The conventional party platforms no longer address or even comprehend the most pressing challenges facing American institutions. Economic mobility is down and inequality is up, while growth, productivity, and wages are nearly stagnant. Trust in government is at historic lows. Crime and drug abuse are increasing, while families and communities are disintegrating. Social discord, frequently inflamed by proliferating versions of identity politics, is becoming more prevalent. The foreign policies of the last two decades have resulted, too often, in failure and strategic incoherence.
Yet many of our so-called elites ignore these problems. Instead, they bemoan the rise of a populism—from both the Right and the Left—that is said to endanger the very foundations of our political system, of our national mores, and even of democracy itself. This conventional narrative is as false as it is self-serving, revealing only the insularity of our politicians and the status anxieties of our intellectuals.
On the contrary, what if public discontent is a reasonable response to a misguided and complacent elite consensus? What if the people are not too populist, but rather our elite is not truly elite? What if “the real problem with our republic,” as Walter Russell Mead put it, “is that what should be our leadership elite is soul-sick: vain, restless, easily miffed, intellectually confused, jealous”?
This intellectual confusion is most apparent in our reliance on decades-old ideological categories. The leadership of both political parties has tried and failed to fit burgeoning popular discontent into the old definitions of conservatism and progressivism. Far from clarifying the most critical issues, however, these categories only obscure them…
These ossified intellectual orthodoxies have rewarded partisan loyalty over genuine insight. The resulting political culture has promoted a peculiar hybrid of extremism and careerism at the expense of good governance.
American Affairs rejects this degradation of our political discourse. We seek to provide a forum for the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas, and a platform for new voices distinguished by originality, experience, and achievement rather than the compromised credentials of careerist institutions. We believe that recognizing failures and encouraging new ideas are not betrayals of American “optimism” but are instead healthier expressions of it.
Yet this is far from some bland appeal to nonpartisan expertise or bipartisan collaboration. We are in desperate need of more rigorous policy analysis, but that alone will not be enough if it does not go beyond the self-satisfaction of present intellectual conventions. For this project to be successful, we must also inquire more boldly and at the same time more carefully into foundational principles. We must ask precisely those questions which the prevailing ideological tendencies obscure.
The journal looks promising; for example, the inaugural issue contains these two top notch essays: