Charles Peters, the founding editor of The Washington Monthly, a small political journal that challenged liberal and conservative orthodoxies and for decades was avidly read in the White House, Congress and the city’s newsrooms, died on Thursday at his home in Washington. He was 96.
His death was confirmed by The Washington Monthly, which reported that Mr. Peters “had been in declining physical health for several years, mainly from congestive heart failure.”
Often called the “godfather of neoliberalism,” the core policy doctrine of the magazine, Mr. Peters was The Monthly’s editor from 1969 until his retirement in 2001. He also wrote five books on politics, government and history, and a column, “Tilting at Windmills,” offering pithy thoughts on politics and current events, from 1977 to 2014.
His work was not widely read, let alone understood by the general public. To the Washington cognoscenti, though, his voice was important in the capital’s cacophony. His neoliberalism offered liberals and conservatives reasons to step back and, if not to find compromises, at least to reassess their central beliefs.
In “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto,” which first appeared in The Washington Post in 1982, Mr. Peters set forth the neoliberalism movement’s broad philosophy: “We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out,” he wrote. “But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government, or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we’ve come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.”
Mr. Peters amplified his message in an interview with The New York Times in 1984, saying his movement favored a strong national defense with a military draft, the dismissal of public-school teachers who had been deemed incompetent, aid for entrepreneurs who created jobs, an end to Social Security for the wealthy, and patriotism, provided it was “not phony flag-waving.”
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