter among magazines”, in the words of Cynthia Ozick.
Over a hundred issues, the focus and urgency have remained constant. In our first edition, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Jung Chang discussed Stalin and Mao with me, both authors emphasising the threat still posed by Russia and China. Today, these perils are even more pertinent, as George Walden reminds us. Michael Nazir-Ali, then still Bishop of Rochester, wrote about the danger of Britain drifting away from its Judaeo-Christian moorings; as his Critique this month shows, he is still a voice of sanity. Speaking up for Israel amid the chaos of the Middle East and speaking out against anti-Semitism in Europe has at times been a lonely vocation, but to be steadfast in the unending war against the oldest hatred is a source of pride. In this issue Bruce Abramson offers a bold proposal to make the region safe not only for Jews and Christians but for Muslims too.
A key aim of Standpoint has always been to rally as wide a Left-Right spectrum as possible to the cause of Western civilisation. In this issue there are prominent centre-Left writers, such as R.W. Johnson and Nick Cohen, alongside conservatives of various persuasions, such as Douglas Murray and Peter Lilley, plus those who defy categorisation, such as David Goodhart. Not only on Brexit or Trump, say, but on philosophy, religion, art and literature, Standpoint is by no means monolithic. The only guests that are unwelcome at our table are those who hate Western civilisation.
The current crisis in Anglo-Russian relations has placed the enemies of the West under the microscope of public scrutiny — not before time. The West’s foes cover an even wider spectrum than its defenders, from the extremes of Left and Right to Islamists, anti-Semites and global conspiracy theorists of every stripe.
Worryingly, the impartiality of some of our former leaders may no longer be trusted. Tony Blair and Sir John Major sometimes seem less concerned with protecting the interests of the UK than those of the European Union. David Cameron is now a travelling salesman for China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project, rather as Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel’s predecessor as German Chancellor, has long promoted Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline. To question the loyalties of these elder statesmen might be unjust: they may well believe that their work on behalf of other powers will ultimately benefit their own peoples as well as themselves. This is harder to swallow in the case of Alex Salmond, the former Scottish First Minister, who is now a television presenter for RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda station. Not since William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, has there been such a betrayal — and Joyce, though executed as a traitor, had a British passport but was not a British subject. We are not at war with Russia, so Mr Salmond is not a traitor, but after the deployment of a chemical weapon on British soil by his Kremlin masters, few can still see him, or any guest who appears on his show, as a patriot.
In these sinister and bewildering times, Standpoint’s allegiance is unambiguous. We stand for Atlanticism — for life, liberty and the defence of Western civilisation.