The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum
The Birth of Irony
A review by Jackson Lears
To its devotees as well as its detractors, postmodern thought lacks
a history. The fragmentation of truth, the ascendancy of appearances,
the fluidity of self, the breakdown of master narratives, the triumph
of ironic detachment: all the tendencies that we loosely label "postmodernism"
are commonly assumed to be the products of mass-media technology and multinational
capital, or to have burst full-blown from the brains of Frederic Jameson
and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Most attempts to trace the origins of postmodern
sensibility stop in the early 1960s, when advertising began to mass-market
irony, and quotation marks descended over whole segments of our cultural
life. Postmodernism, we tend to assume, was born yesterday.
This assumption provides relief to all concerned. It reassures celebrants
of postmodern culture that they are on the cutting edge of change, which
apparently is still the hip place to be. It suggests to critics that what
they deplore is merely an ephemeral fashion that it will only be a matter
of time before a single standard of truth is restored to its proper place
as the foundation of philosophical debate.
But if postmodern tendencies have a longer history, then an alternative
interpretation surfaces. The origins of postmodernism are traceable to
the primal scene of market society to the atmosphere of suspicion surrounding
the interchange between buyer and seller. The postmodern sensibility is
significantly less novel than its cheerleaders or its critics imagine.
A relativizing tendency has long been embedded in our psyche as a consequence
of our commerce. Whether terrorism and war can dislodge it remains to
These are the larger implications of James W. Cook's important book,
though he does not spell them out. Cook focuses on American commercial
culture from the 1830s through the 1880s. It is P.T. Barnum's world the
emerging street carnival of urban entertainment, oddities, extravaganzas,
and curiosities too numerous to mention. Its representatives included
Johann Maelzel and his amazing automaton chess player; Signor Antonio
Blitz and his "modern magic" (which replaced supernaturalism with sleight-of-hand
skill); William Harnett and his trompe l'oeil illusionist paintings; and
above all Barnum himself, whose exhibits had a way of blurring familiar
boundaries (truth or illusion? ape or man?) and provoking audiences to
raise a series of unanswerable epistemological questions. In Cook's account,
Barnum and his contemporaries were commercial versions of the mythical
figure of the trickster patron of the crossroads and of trade, of risky
business and of new beginnings. Traditional tricksters inhabited the cosmological
margins, defining themselves against principles of order, opening portals
of possibility to unseen worlds. Commercial tricksters played a less exalted
role. In market society, they moved from the margins of mythology to the
center of everyday life, into the cities, where they mutated into confidence
men without any vestige of a sacred aura.
But Cook does not want to leave it at that. He is an imaginative cultural
historian who excels at teasing complex significance from apparently straightforward
artifacts, practices, and events. His commercial trickster is not a messenger
from another world, but neither is he merely a conniving cheat. He is
an "artful deceiver," juggling cultural meanings in a chronically unstable
society, challenging the rigid taxonomies that the Victorians used to
organize human experience. Sometimes Cook strains too hard to locate complexity
and loads his evidence with too much interpretive freight. This is a common
occupational hazard, and Cook mostly avoids it. More often he provides
fresh insight into the impact of commerce on consciousness. The Arts
of Deception is a subtle and illuminating work of cultural history
that tells us more than its author realizes about the history of postmodern
According to Cook, the emergence of Barnum and his fellow artful deceivers
in antebellum America was not simply a colorful instance of capitalist
chicanery: it was also a chapter in American intellectual history. From
this view, Barnum was an especially important figure. Playing with fraud,
shamelessly spreading contradictory rumors, constantly prodding his audiences
to test and to re-test the evidence of their senses, the showman created
vernacular philosophy for a society on the make. By promoting the idea
of trickery as an art form, Barnum implicitly incited speculation about
the authenticity of his exhibits and encouraged the acceptance of uncertainty
as a condition of everyday life. Yet there was nothing solemn about this
game: it was all for fun and for Barnum's profit. Epistemological doubt
could be good business. "The public," Barnum shrewdly observed, "appears
disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived."
