Today, July 8th, is the tenth anniversary of Crooked Timber. I don’t suppose that when we started, any of us expected it to last this long, but it has, retaining its distinctive character through many changes of personnel. By way of marking the occasion, I thought I’d set down how the blog came into being, and a little bit about its prehistory.
Some time early in 2003, I decided that I couldn’t keep going with my solo blog, Junius. My colleague Keith Graham had unexpectedly taken early retirement and the finger was pointing at me to head the philosophy department at Bristol. But I didn’t want to quit blogging: I’d made a bunch of friends online and I was enjoying arguing with people about ideas. Still, I knew I couldn’t keep Junius going if it meant updating a blog several times a week. So the idea struck me that I should invite some of the people I’d most liked interacting with to form a group blog. To them I added a few other friends whom I wanted to read online but who hadn’t yet taken the plunge.
I don’t have the inital email, so I can’t be completely sure of the contents. I know that Henry, Kieran, Brian and Daniel were among the addressees: Henry blogged at Gallowglass, Kieran had a blog under his own name, Brian had started Thoughts Arguments and Rants and Daniel was blogging at D-SquaredDigest. I may have written separately to Harry and Jon Mandle who didn’t have their own blogs, and Henry approached Maria, the only woman in our original lineup (and his intermittent co-blogger at Gallowglass). In retrospect, I deplore the overwhelming maleness of my initial list. What was I thinking? I just hope I asked the recipients for suggestions for women members.
That first email also invited two other people: Matthew Yglesias and Norman Geras. Yglesias (a Harvard undergrad) was a rising star in the blogosphere but had yet to morph into his current superstar incarnation. Geras I knew because we’d once been on the editorial committee of New Left Review together and he’d recently phoned me up for advice on starting to blog. Yglesias never replied, and, to be honest, I don’t know if he even read the email. But Geras joined up to the list on which we discussed the project.
That provided us with the first crisis in the (pre)history of Crooked Timber. (Actually, I think, our only real crisis within the group.) At the time, we were either just before or at the start of the Iraq war and some of us were hesitating about which line to take. Geras used the opportunity of the shared emails to bombard everyone with pro-war articles and, after he had circulated a particularly egregious bit of warmongering concern-trolling from Johann Hari, Daniel snapped. If Geras were in, then Daniel would be out. But Geras, facing a bit more scepticism than he wanted, was already sensing that the group wasn’t for him. So we were able to keep Daniel for Crooked Timber. Geras went off to promote so-called “humanitarian intervention” at a solo-blog. He’s been doing that in his characteristic style for a decade; I think we got the better part of the bargain.
One thing we did find rather tough was choosing a name. A bunch of suggestions did the rounds and it eventually came down to Crooked Timber (from Kant) versus The Grumbling Hive (from Mandeville). I’m very pleased that I was in a minority of one in that vote: the Hive was a terrible idea. Not much better was my initial post, a kind of mock-Victorian announcement of our presence. Still, I think its description of what we would become has proved reasonably accurate:
Crooked Timber is a cabal of philosophers, politicians manque, would-be journalists, sociologues, financial gurus, dilletantes and flaneurs who have assembled to bring you the benefit of their practical and theoretical wisdom on matters historical, literary, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural, sporting, artistic, cinematic, musical, operatic, comedic, tragic, poetic, televisual &c &c, all from perspectives somewhere between Guy Debord, Henry George and Dr Stephen Maturin.
The initial lineup consisted of me, Harry, Daniel, Henry, Maria, Kieran, Jon and Brian. Then the first new recruits were Tom Runnacles and Micah Schwartzman with Ted Barlow and Eszter Hargittai following soon after. John Holbo and Belle Waring joined up within the first year. Since then we’ve had many recruits and some departures. I miss those who have gone, but all our additions have brought something to the team. We are a loose-knit family, but a generally good natured and harmonious one. For us, anarchist collectivism has worked pretty well and nobody gets to dictate (or wants to dictate) to anyone else. (When I explained to an angry guest contributor – a famous anarchist academic – that I couldn’t overrule Henry even if I wanted to, he told me that had he understood that this was our way of doing business, he’d have refused to have anything to do with us!)
Finally, I ought to say something about our commenters. We’ve loved you and hated you over the past ten years, but there’s no doubt that Crooked Timber would not have been the blog it has been without your contribution. Looking through past threads, I think I’m right in saying that the long-service award goes to my old friend Chris Young, who shared his thoughts with us in the first week, but was still with us during the past month. But many others have written and, though we have sometimes been tetchy and defensive, we’ve also learnt from you and had our many errors mercilessly corrected. So thank you.
What a long strange trip it’s been.