NR's Kevin Williamson hired on as columnist for the Atlantic
National Review columnist Kevin Williamson is leaving the magazine to take a position with The Atlantic.
The Atlantic has named the first four contributors to its forthcoming section for ideas, opinion, and commentary at TheAtlantic.com, announcing new roles for The Atlantic's Annie Lowrey and Alex Wagner, and the hires of Ibram X. Kendi and Kevin D. Williamson. Politics editor Yoni Appelbaum will lead the section as its first editor.
"These are all writers whose force of intellect and acuity of insight reflect our ambition for the new section," said The Atlantic's editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. "And, as you'll see, they also embody the dual nature of this project – doubling down on something The Atlantic has always done superbly well, while also continuing to expand the range of voices we're able to deliver to our readers."
The Atlantic is one of the most prestigious and oldest magazines in the country, so I can understand Williamson's desire to be associated with it. But it has also shown a hostility to conservatism that makes this move by one of the right's leading intellectual lights puzzling.
Williamson tried to explain it in a farewell article at NRO:
When asked why he sometimes wrote for Playboy, Bill Buckley said that he wanted to be sure that at least some of his work was seen by his son. I can't say I know Christopher Buckley very well, but he never has struck me as the kind of pervert who reads Playboy for the articles. Still, I get the sentiment. And even though The Atlantic was founded by a bunch of sometime Republicans (Ralph Waldo Emerson et al., from whom our modern Republicans could learn a thing or two of value) it isn't exactly what you'd call conservative. So like St. Paul, who also benefited from the services of a good editor, I will be an apostle to the Gentiles. I am very much looking forward to raising a brand new kind of hell.
Anti-Trumpism and NeverTrumpism should not disqualify someone from identifying as "conservative." Anyone who thinks Trump is a conservative hasn't been paying attention, so opposing him on conservative intellectual grounds is a no-brainer. In fact, I doubt that Trump has any ideological leanings at all, beyond a nationalism that he trots out every once in a while to get his supporters in a lather.
But Williamson should have been perfectly comfortable at NRO, which almost to a man is anti-Trump. Perhaps he feels he'll be able to "stretch" himself as a writer at the Atlantic. Certainly he will be making more money, given the precarious finances of N.R. And beginning a new project – even if it's at a left-leaning publication – is challenging.
But I'm still puzzled by this move by Williamson, who rarely went on rants and always seemed to back up his arguments with solid logic and reason.
Thomas Lifson adds:
Kevin Williamson is a superb literary stylist, one whose way with words I admire greatly. But he is a victim (or perhaps beneficiary, depending on how well the left treats him now that he has thrown his lot in with The Atlantic) of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The migration of working-class whites to Trump appears to have triggered what can only be called elitist snobbery. He revealed shocking contempt two years ago for those to whom Trump appealed (emphasis added):
Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence – and the incomprehensible malice – of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain't what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your [g‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑] gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump's speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn't analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
I've never met Kevin Williamson, but I do note that he has written about his own humble class origins. I suspect he takes considerable (and well deserved) pride in his success at elevating himself to his status as a leading intellectual via pure talent and hard work. I don't know if that had led him to feel contempt for those who have not followed his path, but I wish he had more compassion for those whose achievements do not equal his.
I wish him luck among his new social circle. In my experience, prideful intellectuals are not the finest human beings among us, nor do they have a very good sense of their own limitations.