Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Topical Magazine has been slowly developing for a couple of years. What are its origins?
Daniel Lomax: Topical Magazine was founded by Benjamin David, whose previous project, Conatus News, branched out in two directions. Others ran with political activism while Topical Magazine emphasizes philosophical reflection. As the name of the magazine implies, we turn the microscope on contemporary events. But we look through it from the other side, aiming to put these issues into a wider historical and intellectual context.
Jacobsen: With academics, activists, and commentators as part of the team, there will be a wide range of views in addition to style of commentary. I have contributed to the publication too. Let’s take a shift into some discussion on the story for you, how did you become involved in Topical Magazine?
Lomax: The gift of nepotism brought me here. Benjamin, our editor-in-chief and founder, is an old friend of mine. He was looking for some fresh input for the magazine and so he got in touch, perhaps on account of my tendency to get into debates online (sorry/not sorry – I am one of those people).
As a contributing editor I think it’s important to allow each writer their own voice. A good editor is often a hands-off one. The magazine has a broadly left-libertarian perspective but the wide range of approaches is our virtue. It’s important for a magazine to be a magazine and not a church.
Jacobsen: What has been the writing and intellectual background for you, e.g., the influences and formal education?
Lomax: My formal education is actually in music and sound technology. During those years, I found my interests turning to philosophy, and returned to my childhood aspiration to write. I’ve run a lively philosophy forum online for some years and spent more time engaging with philosophy, politics and literature than with my formal area of study.
But my real education was a brief spell of homelessness followed by years of poverty. As a pure intellectual it can be difficult to make your mind up – Marx (for example) is persuasive, and so is Hayek. But with these sorts of experiences you go through the looking glass. For better and for worse you get a real glimpse of society, and individuals, and the government, and the economy, and yourself: and at the end of it you find you’ve developed a new clarity and confidence in your values and principles. If this sounds like I’m saying I studied at the University of Life, shoot me.
Jacobsen: The current team includes Benjamin David (Senior Editor), Daniel Lomax (Editor), Raghen Lucy (Editor), Tom Adamson, Ian Bellis, Jude Bernard, Ryan Faulkner-Hogg, Bryce Harper, Race Huchdorf, Dino Jelčić, Khadija Khan Eleanor Paisley, Benjamin Studebaker, Jeremiah Tabb, Emile Yusupoff, and myself. When we look at the team, what is the first thing that comes to mind for you?
Lomax: We have a strong international team of independent thinkers and fierce intellectuals, each with different areas of interest and different approaches to writing and analysis. It’s always interesting to see the different takes these contributors give on an issue, and they’re a pleasure to work with. We’re always open for further recruitment of course, and we hope to continue to grow and build on our foundations.
Jacobsen: What is the importance of the individuals at the helm now? Those who take particular editorial stances, orient themselves within a specific frame, and provide coverage on a variety of topics for the readership.
Lomax: Benjamin’s a gifted promoter, organizer and people-manager, with a good work rate, and he’s sort of the spine that holds the pages together. Raghen’s a strikingly intelligent young editor with a keen eye for detail. I’m extremely awkward and pedantic which, I like to think, keeps the others on their toes. The importance of that can’t be underestimated, of course.
Jacobsen: Knowing the social and intellectual circles, and networks, many publications arose in a similar manner with different emphases and orientation while having some core values around “Freedom of Speech”/freedom of expression. For example, the team at Areo Magazine began under Malhar Mali in November, 2016 (until June, 2018) with the current editorial team as Helen Pluckrose (Editor), Iona Italia (Sub-Editor), and Gauri Hopkins (Administrator), and some others who I know stipulating particular positions for themselves within the publication. They have expanded into LetterWiki. However, I remain unsure as to the current full roster. Quillette only a short time before in 2015 without much notoriety, except in the last, maybe, two or two-and-a-half years. Its team consists of Claire Lehmann (Editor-in-Chief), Jamie Palmer (Senior Editor), Paulina Neuding (European Editor), Jonathan Kay (Canadian Editor), Toby Young (Associate Editor), Andy Ngo (Sub-Editor), Greg Ellis (Voice of Quillette Narrated), Asher Honickman (Legal Advisor), Carol Horton, Jeffrey Taylor, Matthew Blackwell, Debra W. Soh, Michael Shellenberger, Spencer Case, Terry Newman, Chloe Valdary, Imran Shamsunahar, Bradley Campbell, Brad Cran, Coleman Hughes, Bo Winegard, Jonathan Anomaly, Rosalind Arden, John R. Wood, Jr., Neema Parvini, Clay Routledge, Helen Dale, and Sumantra Maitra. So, each covering some different facets of modern culture and emergent within a couple of years of one another. There are others. What is the importance of publications like these?
Lomax: We’re not the first publication to have noted with concern that freedom of expression has declined as a value among “Western” society. I’m accustomed by now to seeing and hearing historically ignorant arguments for this new authoritarianism, posed by people who should know better. Our demand is not just to protect a thing which is valuable in itself – although it is – but to preserve the liberty upon which all other liberties are built.
Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, how has Topical Magazine filled out a niche for itself?
Lomax: It’s edifying to watch the growing resistance to the authoritarian trend, but it risks being monopolized by people who obsess over gender and Islam. The civil rights movement in the US couldn’t have happened without the First Amendment and the Ottoman Empire’s ban on the printing press is one of the reasons most of the region is strangulated by hierarchical and reactionary regimes. Our position is that a seat must be kept warm for free speech on the political Left of the house.
Jacobsen: What are the goals of Topical Magazine?
Lomax: We hope to inform, educate and reason – and in an age in which so many disenfranchised people think of politics as Something For Other People, associating it with dispatches from boring men in anoraks, standing in the rain looking dour outside the halls of Westminster or sitting in a bland studio offering dry, meaningless PowerPoint infographics on “the economy”: make it interesting.
Jacobsen: What is the ethos of Topical Magazine?
Lomax: We write with clarity so as not to exclude. Integrity and strictness about the facts are not negotiable: the public’s trust in the journalistic profession is at a low point, and it’s incumbent on every writer to take some responsibility for that. With that said: don’t believe this piffle about “unbiased journalism.” Bias is ineradicable. The key thing is that your readers know from the outset what your biases are. We treat our readership like grown-ups.
Jacobsen: What are some of the main topics covered in Topical Magazine?
Lomax: We’ve written repeatedly about freedom of speech issues and technology (both of which topics you’ve made insightful contributions to yourself). We have pieces on the environment, nuclear energy, political rifts, feminism, mental health, combat sports, social media and much more. There isn’t a topic we’re afraid to touch.
Thanks for having me, Scott.
Jacobsen: You’re very welcome, Daniel.