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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Journals worth Reading?

A few weeks back I made a nasty crack about the superficiality of newspaper coverage. Some personal exchanges I’ve had since have raised the question of which (English language) journals would pass a test which included such criteria as –
- Depth of treatment
- Breadth of coverage (not just political)
- Cosmopolitan in taste (not just anglo-saxon)
- clarity of writing
- skeptical in tone

My own regular favourite reading includes The Guardian Long Reads and book reviews, London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books – and the occasional glance at the New Yorker; New Statesman; and Spiked.
This choice betrays a certain “patrician” position – not too “tribal”…….although my initial google search limited itself to such epithets as “left”, “progressive”, “green”;; “radical” and “humanist”. 
It threw up a couple of lists – one with “progressive” titles, the other with “secular” . 
From these, I have extracted the other titles which might lay some claims to satisfying the stringent criteria set above…..
Aeon; an interesting new cultural journal
Book Forum; is a site I’ve strangely neglected from including in previous roundups. I knew it first as a literary mag like LBR and NYRB but it’s now an amazing daily list of rigorous (if sometimes too academic) articles selected from a very wide trawl of magazines.
Counter Punch; a daily internet mag which has been publishing strong leftist analysis in the "muckraking" tradition since 1993
Dissent; a US leftist stalwart 
Jacobin; a new leftist E-mag with a poor literary style
Lettre International; a fascinating quarterly published in German, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian and Romanian (where it has just celebrated its 100th edition), it makes available translated articles with superb etchings..
Literary Hub; a well-selected literary site with frequent posts
Monthly Review; an old leftist US stalwart with good solid analysis
Mother Jones; more journalistic US progressive
N+1; politically-engaged mag with ambitions to rival NYRB
New Left Review;THE UK leftist journal - running on a quarterly basis since 1960 
New Republic; solid US monthly which seems to have sold its soul....?
Open Democracy; probably the most stimulating of reads – by virtue of the breadth of its scope and selection of writers
Prospect (UK); rather too smooth centrist UK monthly
- The American Prospect (US); ditto US
New Humanist; an important strand of UK thought
Public Seminar; useful site which  aims to "Confront fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary". Builds on the activist traditions of New York's inestimable New School for Social Research.
Real Clear World; a very useful roundup of articles from a progressive standpoint
Resurgence and Ecologist; ditto UK Greens
Sceptic; celebration of important strand of UK scepticism
Slate; right wing - but good provocative writing
Social Europe; a european social democratic E-journal whose short articles are a bit too predictable for my taste
The Atlantic; one of my favourite US mags
The Baffler; quarterly leftist mag, running for almost 20 years with some great material
The Nation; America's oldest weekly, for the "progressive" community
The New Yorker; very impressive US writing, centrist
World Socialist Website; good on critical global journalism

After due consideration, I would probably add only "the New Yorker" to the small list of my current favourite reads - although I wish there were an English version of "Lettre International!" (or even Courrier International"

Academic journals
I would not normally deign academic journals with a second glance since theirs is an incestuous breed – with arcane language and specialized focus which breaches at least two of the above five tests. But Political Quarterly stands apart with the superbly written (social democratic) analyses which have been briefing us for almost a century.
Parliamentary Affairs; West European Politics and Governance run it close with more global coverage.

Self-styled “Radical“ journals 
seem, curiously, to be gaining strength at precisely the moment the left is collapsing everywhere  and got a not unfair treatment here ….
Beyond the small grove of explicitly revolutionary titles lies a vast forest of critical publications. From “Action Research” to “Anarchist Studies”, from “Race and Class” to “Review of Radical Political Economics”, an impressive array of dissident ventures appears to be thriving. As Western capitalism jabs repeatedly at the auto-destruct button, it may seem only logical that rebel voices are getting louder. But logic has nothing to do it with it. Out in the real world, the Left is moribund. Socialism has become a heritage item. Public institutions, including UK universities, are ever more marketised. Alternatives seem in short supply.
So, far from being obvious, the success of radical journals is a bit of a puzzle. And they have proved they have staying power. The past few years have seen a clutch of titles entering late middle age, including those in the Marxist tradition, such as “New Left Review” (founded 1960), “Critique” (1973) and “Capital and Class” (1977), as well as more broadly critical ventures, such as “Transition” (1961) and “Critical Inquiry” (1974). Numerous other titles have emerged in the intervening years. And they are still coming.
 Recent titles include “Power and Education”, “Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies” and “Human Geography: A New Radical Journal”. Of course, some disciplines provide more fertile soil for such ventures than others. In cultural studies, politics, geography and sociology, radicalism has entered the mainstream. But even the more stony ground of economics nurtures a wide assortment of dissident titles.

A concept with unrealized potential, I feel, is that of the “global roundup” ” with selections of representative writing from around the globe. Courrier international is a good, physical, Francophone example – the others being “virtual” or E-journals eg Arts and Letters Daily a good literary, anglo-saxon exemplar; The Intercept a political one; with Eurozine taking the main award for its selection of the most interesting articles from Europe’s 80 plus cultural journals

I learn one main thing from this review - how tribal most journals are. Most seem to cater for a niche political market. Only N+1 (and the New Yorker) makes an effort to cover the world of ideas from a broader standpoint...The lead articles which Eurozine gives us from different parts of Europe makes it an interesting read; and Political Quarterly is a model for clear writing - even if it is a bit too British in its scope.  

But I give away both my age and agnostic tendencies when I say that my favourite journal remains "Encounter" which was shockingly revealed in the late 80s to have been partially funded by the CIA and which therefore shut up shop in 1990....
The entire set of 1953-1990 issues are archived here – and the range and quality of the authors given space can be admired. European notebooks – new societies and old politics 1954-1985; is a book devoted to one of its most regular writers, the Swiss Francois Bondy (2005) 
A generation of outstanding European thinkers emerged out of the rubble of World War II. It was a group unparalleled in their probing of an age that had produced totalitarianism as a political norm, and the Holocaust as its supreme nightmarish achievement. Figures ranging from George Lichtheim, Ignazio Silone, Raymond Aron, Andrei Amalrik, among many others, found a home in Encounter. None stood taller or saw further than Francois Bondy of Zurich.
European Notebooks contains most of the articles that Bondy (1915-2003) wrote for Encounter under the stewardship of Stephen Spender, Irving Kristol, and then for the thirty years that Melvin Lasky served as editor. Bondy was that rare unattached intellectual, "free of every totalitarian temptation" and, as Lasky notes, unfailing in his devotion to the liberties and civilities of a humane social order. European Notebooks offers a window into a civilization that came to maturity during the period in which these essays were written.
Bondy's essays themselves represent a broad sweep of major figures and events in the second half of the twentieth century. His spatial outreach went from Budapest to Tokyo and Paris. His political essays extended from George Kennan to Benito Mussolini. And his prime metier, the cultural figures of Europe, covered Sartre, Kafka, Heidegger and Milosz. The analysis was uniformly fair minded but unstinting in its insights. Taken together, the variegated themes he raised in his work as a Zurich journalist, a Paris editor, and a European homme de lettres sketch guidelines for an entrancing portrait of the intellectual as cosmopolitan.
Update; Current Affairs is a fairly new American radical journal which looks to be very well-written eg this take-down of The Economist mag

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