Where am I?
My name is Damon Linker. You may know me from my opinion columns in The Week, my books (The Theocons and The Religious Test), my weekly appearances on The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, or my occasional book reviews and op-eds in The New York Times. Or maybe you just encountered one of my tweets. In any case, welcome. I hope you’ll stick around.
Notes from the Middleground is the name of my Substack publication, which contains three subscription newsletters: Eyes on the Right, Looking Left, and Above the Fray.
Eyes on the Right, which I launched in June 2022, analyzes and criticizes the rise of the antiliberal right in the United States and throughout the democratic world.
Looking Left, which got its start in March 2023, takes note of and critically evaluates trends on the progressive left, especially so-called “woke” developments.
Above the Fray, which also began in March 2023, contains posts on non-political topics, including music, books, film, and other cultural subjects, as well as personal essays.
What is this?
I launched this Substack as Eyes on the Right because I consider the rise of the antiliberal right over the past decade in the United States and around the world to be the most important and ominous political development of our moment. My background as a former conservative situated on the right side of the left (somewhere in the broad liberal center of our politics) gives me a unique perspective on the trend—sharply critical but also intellectually empathetic in the way I discuss in my inaugural post, which I hope you will read.
I’m quite proud of the work I’ve done so far at Eyes on the Right, and that work will continue. Most of my writing will continue to appear in that newsletter—because the right makes a lot of news, because I think its evolution warrants greater attention than other developments in our politics, and because I have a lot to contribute to the discussion.
But that doesn’t mean I want to be monomaniacally focused on the right in my writing. That’s why I’m launched Looking Left, a newsletter where I weigh in on the cultural politics of the progressive left. That’s a fancy way of saying “woke trends.” There are a lot of smart people with this precise focus, including a number at Substack. I don’t want to try and compete with them, in large part because I think wokeness is much less dangerous than threats from the right.
Yet it’s still important, both on its own terms and also because the right gets a lot of its fuel from reacting to what people on the progressive left say and do. (The reverse is true, too.) That means any attempt to make sense of what’s happening in our highly polarized politics needs to pay attention to developments on the left as well as the right. I try to do some of that in a fresh and distinctive way at Looking Left.
I launched Above the Fray for a very different reason—because I have an interest in and critical judgments about subjects beyond politics. Like many classical liberals and some conservatives, in fact, I think the core of life is usually found in private pursuits far removed from the passions that dominate public life. Music, film, serious fiction, theater, poetry, scholarship, the visual arts, essayistic reflection on broader trends in the culture—I wrote about all of these topics at The Week, and I wanted the chance to do so here as well.
As someone who once aspired to be a rock-music critic, I write most often about new albums, songs, concerts, and longer-term trends in popular music for Above the Fray. The highest-trafficked essay I’ve ever written was about the coming death of just about every rock legend, and I suspect I’ll have occasion to write obituaries of some of the greatest of these icons over the coming years. But I also look forward to writing about other topics in culture and the arts, as well as the occasional personal essay.
When you subscribe to Notes from the Middleground or any of the newsletters (free or paying), you automatically become a subscriber to all three—though you have the ability to stop receiving emails for any of them by going to your account page. You’ll definitely get the biggest bang for your buck by keeping emails active from all three channels, since most weeks I will publish 1 - 2 substantial and professionally written posts across all the newsletters.
Whatever you choose to do, signing up helps to make my writing possible. That’s especially true when you become a paying subscriber. Doing so not only gives you access to the entirety of every post. It also enables you to take part in the community we’ve been building here since June 2022 by following and contributing to discussion threads, interacting with me and other subscribers in the comments sections, and submitting questions I respond to in “Ask Me Anything” posts that run every month or so. Paying subscribers also receive access to podcast-style audio versions of everything I write for Substack. (These can be found at the bottom of every post.)
So please, join us—and if you do, thanks very much for being here.
What critics say
Damon Linker is one of the most arresting and honest writers of his generation on the subjects of faith and politics.
“Our saints will not be statesmen and our statesmen will not be saints.” With this lapidary sentence, Damon Linker concludes his literate and stirring defense of pluralism as a prerequisite of decent politics. His deeply thoughtful alternative to both know-nothing and know-everything politics will instruct readers who remain open to persuasion—whatever their persuasion.
—Todd Gitlin on The Religious Test
The Theocons constitutes a major step toward reclaiming the liberal heritage that has made America great.
The Theocons is a beautifully researched book on a vitally important yet underappreciated development in our governance and intellectual life.
God made all men equal. But men make religions, and they are not all equal. Some beliefs—and arguments against belief—are simply incompatible with life in a liberal democratic society. So argues Damon Linker in [The Religious Test], the freshest and most intellectually stimulating book on church and state to be published in some time.
I always read Damon Linker.
Linker handles ideas, and their collision with politics, with uncommon skill.
For anybody who wants to understand the growing public role of American religion, [The Theocons] is a book to reckon with.
—The New York Times Book Review
[The Theocons is] important in assessing a fanaticism on the intellectual right.
An engaging and invaluably informative account of the roots of theoconservatism.