A little over eight years ago, the staff of the Witherspoon Institute was huddled over a tomato pie and a bottle of Rhone as they put the finishing touches on a new online journal, Public Discourse. As its editor Ryan Anderson would explain the following day, the site would seek to bring the insights and commentary of the Institute’s growing community of scholars and intellectuals to bear on the current issues and debates dominating the public square. As he wrote then:
Aristotle taught that the central question of political life is how we ought to order our lives together. This is an inherently ethical question. Whatever the pressing question of the day may be—debates surrounding economic policy, biotechnology, international relations, marriage and the family, constitutional law and religious liberty—they all entail ethical positions. Any judgment, for example, about which taxation policies work best assumes an answer to the question: best for what end? Does this end contribute to human well-being? Do the means detract from our well-being? The same is true of any new biotechnology. Evaluating its desirability necessarily involves a consideration of the ends it will serve as well as the means it will require. Will they promote authentic human flourishing? Do they respect the dignity of the person? When you stop to think about it, these same questions can—and should—be asked about most any contested question of our public life today. Certainly, these issues also entail technical questions: questions about empirical facts and the expected outcomes of each proposal. But at its core, the question of whether the effects of competing proposals are desirable is a moral one: Which among competing courses of action best serve the common good—the flourishing of individuals and the communities they form? These are the questions that Public Discourse aims to address.
Over the years, Public Discourse has taken seriously its commitment to such questions. The recent American presidential election has made it abundantly clear that now, more than ever, we need a forum for disciplined argument and counterargument, a forum that is not driven by a 24-hour news cycle, a forum that takes seriously our intellectual obligations to one another as rational creatures. If you agree, and are grateful for Public Discourse’s contribution to our national—and, indeed, international—moral conversations, I ask you to consider supporting us this Thanksgiving season.
Over the last eight years, Public Discourse has consciously tried to be an intellectual home for its young editors as they prepare for the next stages of their academic and journalistic careers. Our first managing editor, Matthew Schmitz, is the literary editor of First Things; Lauren Wilson Geist is the managing editor of First Things; Octavia Ratiu is pursuing graduate studies at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences; and Gabrielle Girgis is working on her dissertation in political theory at Princeton University. Our current managing editor, Serena Sigillito, was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute last year and continues to draw a devoted readership to her writing here and in other journals. Unlike many online publishing outlets, we believe in compensating our contributors and paying our editors a living wage. If you think this is wise and just, consider supporting them here.
While we are extremely pleased with the growth of our readership over the last few years, one of our key metrics for our success is not “hits” or “links” or “shares,” but the length of time a reader spends on any given article. Our readers commit more of their time to our authors than they do to the vast majority of similar sites; for that we are very grateful, and we will never take this for granted. The purpose of the layout and design of Public Discourse has never been primarily to generate greater social media engagement or internal traffic; rather, we looked for simple ways to invite our readers to stay with an argument to its completion and read swiftly on account of an argument’s clarity, not the need to process the next sound bite. These will continue to be our goals as we undertake a redesign of our website in 2017. If you appreciate our efforts, consider supporting this redesign here.
We should remind ourselves of the origins of this holiday in a call for grateful piety amid the strife and bloodshed of the country’s Civil War, a conflict “of unequalled magnitude and severity.” Public Discourse will continue to commit itself to the peaceful and rational persuasion of our fellow man in the cause of the common good. I do hope you will support us in this.
Patrick Langdale Hough is the Executive Director of the Witherspoon Institute, the publisher of Public Discourse.