The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and the most widely read weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis. It was founded on July 6, 1865, as a successor to William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator, with the stated mission to make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred. It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City. and associated with The Nation Institute.
The Nation has news bureaus in Washington, D.C., London, and South Africa, with departments covering architecture, art, corporations, defense, environment, films, legal affairs, music, peace and disarmament, poetry, and the United Nations. Circulation peaked at 187,000 in 2006 but by 2010 had dropped to 145,000 in print, although digital subscriptions had risen to over 15,000.
The Nation was established in July 1865 on "Newspaper Row", at 130 Nassau Street in Manhattan. Its founding publisher was Joseph H. Richards, and the editor was Edwin Lawrence Godkin, an immigrant from Ireland who had formerly worked as a correspondent of the London Daily News and The New York Times. Godkin, a classical liberal, sought to establish what one sympathetic commentator later characterized as "an organ of opinion characterized in its utterance by breadth and deliberation, an organ which should identify itself with causes, and which should give its support to parties primarily as representative of these causes."
In the first year of publication, one of the magazine's regular features was The South As It Is, dispatches from a tour of the war-torn region by John Richard Dennett, a recent Harvard graduate and a veteran of the Port Royal Experiment. Dennett interviewed Confederate veterans, freed slaves, agents of the Freedmen's Bureau, and ordinary people he met by the side of the road. The articles, since collected as a book, have been praised by The New York Times as "examples of masterly journalism."
Among the causes supported by the publication in its earliest days was civil service reform—moving the basis of government employment from a political patronage system to a professional bureaucracy based upon meritocracy. The Nation also was preoccupied with the reestablishment of a sound national currency in the years after the American Civil War, arguing that a stable currency was necessary to restore the economic stability of the nation. Closely related to this was the publication's advocacy of the elimination of protective tariffs in favor of lower prices of consumer goods associated with a free trade system.
In 1881, newspaperman-turned-railroad-baron Henry Villard acquired The Nation and converted it into a weekly literary supplement for his daily newspaper the New York Evening Post. The offices of the magazine were moved to the Evening Post's headquarters at 210 Broadway. The New York Evening Post would later morph into a tabloid, the New York Post, a left-leaning afternoon tabloid, under owner Dorothy Schiff from 1939 to 1976. Since then, it has been a conservative tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, while The Nation became known for its markedly leftist politics.
In 1900, Henry Villard's son, Oswald Garrison Villard, inherited the magazine and the Evening Post, and sold off the latter in 1918. Thereafter, he remade The Nation into a current affairs publication and gave it an anti-classical liberal orientation. Oswald Villard welcomed the New Deal and supported the nationalization of industries – thus reversing the meaning of "liberalism" as the founders of The Nation would have understood the term, from a belief in a smaller and more restricted government to a belief in a larger and less restricted government. Villard's takeover prompted the FBI to monitor the magazine for roughly 50 years. The FBI had a file on Villard from 1915.
Almost every editor of The Nation from Villard's time to the 1970s was looked at for "subversive" activities and ties. When Albert Jay Nock, not long afterward, published a column criticizing Samuel Gompers and trade unions for being complicit in the war machine of the First World War, The Nation was briefly suspended from the U.S. mail.
The magazine's financial problems in early 1940s prompted Kirchwey to sell her individual ownership of the magazine in 1943, creating a nonprofit organization, Nation Associates, formed out of the money generated from a recruiting drive of sponsors. This organization was also responsible for academic responsibilities, including conducting research and organizing conferences, that had been a part of the early history of the magazine. Nation Associates became responsible for the operation and publication of the magazine on a nonprofit basis, with Kirchwey as both president of Nation Associates and editor of The Nation magazine.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, The Nation repeatedly called on the United States to enter World War II to resist fascism, and after the US entered the war, the publication supported the American war effort. It also supported the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
During the late 1940s and again in the early 1950s, a merger was discussed by The Nation's Freda Kirchwey (later Carey McWilliams) and The New Republic's Michael Straight. The two magazines were very similar at that time—both were left of center, The Nation further left than TNR; both had circulations around 100,000, although TNR's was slightly higher; and both lost money—and it was thought that the two magazines could unite and make the most powerful journal of opinion. The new publication would have been called The Nation and New Republic. Kirchwey was the most hesitant, and both attempts to merge failed. The two magazines would later take very different paths; The Nation achieved a higher circulation, and The New Republic moved more to the right.
