Congratulations are in order for my friend and colleague Myron Magnet, one of nine people whom President Bush honored today with a prestigious National Humanities Medal. Myron richly deserves the award, both for his work as an editor—under his leadership, City Journal became one of the nation’s most respected and influential intellectual magazines—and as a literary and cultural critic of extraordinary perceptiveness, a worthy heir to Lionel Trilling.
Working with Myron at City Journal was an education in itself. Arriving at the magazine in late 1997 as senior editor, I had the wonderful experience of conversing daily with a true humanist who was effortlessly conversant in politics and literature, as his brilliant 1985 book Dickens and the Social Order showed. Soon Myron became a true friend, and I continue to count on his wisdom. Whatever I know about editing—about avoiding bluster, clarifying complex ideas, and framing arguments—I have learned, doubtless imperfectly, from him.
Long before coming to City Journal, while still in graduate school, I remember buying Myron’s 1993 book The Dream and the Nightmare. Reading it was jolting and, for me, politically formative. It was a book about policy, sure—about how the bad ideas of the sixties gave us lethal crime rates, bloated welfare rolls, crummy schools, and much else that was harmful to America, above all to America’s poor. But it was the book’s concreteness, its grasp of how policy ideas affected real lives in ways both positive and destructive, that made it a classic of public philosophy—right up there with Edward Banfield’s The Unheavenly City, Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, and Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities—and that made it so influential, capturing the attention of then-governor George W. Bush and many other policymakers. Myron established that sense of the concrete as City Journal’s guiding inspiration, one we seek always to live up to today.