Greetings! This is our inaugural newsletter, “From the Editor’s Desk.” It will open with brief reflections on what we see as Public Discourse’s role in today’s debates. We’ll also highlight relevant essays from our archives and link to essays we’re reading around the web (which are not necessarily endorsements). At the bottom, we will announce events, news, and other miscellaneous information.
A lot of readers might wonder: what makes Public Discourse different from other journals? In recent years, many publications have become foot soldiers in the culture wars. Their content is more about political messaging rather than serious thinking.
We at Public Discourse aim to be a voice of integrity that readers trust most: we readily acknowledge when interlocutors are right, and we strive to give debate its due. We also think tone and conduct matter, which is why you don’t see our team engaging in Twitter crusades.
That doesn’t mean we shy away from conflict. Confusion and error too often prevail. But we know that measured, calm, and reasoned thinking can lead to conversions—changes of mind and heart—both big and small. That’s why we’ve consistently waded into society’s most challenging debates on about sexuality, marriage, and human nature. We also are thinking about and how these matters shape institutions, laws, and culture. We strive to provide high-level analysis on a range of topics about where society is headed, and what flourishing looks like for individuals, communities, and politics.
Our hope is that the essays highlighted below captures the thoughtful, intelligent, and charitable posture we aim to adopt.
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You may or may not have noticed, but each month, we have a rotation of “special” content that we offer to our readers: interviews, long reads (essays 3000-5000 words rather than our usual 2000), and of course contributing editor Matthew J. Franck’s illustrious bookshelf column. In February, we ran two interviews: the first was with David French and editor-in-chief R. J. Snell, in which they discussed Christianity and politics, Mr. French’s appointment to New York Times, and his recent support of gay marriage. The other interview was done by Leah Libresco Sargeant with Dr. John Bruchalski on the challenges and blessings of practicing pro-life medicine. For January’s interview, Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves and our editor-at-large Serena Sigillito discussed the ways that men are struggling, and how fatherhood can provide a surer foundation for masculinity. (You can read our past interviews here.)
National Review writer Jack Butler wrote our February long read essay, offering a deep dive critique of national conservatism. Carl Trueman’s January long read surveys an emerging new world order that technology has enabled, and the ways Christianity contradicts this order. (You can read our past long reads here.) And Matthew Franck’s bookshelf surveys both the promises and shortcomings of autobiographies, highlighting some the genre’s greatest hits. His past bookshelf columns are available here.
Some other essays of note: at Princeton, there’s ongoing controversy over whether to take down a statue of John Witherspoon. Scholar of American political thought Jeffry Morrison wrote a brilliant essay on the controversy in February. Amid detractions of football in the thinkspace, contributing editor Patrick T. Brown wrote about why the Super Bowl is in fact good for America. Associate director of the Witherspoon Institute Jamie Boulding wrote our first essay on the rise of ESG, and discussed the need for humility and restraint in corporate America. Long-time Public Discourse contributor Christopher Tollefson offered a powerful response to Cardinal McElroy’s calls for greater inclusion in the Catholic Church at the expense of doctrinal integrity. Serena Sigillito checks in on your New Year’s resolutions, and discusses the benefits and limits of the self-help genre. Contributing editor Devorah Goldman explores the harms that anonymous sperm donation creates. Finally, managing editor Elayne Allen takes a look at the ways that the sex work industry has grown, and its corrosive effects on society.
- Interview with David French: Gay Marriage, Civil Rights, and Christian Virtue: An Interview with David French
- Interview with Dr. John Bruchalski: Practicing Pro-Life Medicine: A Conversation with Dr. John Bruchalski and Leah Sargeant
- Interview with Richard Reeves: Can Fatherhood Cure the Modern Male Malaise? A Conversation with Richard Reeves
- Long Read by Jack Butler: National Conservatives for the Status Quo?
- Long Read by Carl Trueman: Apocalyptic Politics: Christianity and the New World Order
- The bookshelf column by Matthew J. Franck: The Bookshelf: Writing in the Mirror
- Jeffry Morrison: Damnatio Memoriae: Princeton’s Witherspoon Statue Controversy
- Patrick T. Brown: Why the Super Bowl Is Good for America
- Jamie Boulding: ESG, Woke Capitalism, and the Virtue of Humility
- Christopher Tollefson: Self-Exclusion and the Wounds of Sin: A Response to Cardinal Robert McElroy
- Serena Sigillito: Is “Self-Improvement” a Real Thing?
- Devorah Goldman: The Long-Term Harms of Anonymous Sperm Donation
- Elayne Allen: Sex Work Is Scaling
From Our Archives
There’s been a lot of coverage about new CDC data that record levels of depression, and tragically, thoughts of suicide among teens. While the causes the teenage mental health crisis are various and complex, it’s widely known that social isolation plays a key role.
The erosion of social ties impacts everyone, in fact, not just teens. In her 2022 essay, “Friendship in an Age of Transience: Wisdom from Dante” Jessica Schurz observes: “Even for those of us who yearn for a kind of rootedness, we often find ourselves complicit in the unraveling of social ties.” Schurz explains that “pattern of temporary relationships” is familiar. For all of us, “the number of hometown friends we keep up with naturally dwindles; our office buddies move to other roles; we commit to one-year opportunities, knowing they will end in our uprooting …” But even very brief friendships are worthwhile. She concludes that “the short-term friends we stumble across are, in fact, fellow travelers up the mountain, given to us for our own enrichment. … Though some friends (like Virgil to Dante) join us all the way up the mountain and others (like the runners) are only with us for a short while, both kinds are a gift. Thus, our first disposition toward transient friends should not be detachment, but gratitude.”
What We’re Reading around the Web
- Dana Goldstein, “In Post-Roe World, These Conservatives Embrace a New Kind of Welfare,” New York Times
- Richard Reeves, “Men wanting women,” Of Boys and Men Substack
- Thomas Chatterton Williams, “The People Who Don’t Read Books,” The Atlantic
- Tyler Cowen, “How should you talk to ChatGPT? A User’s Guide,” Marginal Revolution
- Jack Butler, “Why Conservatives Must Reject the ‘Bronze Age Mindset’ — and Offer Something Better,” National Review
- Ross Douthat, “The War Between the Catholic Cardinals,” New York Times
You may have noticed, but recently Public Discourse has been trying to host more events. You can see recordings of past events on our events page. We also have been doing in person events, so far in the Washington, DC area. Stay tuned for information about an in-person event in Washington, DC coming up in April!
Is there anything you’d like Public Discourse to be doing? Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Let us know by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.