Jonah Goldberg and Yuval Levin — 10 years of National Affairs | VIEWPOINT

Jonah Goldberg and Yuval Levin — 10 years of National Affairs | VIEWPOINT


Yuval: Our political culture is in a sick
place, at this point, and people need to be pushing against its instincts to force us
to do a little more thinking. Jonah: Yuval, good to see you. Yuval: Jonah, thank you. Jonah: You are an old friend, but a new addition
to AEI. You are the director of Social, Cultural and… Yuval: Constitutional Studies. Jonah: …Constitutional Studies. And you are also the founding editor of “National
Affairs,” which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. I’m sure there’s gonna be a booze cruise… Yuval: Of course. Actually, yeah. Jonah: …because that’s how you guys roll. And why don’t you tell people who do not know
what “National Affairs” is, how you see it, what you think of it, and then I will correct
you. Yuval: All right. Well, thank you. “National Affairs” is a…it’s quarterly journal
of, essays, long-form essays on the full range of domestic policy issues, on political economy,
and political philosophy. Its purpose is to help Americans think a little
bit more clearly about the challenges that we face as a country. And to do it in a way that now is really countercultural
by letting writers think out loud at some length, by taking up problems in a historical
context, by taking the future seriously. And so, rather than reacting to the latest
outrage, trying to think through to the foundations of some of the challenges we have. The idea is really to be a place where people,
particularly, people, right of center can think out loud together and try to confront
the country’s problems. Jonah: So, it’s not something I think you
would deny. I think it’s something you would probably
boast about that, in many ways, “National Affairs” is literally, not just figuratively,
but literally, the heir to one of my favorite publications of all time. When I first came to Washington, I used to
hang out at their offices because that was so cool, “The Public Interest,” which was
founded by Irving Kristol, praise be upon him, and Daniel Bell. And then after one year, Daniel Bell left,
and Nathan Glazer came in. A lot of people don’t know who they were,
or why they were important, or why it would be, not just something bold and audacious
to try and follow in their footsteps, but something noble and necessary. So, why don’t you tell people a little bit
about those guys? Yuval: Yeah, well, it would be much too bold
to imagine we could really follow in their footsteps, but they’re a model for us. “The Public Interest” was founded in 1965,
by Irving Kristol and Dan Bell, and it kind of circles people around them, who over time,
became known as the neoconservatives, people who generally moved from the left to the right
in response to the great society, and who applied social science to public questions,
and in some ways, broadly learned people who tried to understand America’s challenges in
the latter half of the 20th century. “The Public Interest” also was a quarterly
journal, also published long-form essays and tried to confront some of the challenges the
country faced in the 40-year period that it ran, from ’65 until 2005. They were very much a model for us. “National Affairs,” in a sense, came out of
a series of conversations in 2008 and ’09, at the beginning of the Obama era, on the
right about what was missing, what people felt we needed to respond to a new moment. And a lot of what I was hearing in those conversations
was that people needed a place to think out loud in a broad and deep way. And a lot of times, it was literally people
saying that they missed “The Public Interest,” and that they wish there was something like
it. And my thought was, “Maybe there could be
something like it. Maybe not quite like it, but like it.” And we started right after the election of
’08 really, to think about what that could look like, to what degree it could be modelled
on “The Public Interest,” in what ways it needed to be different. We spent a grueling six months or so arguing
about what it should be called, which was not my favorite time. But at the end, Irving Kristol actually rescued
us from that process and said, “The Public Interest” originally was going to be called
“National Affairs.” They actually created a nonprofit corporation
to publish it at a time when they thought that would be the name. And so, if you look at “The Public Interest,”
over the years, it always says, “Published by National Affairs, Inc.” And he said to us, “The name is right here. The corporation is right here. Why don’t you just take it over and start
a new magazine and call it ‘National Affairs’?” And that’s just what we did. So, we are in that direct sense, kind of successors
to the effort they had. That also means that we own the archives of
“The Public Interest.” And the only condition that Irving Kristol
and Nat Glazer put on our taking all this over, was that we would make that archive
available online for free, which we’ve done. It’s all digitized and available. It’s on nationalaffairs.com. Jonah: It’s a pretty small ask in the grand
scheme of things. Yuval: Yeah. You know, they were giving us a gift, and
an enormous gift. That archive is actually very popular. You know, it made “The Public Interest” available
online for the first time. Those essays are assigned a lot in college
