The death of four remarkable people have this a particularly hard season for the world’s moral imagination, and we at The Hedgehog Review feel those losses keenly, even personally. Sociologist Robert Bellah (remembered by his former colleague Richard Madsen on p.96), political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain, culture critic and novelist Albert Murray, and poet Seamus Heaney all worked quite distinctive terrains. What united them, apart from excellence in their respective elds, was their deep engagement with the moral dilemmas and urgencies of our time. All were moralists in the sense described by Matthew Ward in the introduc- tion to his ne translation of Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger: “Despite appearances, though, neither Camus nor Meursault ever tried to make things simple for themselves. Indeed, in the mind of a moralist, simpli cation is tantamount to immorality....”
Begin with Heaney, the poet too often and somewhat misleadingly hailed as the successor to W.B. Yeats. Heaney came out of rural Northern Ireland bearing not only deep loyalty to soil, faith, and people but also the wounds in icted by what he called the “awful and demeaning facts of Northern Ireland’s history.” Fiercely proud of his Irishness—“...be advised/My passport’s green”—Heaney experienced the humiliations of the Troubles without resigning himself to the need for eternal divisive partisanship. Deeply learned in the cultures and languages of the world, he felt the artist’s freedom to range far beyond politics—and so he did, in work unmistakably, line by line, his own. (See, for example, his poem “Follower,” p.112) But the anneal- ing liberal and cosmopolitan currents of that work derived from a deep rooting in the particular.
Similar words can be said of Murray, perhaps the most undeservedly lesser-known of the great twentieth-century American thinkers. Call him “African American” and the Alabama-born and Tuskegee Institute-educated Murray would have bristled. He insisted on “Negro” as the just name for a people whose history was hard and heroic, and whose great economic, spiritual, and cultural contributions—summed up, Murray explained, in both the resilience and improvisation of the blues—were indispensable to the larger American identity. His stunning first book, The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture, introduced a slowly widening circle of readers to what his friends Ralph Ellison and Duke Ellington already knew: that he was a ercely original mind, as scornful of black separatism as he was of “social science ction” that attempted to isolate or even pathologize the American Negro experience. Novelist Walker Percy, who later befriended Murray, wrote that The Omni-Americans “may be the most important book on black-white relations in the United States, indeed on American culture.” Those words may be now sound too tepid. It was. And along with the some fourteen works that followed, it still is.
Jean Bethke Elshtain, a former contributor to this journal, inspired us by her resolute example of scholarship committed to truth and the public good. Deriving her values from the Lutheran faith of her Colorado farm-town upbringing, she retained a firm Augustinian view on the reality of evil—and on the moral obligation to resist it. She believed America’s great power saddled it with great responsibilities, among them the obligation “to respond to the cries of the aggrieved.” The aggrieved included the poor and marginalized in this country, and victims of tyranny and genocide abroad. By such reasoning, she supported interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and she stood by her support when those interventions became painful. Yet Elshtain maintained something remarkable in conjunction with her convictions, something political philosopher William Galston described as a “principled defense of compromise, not just as a modus vivendi but as an ideal.” To her, that ideal was essential to democratic politics, a fact that many current practitioners of democracy seem to have forgotten.
Bellah’s role as a prophetic voice is fully explained farther into these pages. Su ce it to say that he, like the others, worked hard to make us uncomforable with easy answers, disturbing the peace for the sake of a greater peace. We honor them by sustaining that e ort.
The addition of two experienced editors to the masthead has made this a season of change for the journal. Jay Tolson fills the newly created position of executive editor. Jay has already had a distinguished career as an editor, journalist, and author. He served for nearly two decades as literary editor and then editor of The Wilson Quarterly, the eminent journal of ideas published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He went on to cover culture, ideas, religion, and more at U.S. News & World Report. And in the five years before he found his true calling with THR, he served as news director of Radio Free Europe and took on other duties with U.S. international broadcasting. Jay is the author of the prize-winning Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy.
Brianne Warner Alcala joins THR as managing editor. She has undergraduate degrees in philosophy and journalism as well as an MBA from the University of Virginia. She worked for many years for The Virginian-Pilot, the state’s largest newspaper, and then as founding editor of its subsidiary newspaper Link. Most recently, she—a civilian—was a social media specialist with the U.S. Africa Command.
THR is now confronted with the happy challenge of growing into its staff. Changes are afoot. We continue the work of illuminating the deep cultural changes we are living through. is is no dour task, and we want to engage it in design and writing that is lively and readable, and even we hope, at times, inspiring. Our web presence is growing, as we launch new ventures in social media and make our website more dynamic and interactive. We’ll have more to say on these and other developments in the months ahead.