Hilton Kramer

by John J. Miller

I never met the man, but we talked over the phone at least once–I was researching my book A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America, and he was, if memory serves, at a house in Maine. I was looking into the founding of his magazine, The New Criterion. Here’s a portion of what wound up in the book:

[Hilton] Kramer and [Samuel] Lipman were frustrated with the Left’s dominance of the art world. “We thought it was ridiculous for conservatives to be so separated from the arts,” said Kramer. They decided the time was right for a magazine that bridged the gap. It would be conservative in its politics and modernist in its aesthetics, taking its inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s literary review The Criterion, which published four times a year in London between 1922 and 1939. Theirs would be called The New Criterion. … As the cultural establishment heaped scorn on The New Criterion, [William E.] Simon [of the John M. Olin Foundation] found himself cheering for Kramer and Lipman. He admired people who took chances, and he recognized that Kramer especially was taking the chance of a lifetime [because he was giving up his job as a New York Times art critic].  … The New Criterion created space for conservative writers to discuss topics that could not be crammed into news magazines and did not belong in publications devoted to policy minutiae. In doing so, it helped conservatives, sometimes blindly loyal to hidebound traditions, come to terms with twentieth-century modernism and at the same time develop a language for rejecting the extreme relativism of an academy saturated with postmodernism.

We all strive to leave something behind. Kramer is gone, but The New Criterion remains.

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