Certainly Barnum and his contemporaries were on the cusp of intellectual
change. They ritually re-enacted the perplexities of knowledge at the
core of market exchange: What's this guy up to? What's the catch? Bringing
philosophy to the streets, they unwittingly helped to accelerate the shift
from an Enlightenment ideal of universal Truth to a post-Enlightened preoccupation
with many particular truths. Cook somewhat melodramatically dates the
birth of American popular culture to "that fateful afternoon in July 1835"
when Barnum decided to exhibit an elderly black woman named Joice Heth,
first claiming that she was George Washington's one-hundred-sixty-one-year-old
nurse, then planting rumors that she was an India-rubber automaton operated
by a ventriloquist, and later leaking hints to the newspapers that she
was a simple fraud.
Granting the arbitrariness of Cook's dating, he is on to something.
Maybe Barnum and other artful deceivers did preside at the birth of contemporary
popular culture. The genealogy of postmodernism can be traced to the anonymity
of the antebellum city, where nothing was as it seemed and no one could
be sure that his neighbor was on the square. Artful deception, Cook claims,
defused epistemological doubt by turning it into a democratic puzzle,
a harmless game that could be played even by teetotalling Protestants.
(Barnum made sure that his premises were free of alcohol, and minimized
the presence of the disreputable "sporting crowd" so that married women
and their children would feel welcome.) As the Joice Heth exhibit unfolded,
Cook writes, Barnum transformed it "from a plausible work of realism into
a far more slippery work of illusionism, one which interwove seemingly
straight biographical information with provocative public encouragements
to inspect this very same information for evidence of artificial manufacture."
Barnum's antics provoked tongue-in-cheek reporting and nods and winks
in the newspapers, but no earnest cries of humbug. The artful deceiver
turned fraud into family fun.
The transformation of the trickster from god to entertainer was not simply
a disenchantment of traditional culture. There was more going on than
the loss of old allegorical meanings. New meanings, albeit ambiguous ones,
were being created as well. Barnum and other commercial tricksters played
a crucial role in promoting a vernacular philosophy for a post-Enlightenment
age. They created opportunities for antebellum Americans to grapple with
ambiguities of representation that surrounded many forms of social intercourse.
In fact, as Cook observes, "representation" was the "curiously precocious
term" that showmen and the press used to characterize the museums' stock-in-trade.
Antebellum New York, like postmodern Los Angeles, was engulfed by the
traffic in images.
The key to the philosophical significance of artful deception was its
recurrent slide from realism to illusionism, which raised the constant
question: was this astonishing marvel really an elaborate fake? The rapid
alternation of outrageous claims, bogus exposés, heated denials, and re-asserted
respectability led to the spread of self-conscious sleuthing by ordinary
museumgoers as well as by newspaper reporters. Ultimately this turned
the exhibits into a perceptual contest between the showmen and the audience.
Barnum was especially adept at pulling back one curtain after another,
keeping the audience in a state of panting uncertainty, perpetually postponing
the revelation of what was "really" going on. Mass-circulation newspapers
fed the public fascination with the continued oscillation of alternatives fakery
and authenticity, enchantment and disenchantment, the suspension of disbelief
and the exposure of fraud. Moving back and forth across the mimetic threshold,
Cook argues, the commercial trickster created an atmosphere of "representational
But this did not make him a postmodernist avant la lettre. In fact,
what made Barnum & Co. historically interesting was that they and their
audience for all their uncertainty remained at least ambivalently attached
to literalist notions of reality, and to static taxonomies for dividing
it up. In America in the middle of the nineteenth century, there were
still many boundaries for an artful deceiver to cross. A society thronging
with imposters clung to an Enlightenment conception of universal Truth,
reinforced by a Protestant cult of sincerity. For all their epistemological
playfulness, urban audiences shared an earnest Victorian desire to inhabit
a society where people said what they meant and meant what they said.
Yet this was not the sort of society in which they actually lived. The
American republic was pervaded by "universal mistrust," as Charles Dickens
observed when he toured the young country in 1842. This diffuse doubt
about motives helped to foster longings for an unproblematic fit between
appearance and actuality, and to sustain a mania for classifying character
in accordance with surface markers of race, intelligence, and morality down
to and including the phrenological reading of bumps on the head. Artful
deceivers operated within this labyrinth of taxonomic categories, sometimes
re-affirming them and sometimes calling their rigidity into question.
At their most inventive, they performed the classical trickster's role,
raising the curtain of convention and pointing to a larger world elsewhere.
