Athwart began with the exhortation: “Stop, and watch where you’re going.” We published thoughtful examinations of America’s social and cultural trajectory, as well as warned against destinations that ought to be avoided. This goal is still worthwhile, yet, we’ve realized it is too restrictive a vision of what we hope to accomplish. Over the course of our first year, we’ve published and commissioned pieces that indicate a more expansive mission. Indeed, our previous mission was too restrictive because it was too pessimistic, whereas we’ve found that our publications are—as we want them to be—more forward-thinking, curious, and joyful.
We’ve therefore distilled our updated mission to reflect what we seek to publish and produce:
A remembrance of things past, gratitude for things present, and optimism for things to come.
A remembrance of things past is an update of our original mission. Whether we call the present age modernity, postmodernity, or something else, we all have a sense that the wisdom of earlier ways of living is obscured, often abandoned. Excavating and tracing the origins of older social forms, moral goods, and worldviews that have been suppressed or otherwise lay dormant helps us clarify our own way of living. Even if much of what they suggest is impractical given contemporary conditions, there is much to gain in understanding the fullness of human possibility and in encountering the world anew. We may lament their loss, celebrate their disappearance, await their rediscovery, or remain altogether ambivalent—but without a sense of what came before, we remain ignorant of where we are.
Gratitude for things present rests upon the recognition that there is much today to love and appreciate. To deny this is to trod a path toward cruelty, destruction, or nihilism. A purely reactionary attitude that exclusively begins and ends in bemoaning things lost is untenable and self-deceptive, denying all those arrangements—political, interpersonal, technological—for which we should show our appreciation. As W.H. Auden’s Malin in Age of Anxiety builds a little altar of sandwiches to the Queen of Love, we must build an altar of prayer with what we have. There is much in our world to critique, but even more to celebrate. We intend to do so.
Optimism for things to come means acknowledging room for growth and improvement in politics, culture, and society while developing a sober, non-utopian, but nonetheless pioneering notion of progress. This hope, we believe, requires joining the wisdom of the past and present to a curiosity toward the future. It demands that urgent change in our time be guided by truth rather than mere expedience. We find good things in both the past and present, and, declining to choose one at the expense of the other, we work so that the future may yield the best things of all times.
These three attitudes suggest an answer about our name: a renunciation of despair. Despair is a choice. Whereas some today would sell desperation, we at Athwart fight against it. Buckley’s old dictum, perhaps once useful, now only leaves the thinker as Cassandra, cursed by heaven, waiting despairingly for death, and howling in feeble anguish as the world continues churning its course unfazed. We do not deny there is sometimes the need for denunciation. Yet there is always a need for annunciation. In a world of overwhelming pessimism, when all parties share the same dismal, zero-sum worldview in which the only thing left is the thrill of defeating one’s enemies, a different course is needed. After an exciting first year, full of hope and gratitude, we say: it is time to stand athwart despair, yelling “Keep going!”