the right

The Problem With Compact Magazine

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

Compact magazine, which launched on Tuesday, boasts grand designs. “Our editorial choices are shaped by our desire for a strong social-democratic state that defends community — local and national, familial and religious — against a libertine left and a libertarian right,” it declares on its website. Yet there’s Glenn Greenwald, a libertarian gay man, and Slavoj Žižek, who’s difficult to categorize as anything but an elevated troll, on the masthead, along with Adrian Vermeuele, a Catholic integralist. What interests do they share with Vermeule, a legal scholar who’d put the world under a theocratic yoke and call it liberty?

The question matters because Compact is a symptom of something larger than the magazine itself. There is a rich business to be done in subversion or the imitation thereof. Greenwald is an expert purveyor of this pseudo-contrarianism, having fashioned himself a victim of the liberal media. Grievance is what he shares with Compact’s other contributors: a sense of being shut out from a world that should welcome him. For all Compact’s pretensions to the contrary, there’s nothing novel about this contemporary contrarianism. It’s just reactionary to the core.

This is at odds with Compact’s self-advertisement. A light piece in the New York Times makes much of the founding trio’s eclectic views. Sohrab Ahmari and Matthew Schmitz are both undeniably of the right, and the far right at that. Yet they’re joined by Edwin Aponte, who calls himself a Marxist. Such red-brown alliances have their history; again, Compact breaks no new ground. The right usually dominates, as it does here.

For proof, there’s content. Compact’s inaugural articles tilt mostly to the right. One article by Nina Power claims that the patriarchy has been dismantled, leaving terrible violence in its place. Another, by Adam Lehrer, urges heterosexual male artists to resist “aesthetic castration” in the age of Me Too. An Aponte article on free speech suggests that conservatives are “out of power” today, though “tomorrow, the same people may be in power and leading the charge in favor of a ban against transgenderism in schools.” This is a collection of fantasies. Conservatives do not control the White House, but elsewhere, they are leading a charge to eliminate any mention of LGBT people from schools. Male desire does not face repression; it’s as popular as Dave Portnoy. As for the patriarchy, its power is palpable. The wage gap, the absence of paid family leave, the prominence and power of the nation’s Brett Kavanaughs, are legacies of patriarchy and won’t be solved by some magical perfected version of the same.

Power’s arguments are also indistinguishable from the fundamentalist milieu. Thousands, maybe even millions, of conservative preachers around the world perfected her argument a long time ago. It’s less common, of course, to read defenses of patriarchy in legacy media outlets, and legacy is what Compact seems to envy the most. Anyone can start a Substack now and publish whatever they want. People like Bari Weiss make bank by doing so. But to publish an opinion in a journal is to give that opinion an intellectual veneer. Compact stands athwart history and yells, “Look at me!” To provoke the attention it seeks, Compact ascribes to liberalism powers it doesn’t really possess. The liberal world order is weak, weaker, perhaps, then it’s been in decades. Compact would be somewhat more admirable if it would at least admit it senses blood in the water. Instead, it whines. “No one wants to acknowledge this reality, but it’s increasingly perilous to be a heterosexual male artist in 2022,” Lehrer complains. This is a familiar complaint, remarkable only for its denial of basic fact. Compact does not wish to interrogate power; it disguises its own investors and misconstrues reality in its bid to sound subversive. It desires acceptance, hegemony even, and its masthead will howl until its members get what they want.

There’s nothing but grievance here; it is resentment all the way down. The exercise may be cathartic for Compact’s founders, but for readers, the magazine offers no challenge. Its libidinal outrage is limp. That’s not interesting, but it is almost sad.

What Is Compact Magazine For?