By the Book


My piece, titled as above, on the future of publishing, and particularly “conservative” publishing, is up now for subscribers at the American Conservative. You should subscribe. It’s worth it — not for my piece, but for the others. Here’s a bit of what I write:

Mainstream publishers’ biases against conservatives have been greatly exaggerated. Serious, right-leaning authors have always found homes. John Lukacs is published by Yale University Press and Basic Books. Andrew Bacevich writes for Holt and Harvard. Walter McDougall has published with HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, and Basic Books. Tom Wolfe. Pat Buchanan. David McCullough. Clearly, these authors have varying convictions and theoretical commitments. But what they have in common is more important: they are not partisan toadies, and they are all supremely talented. There’s your bias. Untalented liberal hacks can get published by the mainstream imprints, but conservatives burdened with mundane abilities and superficial insights must look elsewhere or keep the manuscript in the drawer. All to the good. How ironic that our publishing houses have kept the gates of culture better for conservatives than for liberals. Let us applaud their defense of high standards.

Even so, it must be confessed that there is a depressing similarity of vision and background at the major presses. Editors are drawn from the same Seven Sisters schools and country club pools. And they’re virtually all in New York, which is fine if you’re as smugly provincial as a New York Times editor, but some of us think that it would be nice for other provincialisms to have a cultural voice. As a result, it is certainly true that talented writers with unapproved views often find it unnecessarily difficult to reach the audience and to achieve the influence that their work deserves.

What to do? Consider this historical counterfactual: What if, as their namesake movement was coalescing in the 1950s and ’60s, conservative elites had decided to invest in culture rather than politics — in New York instead of Washington? What if their programs, scholarships, fellowships, conferences, and summer institutes had been geared toward identifying talented students and writers, exposing them to conservative perspectives, preparing them for entry into the world of high culture—including the worlds of serious trade and academic publishing? This would not have been a hopeless tack. After all, most publishers and many other high-culture institutions aim to make money, and if a prospective employee can advance that aim, intellectual prejudices are not insuperable. Besides, those prejudices may not have been very strong had conservatism not been so politicized, thanks to the Washington strategy. . . .

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