Frank Devine celebrated fifty years of John Howard’s favourite magazine Quadrant in the Oz last
week by noting a few difficulties – chief among them that the magazine
was part-subsidised by the CIA (through its Congress For Cultural
Freedom front).Tricky. Devine’s spin is magnificent:

The question of how unwittingly Quadrant took the spy money
was debated for years, especially by the magazine of combat’s many
foes. Possibly a few blind eyes were turned…., the magazine’s
formidable founding editor, James McAuley, steered it off its initial
anti-communist tack early on, believing it had run out of interesting
things to say on the subject.

Actually, its foes debated its funding because few at Quadrant
cared much that their purportedly independent voice was really an
extension of US power – indeed much of their efforts went to begging
the CCF for more money. A great deal of the pressure to make it a more
cultural publication came from the CCF itself, which found the early Quadrant to be a crude bludgeon (Cassandra Pybus’s The Devil And James McAuley gives much of the background).

But
the history Devine glosses is less interesting than the history he
omits. In deep poop by the 80s, the magazine was turned around by new
editor, Robert Manne. Though a degree of the content was still
hard-core reactionary stuff, there was a vastly more interesting range
of critical conservative thought in its pages.

Manne gets the
Trotsky treatment for well-known reasons. More amazingly, so too does
the magazine’s founder Richard Krygier, who appointed McAuley. Could
this be because Krygier’s son Martin is rumoured to be writing a book
arguing that the Right has debased contemporary Australian political
debate?

Today, it’s the Australian taxpayer rather than
Southeast Asian heroin paying the bill – leading to the bizarre
spectacle of editor Paddy McGuinness fulminating about grants to
useless artists, academics etc on the same page as the mandated ad
noting that “Quadrant gratefully acknowledges the assistance of
the Australia Council”. With an advisory board dominated by free
marketeers, the magazine doesn’t have the guts to float its own
politics. Yet surely the Department of Homeland Security can shift some
Guantanamo money across?

NB: Arena does not get or seek government funding.

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%