‘To defend and celebrate Western civilisation is not merely desirable; it is imperative’
“When you have a good idea, start a magazine.” This, according to our board member Gertrude Himmelfarb, is the motto of her husband Irving Kristol. In a long and fruitful life, he has started three. (Their son Bill has started one, too.) The first was Encounter, which Kristol co-founded with the late Stephen Spender in 1953. It was a transatlantic monthly in which the intellectuals of the free world could debate with one another and their communist counterparts. To write for Encounter was a privilege.
Ever since it folded at the end of the Cold War, many people in Europe and America have lamented the old Encounter. But it was only when a new kind of assault came from a very different quarter on 11 September 2001 that a new Encounter again became an urgent necessity. The aftermath revealed such moral cowardice and intellectual confusion on both sides of the Atlantic that the battle of ideas has sometimes seemed in danger of being lost by default. To defend and celebrate Western civilisation is not merely desirable; it is imperative.
This is the mission of Standpoint — “quite a tall order for anyone, let alone a small-circulation magazine,” as one competitor noted. With the climate of political opinion in Britain changing fast, it is high time to launch a new magazine — the first of its kind for over a decade. The word “magazine” (from the French magasin, which was borrowed from the Arabic) implies both a marketplace of ideas and a storehouse of intellectual ammunition. Standpoint aims to provide both.
It was Archimedes who declared, “Give me a firm standpoint and I will move the world.” The intention of Standpoint is to provide a lever which can indeed move the world, by invoking the noblest ideals to which humanity has aspired. Free speech and a free press; the dignity of the individual and the family; the liberty to worship and to refrain from worship; scientific inquiry limited only by respect for human life; the rule of law; parliamentary democracy and the free market; human rights balanced by reciprocal duties; toleration of minority views and practices, but not at the price of moral relativism.
Such principles are universal in application, though not in origin: they emerged from the unique confluence of ancient (Classical and Judaeo-Christian), medieval and modern thought that we call Western civilisation. We take for granted the values and achievements of this civilisation, but it is dangerous to assume either that these values are indeed universally shared, or that our achievements cannot be turned against us. We have seen not only our technology but our laws and liberties, too, exploited by the enemies of the open society. As it dawns on us that the West is vulnerable, its adversaries gloat, while its champions often feel despondent.
Standpoint, however, intends to be a beacon of hope. Western civilisation continues to disseminate its — overwhelmingly benign — influence, while absorbing those of other cultures. In the pages of Standpoint readers will find reflected the best, not only of the West, but also of the rest. There are so many achievements, past and present, that we should celebrate but rarely do. We hope readers will enjoy Standpoint online at www.standpointmag.co.uk as well as in print, and that you will write to the editor to give us a lively letters page for our next issue. Above all, we intend this magazine to cheer our readers up — to entertain as well as to inform. Among the greatest blessings of freedom is a sense of humour.