A mysterious alchemy
‘The brilliance of Daniel’s Standpoint was that it was serious and readable’
George Orwell wrote in his essay The Lion and the Unicorn, published in 1940, that there was “no intelligentsia that is not in some way ‘left’.” The last right-wing intellectual, in his view, had been T. E. Lawrence, who died in 1935. This was a preposterous assertion.
Nevertheless, there is no doubting that for a long time leftist thinkers have predominated in this country. Their serious magazines have flourished correspondingly. Until Standpoint’s unexpected birth, the only truly successful British right-wing intellectual monthly was Encounter, and that never wholly divested itself of the taint of being furtively funded over many years by the CIA.
So when Daniel Johnson unleashed his creation, some thought he was acting against the grain of history. Of course, it was possible to dispute whether this beautifully designed and instantly authoritative magazine was really of the Right. It was certainly not Tory, and included contributions by people who would have hated to be so described. Daniel’s “Rightness” had numerous Continental and American roots. Its perennial preoccupations — the need to defend freedom, the importance of America, the threats to Israel, the preciousness of Europe, though not of the EU — were not shared by all English Conservatives. Standpoint has thrown a protective net around the West and its values, not just Britain’s.
Even so, it could easily have flopped. There are other right-wing intellectuals capable of conceiving of a high-minded and earnest publication. The brilliance of Daniel’s Standpoint was that it was serious and readable. By some mysterious alchemy he and talented colleagues produced an engaging and fully-realised magazine which quickly occupied what almost seemed a preordained place in the cultural and political firmament. Was it the breadth of its interests that gripped us? The mix of its eclectic columnists? The clever variation in the length of pieces? A grown-up but never portentous voice?
Launching a newspaper or magazine involves a hundred more tribulations than simply inheriting one. Among the most burdensome — speaking from personal experience — is lack of money. There is always a greater need for it than seems likely at the outset, not least because the dull world can be slow to appreciate an outstanding new publication. It can be distracting to observe emptying coffers — and ward off indigent unpaid contributors — while trying to create the next superb issue. Daniel has kept his eye on what is most important.
The highest compliment I can pay him is to say that Standpoint’s best days almost certainly lie ahead. It will thrive because of all he has achieved. The land has been mapped and drained, the roads laid out. It couldn’t have happened without him. Moreover, printed newspapers are dwindling, but not intelligent magazines. Whoever comes next will have the boon of knowing there are countless prospective readers who would adore this wonderful publication if only they knew about it. There are thousands of people yearning for what already exists. Daniel has planted, nurtured and lavished love on Standpoint. It is no longer a young sapling. One day it will grow into an oak.