Talking Points

The new journal hoping to serve as a big tent for antiliberal politics

When a group of ambitious young people wants to get rich, they start a business. When a group of ambitious young intellectuals wants to change the world, they start a little magazine.

The latter is how we've gotten Compact, a new website subtitled — with perhaps a touch of cowardly vagueness — "a radical American journal."

What does the magazine mean by "radical"? To judge by the names associated with it and the pieces published on the journal's first day in business, the answer is: full-spectrum antiliberalism.

From the antiliberal right, there's former New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari, the scourge of drag queens and free speech defenders everywhere, and Matthew Schmitz, a former editor at the conservative-populist religious magazine First Things. Both are founding editors of the new journal. They are joined by right-wing contributing editors Adrian Vermeule, Liel Leibovitz, and Patrick Deneen, and by columnists Lee Smith and Christopher Caldwell. 

From the antiliberal left, there's founding editor Edwin Aponte, a self-described Marxist and founding editor of the left-wing website The Bellows. He is joined by various contributing editors, columnists, and authors with ties to the antiliberal left who also tend to dissent from core progressive pieties of the moment (including a focus on identity politics and intersectionality). Among them are British philosopher and feminist Nina Power, Swedish socialist Malcom Kyeyune, all-purpose philosophical troublemaker Slavoj Žižek, and antiestablishment journalist-gadflies Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey.

On the home page, readers will find (among other items) a prickly movie review by Žižek; a defense of patriarchy by Power; separate polemics against hawkish foreign policy from both Ahmari and Schmitz; a frontal assault on "right liberalism" from Vermeule; a spirited defense of the centrality of male desire to great art ("The Case Against Aesthetic Castration") by artist Adam Lehrer; an almost giddy epitaph for post-Cold War neoliberal consensus and "unipolarity" by Kyeyune; and a brief attack on "the unbearable phoniness of the free-speech wars" by Aponte.

That's a lot of vitriol. But what does it add up to? A brief "Note from the Founders" proclaims the journal in favor of "a strong social-democratic state that defends community — local and national, familial and religious — against a libertine left and a libertarian right." Time will tell if the editors and writers associated with Compact are willing to do the hard work of exploring honestly the numerous tensions and contradictions contained within this political vision, and between this vision and the world in which we live.

If the history of such "radical" magazines is any guide, they are more likely to devote their time, energy, and talents to firing heavy rhetorical artillery at what remains of the liberal center without doing much to define what kind of person or movement should, or should not, fill the resulting vacuum. They'll prefer to keep their options open, in other words. As should the rest of us, as we ponder precisely what kind of politics Compact aims to advance — a politics that, so far at least, goes unnamed.