courses. A lot of people do read them. It’s an enormous treasury of wisdom and just
an interesting window into a period in American history that has a lot to offer us now. A lot of people don’t really know the challenges
in the 1970s, actually, in some ways, are a lot like the kinds of problems we confront
now. And there was a generation of thinkers, including
people who would be very rare on the right now, sociologists of whom we have very, very
few, historians, people who had moved from left to right, and had a distinct sort of
vision who could help the country think. And so, that’s all available at nationalaffairs.com,
along with now 10 years of our own work trying to follow in those footsteps, obviously, knowing
we could never quite do it. Jonah: You said to “Chicago Magazine…” Yuval: Oh, boy. Jonah:…at one point, that you would say
“National Affairs” is neoconservative in the original sense, in that it tries to be empirical
about what works rather than whose ideology we most agree with. That’s a tall order these days, right, because
everybody’s demanding ideological conformity as more important than intellectual sobriety
or facts. How do you cope with that in this environment? Yuval: Well, it’s a number of things. First of all, I don’t think I would quite
say that we are simply following what works. That kind of argument, nobody ever really
means that. And it sounds too much like pragmatism, which
just sort of pretends to have no ideology. We have a point of view. “National Affairs” is not a partisan journal,
but it has a point of view. It starts from real confidence in this country,
a belief in America, which means a belief in the American political tradition, which
is a liberal political tradition. It means a belief that problems are generally
best solved by people competing, trying different ways of addressing them, and having a system,
a market, or a market of ideas that lets that competition work itself out. It means we believe in civil society. We believe in trying to address problems from
the bottom up. It means that we think we’re strengthened
by the roots that our society has in the Western tradition. So we have a point of view. And generally speaking, it puts us to the
right of center. But that doesn’t mean that we’re partisan
in a strict sense or ideological in a blinding way. I think that we are living now at a time when
the only way the two parties really understand themselves is as each opposing the other. The only thing that people are sure they are
for on the right is that the left should lose and vice versa. And I don’t think that’s a constructive way
to think about politics. And among other things, it means we don’t
talk about public policy very much. Our politics right now is unbelievably divorced
from public policy. We are entering a presidential election year
and nobody’s running on anything. Certainly, the President is not. And, you know, in a variety of ways, the Democrats
are running on these kind of totems where they’ll say single-payer or Medicare for all,
but we’re not actually talking about the country’s problems. I think that part of what we’re trying to
do at “National Affairs” is break through that and help people think about the challenges
the country faces, without forcing them to assume that there are simple solutions to
these problems, without forcing them to assume that it’s gonna be easy to figure it out and
if only the other party got out of the way, we would do it. These are actual problems. And, you know, there are resources to work
with in our traditions for thinking about these problems. There are ways of thinking about the future
that can help us think about these problems. But it’s not partisanship that’s gonna get
us there. And, you know, in that sense, as I say, we’re
countercultural. And I think the political culture needs that. Our political culture is in a sick place,
at this point. And people need to be pushing against its
instincts to force us to do a little more thinking, to be a little more concrete, but
also a little better grounded. That’s part of what we try to do. Jonah: The problem or the challenge, I should
say, with what you’re doing is that it’s very much, and I don’t mean this in the pejorative
sense that people use it in politics today, but it’s an elite play, right? Irving used to joke that if “The Public Interest”
had more than 7,000 readers, they were doing something wrong. Do you find that that sort of logic still
plays that if you can stay clear of the cultural war stuff, and the ideological squabbles,
and the finger-pointing, and all of that, and actually speak peer to peer among elites,
that that’s a better way to move public policy? Yuval: Well, I’d say, we’re proud to have
more than 7,000 readers. It’s a little bit easier to do… Jonah: You already doubled that? Yuval: Yes, almost, on a good day. It’s easier to do now with the internet. “The Public Interest” never really used the
internet, even in its final years when it could have or might have. And what it allows us to do is build a niche
audience that’s not that tiny, but it is a niche audience. And certainly, we’re speaking to people, A,
who are gonna have the patience to work through a 6,000-word essay on the roots of our entitlement
crisis. That’s a niche audience. That’s just how it is. We don’t necessarily think of it as an elite
enterprise exactly, just in the sense that… And I think, in some ways, it would be unfair