Whether they still do this is an open question. In Cook's view, the
trickster's game is a recurring motif in our cultural history. "Artful
deception never disappears for long," he observes. In any era, tricksters
provide "the indeterminate object, the uncertain image, the morally suspect
act an engaging assortment of cultural deceits with which an eager public
gauges its moral and aesthetic thresholds, defines its worth." But his
sole example from our own time is "professional" wrestling a form of
mass entertainment in which the deception is anything but artful and the
audience is so inured to fakery that they assume even serious accidents
are part of the show. The World Wrestling Federation is not in the business
of promoting perceptual games. Neither are the makers of "reality TV."
Nor is Andy Warhol another version of William Harnett. By assuming continuity
in commercial tricks, Cook neglects the transformations in the role of
the trickster from Barnum's time to our own.
Some of those changes involved the corporatization of the consumer economy.
The Barnumesque trickster was a playful egalitarian: shifty and not to
be trusted, but on a more or less equal footing with his audience, whose
speculative curiosity he constantly courted. He survived into the era
of corporate capitalism, but he was increasingly consigned to the fringes
of the economy, where he consorted with peddlers and carnival barkers.
During the twentieth century, the corporation's promotional tricks were
rationalized by the wizards of the modern advertising industry. The mass
culture that they created was hardly egalitarian. Its deceits allowed
little public space for measuring their moral or aesthetic thresholds,
or for defining their worth. Within the boundaries of corporate-sponsored
entertainment, the trickster was reduced to a clumsy confidence man or
a sitcom wise-ass.
If trickster gestures preserved any cultural significance, it was in
twentiethcentury art and literature. Often avant-garde tricks were little
more than an elaborately extended middle finger, but sometimes they raised
enduring questions concerning the caprice at the heart of experience and
the futility of attempts to master it. Devotees of disorder, from Marcel
Duchamp to John Cage, played counterpoint to the techno-utopian theme
of the perfectly managed society or self.
But eventually the avant-garde rituals of transgression, meant to shock
an ever-shockable bourgeoisie, sank into predictability. Older literalist
conceptions of reality had been eroded by a broad range of intellectual
developments, from psychoanalysis to quantum physics to the sociology
of knowledge as well as by artful deceivers in the marketplace. Taxonomies
had toppled. By the late twentieth century, there were few epistemological
boundaries left to transgress. In some intellectual circles, modern knowledge
had devolved into postmodern knowingness.
Cook documents the early stages of this cultural revolution, beginning
with the automaton chess player that brought artful deception from late-Enlightenment
court circles to the sidewalks of New York. The automaton chess player
was a robot dressed as a turbaned Turk. It played with physical awkwardness
but tactical brilliance, handily defeating seasoned opponents on both
sides of the Atlantic. The secret of its success was the chess master
concealed in the cabinet beneath the robot, directing its moves. The automaton
was built in 1769 by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. A mid-rank Hungarian
official at the court of Queen Maria Theresa, Kempelen epitomized the
Enlightenment virtuoso, the gifted amateur artist-technician who provoked
the ire of professionals but still won the respect of the public.
Kempelen exhibited his automaton in the tradition of "marvelous objects,"
which by the late eighteenth century had become a free-floating entertainment
industry. Mechanical curiosities as well as natural ones circulated independently
of any court, cabinet, museum, or fair; and the cognitive struggle that
they aroused occult intelligence or ingenious fakery? machine or man? sustained
vernacular science while it entertained popular audiences. Kempelen was
an impresario as well as a virtuoso, and his decision to dress the automaton
as a Turk was a shrewd show-business appeal to racial exoticism. The fear
of the Eastern Other jostled with the desire to master him by penetrating
his secrets. Kempelen's automaton exuded a whiff of the amusement hall,
and Kempelen himself deployed tactics worthy of Barnum: he pulled out
a small black case and examined it carefully before every performance,
though the case had nothing to do with the automaton's operation; it was
all a bluff.
In the end, though, Kempelen was too much the straightforward artisan
to feel comfortable with fakery or to be patient with philosophical games.
In 1790, he quit while he was ahead before some inquisitive reporter
exposed the automaton's secret. Kempelen returned to Vienna, took the
machine apart, and stored its components in the bowels of the Schönbrunn
Palace. The baron died in 1804, and his contraption gathered dust at the
palace for fifteen years, until a German university student and hanger-on
at court named Johann Maelzel bought the automaton from the baron's heirs.
