Mark Collins – A Great Magazine, or, Encountering the CIA

I read Encounter in the 1960s (my father brought it home from work at External Affairs).  I concur with Mr Fulford, pity we do not have more like him in (English?) Canada:

When the CIA had a magazine
More from Robert Fulford

In 1953 a remarkable magazine called Encounter appeared, as if out of nowhere, in London. There were two editors — the famous English poet Stephen Spender and the New York intellectual Irving Kristol, who would later be called the godfather of the neo-conservatives. With Spender’s tentacles reaching every corner of British literature and Kristol’s shrewd sense of American thinking, they proved an impressive pair.

Their magazine was full of life and ideas. John Berryman, the first-class American poet, called Encounter “the most consistently interesting magazine now being published.” The writers ranged from Evelyn Waugh to Mary McCarthy and from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a leading American liberal, to Anthony Crosland, a Labour cabinet minister and theorist. Somehow Encounter managed to get the best work that most of these people, and a few dozen others, could produce.

For 14 years it was a success, but then it was disgraced. Ramparts, a magazine of the then New Left, disclosed that Encounter was financed by the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom, a creature of the Central Intelligence Agency…

Fighting the Cold War, Washington had noticed that Soviet propaganda was succeeding among artists and leftists. The West needed to demonstrate the superiority of freedom as against the stultifying censorship in the U.S.S.R…

I remember Encounter with affection as the best magazine published in English during my lifetime. When I heard about the CIA my first thought was that Encounter was probably the nicest thing the CIA ever did.

In Encounter Isaiah Berlin wrote wisely about 19th-century Russian literature and Hugh Trevor-Roper delivered a famous attack on the bloated reputation of Arnold Toynbee’s 10-volume Study of History. (“Every chapter of it has been shot to pieces by the experts.”) Waugh debated Nancy Mitford on upper-class and lower-class English usage. Dwight Macdonald, one of the brilliant American journalists of the era, spent a year in London as an associate editor and later wrote for Esquire his “Confessions of an Unwitty CIA Agent.” Persecuted Russian writers, from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to Joseph Brodsky, appeared often. Poland was extensively represented by the anti-Marxist philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, Hungary by Arthur Koestler. The young George Steiner made the beginnings of his reputation there. The Angry Young Men, from John Osborne to John Wain, were heard from…

Oddly enough the essence in many ways of Encounter has been carried on by the New York Review of Books and by the London Review of Books–which are derided by far too many conservatives as just leftie; but always worth the look and much worth the read.  Gotta learn and then think or re-think, eh?  Which was the point of Encounter on the assumption that in the end the liberal (old school) West was in most ways, demonstrably, the best.

More on the CIA’s cultural cold war here and here (plus more earlier on Fast Eddy Said here and here).



Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

One thought on “Mark Collins – A Great Magazine, or, Encountering the CIA”

  1. On MLK Day we are reminded of his remark “…not by the color of his skin but my the content of his character…”

    The second part applies to Encounter as well. “Ramparts” was a prisoner of its own ignorance and needed on its launching a shock boost. The shame of it was that the even handed artist sensibility could not be denied. Did any brave souk electronically archive the issues?

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