To salute the magazine’s milestone, and bring the magazine to the attention of readers who might not be familiar with it, I submitted a set of questions to long-time editor Myron Magnet (now retired) and current editor Brian Anderson. I posted my exchange with Myron Magnet here yesterday. Below is my exchange with Brian Anderson. Let me say right here at the top, I think it is worth reading.
Power Line: What do you think have been your biggest accomplishments of the past 25 years?
Brian Anderson: The most gratifying, by far, has been the direct influence the journal has had on the revitalization of New York (and other cities that followed Gotham’s path) over the last quarter-century. When City Journal’s first issue appeared, in 1990, New York City was suffering a four-fold crisis. The first: crime and disorder had metastasized across the city. Six people got killed every day, on average; thieves broke into apartments and cars as a matter of course; muggings and rape were everyday things. Bums and pushers occupied public space, driving out the law-abiding. The second crisis was an entrenched dependency culture, with 1 million people on welfare. Third, businesses were leaving in droves, and polls found many residents wanted to escape from New York, too. Finally, the public education system was a disaster zone, with minority students in particular stuck in dismal schools that failed to teach them much of anything or graduate them.
City Journal’s view was—and is—that none of these problems was fated. They resulted from bad policies, and if you changed the policy environment, city life would begin to improve. In one of those fortuitous meetings of historical circumstance and great leaders, Rudy Giuliani arrived on the scene, became a fan of the Manhattan Institute, and began to read and listen to people like Fred Siegel, George Kelling, Myron Magnet, and other brilliant people who wrote or worked for the magazine and the institute—and when he was first elected in 1993, Rudy started to implement their ideas, as he has often acknowledged. He appointed a an innovative, dynamic police chief, William Bratton, who was close to Kelling, and the NYPD swiftly introduced some of Kelling’s key insights on agency management and accountability and police tactics—above all, the now-famous practice of “Broken Windows” enforcement, in which cops crack down on lower-level disorder, like turnstile-jumping in the subway, aggressive panhandling, and open-air urination. Crime began to plummet—and kept plummeting. Not only did the public-order maintenance send a message that excessive disorder wouldn’t be tolerated; it also warned more serious criminals that there would be consequences for acting on their darker impulses. Further, it turned out that a lot of the guys written up for urinating or drinking in public were wanted for much worse, violent crimes, allowing the police to get a lot of them off the street. City Journal was also an early proponent of welfare reform—a particular concern of Myron Magnet during his years as editor—and the Giuliani administration was ahead of the nation in pushing for work requirements for public aid. The welfare rolls started to shrink, along with the crime rate.
Though Michael Bloomberg, a kind of technocratic mayor, didn’t make the public case for proactive policing and welfare reform as often as Giuliani did, in practice, during his three terms in office, these gains were improved upon, with crime falling to historic lows under Ray Kelly’s leadership at the NYPD and welfare recipients falling to a third of what they were back in 1990. Both mayors made the city somewhat more business-friendly, too, but it was the policing and welfare reforms that really helped bring Gotham back and created a city of flourishing neighborhoods, trendy restaurants, and lovely public spaces that too many New Yorkers—especially younger ones, who didn’t experience the bad old days and scarcely believe they happened—take for granted today.
On the schools, progress has been slower, with the powerful teachers’ unions resisting needed changes. But City Journal’s arguments over the years—especially in the writings of Sol Stern—in favor of greater choice for parents, more accountability from teachers, and proven pedagogy in the classroom have contributed to the growth of the charter-school movement and, as Sol recounts in our anniversary issue, the adoption, by Bloomberg’s schools chancellor Joel Klein, of a promising pilot program in a number of city schools using the content-rich curricula of education scholar E.D. Hirsch. All of these ideas—on policing, welfare reform, and education policy—have had an influence not just on New York, but on many other cities, which we also have reported on and analyzed.
I think, too, that City Journal has helped change the image of cities as places of dysfunction and danger to a view that sees them potentially as mighty economic engines. Urban economist Edward Glaeser’s best-selling book, The Triumph of the City, for example, has had a huge impact on policymakers, and it was born in our pages. I’m particularly proud that the journal has been the spring of so many books, including a City Journal imprint at Basic Books. Over the last few years with Basic, we’ve published titles that had a significant effect on the national debate, among them Peter Huber’s The Cure in the Code, which is changing the way regulators are thinking about drug development and safety, and Luigi Zingales’s A Capitalism for the People, which has helped make crony capitalism a major theme in policy circles. Most of all, the journal has come to be associated with a remarkable group of writers—an all-star team, as an editor of another publication mentioned to me recently. Myron’s compelling work on the Founders, Steve Malanga on public unions and budgets (two presidential nominees in this cycle have cited his work in this area as an influence), Nicole Gelinas on transportation, Kay Hymowitz on the modern family, Howard Husock on public housing, Fred Siegel on urban politics, Judy Miller on cities and terrorism, Victor Davis Hanson and Joel Kotkin on California, Guy Sorman on economics and philanthropy, Harry Stein on political correctness, Stefan Kanfer on popular culture, Pascal Bruckner on European culture, Claire Berlinski on India, Michael Totten on cities and war, and our newest contributors—Aaron Renn on what makes urban life tick and Adam White on the regulatory state—these and other regular contributors have given City Journal its reputation, its brand. Our newest contributing editor, John Tierney, is joining a distinguished group. My fellow editors—Malanga, Paul Beston, Matthew Hennessey, and Ben Boychuk—and I have exciting jobs.
