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Monday, 11 December 2006

Quadrant magazine cops a spray in the December-January issue of The Monthly. Law professor Martin Krygier adopts an arch tone in a discussion of the fact that, over the years, and especially since the downfall of the traditional enemy — communism — the magazine has debased the currency of the intellectual debate that appears monthly between its covers.

Over time, having become used to being labelled, derided and dismissed for no good reason, indeed often for the worst of reasons, some Quadrant people came to adapt to the role of pariah. They came to like it, even to cultivate it. To be despised by those you despise — to be contrarian, that ugly boast-word — became a confirmation of one's rightness and courage.

Krygier writes like the academic he is. Not content to cleanly trace the dividing lines of the debates the magazine maintains with its Left opponents, Krygier spends a lot of column inches saying what he wants to say. The above quote appears on page 32 of a piece that starts on page 24.

I mentioned earlier that the magazine had just completed 50 years in print, and that the prime minister attended, and spoke at, the celebratory dinner held on the occasion. The magazine is stubbornly Right in its outlook. Its editorials are growly and rather savage. But, then, editorials always are more 'inflammatory' than straight news. Which explains why I rarely, if ever, read them.

But I read Quadrant from cover to cover. It is a pleasure to immerse yourself in high-toned argument by some of the most literate commentators in the country.

Krygier finishes his piece by saying what he thinks. And it's good that he does so. Quadrant punches above its weight and magazines such as The Monthly and Quadrant deserve our attention. It's better to observe these organs of public debate than to waste time ogling rock musicians and movie actors. Krygier obviously believes that the debates these magazines involve themselves in are worth having and deserve wider attention. He admits, however, that Quadrant has fumbled the ball:

Where Quadrant once appreciated the complexity and variety of motives, options and choices, exhibited curiosity and even occasional puzzlement, raised the tone and enriched the vocabulary of debate, its central role now is as radical vulgariser and simplifier. In particular, its energies are directed to composing an enemy, against which it and its allies can flaunt their fearless contrarianism.

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