Maelzel had already distinguished himself in the design of mechanical
music-makers, including (Cook writes) "the life-sized automaton Trumpeter,
and the Panharmonicon, a kind of spring-driven military band." He showed
them at the palace and took them on tour, and after he bought the chess
player he exhibited them all in his own cabinet of curiosities.
Maelzel moved the automaton chess player into the emerging urban world
of commercial entertainments. He took his show to London, exhibiting the
chess player as part of an extravaganza that included a Panorama as well
as a Panharmonicon. He did his best to create a mass spectacle by using
such venues as 29 St. James Street in London, which seated one hundred
people. He also used sophisticated public relations, including a series
of leaks to the press designed to fire up public curiosity.
By the time Maelzel arrived in New York in the 1820s, he had perfected
a rhetoric well suited to republican tastes. He used his mechanical skill
to legitimate his deception, presenting himself as an inventor rather
than as a showman. He played the well-mannered, honest mechanic, polite
to mothers, friendly to children. No wonder he was "half-believed to
be capable of inventing a machine that could calculate the combinations
of chess," as Cook writes. In the Northeastern United States, where master
mechanics were beginning to feel threatened by the factory system, vanquishing
the Turk became less important than vanquishing the machine.
Maelzel shrewdly allowed the automaton to lose from time to time. But
the real key to his success was his ability to sustain uncertainty. How
did the thing work? Was there a child inside? A dwarf? A learned pig or
dog? (This last possibility would not say much for the chess masters whom
the automaton had defeated.) Or had he really made a machine that could
play chess? Maelzel had created "a new category of curiosity ... a machine
to render the process of imitation itself an open question."
By the late 1820s, the key strategies of artful deception had begun
to take shape. Maelzel's game plan set the pattern: dubious authenticity
defined the object on display, and made it curious; then the newspapers
manipulated suspicions and beliefs; but the puzzle was never solved, and
it continued to excite the crowds. Even before Barnum, one begins to sense
a clouding of popular notions of truth, as scientific transparency yielded
to commercial ambiguity.
Artful deceivers promoted a transition in the sources of popular knowledge.
The contrast between Barnum's museum and its most famous predecessor,
Charles Willson Peale's museum in Philadelphia, illustrated the shift
from science to salesmanship. Peale's display had contained doubts in
taxonomic orthodoxy and empirical detail. When he exhibited a perpetual-motion
machine in 1813, he carefully labeled it an "optical illusion." He counted
and recorded the spots on the "stomach bugs" that he removed from the
vomit of an anonymous donor (and later displayed). The Peale museum preserved
the precision of Enlightenment science.
Barnum, by contrast, showed little interest in the physical characteristics
of his exhibits. In 1842, he contracted with a Boston museum operator
named Moses Kimball to exhibit the "Feejee mermaid" a shriveled amalgam
of fish and monkey that Kimball had bought from the son of a local sailor.
The contract had nothing to say about the mermaid's appearance or authenticity;
it focused entirely on promotional issues, on strategies of display. Curiosities
were becoming commodities, and the museum audience was refocusing its
attention (as Cook says) "from legitimate wonders to fascinating frauds."
By playing with fraud, Barnum deepened its meaning. In a society bent
on drawing a line between reality and fakery, and on containing reality
in rigid categories, artful deception blurred all boundaries and questioned
epistemological orthodoxy at every turn.
But the apparent heresy underwrote a new, implicitly statistical conception
of normality. This consequence was especially apparent when the curiosities
on display were human and alive. Albino Negroes, bearded ladies, dog-faced
boys, Siamese twins: all these unfamiliar creatures challenged existing
categories of race, gender, species, and even bodily individuality. That
much is obvious. What may not be obvious, however, is that in their strangeness
they also reinforced those categories. The freaks were the exception that
proved the rule of the ordinary.
