Jonah Bennett is the Editor-in-Chief of Palladium Magazine, a relatively new publication focusing on the future of governance and society. Palladium’s work has been featuredin The Atlantic, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, and BuzzFeed, among others. You can find more of the work Jonah Bennett has been developing on Medium.
London Post: To start, thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us. We first stumbled on Palladium Magazine after reading one of its recent pieces titled “How Local Control Can Accelerate Housing,” which briefly mentions London’s YIMBY movement. Let’s talk about your first piece which launched the publication in September 2018: “Towards the Post-Liberal Synthesis.” Have you carried out the mission statement to your satisfaction in the year and a half since?
Jonah Bennett: There’s a lot to say here. I think as a magazine we’ve ended up doing far more on-the-ground investigative journalism than I initially anticipated in places like Davos, Chile, Venezuela, Xinjiang, Hungary, Istanbul, Kazakhstan, Paris, etc. The point of that journalism, some of which has been somewhat off the wall and maybe inadvisable (like in Xinjiang or Venezuela), has been to see for ourselves in much more granular detail what life is like in different types of regimes all over the world. In terms of the analysis we’vedone, we’ve started progressively laying down background knowledge, rooted in facts and first principles analysis, on how states and institutions actually work, without assuming the normal paradigm or usual abstractions. This is what is so often missing: the discourse is choked with new takes on the same old, shrinking background knowledge. What we’ve been doing is expanding the background knowledge, and looking at it with fresh, first principles analysis. We’ve created a space where it’s possible to understand the world, analyze it, and think about how we should run it.
Pure theory is easy to ignore, often too prescriptive, and morally-laden; theory in the context of real analysis of some interesting phenomenon is much more interesting. So, you can definitely see some of this dynamic embedded in, say, our analysis of Botswana and the way it overcomes the problem of political succession. Kazakhstan’s rapid development as a non-liberal state is also something we’ve taken a close look at, in contrast to the failures of Venezuela. In the case of Venezuela, it’s easy to reduce the discussion to the preferred American lens of socialism vs. capitalism, but these abstractions are mostly unhelpful, so we paired concrete analysis and background context with actually sending reporters to Venezuela and Colombia. The Venezuela piece is a good article to read to understand our overall approach.
That said, not everything we write about has to do with liberalism, either directly or indirectly. We take a much more expansive look at the future of governance and society more broadly in our articles.
LP: What has your trajectory looked like? How did you come to start Palladium?
JB: I spent some number of years in the mines of D.C. journalism as a sort of tour of duty to get a feel for the terrain, pick up the skills and practical know-how of journalism, and theorize about how media actually works from the inside. Once I felt like I had a handle on media–in its best and worst forms–I left several years ago to work in the think tank world on geopolitical analysis and deep research, and then I eventually founded Palladium Magazine. Why? Because I was incredibly bored of what existing newspapers and magazines were publishing. I almost never saw anything I’dactually want to read or get excited about, so I decided I was just going to create a project to accomplish exactly that purpose–and to counterbalance noxious tendencies in current political discourse. Only this time, we were going to focus on long-form, high-quality, responsible content that exists in a very different universe from clickbait sensationalism, while still being intellectually gripping. I think we’ve done a good job on that so far in terms of building new, experimental theory that explores the edges of discourse. You have to be willing to take some risks to be truly on the intellectual edge, but it’simportant to counterbalance those risks by holding good intentions at the same time. The point is not to stir controversy or poke the hornets’ nest, but to build on a wide variety of perspectives whose insights can be transformed into something that can move society in a positive, healthy direction. That balance is in short supply currently, and we’rehoping to remedy that.
LP: Palladium frequently uses the phrase “Governance Futurism,” but doesn’t exactly spell out what that means. Could you elaborate on that phrase?
JB: We’ve also used the phrase post-liberal before, but I want to emphasize that I’m really uninterested in making too much out of labels. We’re an explicitly non-partisan magazine. Post-liberal is too inchoate to mean too much other than broad tendencies right now. Energy spent squabbling over labels is better spent doing good work. As for Governance Futurism, our current understanding is that it’s a decent way to provide laser focus on governance issues, which we see as especially crucial to the 21st century as we realize more and more how existing institutions are failing. This failure, given to us by history, means that doors are opening to the development of new ideas that were previously closed. But those doors are opened only to those who are really looking in a responsible,open-minded way at the facts of that big picture and letting something suggest itself. We came up with “Governance Futurism” to describe this activity.
Governance Futurism is about examining contemporary and near-future world politics, cutting though all the existing moralization, abstractions, and hype, and focusing on on-the-ground observations and first principles analysis. In terms of personal ideology, though, I consider myself a pragmatist or independent.
LP: Thanks for chatting with us. We look forward to watching Palladium develop further.
JB: Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.