I can hardly remember a time when COMMENTARY was not a part of my life. I began reading it when I was in college in the late 1940’s, shortly after it was founded under the editorship of Elliot E. Cohen; I began writing for it in 1953, when I was in graduate school in England; I began working for it, as an assistant editor, in 1955, exactly a day after being discharged from the army; and finally, after a separation of about two years and the death of Cohen, I returned in 1960 as his successor.

My appointment coincided almost to the moment with my 30th birthday and followed immediately upon COMMENTARY’s 15th. Now, after running the magazine for a little more than 35 years, I am stepping down to become a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, in which capacity I will devote most of my time to writing; and with this issue, Neal Kozodoy, who joined my staff in 1966 and rose with amazing speed to become my deputy shortly thereafter, takes over as the third chief editor in COMMENTARY’s half-century of existence.

Since I will continue contributing articles to the magazine, and since I will also serve in an advisory capacity as Editor-at-Large, my departure does not in any sense represent a complete break. Nevertheless, a long era in my own life, and in the history of COMMENTARY, is now coming to a definitive end.

I will leave it to others to decide what COMMENTARY did or did not accomplish during my tenure, but I want to say something here about what editing this magazine has meant for me, and to count the ways in which it has been a privilege, a blessing, and a joy.

Theodore Roosevelt once declared: “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords,” and a wonderful opportunity to participate fully and wholeheartedly in that sport is the first of the great privileges I have derived from being the editor of COMMENTARY. To be sure, I switched sides in the late 60’s, having come to the conclusion that the Left, to which I had been committed, was (to borrow one of its own favorite formulas) part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Yet I learned many things from my years on the Left, not the least important of which was where and how and why it always seemed to go wrong (lessons that stood me in excellent stead when I dedicated myself and COMMENTARY to the struggle against its hegemony in the world of ideas). I also got to meet and associate closely with many gifted writers whose minds were so agile and whose articles were so dazzling that they blinded me temporarily to the recklessness of their ideas.

If “aggressively fighting for the right” is a noble sport, it is also a very bloody one, and so, to my lasting regret, breaking with the Left cost me the friendship of most of these interesting and amusing people. But the rewards of that break were much greater than the price. As a critic of the Left, I forged new friendships and new associations with a much wider and more variegated circle of writers, and in happy collaboration with them I was able to help repair at least some of the damage I had helped to wreak as a partisan of the Left.

But of course COMMENTARY not only gave me a chance as an American to participate from month to month in the incomparable intellectual exhilaration of the great debates over the soul of this country and its role in the world. It also provided an equally precious outlet for speaking the truth as I saw it about issues of special concern to me as a Jew. On some of those issues I have also changed my mind since the early 60’s, becoming for example more aggressive in defense of Jewish interests in general and Israel in particular than I was then. Indeed, even when, more recently, I felt obliged to voice my doubts about the wisdom of the current Israeli government’s negotiations with the PLO and Syria, it was in the firm belief that I was speaking in defense of Israel’s interests.

Obviously none of this marvelously heady activity would have been possible without complete editorial freedom, and for that great blessing I have the American Jewish Committee to thank. Since 1990 the AJC has assumed responsibility for only a portion of COMMENTARY’s annual deficit, with the rest being covered by a number of foundations and interested individuals whose generous contributions have kept us afloat. But even during the previous 45 years, when the AJC was COMMENTARY’s sole source of financial support, the principle of editorial freedom on which it had established the magazine remained in force. And unusual as it was for an organization with an agenda of its own to subsidize a journal of opinion over whose contents it had no control, AJC’s willingness to go on sponsoring COMMENTARY even after the magazine had moved into the neoconservative camp was altogether extraordinary. In this the Committee has provided a living demonstration of what liberalism at its classical best can look like.



Ten years ago, at a dinner commemorating my 25th anniversary as editor of COMMENTARY, I drew a connection between the work I was trying to do as an American and the work I was trying to do as a Jew, and what I said then still holds:

I am . . . proud that I have been able, in and through COMMENTARY, to defend my own—my own country and the values and institutions for which it stands; my own people and the religious and cultural heritage by which we have been shaped. Like so many of us, I was educated to believe that the last thing one ought to be defending was one’s own, that it was more honorable and nobler to turn one’s back on one’s own and fight for others and for other things in which one had no personal stake or interest. This has been a very hard lesson to unlearn, and I am proud to have unlearned it.

COMMENTARY has defended America at a time when America has been under moral and ideological attack. COMMENTARY has defended the Jewish people and the Jewish state when they, too, and for many of the same reasons, have been subjected to a relentless assault on their legitimacy and even their very existence. For me there has been no conflict or contradiction involved in defending this dual heritage by which I have been formed.

I know from having worked closely with Neal Kozodoy for a very long time now that he feels much as I do about these matters. I also know that, while setting his own distinctive stamp on COMMENTARY as he leads it into what I am certain will be a brilliant new period of its history, he will continue defending the dual heritage by which he too has been formed.

In taking over this magazine, he will also inherit a community of readers whose responsiveness (as our correspondence columns in every issue so vividly demonstrate) is without parallel or precedent either in quantity or in quality among the subscribers to any other magazine. I count that too as one of the privileges and the blessings that come with the editorship of COMMENTARY, and I wish Neal Kozodoy as much joy of it in the years ahead as I have had in the 35 years just past.

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