The Gospel of Charlie

THE GOSPEL OF CHARLIE….Blogger and Washington Monthly contributing editor Jonathan Rowe sent me an email today. In it he reminded me of a distinction I failed to make in my last post. That is, the distinction between Charlie Peters’ view of the world, which we editors liked to call The Gospel — and which Charlie summarized in the essay I linked to, “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto” — and the spirit that drew so many writers and readers to Charlie’s magazine, even when we disagreed, often hugely, with various parts of The Gospel:

The journalistic approach is the heart and soul of the Monthly because it is more than a journalistic approach. It is a mandate for continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty. Face up to the strongest arguments against your own position, not just the weakest ones. Be willing to look contrary evidence squarely in the eye and not hide under your desk a la Dick Cheney or the WSJ editorial page. This is the gospel within the gospel — and yes it does have roots in the more traditional meaning of that term.

The basic text here is “Get the beam out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to get the mote out of your brother’s eye.” (Or maybe it’s mote and beam; I always forget.) These words are posted beside the front door of every honest journalist and thinker. It is a part that somehow got left out of the text consulted by brothers Dobson, Bush, Reed et al.

This inner gospel requires ongoing revision of the outer one. Times change. We get new facts. The excesses of conventional liberalism pale today against those of the messianic Right. (I do NOT say “conservative” because it is NOT conservative.) Thus the founding thrust of the Monthly in 1969 — inspector general for the liberal establishment — did require a change in direction.

The inner gospel not only has room for that; it requires it. Just as it will require another one when the conventional wisdom finally turns against the market worship of the last six years and beyond. This is why, I think, the Monthly attracted, and weaned, so many great journalists; and why it holds a key for those in the future.

It was when the inner gospel hardened into an outer one — a doctrine — that the trouble started. Thus it always has been.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.