A Note on Social Reproduction

by Reihan Salam

A major consumer website has created a small but very active news-gathering operation. I’m struck by the political tenor of its various blogs. Many of its talented reporter-bloggers have been hired from leading left-of-center news-oriented sites, which is entirely reasonable. Politico, in contrast, has drawn on a somewhat more politically diverse pool, which I think has redounded to its benefit. And interestingly, the Huffington Post seems to have moved in the same direction. Why would this major consumer website not do the same? I imagine it’s because the people in charge are hiring friends and friends of friends, and other people they are inclined to trust. 

Though I’m not a fan of institutionalized racial or gender preferences, I’m attuned to the problem they seek to solve, a problem I consider an important one: the most powerful racial, or rather cultural, preference is for the people in charge to hire people like themselves, along any number of dimensions. So whenever I’m in a position to make a hiring recommendation, I feel a special obligation to include people who are different from me. This often means making an effort to identify women, people who attended non-elite schools or who had unconventional educational trajectories, non-coastals, non-neurotypicals, non-Banglo-Americans, etc. Sometimes this entails talking people into reaching further than they might otherwise reach, because some people are trained to be less ambitious for all kinds of reasons. 

The modern U.S. conservative movement has its roots in an anti-elitist politics of protest that was spearheaded by a number of people with elite credentials and affiliations. This, I suspect, gave conservative pioneers like William F. Buckley Jr. (one of my heroes) and Barry Goldwater the material resources (crucially) but also the cultural confidence to take positions that ran sharply counter to the intellectual mainstream. As this movement has grown, it has led to the creation of a still-evolving set of alternative institutions, many of which have accomplished great things yet many of which recapitulate some of the problems that plagued the institutions they emerged in opposition to and in creative tension with — a tendency towards political correctness, which is to say conformity; a social narrowness as conservatives find it both harder and less essential to preach to those not already in the choir, etc.

Not surprisingly, I think that National Review Online does a good job of keeping these tendencies in check, as evidenced by the wide range of opinions expressed on the site. Yuval Levin has argued that partisanship is closely related to public-spiritedness. We have deep and enduring debates in our public life over how heavily we weigh the demands of freedom versus equality, self-help versus solidarity, etc. Though we often think of the “maverick” who always cuts deals with “the other side” as the public-spirited person, the person who is devoted to a particular team deserves no small credit: she engages in arguments with her comrades to reach the best possible answer, she is attuned to the ongoing nature of our debates and the fact that changing the direction of a society takes a very, very long time, she knows that she can’t just go it along, but that she depends on other people to really effect change. So we want our teams to cohere around certain shared principles. But we also want them to be diverse enough to allow for some grit and dissension that can make our teams better and smarter, and to avoid becoming narrow or brittle. 

This, suffice it to say, is part of the difference between a good opinion magazine and a good news-gathering organization. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.