to what the neoconservatives did to say that even that was an elite enterprise for the
reason you suggest, which is a lot of what they did was affirm the instincts of the broader
American public, and tell a lot of American elites that they were mistaken to think that
the public’s broad, unarticulated, but deeply held general viewpoint was an error and they
needed to be corrected by the country’s cultural elites. In a lot of ways, what they did was actually
show that those instincts were rooted in something significant and in something meaningful. The sociology of that era was a way of helping
to affirm some public common sense, not always, but often. I think we tried to do that, too. But without question, we think of ourselves
as existing near the beginning of the policy food chain, not near the end. We don’t write short, snappy things that people
can say on the stump. But we try to help people begin the process
of thinking through public policy questions in a way that ultimately we may end up with
something short and snappy. And some of the things we’ve done have ended
up as public policy and as campaign themes, have been cited by politicians, and by judges,
and other things. But we really try to begin from the beginning
and root them in some fundamental facts, and figures, and questions. And I think that’s essential. You can’t start that kind of intellectual
food chain in the middle. Somebody has to be doing the fundamental work. And, you know, that’s a lot of what AEI does. That’s a lot of what The Think Tank world
does, and it’s what we try to be a home for. Jonah: Yeah. So, as someone who spends a big chunk of his
time as just a lowly pundit, which I understand your world is one of the lower phylum or phyla
of public intellectuals, but one of the things I find most useful about “National Affairs”
is that if I need to get up to speed on a subject that I’m knowledgeable about, but
not up to date on where the argument is, or where the numbers are, and all that kind of
stuff, the value for “National Affairs,” to me, is not so much that it’s an alternative
to the hot take stuff on the internet because I know where to find that. It’s that it’s an alternative to having to
read a whole book on a subject, right? And that was one of the geniuses of Irving
Kristol was he never really wrote a real book, right? He called himself a middle-distance runner. And he wrote the long-form essay, which I
still think is the most underappreciated form of writing in American life. So much of American life was shaped by pamphleteers,
by magazine articles, and all of that. And the thing I worry about, even among, if
you don’t like the word elites, policymakers and alike, attention spans everywhere are
kind of shrinking. And is there any way to combat that other
than to just put it out there and see if it gets a bite? Yuval: Yeah. This is certainly part of what we try to do
is follow in that tradition of kind of how two pieces or how to understand X. Those tend to be our most popular pieces. We had an essay on, “What Is Unemployment?” And it turned out to be just absurdly popular,
again, assigned in a lot of colleges courses and read very well because it basically just
explained with a little bit of history, some economics kind of reference to contemporary
problems, what we actually mean when we talk about unemployment, what we don’t mean, what
are the different numbers, that kind of thing is very popular and we publish a fair amount
of it. And I think it is very useful. It’s useful for people who might be experts
in one thing, but not in everything. And it allows them to sort of walk into these
arguments in ways that let them think about them at a high level. Obviously, the attention span question is
on our minds a lot. We publish essays that are maybe on average
about 5,000 words, some of them quite a bit longer than that. We have to keep our reader’s attention. That’s our job, at some level. A lot of what we do as the staff of the magazine
is translate real academic work into something a little bit more like English and help it
be a little bit more interesting. But also, at the end of the day, if people
don’t have the attention for a 5,000-word essay, then they don’t have the attention
to play the kind of part that a serious citizen ought to play in thinking about these questions. We can’t simply change that. But for those who do, we can offer them more
than they might get in a traditional policy white paper that requires a lot of expertise,
more than they get in a kind of general reader magazine article that is just trying to keep
them turning the pages. There is that middle ground. I think there really is room. And it’s not just a niche, but it’s attractive
because there’s not much of it for a long-form essay, for that middle-distance run, that
does bring you into a subject, let you understand enough of it so that you can see why it’s
important and how to think about it, what the basic parameters are, who the key people
are, or what the arguments are. I think that can be enormously important for
an informed citizen, but also for a policymaker, for people working in and around politics. It’s a format that I think has a lot to offer. And especially now, because it’s countercultural,
because it’s not easy to find, because there’s there aren’t a lot of options for getting
you to that depth, I think it provides an enormous service. Jonah: Yeah. So, it’s funny, like, the kind of pieces I
