A lasting legacy

'It is generally a bad idea for a magazine to spend too much time talking about itself. But this month is an exception.'

It is generally a bad idea for a magazine to spend too much time talking about itself. I suspect most readers are rather less interested in a 2,000-word disquisition on why a publication chose a particular typeface than those involved in the discussions might hope and imagine. When so much is going on in the world worth analysing, why waste time and space analysing yourself?

But this month is an exception. This, Standpoint’s 108th issue, is the first issue not edited by Daniel Johnson. The magazine has been very much Daniel’s creation. While Standpoint has embraced divergent voices, the golden thread running through its pages has been Daniel’s core set of values — the celebration and defence of Western civilisation, standing up robustly to the West’s enemies at home and abroad, seeing Israel as being on the frontline of that conflict and its defence being the defence of our civilisation itself. The magazine’s eccentricities — an enthusiasm for chess, Karl Kraus and a certain strand of German, especially Judeo-German, thought — have been Daniel’s eccentricities. The tiny band of us who have been on this journey throughout its ten-plus years — myself and seasoned newspaperman Robert Low on the editorial side, and Nick Cohen, Tim Congdon, Douglas Murray, and Michael Prodger as writers — have learnt much. Low says that Standpoint is the only place where he has worked where he was sure of learning something new every day,  be it about music, art or German philosophy.

The experience of working with Daniel at Standpoint has at times been frustrating, infuriating and exasperating both for its staff and its writers — not because of Daniel but because of our financial struggles, especially over the last few years. But I, for one, would not have missed it for anything. Daniel gives his account of those ten years in this issue, but it is not the last time he will be seen in our pages. He will continue to write for each issue of the magazine, albeit no longer occasionally being forced apparently to attempt to emulate his hero Kraus’s efforts to write his entire magazine, Die Fackel, on his own.

Standpoint would not have happened without Daniel, but nor  would it have launched or survived without a man who has not been thanked enough in these pages, Alan Bekhor. Standpoint has been supported throughout its existence by the Social Affairs Unit, of which I am Director, and published by its subsidiary. What made this support possible was Alan’s extraordinary generosity. He provided the funds which enabled us to set up the magazine and stood by us for eight years, providing substantial seven-figure support over that time. While being entirely in harmony with what the magazine was trying to achieve — why else would anyone wish to spend their money on such a venture other than as a symptom of madness? — Alan never sought to interfere with its editorial decisions or even to inquire as to what the next issue might hold. Even with a core patron matters can be tough for a publication such as ours, but we had to learn the hard way how much tougher things are without the warm embrace of a generous benefactor.
The future of Standpoint is now looking much rosier than it has for a long time. I will only be writing on this page for a short period before a new editor is appointed and the magazine will inevitably start reflecting that person’s own interests and enthusiasms. Standpoint will, however, maintain its core values.

The late, great Bernard Levin once wrote in The Times about the Social Affairs Unit in its previous incarnation as a think tank: “The Social Affairs Unit is famous for driving its coach and horses through the liberal consensus, scattering intellectual picket lines as it goes along, and for raising questions which strike most people most of the time as too dangerous or too difficult to think about.” I can claim no credit for this praise; when the words were written I was still in short trousers. Nevertheless, they strike me as a good maxim for a magazine such as Standpoint to follow, although one might cavil at Levin’s implied criticism of the term liberal: after all, Standpoint embraces liberal values if understood in a certain way. A magazine which took issue with the consensus purely because it is the consensus would soon become trite, boring and repetitive.

Without picking silly fights, there are many issues today where the consensus desperately needs to be questioned, and Standpoint can be a useful, indeed essential part of this corrective. I hope that the current issue achieves this with Toby Young’s examination of how schools are dealing with the explosion of the transgender issue and Giles Udy’s argument that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s closest advisers are Stalinists not in a rhetorical but in an all too real sense.

A magazine such as ours must, however, be about much more than politics and current affairs, so we also have Jonathan Meades celebrating bad taste, James Booth exploring Philip Larkin’s own youthful transgender dabbling, and Tibor Fischer rediscovering Homer. I hope the issue lives up to the standards you have come to expect from Daniel Johnson’s Standpoint.

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