In an example of obscene hypocrisy, a crowd of hand-picked Howard lickspittles lined up at a dinner last night to toast the 50th anniversary of Quadrant magazine, claiming that it was celebration of non-conformity and eccentricity.
Apparently though, non-conformism has its limits, as Quadrant’s most successful editor Robert Manne, a man who was forced from his position when his humanist views proved too much for the reactionary editorial board, was not invited.
Without irony, the whale-like Paddy McGuinness claimed:
This is our mission: to defend the great tradition of free and open debate, to make possible dissent, while at the same time insisting on both civilised discourse and rational argument.
This was probably greeted with self-congratulatory applause at this point, when instead the words should have provoked a long embarrassed silence, perhaps the odd cough, as the wind blew a lonely tumble weed across the floor.
Robert Manne was the editor of Quadrant from 1989 to 1997. I may be wrong, but I suspect the magazine achieved its greatest circulation under his editorship.
The magazine was the organ of choice for the anti-communist right in Australia for the entire length of the Cold War. Indeed, it was initiated by something called the Congress of Cultural Freedom in 1956 with funding from the American CIA by Richard Krygier and James McAuley, the man who, with Douglas Stewart, concocted Ern Malley and his accidentally great body of poetry.
Cassandra Pybus recounts the story very well in Jacket magazine. Apparently no one at the dinner, or in The Australian’s report of it, thought it notable enough to mention that one of the longest running of our cultural journals was set up by the CIA.
It’s certainly the journal with the ugliest cover in the rack, which shows how little regard it has for visual, as opposed to written, expression.