have in mind are the pieces you’ve done on homelessness or the opioid crisis, where you
can get up to speed very quickly in a thoughtful way, while at the same time, understanding
that the writer is coming from a perspective, which I think is important. I talk to journalism students all the time
and I always argue that the best opinion writing, I think, is the best kind of journalism because
the author isn’t trying to hide what their biases are. They’re telling the reader or making clear
to the reader where they’re coming from on a question. And the way I always talk about this is that
you can tell if someone is an honest writer if they accurately describe the position they
disagree with in a way that the people they disagree with would say that is a fair encapsulation
of what we believe. And I think that’s one of the things that
I always trust “National Affairs” to do that. There are a lot of magazine articles across
the ideological spectrum that turn the person they’re arguing against into a kind of straw
man, and then they beat the hell out of the straw man. Our friend and AEI colleague, Ramesh Ponnuru,
he has this ideal of saying that he wants to argue with the left’s best position, it’s
not their worst position. And so much of conservative and liberals,
a bunch of ideological journalism these days is to take up the Medusa’s head of the worst
position on the other side and say, “See, this is what we’re facing.” When in reality, smart people who we may disagree
with, Brookings or whoever, they’re still fundamentally patriotic people and they actually
care about finding solutions to these things. We just have disagreements about where they’re
coming from. But there’s also a lot of common ground there. Yuval: Yeah, this is an important assumption
behind a lot of the work we do is that the people we disagree with, they’re not out to
destroy the country. And the point is not to rev people up to stop
them from destroying the country. Maybe they’re misguided about what would be
good for it. At the very least, we disagree, about what
would be good for it. And the pieces we publish are not academic,
in the sense that they are advocacy pieces. They’re writers trying to change something,
and they have a point of view, and they’re arguing for it. They do it seriously and in a way that takes
account of trade-offs and of the best arguments of the other side, as you say. But they are fundamentally persuasive arguments. And so, the ways in which we’ve had influence
over these 10 years, have been by introducing ideas into the public sphere, that have strong
arguments behind them, but to take seriously the very complicated trade-offs that politicians
have to think about. So, we’ve published important pieces about
taxes, for example, some of which were very much reflected in the 2017 tax reform, about
bringing in some concerns about the ways that parenting and families are treated in the
tax code, from our very first issue, right through the most recent one, that’s an issue
we’ve taken up a lot. We’ve published pieces on higher education
that have become public policy. We’ve published pieces on… We had an essay from Jeff Rosen, who’s now
the Deputy Attorney General on a regulatory budget, which the Trump administration adopted
just about as it was in the magazine in 2018. And so, the way that you have influence is
by taking the kinds of tensions and problems that policymakers have to think about seriously,
but also offering them a point of view, offering them a way forward that they can take to the
public or that they can turn into policy. And we’re not outside observers. We’re active citizens. We’re trying to improve the country as we
understand it. Jonah: What are some other examples of essays
that you’ve had that have moved the needle on public policy? Yuval: Well, for example, we’ve done a fair
number of pieces on public sector unions. A couple of them were cited by Justice Alito
in the Janus Decision, which started moving that issue lately. We’ve done a lot on higher education, where
there has been some movement in the last few years and some of it was informed by what
we’ve done. “National Affairs” was at the center of making
the case for an alternative to Obamacare in the Obama years. And since that didn’t happen, it didn’t get
passed by Congress, but that bill that almost got passed by Congress, started out as an
essay in our magazine by Jim Capretta, our colleague at AEI. We’ve done a lot in the K through 12 space
that’s turned out to be important. I think we’ve worked to fill the cupboard
of policy ideas on the right since the beginning of the Obama era, and now into the Trump era. And it’s been a time when not enough attention
has been paid to how empty that cupboard has become. And so, a lot of what we’ve done are pieces
that are gonna be there, when it’s time, when there’s an opportunity to move a policy issue. You know, when an author comes to me in 2015
and says, “I wanna write a piece about what happens if Puerto Rico goes bankrupt,” my
first thought is, “That’s the least interesting subject I could possibly imagine.” But we did it. And then Puerto Rico goes bankrupt. And it turns out, that piece becomes very
important and significant because somebody’s done the work. He’s not working under crisis conditions. He had time to think about it, and the ideas
were there for Congress to take up. That’s how we think about the ways we exercise