Cook illuminates this complexity in his account of a creature Barnum
called "What Is It?," an African American man whom the museum's promotional
literature described as a "Nondescript." (The word first appeared as a
noun in the 1860s, defining "a person or thing that is not easily described,
or is of no particular class or `kind.'") Barnum had the man's head shaved,
dressed him in fur suits or tights, gave him a walking stick, and coached
him to scramble awkwardly about the stage, grunting and eating an "African"
diet of raw meat and nuts. Barnum began exhibiting the Nondescript in
1860, three months after The Origin of Species was published and
just as the regional conflict over American slavery was reaching its flash
What seems an obvious racist caricature turns out, in Cook's view, to
have more subtle implications. His claims are suggestive, but a little
strained. According to Cook, Barnum challenged conventional racialist
entertainments: highlighting uncertainty, he never used the word "Negro"
in his promotions. He moved beyond minstrelsy to a program that was potentially
more dehumanizing (bruteface rather than blackface), but also more capable
of destabilizing existing categories and playing with sectional politics.
Elite Southern men had never cared for Barnum. Their code of honor demanded
that surface representations remain stable and reliable indicators of
meaning. To the gentlemen of Charleston, Barnum was just a Yankee humbug,
and they chased his Feejee mermaid out of town. By early 1860, when the
"What Is It?" premiered, the Charlestonians had more pressing matters
on their minds. But if they had bothered to notice, they would have seen
that the Nondescript did not at all conform to pro-slavery assumptions
about black people. He was physically weak, constitutionally indisposed
to agricultural labor, and progressively "humanized" by his distance from
Yet those assumptions were perfectly consistent with apologetics for
white supremacy. To say, as one Northern newspaper did, that the Nondescript
was "like a child just learning" was to participate in the discourse of
"contempt and pity" first identified by Du Bois a way of talking about
race relations that helped to create what Cook calls "a bipartisan racially
determined caste system" for a post-slavery era. And, as Cook acknowledges,
there was a harder racism in Barnum's presentation as well. Barnum's implicit
suggestion that this black man might not even be a human being made the
Nondescript a convenient "missing link" in the Great Chain of Being or
in the process of Darwinian evolution. Either framework merged with the
scientifically respectable racism of the later nineteenth century, which
provided new academic legitimacy for ideas of black inferiority. Resisting
some Victorian taxonomies, Barnum remained imprisoned by others.
Barnum was not the only showman seeking to sustain a post-Enlightenment
peace between science and entertainment. "Modern Magic" was the slogan
of sleight-of-hand artists who sought to transform their craft from superstitious
necromancy into clever entertainment. According to Cook, the first performer
in Western cultural history to disenchant his own magic tricks in public
was a Belgian conjurer known as Robertson, who during the 1790s began
to acknowledge that his phantasmagoric images of grinning skeletons and
expiring bare-breasted women were pictorial projections, not spiritual
visitations from the beyond. Still, the success of his enterprise depended
on a mix of "philosophical instruction and supernatural excitement" not
only his revelation of his method, but also its continued capacity to
provoke a frisson in the audience.
At about the same time, in the young United States, sleight-of-hand
artists still faced persecution from zealous Protestants, for whom feats
of "Legerdemain and subtle craft" still bore a striking resemblance to
witchcraft and divination. But gradually the wizard lost his aura. In
his autobiography, Signor Antonio Blitz described starting out his conjuring
career in the 1820s in the English countryside, where he was harassed
by Protestants who wanted to put him out of business and by peasants who
wanted supernatural favors. He moved to Manhattan in the 1830s, and there
he was celebrated for his ability to "please and astonish ... large and
Magicians were becoming urban entertainers. Through the next several
decades, such modern magicians as Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and
Compars Herrmann refined their art for a developing bourgeois audience.
The magician's perfect manners and sartorial elegance were only the most
obvious tokens of his new respectability. In 1861, The New York Times,
reviewing a performance by Herrmann, concluded that "conjuring has become
one of the fine arts."
Yet the modern magician was not always easy to separate from the three-card
monte man. Conjurers attempted to distinguish themselves from con artists
by using their craft to expose criminals, especially cardsharps. Robert-Houdin
inaugurated a genre with The Sharper Detected and Exposed (1863).
Later magicians were less earnest. By the 1880s, Harry Kellar and Alex
Herrmann were accosting strangers on the street, accusing them of thievery
and producing pocket watches from behind their ears and potatoes from
under their hats. This playful but aggressive performance, which sometimes
targeted policemen, epitomized the artful deceiver's destabilizing impact
on semiotic categories. But it also re-drew moral boundaries by demonstrating
"what particular forms of deception were and were not morally tenable
in the larger society" (just as gambling demonstrated the limits of legitimate
risk). The cops may have been temporarily embarrassed, but they had the
last word on which tricks were allowed.