Power Line: Where does City Journal fit in the conservative intellectual universe?
Brian Anderson: Well, it is an urban center-right magazine, with a greater concern for cultural issues than one tends to find among libertarian publications. The non-libertarian Right in America tends to be more suburban or ex-urban. That gives us, perhaps, a different set of emphases than one might find in other publications—though many of our writers, like Theodore Dalrymple or Heather Mac Donald, occasionally write for other right-of-center outlets, of course. I would also say that many of our writers were originally on the left and not movement conservatives. (Some over the years, like Christopher Hitchens and André Glucksmann, both sadly deceased, remained on the left, at least in some nominal sense.) That gives us an affinity with the old, great Public Interest, whose editor, Irving Kristol, is an intellectual hero of mine, though one thing we do—a kind of reporting-driven policy piece that Myron made a regular part of the magazine’s arsenal—is far from the sociological approach of that publication. With more and more of the country and the world urbanizing, the Right can’t afford to abandon cities, politically or intellectually—all the more so in that center-right ideas are crucial to urban success.
Power Line: I love the lavish physical makeup of the magazine. It reflects a substantial commitment of intellect and financial resources all by itself. What is the thinking behind the layout and makeup of the magazine?
Brian Anderson: Pictures and design are wonderful ways to grab the attention of readers and they send a message on their own about the journal’s culture and sensibility. We take a lot of care to ensure that City Journal in its physical form meets a very high standard. We regularly reproduce pictures by some of the world’s great photographers—or commission some, like New York’s Harvey Wang, to do photo shoots—or use the work of great artists from the past (and present) or cutting-edge design firms, like Heads of State. It does cost a bit, but we find readers appreciate it—we get lots of positive comments about our appearance.
Power Line: I also love the magazine’s cultural coverage. Conservatives seem to be on the losing end of the culture wars. What have you sought to do with your cultural coverage?
Brian Anderson: We’re largely of the view at the journal that culture is foundational, more important than policies or politics, which culture molds (though policies and politics can in turn shape culture, as well). So we’ve always written about it, whether in its positive forms—the great works of the Western tradition (as in Theodore Dalrymple’s irregular series on Shakespeare) or examples of popular culture that we think merit praise, from South Park to Steely Dan—and in its more destructive, nihilistic forms, from graffiti “art” to violent, misogynistic hip-hop music to inhuman architecture. We have devoted countless pages to the content of what gets taught in the classroom (and not just on the mechanisms of school choice). We have frequently explored family formation and modern relationships—culture in the anthropological sense, I guess—seeking to understand what builds a strong sense of personal responsibility. And so on.
Power Line: I can’t go without asking about Heather Mac Donald. She has been an inspiration to me and made herself something of a national resource on the subjects she writes about. I’m sure I’m not alone. Can you say anything about Heather’s contributions?
Brian Anderson: I can’t say enough. She is indeed an inspiration, a relentless reporter with a willingness to tell the truth even when it is unpopular—and draws intense critical fire. Her enormous body of work should have her knee-deep in Pulitzer prizes. On crime and punishment, university madness, classical music—she could easily be a professional music critic—philanthropy, and on and on, everything she writes opens eyes. Just look at what her recent writings on the “Ferguson Effect” and the decriminalization movement have done to shake up the national debate, something you’ve been kind enough to highlight on Power Line. Were it possible to clone writers…
Power Line: What are your goals for the next 25 years? How does the magazine’s online site fit in?
Brian Anderson: Continue to find new talent. Try to protect the gains of the urban renaissance of the last decades against a new generation of progressives, who often seem intent on rolling it all back. Try to come up with innovative solutions to newer urban problems, like crumbling infrastructure and broken pension systems. Keep our eyes on the culture. Keep expanding our reach via multiple platforms, of which the Internet is the most important, enabling us now to reach millions of people each year—in part through the backing that sites like Power Line have given our work, by linking so many of our articles, and also through a burgeoning social media presence.