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This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

Harper's is a pretentious Adbusters.

Much like Adbusters, it presents a relentless and unchanging image of gloom and impending collapse. Most of the articles have the title "The Death of ...", "The Decline of ...", "The Wreck of ...", "Twilight of ...", and if they don't explicitly announce their existence as portents of doom, the harbingers within are both expected and affirming of one's bourgeois cynicism.

Let us take an historical example of the magazine's omen reading, "The Decline of Conversation" from 1926. It begins well enough, with a proper quoting of Goethe: "quality [of life] shows plainest in the things that people choose to talk about when they talk together, and in the way they choose to talk about them." The article is well-written, in one sense-- the metaphors and similes flow into each other. But in another sense the condescension is obvious throughout. The author derides the infiltration of "personalities" and gossip into everyday talk, and brings up what he considers to be two good examples of dinner table conversation:

"Isn't it remarkable how responsibility brings out a man's greatness? Now who would have thought two years ago that Calvin Coolidge would ever develop into a great leader of men?"

"Isn't it splendid to see the great example that America is setting in the right use of wealth? Just think, for instance, of all the good that Mr. Rockefeller has done with his money."

And wouldn't it be nice, the author concludes, if people still talked this way in America, the way they did in Europe! Well, it's all to easy to notice that both these very grand statements about society approach the subjects from the top down, judging "personalities" based on predefined and monolithic (and, to modern eyes, plutocratic rightist) definitions of "greatness" and "right", and making Coolidge and Rockefeller (of all people) into moral exemplars by which the rest of the conversation will be based, rather than having a more informal chat about the everyday habits of these personalities which would have permitted a larger range of judgments to be made. Imagine if we were to start such a conversation from a contemporary leftist, rather than rightist, point of view:

"Isn't it splendid to see the great example that Russia is setting in the right use of capital? Just think, for instance, of all the good that Mr. Stalin has done with the labor of the people."

Now the dinner-table subject which would have sounded like polite conversation had it come from the right has become a partisan screed sure to disrupt an otherwise friendly dinner. This, perhaps, is the meaning of the dismissive "mm-hmm" denounced by the author. Still, it might be nice to try to have an old European imperialist conversation in this way, but I think I've shown that for every criticism made in Harper's there is at least the possibility of a counter-criticism.

Unlike academic writers, who always consider the alternative thesis, Harper's writers rarely, if ever, raise their imaginations to the possibility that their death might also be a birth. At least Adbusters uses advertising as an opportunity for creative vandalism, attempting with every issue to birth an imaginative and functional counterculture. With Harper's, though, the intended message is never renewal and frequently a dark nihilism. With every article denouncing the degradation of our once-great culture and destruction of our meager achievements by outside forces, we catch a glimpse of the prachtvolle nach Beute und Sieg l├╝stern schweifende blonde Bestie, our dark animal nature betraying all our hopes and dreams.

Harper's, like Adbusters, is a great magazine to read if you feel you have not been sufficiently preached to. It's even better to read critically. With the rise of blogs, though, I foresee a dark future for its kind.

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