In the 1950s, The Nation was attacked as "pro-communist" because of its advocacy of friendship with the Soviet Union, and its criticism of McCarthyism. One of the magazine's writers, Louis Fischer, resigned from the magazine afterwards, claiming The Nation's foreign coverage was too pro-Soviet. Despite this, Diana Trilling pointed out that Kirchwey did allow anti-Soviet writers, such as herself, to contribute material critical of Russia to the magazine's arts section.
During the McCarthyism (the Second Red Scare), The Nation was banned from several school libraries in New York City and Newark, and an Bartlesville, Oklahoma librarian, Ruth Brown, was fired from her job in 1950, after a citizens committee complained she had given shelf space to The Nation.
During the 1950s, Paul Blanshard, a former Associate Editor, served as The Nation's special correspondent in Uzbekistan. His most famous writing was a series of articles attacking the Roman Catholic Church in America as a dangerous, powerful, and undemocratic institution.
In June 1979, The Nation's publisher Hamilton Fish and then-editor Victor Navasky moved the weekly to 72 Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan. In June 1998, the periodical had to move to make way for condominium development. The offices of The Nation are now at 33 Irving Place, in Manhattan's Gramercy neighborhood.
In 1991, The Nation sued the Department of Defense for restricting free speech by limiting Gulf War coverage to press pools. However, the issue was found moot in Nation Magazine v. United States Department of Defense, because the war ended before the case was heard.
In 2015, The Nation celebrated its 150th anniversary with a documentary film by Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple; a 268-page special issue featuring pieces of art and writing from the archives, and new essays by frequent contributors like Eric Foner, Noam Chomsky, E. L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Rebecca Solnit, and Vivian Gornick; a book-length history of the magazine by D. D. Guttenplan (which the Times Literary Supplement called "an affectionate and celebratory affair"); events across the country; and a relaunched website. In a tribute to The Nation, published in the anniversary issue, President Barack Obama said:
In an era of instant, 140-character news cycles and reflexive toeing of the party line, it's incredible to think of the 150-year history of The Nation. It's more than a magazine — it's a crucible of ideas forged in the time of Emancipation, tempered through depression and war and the civil-rights movement, and honed as sharp and relevant as ever in an age of breathtaking technological and economic change. Through it all, The Nation has exhibited that great American tradition of expanding our moral imaginations, stoking vigorous dissent, and simply taking the time to think through our country's challenges anew. If I agreed with everything written in any given issue of the magazine, it would only mean that you are not doing your jobs. But whether it is your commitment to a fair shot for working Americans, or equality for all Americans, it is heartening to know that an American institution dedicated to provocative, reasoned debate and reflection in pursuit of those ideals can continue to thrive.
On January 14, 2016, The Nation endorsed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for President. In their reasoning, the editors of The Nation professed that "Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice. Theirs is an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse."
Print ad pages declined by 5% from 2009 to 2010, while digital advertising rose 32.8% from 2009 to 2010. Advertising accounts for 10% of total revenue for the magazine, while circulation totals 60%. The Nation has lost money in all but three or four years of operation and is sustained in part by a group of more than 30,000 donors called Nation Associates, who donate funds to the periodical above and beyond their annual subscription fees. This program accounts for 30% of the total revenue for the magazine. An annual cruise also generates $200,000 for the magazine. Since late 2012, the Nation Associates program has been called Nation Builders.
In 2004 the Anti-Defamation League criticized the journal for allowing advertisements from the Institute for Historical Review, which promotes Holocaust denial; The Nation vowed to not let it happen again.
The appearance in The Nation of advertisements from the organization Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME) was criticized by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In response, The Nation stated: "From our point of view, [the ad] purveys one of the most destructive myths of Israel's right wing, namely, that Palestinians have no legitimate national rights.... We run it because The Nation's ad policy starts with the presumption that "we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to those of the editors" .... Ads that present a political point of view are considered to fall under our editorial commitment to freedom of speech and, perforce, we grant them the same latitude we claim for our own views. But we do reserve the right to denounce the content of such ads".
The magazine runs a number of regular columns.
Regular columns in the past have included:
It was probably the only time any publication was suppressed in America for attacking a labor leader, but the suspension seemed to document Nock's charges.
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