(Daniel Johnson, Standpoint’s Editor, is a former Times and Telegraph journalist and founded the conservative magazine in 2008)
Kathy Gyngell: Firstly can I congratulate you getting Standpoint up and running again – no mean feat for a monthly quality print publication,
For decades left wing ideologists have successfully silenced right wing dissenters and, arguably, Standpoint alone has kept serious intellectual resistance to these orthodoxies alive. But what is Standpoint‘s purpose or role now – its USP even – in this new Trump/Brexit era of popular backlash?
Daniel Johnson: Standpoint is the only magazine that is dedicated to the defence of Western civilisation – the values and virtues we have inherited from our Judeo-Christian, classical, medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment past. In the nine years since it was launched, Standpoint’s print and online circulation have risen steadily to make it one of the most respected intellectual periodicals, not only in Britain, but in the world.
In the Trump/Brexit era, we have an even more important role to play, because many people are confused and anxious. There is a desperate need for cool, coherent analysis, but also for a firm assertion of the moral principles that must inform politics and public life. More than ever before, the press is now in the firing line, no less than politicians and intellectual elites. So we stand for the truth against those who believe only in “narratives”; for the difference between right and wrong against those who deny good and evil; and for the history and identity of our country against the cultural relativists who seek to subordinate all that we hold dear to a multicultural, supranational ideology.
KG: Would you describe Standpoint as an unashamedly Judeo-Christian publication?
DJ: Absolutely! But the term “Judeo-Christian” requires a little explanation. Judaism and Christianity are, of course, quite distinct religions, with profound theological and other disagreements. But the fact that they share Biblical origins and inspiration makes them unique in the global tapestry of faith, symbolised by the two most important figures in the history of Christianity, Jesus and St Paul, who were both Jewish. “Judeo-Christian” has real meaning, unlike “Abrahamic”, because Christians treat the Hebrew Bible as Scripture: the God of the Old Testament is still the God of the New Testament.
By contrast, Muslims regard both Jewish and Christian revelations of God as superseded by that of their prophet Mohammed; and the Koran has a fundamentally different conception of divine law. Christians have not always acknowledged their debt to the Jewish people, but today the Catholic Church and to a greater or lesser extent the other mainstream churches all do so. Many Christians, however, still treat Israel, the only Jewish state, as a stumbling block. We at Standpoint see it as part of our mission to defend Israel and the Jewish people, whose role in Western civilisation is impossible to overstate.
KG: There’s been an almost ‘across the board’ dismay at Trump’s victory and first month in office. Nothing underlined this more to me than just five MPs putting their names to a vote of no confidence in the Speaker of the House after he told Parliament that the new President of the United States would not be allowed to address Parliament. Do you share these reservations about Mr Trump.
DJ: I strongly agree that the Speaker’s treatment of President Trump was a disgrace and we have attacked him in the March issue. The grotesque reaction to his victory and his first few weeks in office has been wholly unwarranted. Like any leader, he is not above criticism, but with one or two exceptions, his appointments have been excellent and most of his policies have been perfectly reasonable. Everybody needs to calm down and let him carry on with the work of repairing the damage done, both domestically and abroad, under the Obama administration. I regard the refusal of many Democrats, and even some Republicans, to accept the election result, and their attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, as quite dangerous to democracy and the rule of law.
KG: Is it more Trump’s politics or his vulgarity that upsets people? What does this say about modern liberal sentiment? Should vulgarity disbar you from public office?
DJ: Vulgarity is a rude word for popularity, which in a democracy is no sin. There are some aspects of Trump’s personality that are worrying – his apparently short attention span, for example, or the nocturnal Tweeting that may be a symptom of insomnia. But his actions so far have been broadly sensible, moderate and by no means extreme. The British are often snobbish about American statesmen – think of Reagan and George W. Bush – but the hostility this time has been all the more absurd since Trump is clearly an Anglophile. Hence I doubt that anti-Americanism will take off again here, as it did in the Reagan and Bush eras, but the Continent is another matter.
KG: Steven Bannon, Trump’s strategist, has been denounced as the most dangerous political operative in America. He is also an intellectual Catholic who shares at least some of Standpoint’s concerns about current threats to Western democracy. What’s your take on him? Will Standpoint be profiling him?
DJ: Bannon is an enigma. He is obviously a brilliant journalist and campaigner, without whom Trump might not have defeated Hillary Clinton. I don’t know what to make of his more provocative remarks before he joined the administration, such as this one: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.” There is much that is wrong with the liberal world order, but I hope Bannon will point Trump towards reform rather than revolution.
Bannon’s Catholicism is obviously important to him, and that has to be a good thing, but I would like him to firmly distance himself and, more importantly, the Trump administration from the Pat Buchanan tradition of “paleoconservatism”. I take the fact that Trump has now gone out of his way to condemn racism and anti-Semitism as a sign that Bannon understands this. If so, I think his undoubted energy and creativity could be powerful assets for the President. We will certainly profile him when the dust clears.
KG: Here in the UK, Mrs May has taken a much more cautious (less ideological?) approach to her first months in office. Could she do with a little of Mr Trump’s ‘chutzpah’ to kick start Britain’s post-Brexit future?
DJ: Theresa May is not universally popular in the conservative camp, but she has done a great job of steadying the ship. The time has come, however, for a little more boldness. Labour is in an unprecedented state of disarray, so the Tories should be seizing the day to push through radical measures that would never be possible in normal times. Mrs May believes that she should occupy the centre ground, vacated by Labour since Tony Blair, and so she should. But the centre ground itself has shifted: the Brexit vote proved that.
The nation is ready for a new consensus, much more conservative than the liberal consensus that has held sway for the past two decades. As the daughter of a vicar and a grammar school girl, Mrs May has much more classless appeal than Cameron. Ordinary people will trust her, as they did Margaret Thatcher, to guide Britain into a new world. But she must hold her nerve, as Mrs Thatcher did, when the Left resist her violently, or when the global order seems to be collapsing, as it did in 1989. My impression is that Mrs May will be cool under fire. Whether she can rise to the occasion, we shall soon see.
(The new issue of Standpoint is now live online and available in newsagents)
(Image: Chatham House)