This week, the New Republic, which last month marked its hundredth anniversary, fell into disarray. Franklin Foer, its editor, was replaced, and much of the staff resigned in protest. I'm not going to waste time inveighing against the Silicon Valley tycoon who bought the New Republic in 2012 and seems bent on destroying it. Rather, I'd like to offer a note of thanks to Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic's literary editor, who also resigned this week.
My first major piece of journalism appeared in the New Republic, in 1992. The magazine had a reputation for taking chances on unknown young writers, and I was a beneficiary of that policy; one day, the galleys for my article on Alfred Schnittke were sent over to the Dupont Circle video store where I was working as a clerk. But my debt to Leon goes deeper than that. When I wrote my first pieces for the magazine, I was preparing to go to graduate school, and had no plans to pursue journalism. Leon decided that this obscurantist devotee of the Frankfurt School should become a music critic. He had much to do with the job offer that came my way from the New York Times (via Ed Rothstein, who, it happens, took a buyout from the Times this week), and he then convinced me that I should take the plunge. Without Leon, I would, for better or worse, be doing something else.
Leon also cultivated such writers and editors as James Wood, Alex Star, and Ruth Franklin. He gave the New Republic major pieces of his own, notably the towering Holocaust meditation "After Memory." And—most significant in my world—he published a string of colossally brilliant, and brilliantly colossal, articles by Richard Taruskin, who, in another era-ending turn of events, is about to retire from the University of California, Berkeley. I remember reading those essays in the early nineteen-nineties and thinking, "My God—you can do that in a magazine?" And, in fact, you can't, unless you are Richard Taruskin and Leon Wieseltier is your editor. L'chaim!