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Character Development
A new journal examines lost virtues.


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Myrna Blyth

How about a magazine that doesn’t have to sell itself to readers because it is sent to them free–but only to about 2000 “opinion-makers in the English-speaking world.” That’s In Character: A journal of everyday virtues, which was launched last week at an elegant party in the Trustee Room of the New York Public Library.

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Funded by the wealthy John Templeton Foundation, each issue will focus on a different virtue and investigate it through a variety of disciplines. The first issue focuses on thrift. The editor, Naomi Schaefer Riley, admitted that that might seem a bit like a contradiction given that crab cakes, shrimp, and dollops of caviar were on the launch party’s not-very-thrifty hors d’oeuvre menu.

Describing her first issue, Riley said, “We have tried to explore thrift, that forgotten virtue, from several different angles–religion, public policy, education, science.” The first issue includes a piece by Damian Cave, a New York Times reporter, on the rediscovery of the American thrift shop; an interview with Steve Forbes about thrift investing and the history of his own family; a piece by City Journal contributing editor Kay S. Hymowitz on today’s affluent children; and one by Deirdre McCloskey, a professor at the University of Illinois, entitled “What would Jesus spend?” Other virtues the magazine plans to examine in upcoming issues include loyalty and modesty. There will be three issues during the first year of publication.

The John Templeton Foundation was established in 1987 by the international investment manager Sir John Templeton who, though born in Tennessee, lives in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas and is now a British citizen. Templeton, now 92, was called by Money Magazine “arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century.” He sold his various funds in the early 1990s and since then has managed the foundation’s endowment, which has grown from $250 million to $850 million over the past decade.

The foundation is particularly interested in character education and the relationship between religion and science, and it has funded many research projects. It gives away about $40 million annually. Some of its projects are rather offbeat, such as the Institute for Research in Unlimited Love at Case Western University. Case is where the vice-presidential debate was held on Tuesday night–though unlimited love was definitely not on display.

Foundation executives came up with the idea for In Character in order to make opinion leaders more aware of the virtues or principles that Templeton considers important. Riley says, “The goal of In Character, first of all, is to examine these virtues then explore the link between virtue and personal happiness and virtue and the public good.”

The 27-year-old editor is also the author of a book, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation are Changing America, which will be published by St. Martin’s in January and was partly funded by the foundation. “I know that this is a dream job for an editor,” she says, “and that I don’t have to worry about selling on the newsstand. But it is a challenge to make important, busy people want to pick up a copy and read it.” She presented her first issue to, perhaps, her most important reader, Sir John, earlier this week in Lyford Cay.

The first issue is filled with tales of thrift in times past. One feature is called “You kill it, you eat it and other tales from my thrifty childhood,” by Jean Bethke Elshtain, co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and American Public Life. Steve Forbes recalls that when his grandfather ran Forbes during the Depression the staff had “Scotch Weeks”–a week each month when they weren’t paid. And Margo Howard recalls her mother–the advice columnist Ann Landers, who received thousands of letters each week–instructing her secretaries in how to remove unfranked stamps from their envelopes. You use tea!

Several pieces note the value of thrift in building character. As Kay Hymowitz writes, “Thrift taught people that personal fulfillment had its limits and that meaning must be found outside of getting and spending.” Still, Elshtain notes, “Will the thrifty rise again? Probably not.” Her hope is that we will merely retrieve some notion of “enough.”

Who are the “influentials” who will be getting the magazine and who, Riley and the foundation hope, will soon be thinking about the lost virtue of thrift? They include the presidents of Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Cal Tech; editors Rich Lowry and Victor Navasky; writers Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, and Malcolm Gladwell; publishers Jason Epstein and Jonathan Galassi, as well as Diane Ravitch, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Dr. Sherwin Nuland, Susan Sontag, and more than 1,900 others. Oprah is also on the list.

I have to admit that over the weekend I was surprised to find In Character in my mailbox with a letter saying that my name had been added to the list of those receiving copies because of my “professional achievements.” How very flattering–and, hey, the price is right!

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.



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