Victor Navasky and the power of opinion

February 4, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: editing.

From the end of World War II to the present, the American political left has had many writers of depth and eloquence to espouse progressive ideas and to rail against those who, for instance, have restricted civil rights and promoted the war in Vietnam. None wrote with more depth and eloquence—and whenever possible a touch of wry humor—than Victor Navasky, the long-time editor of The Nation magazine.

Navasky died on January 23, 2023 at the age of 90 in New York City.

His death silences a voice that was a combination of intelligence, passion, and logic.

In addition to his editorship, Navasky held the position of Professor Emeritus of Professional Practice in Magazine Journalism at Columbia University. He was also the author of notable books, including Naming Names, published in 1980, a history of Hollywood blacklisting in the 1950s, and Kennedy Justice, a study of the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, published in 1971.

Navasky was born in 1932 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1954 and served in the United States Army from 1954 to 1956. After his discharge, he attended Yale law school and received his law degree in 1959. While at Yale, he co-founded and edited a political satire magazine, titled Monocle.

After graduation, he took Monocle to New York City, where it lived for only a short time. He was hired as an editor at the New York Times Magazine, and wrote a monthly column about the publishing business for the New York Times Book Review. In 1978 he became the editor of The Nation magazine and was once famously identified by writer Calvin Trillin, as “the wily and parsimonious Victor Navasky.”

He served as editor of The Nation for more than 20 years, and eventually came to an agreement with the magazine’s owner to buy the magazine and to become its publisher.

Navasky was well known in the East Coast literary circles as a man of principle and congeniality. He was a consistent supporter of Alger Hiss, the aide to Franklin Roosevelt who was convicted and served time in prison on the charge of being a spy for the Soviets.

Navasky’s magazine was an influential and lively forum of ideas and debate. While it supported progressive causes, it did so with some skepticism. Navasky once wrote, “I always get a big laugh when people dismiss The Nation by saying that it ‘preaches to the choir’ or is dogmatic or ideological, or follows a party line. Barely a week has gone by in my years at The Nation, when I have not had to answer a letter, a phone call, or, in more recent years, email from an harmonious dissident member of the so-called choir, and rather than march in lockstep, our contributors and staffers have disagreed, argued, feuded, and debated, among themselves, and in our pages, on matters of principle, practicality, politics, policy, and morality.” (Victor Navasky, A Matter of Opinion)

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