Short Takes: The Atlantic Monthly

By Rosenbaum, Thane | Tikkun, July/August 1998 | Go to article overview

Short Takes: The Atlantic Monthly


Rosenbaum, Thane, Tikkun


With this issue, TIKKUN introduces "Short Takes," a conversation within the family of American intellectual, political, and cultural magazines. The purpose of this section is to give TIKKUN readers a sense of what other magazines are covering and the ways in which TIKKUN can add to the dialogue.

Lingua Franca

In the April issue of Lingua Franca, Scott Sherman profiles Jay Rosen, a former media editor of TIKKUN, a professor of journalism at New York University, and a pioneer in the movement of public journalism. This movement advocates that the press has a public function and that the cherished principles of objectivity and adversarialism have led, in Rosen's mind, to "a snarling and relentless cynicism-a categorical mistrust of all public figures." The essence of Rosen's argument, much of which was shaped in earlier issues of TIKKUN and in his books, is, as Sherman writes, "that American public life is in lousy shape and the press have a responsibility to help." And how is that accomplished? Well, it can take the form of town meetings, focus groups, polling-anything that furthers direct or deliberative democracy and creates a public dialogue. Rosen is not without his critics, as Sherman points out, but the main point is that the media has historically shaped public perception-not the other way around-and what Rosen is advocating is an approach that puts some of the responsibility on the media to determine what it is that the public wants and to find ways to help the public achieve its goals.

The Atlantic Monthly

Edward 0. Wilson explores "The Biological Basis for Morality" in April's issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Where do morality and ethics come from? Are they endemic to our species, as though operating naturally and independently of how or what we do, or is it that humans in fact create the ethical principles by which we live? For Wilson, the discussion is framed in terms of a split between the transcendentalists, "who think that moral guidelines exist outside the human mind, and empiricists, who think of them as contrivances of the mind." The one is rooted in natural law, or the expression of God's will, while the empiricists focus on the interpretation of objective knowledge. As Wilson writes, "the choice between transcendentalism and empiricism will be the coming century's version of the struggle for men's souls. Moral reasoning will either remain centered in idioms of theology and philosophy, where it is now, or shift toward science-based material analysis." Wilson argues that there is no way to resolve the contradictions between the two, which itself is an expression of humanity's spiritual dilemma.

The American Prospect

In the May/June issue of The American Prospect, law professor Bruce Ackerman observes that the engine that has historically created change in American politics has three essential parts: political movements, political parties, and a presidency guided by the will of the people. By the end of the nineteenth century, progressive politics worked most successfully when there was an interaction among, and unity of, movements, parties, and presidency. But Ackerman argues that in the twentieth century, this engine blew a gasket when both presidents and movements detached themselves from strong party affiliations. The result has been that progressives no longer know how to reassemble this engine, leaving conservatives as the only political philosophy capable of "recreating the classic movement-party-presidency" formula. According to Ackerman, modern-day progressives have failed because they have ignored the historical power and effectiveness of party politics as a way of achieving long-term goals. Instead, liberals and progressives have focused on short-term election victories and the building of internal organization. Conservatives, on the other hand, are far more in tune with the concept of nurturing a strong Republican Party and integrating it into the movementpresidency formula. …

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