Even perfectly legal tricks could have a destabilizing impact on the
popular sense of reality. The trompe l'oeil paintings of William Harnett
and his contemporaries set off a popular furor that did much to illuminate
the new metaphysics of uncertainty. Walter Benjamin once remarked that
the characteristic urban habit of the nineteenth century was "testing
one's eyes" amid the constantly changing spectacle of the crowd; and the
response to trompe l'oeil in the United States in the nineteenth century
underscored the centrality of visual tests as mass entertainment. Harnett's
clever illusions (pistols, banknotes, fresh-killed hares) provoked a recurring
pattern of audience reaction: "confusion, adaptation, and mastery." But
the sense of mastery was tenuous and ephemeral at best. "In the dizzying
world of the modern metropolis," Cook writes, "perceptual certainty itself
was an illusion."
Trompe l'oeil painting produced effects similar to those of that other
nineteenthcentury spectacle, the cyclorama (which aimed to dramatize epic
events on a vast scale). Both apparently induced a kind of vertigo among
audiences. In the 1880s, a cyclorama depicting the battle of Gettysburg
left the spectator "dazed and helpless, feeling much like the little girl
in Alice in Wonderland when told that she was but a thing in the
dream of the sleeping King." Harnett, John Haberle, and other illusionists
showed their work in non-academic venues: bars, stores, industrial expositions.
Like Barnum, they engaged the public especially men in perceptual competition.
As artisanal skills became less important in the industrial workplace,
manliness began to require demonstrations of knowingness in leisure realms.
Illusionist tricks gave men the opportunity to see through deception,
to resist charging at the canvases (as greenhorns unused to trompe l'oeil
sometimes did), to cultivate a blasé attitude toward the source of mass
perceptual confusion the hyper-reality of the painting itself. But the
sense of mastery was always fleeting, subject to further testing. What
remained most constant was a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty.
The persistence of epistemological confusion among the audience was
a version of the broader revolt against positivism that was beginning
to stir among artists and intellectuals, even as Harnett's paintings were
creating near-riots among frustrated, baffled audiences. Ironically and
perhaps unintentionally, trompe l'oeil illusionism raised the specter
of the subjectivity of sight as surely as Impressionism did. Both styles
were part of the same seismic shift: the emergence of "a new, post-Enlightenment
conception of vision, understood as prone to error and often in need of
correction through other sensory mechanisms in short, a subjective
vision," as Cook writes. Artful deceptions escaped their creators' control.
Their influence seeped into the larger culture and undermined literal
ideas of truth.
And so frivolous entertainments had long-term intellectual consequences.
Against the rigidity of existing symbolic forms, Barnum and his contemporaries
had posed the formlessness unleashed by the market the shape-shifting
arts of the commercial trickster. The effect was initially liberating
but ultimately unsettling. Once the genie of formlessness was out of the
bottle, popular notions of reality would never be the same. Delusions
of technical mastery could not provide ontological coherence. Warhol and
the World Wrestling Federation were awaiting their turn on stage.
We are left with a postmodern dilemma. The metaphysics of uncertainty
were a salutary break from a positivist orthodoxy that had proven too
brittle to contain the fluidity of actual experience including religious
experience. In the early days of the culture of uncertainty, epistemological
doubt was a way of deepening an encounter with the world, not of evading
one. But eventually, in our time, the situation flipped. As doubt settled
into a default setting, reality became "reality." The metaphysics of uncertainty
came to sanction a celebration of agreeably meaningless signifiers, shimmering
in a postmodern void.
Neither the entertainment industry nor its professorial apologists seemed
to realize what the earliest anti-positivists (and the older commercial
tricksters) had known: that the refusal of rigid taxonomies did not imply
a rejection of the real. William James, himself a pioneer in exploring
the subjectivity of perception (but not at all the forefather of most
of what passes for "pragmatism" today), put the matter succinctly: "what
is real always pushes back." Not long ago, among the postmodern avant-garde,
such a statement might have been dismissed as charmingly obsolete. Now
nothing could seem more timely than its chillingly obvious truth.
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