I never regularly read the magazine after its campaign against The New Republic—and I find myself a bit surprised by my own nostalgia for it. But it’s worth pausing to consider why a magazine like the Standard can be pleasurable and important, even to those who find its goals and methods noxious. In part, it’s the spectacle of watching lively minds on an expedition. The Standard would go off on quixotic missions, and not all of them in the desert of Iraq. Kristol promoted Colin Powell as a presidential candidate in 1996; then he cheered on John McCain’s challenge to George W. Bush in 2000. The magazine enjoyed making mischief and enemies which made its pages highly readable.
These days, I find myself subscribing to political magazines on the left, because that’s where stylish political opinion magazines seem now to emanate. There’s Current Affairs with its foppish progressivism, the Mencken-like spirit of The Baffler and the more refined cultural criticism of n + 1. They are all beautifully produced and aspire to cohesion. Every time, an issue arrives, there’s the possibility an article might shove me from an ensconced position. There’s the exoticism of encountering new arguments, something fresh to turn over in the head. There’s the romantic possibility that in a grubby world, driven by material interests and base prejudices, that ideas might actually matter. It was a spirit I sometimes found in the Standard, which was never remotely woke, but quite often full of life.