influence. The other piece of what we do are more like
think pieces, pieces that try to lay out what’s going on in our political culture, what’s
happening in our larger culture. Obviously, these 10 years have been a time
when there’s been, frankly, a kind of deformation of the underlying culture behind our politics. And we’ve tried to help our readers understand
what that’s about, think about what might be done about it, how it relates to all kinds
of institutions and forces that are upstream of politics, from family, and community, and
civil society, and religion, to the kinds of pressures that are pressing in, in our
institutions. The weakening of Congress has been a major
theme for us, the administrative state, the judiciary, these are all issues that, in some
senses, are perennial, but that have faced some very unusual problems in this century
and that need to be thought about at the level of what people here at AEI do and what we
are home for. Jonah: Yeah. No, it’s funny. I mean, part of the reason why we’re doing
this video is to introduce or reintroduce “National Affairs.” You’ve just come on board AEI, you brought
“National Affairs” with you to people who may not know a lot about it. And obviously, they have to be somewhat self-motivated
to be interested in this video, never minding the “National Affairs,” but it does get to
the sort of fascinating, very opaque things, the averages, and about how policy is actually
made, right? And the classic example, which alas, wasn’t
a “The Public Interest” or a “National Affairs” article, but was co-written by one of the
leading lights of “The Public Interest” was James Q. Wilson. James Q. Wilson co-wrote with a guy named
George Kelling, right, an essay called “Broken Windows,” which, the basic argument was that
human beings are wired to pick up on small cues of disorder. And he pointed out… They argued that if you live in a community
where kids can get away with smashing windows of abandoned buildings or even occupied buildings,
and it doesn’t get fixed, and there’s no punishment, it creates a permission structure to do worse,
and worse, and worse things. And this got translated, it took a while,
but it eventually got picked up off the shelf by an earlier version of Rudy Giuliani, not
the one we know… Yuval: The real Rudy Giuliani. Jonah: The Rudy Giuliani that we… Yuval: Because I will always think about it. Jonah: Yeah. That’s right, that we know and love, the Rudy
Giuliani in our hearts, and became the bedrock of, I think it’s fair to say one of the most
socially transformative public policy successes in American history, starting in New York
City, but also copied around the country where the New York City Police and other police
departments started enforcing small quality of life issues. And as simple as things that, it turns out,
if you jumped turnstiles to get on a subway, you might be the kind of person who commits
other crimes that are bigger, and you can stop them for that, and you talk to them and
you find out they got warrants on them. And we’ve seen this precipitous decline, and
precipitous has a negative connotation, but we’ve seen this amazing decline in violent
crime, in homicide, and all of these things, as a result of the fact that there was this
pre-made policy idea that was just sort of sitting around waiting for someone to get
in power. And I think one of the things if I’m gonna
help you do your job and sell “National Affairs” for people is that if you were a stock trader,
right, or a financial guy, you read obscure things about new technologies coming down
the pike that might not be here for a few years because you wanna get it on…in early
and investing in them. And it seems to me that, at least for the
center right, the “National Affairs,” is not alone, but it’s sort of the leader of the
pack of a place where you can read about bankruptcy of Puerto Rico. And if you read it, when that issue ripens,
you already feel like you’re up to speed and you’re prepared to have arguments about it
in ways that other people will be caught flat-footed. Yuval: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, that’s just what we try to do. You know, Milton Friedman had a line that
said, “A lot of the kind of policy work that economists do is putting things on the shelf.” And then years later, a politician runs screaming
to them and says, “What do I do about this?” And they just get to say, “Well, I’ve got
this thing on my shelf.” That’s exactly how we think about a lot of
what we try to do. Obviously, we also work to be timely. We work to think about the events of the day,
in a sense. But the quarterly schedule, which really forces
us to be countercultural and not just to respond to the latest outrage, means that when we
do take up those kinds of questions, they tend to be the larger question, the more enduring,
deeper questions. And when we think about public policy it is
very often in terms of what are the issues that are coming down the road? What are the issues that are being ignored? And that it’s going to be important to understand
when the time comes. And that’s certainly a lot of what we try
to do. Now, a lot of the most widely read pieces
of ours are more cultural. The most widely read, I just checked this
morning in our 10-year history, it’s actually an essay by Diana Schaub, about baseball,
which is a wonderful essay. The third most widely read is also by Diana
