Editor’s Note: We honor our late former colleague, D. Keith Mano, by sharing over the next weeks several of his acclaimed columns, which were published in National Review every fortnight from 1972 to 1989. The following piece was first published in the February 13, 1987, issue, under the headline, “The Federalist Paper.”
You can still get a good education at Columbia — yes, and Soviet fishing trawlers still do fish. Nonetheless, in that maison tolérée of academic leftism, where political truth is found torso-murdered daily, one student publication had a shocking headline — Divest now in the USSR. This at Columbia, where all right-brain functions are lobotomized during freshman week: first major university to divest from South Africa. They call that one student publication The Federalist Paper (after Columbia alumni Hamilton and Jay) and Vol. I, No. I came out last October. Came out written in elegant, witty, temperate diction, with a fine sense of place and moral errand. FP’s molto is Veritas Non Erubiscit (Truth Doesn’t Blush). And, to quote the first Statement of Purpose, “it will not be shouted down.”
These seven or eight young men who are reinventing conservatism at 116th Street and Broadway make up an extraordinary and diverse group. Brilliant, as you might suppose. But also mature and remarkably poised. They hold their audience in high and affectionate regard — that poor Columbia student intellectually lung-shot and left for dead by campus radicalism. Moreover, though their mean class level is sophomore-junior, they have considerable journalistic experience. Neil Gorsuch, Dean Pride, and A. Lawrence Levy were all associate editors of another conservative publication, The Morningside Review. “The Review.” Gorsuch said, “is more of a magazine. It addresses national and international issues, and it simply isn’t read on campus. What we’ve done here is try to establish something that has a broader base of interest. More people read The Federalist than ever read The Morningside Review.”
Readership matters, of course — so much so that no one on the FP staff will admit to being conservative. This is in part, an honest distancing from Reaganism, Republicanism, Falwell, whatever. In part, too, it is careful policy. “If our first issue had been far right, we might’ve been written off before we got started,” board member P. T. Waters thought. “We try to show that you can be liberal as hell, but still disagree with all those crazy knee-jerk liberals out there.” And Levy took that up: “We’re just trying to be an alternative. At Columbia that usually means you’re right-wing or moderate-to-right, because the mainstream is so far left.” And yet issues one and two belong in a liberal phobia clinic. The Promise of SDI, for instance. Or The ANC is not the only solution. Plus an incisive repudiation of mandatory gay seminars for freshmen. Plus damning information about the Reverend William Starr, leftist Episcopal double agent on campus. Plus a vivid Month in Review short-take section, which imitates NR up front pretty consciously. Like so:
CAPITALISM ON THE MOVE
During recent Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Czechoslovakia, authorities discovered that four Soviet soldiers traded their tank to a tavern owner for 24 bottles of vodka, seven pounds of herring, and some pickles. The owner dismantled the tank and sold the pieces to a metal-recycling center.
At Columbia they give you an equivalency diploma for that kind of reportage. Equivalent to ostracism.
Problems of self-definition attend. “We’ve basically been sitting back,” Gorsuch admitted, “and reflecting on what the Left has said and using our month to review it. They choose the issues — South Africa, military recruitment on campus, pornography, SDI. But now I think we have to come out with something.” Waters concurred: “We’d like to change the debate, not just reflect it.” That will be more difficult. These are sharp and idiosyncratic minds from all over America: D.C, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. The general atmosphere at FP might be characterized as center to right with a libertarian strain. From that composition, manifestos don’t quickly arise. “Reason why we can be so diverse.” said Gorsuch, “is that there is so much room to the right. It’s not a matter of having to be a conservative 10 be identified with the Right, it’s a matter of being a thinking man or woman.”
It’s not a matter of having to be a conservative 10 be identified with the Right, it’s a matter of being a thinking man or woman.
Response, so far, has been surprisingly positive. But the staff is vexed by a clause in the paper’s original Statement of Purpose: “FP will dismiss no work based on ideology.” With that generous visa, an energetic radical could subvert from inside. Waters asked, “Will we lose identity if we have leftist, albeit maybe intelligently argued, articles?” I think not. This access clause has lent FP credibility in an antagonistic environment. As long as the editors answer each leftist submission, argument for argument, in that same issue, they will secure nothing but honor from their, uh, liberal attitude. FP has committed itself to allowing opposition spokesmen a fair word. Not the final word.
One advertisement aside, FP has received no financial support from the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA) or any other source. These men know how to make a newspaper — and none of them has been bitten so far. “We spent $400 on that first issue.” Gorsuch said. “We paid for the second issue with advertisements. We are the cheapest publication IEA has come across. Eventually we’d like to get ourselves an office and buy $5,000.00 worth of computer equipment. If we had one Macintosh with a laser printer, we could publish on a much more regular basis.”
“We’re looking to set up an endowment — we don’t need a $110,000-a-year operating budget like the Dartmouth Review. If we could have just $10,000 a year income, we could ensure the future of The Federalist.” And Pride said, “A lot of students are coming to Columbia now on the middle of the fence. There’s room for explosive growth.”
I’ll let Neil Gorsuch finish. “We’re probably the last of these quote-unquote conservative journals to pop up on campuses. We’re going to be the last of this era and the most important. The place of this university in the nation’s campus debate is as progenitor of liberal causes. It all starts here. And The Federalist can focus and reshape campus debate in America for the next twenty years.”
If you have a spare Macintosh, write me care of National Revew, and I’ll send you The Federalist’s address.
— D. Keith Mano was a TV screenwriter and author of ten books, including Take 5, recipient of the 1987 Literary Lion award, and columnist at National Review magazine for 17 years.