The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

February 21, 2019

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E. Christian Kopff - 09/03/10

Published as Chronicles of Culture from September 1977 to February 1986, Chronicles is the primary organ of opinion for the paleoconservative movement.

In 1977 John A. Howard retired as president of Rockford College (Rockford, Illinois) but remained president of the Rockford College Institute (founded in 1976, it became the Rockford Institute in 1981). The institute then began to publish Chronicles of Culture, edited by Leopold Tyrmand (1920–85), nom de plume of Jan Andrzej Stanislaw Kowalski. Tyrmand, a Polish novelist and editor, had emigrated in 1966 and written for the prestigious New Yorker (1967–71), but his outspoken anticommunism stood in the way of a literary career in New York. Tyrmand and Howard envisioned Chronicles of Culture as faithful to conventional conservative positions on free trade and anticommunism but with an emphasis on literature, art, and music, which they saw as dominated by the Left. “Chronicles of Culture originated in a protest against the perversion of American culture by something we call the Liberal Culture,” Tyrmand wrote in September 1982.

In its first decade the new magazine grew to some 5,000 subscribers. Part of its influence came from the Ingersoll Awards (funded by the Ingersoll Milling Machine Company of Rockford) it administers. The T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing and the Richard Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters are intended to honor important writers and thinkers denied the recognition they deserve because of their right-wing politics. The Weaver Award has gone to movement conservatives, such as James Burnham (1983) and Russell Kirk (1984), but also to philosopher Josef Pieper (1987), sociobiologist E. O. Wilson (1989), and historian Shelby Foote (1997). The more prestigious Eliot Award, a sort of right-wing Nobel Prize, has gone to writers such as Jorge Luis Borges (1983), Eugene Ionesco (1985) and Jean Raspail (1997). Eliot Award–winners V. S. Naipaul (1986) and Octavio Paz (1987) later became Noble laureates. The Eliot Award often has been given to Southerners, including Walker Percy (1988), George Garrett (1989), Fred Chappell (1993), and Madison Jones (1998).

The magazine, originally published six times a year, became a monthly in August 1982. Looking for a colleague, Tyrmand lured a Southern writer, James J. Thompson Jr., from William and Mary College to become his assistant editor. Thompson left in 1982, but not before publishing writers connected with the Southern Partisan, an intellectual conservative revue with a Southern perspective. In 1984 Tyrmand hired as managing editor Thomas Fleming, the founder of the Southern Partisan. When Tyrmand died suddenly while on vacation in 1985, Howard considered closing down the magazine but was persuaded to let Fleming try his hand as editor.

The next years saw remarkable growth in readership and influence. By 1989 the subscription list had grown to nearly 15,000. Fleming published a distinctive group of writers, including Samuel Francis, Clyde N. Wilson, Paul Gottfried, and Chilton Williamson. Gottfried first called the group paleoconservatives in opposition to the neoconservatives, the “mugged liberals” who had become increasingly influential during the 1980s.

Renamed Chronicles in March 1986, the magazine argued for an American nationalism rooted in the classical tradition and the historic Christian faith, defended by economic protectionism and restrictions on immigration, expressed politically by the federalism of the founders, and reflected in literature in the work of the conservative modernists and important Southern novelists, poets, and critics. Fleming’s friendship with libertarian Murray Rothbard led to the founding of the John Randolph Club (1990) and the publication of libertarians in Chronicles.

The magazine’s political influence reached its zenith in 1992 when prominent conservative Patrick J. Buchanan ran against incumbent Republican President George Bush. Buchanan was explicit about his intellectual debt to Chronicles and his speech on the “culture war” in American society, delivered from the podium at the 1992 Republican National Convention, clearly echoed Chronicles’ themes. Buchanan’s failed presidential candidacies in 1996 and 2000 paralleled Chronicles’ own drop in subscribers in the 1990s from nearly 15,000 to about 6,000. Neoconservatives and libertarians provided triumphalist explanations for this decline: Chronicles devoted much space to the editor’s positions in favor of the neosecessionist League of the South and against the Clinton administration’s bombing of Serbia. In addition, attacks on Protestantism after Fleming’s conversion to the Church of Rome may have driven away Protestants, who constitute about two-thirds of American conservatives.

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