Schaub, about the Gettysburg Address. So, a good writer goes a long way, but so
does a good subject. So, certainly, we offer readers a lot of essays
that are about deeper, more enduring cultural questions, a lot about the American founding,
its implications for contemporary politics. But we also offer policymakers, and the people
around them, and interested citizens, ways to think about how to solve problems. And I think these things are deeply related. The approach we have to solving problems is
very much connected to how we ought to think about the deeper and more enduring questions
of the nature of the American regime, of the foundations of liberalism, how we solve problems
as a society in general. That’s where you have to start. When you’re confronted with a new challenge,
you have to begin with your principles. You have to think about contemporary realities. And you have to think about how to apply those
principles to those realities. And those three steps are what it takes to
be an effective policymaker and we try to inform and influence every one of them. Jonah: As some people might know, I was the
founding editor of “National Review Online.” You know, so in internet years, I’m like Methuselah,
right? I’ve been doing this for a long time. And one of the things that the internet allowed
you to do was, I don’t wanna say lower standards because I think we tried really hard to maintain
the standard, but there is no shortage of ones and zeros, but there is a shortage of
dead treaty. And, like, it’s one of the pieces of advice
I give to young aspiring journalist is, “If you’re just getting started, it is much more
important for you to get your clips in print publication, literally in print because it’s
a tell to other editors that they were willing to sacrifice a finite resource in order to
use your stuff.” It’s much easier… You can always throw stuff up on the web. And I think that’s one of the reasons why
our discourse stinks so bad is in the clickbait traffic culture that the internet has encouraged
over the years, there is this ethos that more is more, right? And in reality, often, less is more. And one of the nice things about print publication
is that there’s still a much more defined role for an editor, that this much has to
go in and there isn’t room for this. And it creates editing in a way that is sometimes
lacking on other places in conservative or, again, ideological journalism. How do you deal with all that? Yuval: So, we’ve thought of our existence
as a print publication really, as a way to discipline ourselves because, for most of
our readers, we’re basically an online publication, right? More than 90% of our readership finds us online. And not only that, but finds our essays one
by one, rather than looking at an issue and saying, “This is the spring issue.” They’ll find a link or something on Twitter
or Facebook, and they’ll read an essay, maybe it was published five years ago, and maybe
it’s in the new issue. But from our point of view, we’re a quarterly
magazine. And when we’re done laying out the quarterly
magazine, we put it online. And the reason to think of it that way is,
just as you say, that it forces us to ask, “Is this really worth publishing? Is this worth publishing in this way? Is this something that belongs out now and
in what relation does it stand to other things that are important in this moment?” It forces us also to think in terms of a certain
level of quality in the work we put out. And so, we definitely understand ourselves
fundamentally, as a print publication. And, by the way, it’s also important to a
lot of our writers, the kinds of writers we have are people who want to have a CV and
want to be out in print. And I would say, if we got rid of our print
version, which would save us a lot of money, we would lose some of our best writers. It’s maybe just a weird psychological quirk
of contemporary intellectuals and academics and maybe it passes with time, but I find
it’s very important to understand yourself, again, in a somewhat countercultural way,
as representing a kind of culture of print, and as having a set of standards that’s most
appropriate for a print publication. It really affects the quality of what you
put out and the nature of what you put out. And so, that means being selective. We publish about 10 to 12 pieces every quarter. We don’t publish between issues. And that means that a fair amount of what
comes in, we end up not publishing. And by this point… You know, at the beginning, the magazine was
entirely commissioned. We didn’t exist. We needed to find writers. By now, just about everything we publish is
over the transom and not commissioned. Sometimes I look for writers and ask them
what they’re thinking about. But very rarely do I ask for an essay because
people know what they ought to be writing about better than I do. And so, the job of editing is really selecting. It’s really choosing from a lot of potential
essays. And that requires a certain degree of judgment
about what matters now and what fits of in the kind of work we do. Jonah: You are known in some quarters as one
of the leaders of the reformacons, right? Yuval: Uh-huh. Jonah: And for those who don’t know, the reformacons
were a bunch of people like you, and Ramesh Ponnuru, and our colleague, Michael Strain,
and a bunch of other, no offense meant, AK [SP] types, who were eager to revisit the
suite of public policy choices that Republicans or that were being debated at the time, and
update them to the contemporary moment, a sort of a take…I think I’ve heard you say,
take Reaganite principles, but apply them to the time that we’re living in, rather than
constantly replaying this nostalgia trip from 1982 as if things haven’t changed. Where is the reformacon project now? And if you had to use your crystal ball and
think about what you would say in this interview, presumably with somebody else, for the 20th
anniversary of “National Affairs,” what would be the kind of issues that if you had your
druthers, you think would write them into the public policy agenda of 2029? Yuval: Yeah, it’s a great question. I should say, I retired my crystal ball in
2016 when life took a turn for the peculiar. I would say the reformacon concept was basically
that Reaganism was right for its time, that it applied the right principles, enduring
principles to problems of that time, and that the right agenda today would apply those same
enduring principles to a different set of challenges and problems. And I think our politics had a lot of trouble
doing that in the 21st century, so that we have been rerunning an agenda, rather than
reapplying principles to a changing reality. Part of what that meant was that we called
for much more of a focus on the challenges that we’re facing, working families, working-class
Americans, middle class Americans. And I do think that our politics would be
in a much better place if the American right had done that in the last 10 years. And, of course, in some ways, the 2016 election
suggested that that was where the center of gravity was. But the turn in that direction was done in
a Trumpist way, that was not policy-oriented, that was rooted in a much darker approach
to working-class and middle class Americans. And then I don’t think ultimately, it’s gonna
bear a lot of fruit as a practical matter, including for those people. So that I think the need to focus on the challenges
confronting working families in America is still there. I think the right is still the natural place
where that’ll happen, as the left becomes much more of an elite coalition. And I think there still are a lot of ways
that we can apply our core principles to addressing the problems that these working families face. So that in 10 years, we will have been successful
if we focused on some core cost of living issues, especially healthcare, housing, and
higher education, which I think are three areas where there’s been enormous inflation
in a time when we pretend there’s been no inflation in the American economy, a lot of
that caused by bad public policy, that subsidizes demand while restricting supply in housing,
in healthcare, in higher education. Those things need to change in ways that we’ve
been talking about for a while, in ways that “National Affairs” is focused on for 10 years. I think that’s one core area. I also think that we need to focus on the
fundamental health of our institutions, of our political culture. That’s one way, in which, my view of where
our priorities ought to be has changed over the past 10 years. My thought in 2009, when we started the magazine,
was that we would be getting a lot of people focusing on kind of technocratic problems
and we’d have to force people to focus on bigger issues of culture, and political philosophy. And that has not been true. On the contrary, right now, it’s very easy
to find lots of people who wanna opine on the big questions about this and that, and
very few people will actually wanna think about practical problems. I think we need to do both of those things. And that, in terms of thinking about the deeper
or you might say the problems that are upstream of our politics, we need to think about the
health of our institutions, family, and community, and civic institutions, our political institutions,
our parties, the Congress, all of these are in sorry shape. And they are because we’ve let them wither. And I think that requires the kind of attention
that really only conservatives can apply. Right now, we’re living at a time when conservatives
are hostile to our core institutions. And that just can’t be. That’s conservatives failing to do what we
can do for our society. We’ve got to help these institutions become
trustworthy again and regain the trust of the public. It’s not at all where we’re focused. And I think if I had my way, that’s where
we would be turning in these next 10 years. Jonah: Not to ascribe pecuniary or selfish,
aggrandizing motives to you, but I will point out to the audience that you have a book coming
out along some of these lines. Yuval: “A Time to Build,” January 21st. Jonah: Anyway, Yuval Levin on AEI. Congrats on 10 years of “National Affairs”
and may you have at least another 10. Yuval: Thank you very much. Jonah: Hey, everyone. That’s the end of our discussion with Yuval
Levin. Thanks for watching. As always, let us know what other topics you’d
like AEI Scholars to cover on “Viewpoint.” And to learn more about “National Affairs,”
check the links in the description below.

2 thoughts on “Jonah Goldberg and Yuval Levin — 10 years of National Affairs | VIEWPOINT

  • Neocon scumbags (former Trockyists) are responsible for framing conservatism into a kosher sandwich that conserved nothing at all.
    Instead of going the Buchanan route we took the liberal route.
    You destroyed the epithet "conservative".

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