Introducing The Elysian (and my new job)
Because we need literary thinkers more than journalists.
Last week, the publication I worked for closed and I lost my job as editor.
I loved my work, it gave me a place to explore utopian concepts like capitalism, work and leisure, government, and society, and to be supported financially as I did so. I was just getting started and honestly, I’m not ready to give up on that dream just yet.
So I decided to do that all here, to bring all of my writing under one roof. The Novelleist is now The Elysian. On Mondays, you will receive essays thinking through a better capitalism, democracy, technology, and humanity. Fridays will alternate between utopian fiction that imagines a more beautiful future and discussion threads with utopian thinkers.
I’m going to spend the next year seeing if I can do it for a living, and I would love to ask for your support in that.
We need thinkers more than journalists
This is really because I’m nostalgic for the Enlightenment.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was this explosion of utopian thought. It was just after the American and French Revolutions and everyone was like “now that we’ve overthrown the monarchy what should we do instead?”
Writers had so many ideas. Alexander Hamilton wrote his Federalist Papers. Karl Marx wrote his Manifesto, Edward Bellamy started a socialist newspaper called The New Nation and wrote a utopian novel called Looking Backward. William Morris wrote 24 volumes of socialist thought that culminated in his utopian classic News from Nowhere.
Literary salons popped up all over the place. So did leagues and social clubs. People wanted to think, and they wanted to think up solutions. They came up with ideas like democracy and capitalism and socialism and humanism. They were philosophers, literary thinkers, and they spread these ideas far and wide with pamphlets delivered to every door.
Our governments even tried some of those ideas out. Socialism and communism were trialed in Asia, democracy and capitalism were trialed in Europe and North America. What started in the salons, in the pamphlets, entered the mainstream. We were imagining a better future and actually creating it. This was the Enlightenment!
Then something happened. The pamphlets stopped. The newspapers closed. The illuminated ideas ceased. You wouldn’t see something like the Federalist Papers published today—something that would “decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice,” as Hamilton wondered in his first essay.
Maybe it’s because we figured things out enough that there isn’t anything as glaringly obvious as “what should we do instead of a monarchy” left to consider. Or maybe our politics have become so firmed up with the old ideas that we can’t penetrate them with new ones. Whatever the case, we went from a period of elasticity to a period of plasticity.
Now, our writers are no longer thinkers, they’re journalists. I have worked as a journalist and let me tell you the format does not allow for original thought. It’s not meant to think through solutions, it’s meant to report on the problems. There is nothing in the pages of The New York Times or The Atlantic or The Economist that might be considered enlightened thought. It’s not “here’s how we could achieve utopia,” it’s “here’s why we have dystopia.”
Even our fiction is dystopian now. Our science fiction writers can only imagine a future plagued by AI apocalypse, government surveillance, computer chips in our brains, and space colonies that take us away from the polluted world we created. If even our best literary minds cannot imagine a better future, how are we supposed to create it?
I think we need our idealism back. I think we need our literary thinkers. We need our philosophers and our economists and capitalists and our socialists and all the other “ists” we can find. We need our literary salons and our leagues and our social clubs. We need our writers to be thinkers again. We need them to be the dreamers, not the doomers. We need to bring back the Enlightenment.
That’s why I created The Elysian—a utopian garden where we can study philosophy and debate politics and rethink capitalism and enjoy contemplative leisure and be part of a new enlightenment. It’s a place where we can think through a more beautiful future using essays and literature and discourse. And I’m optimistic enough to believe that’s enough of a start to creating one.
Join the literary salon
This is my manifesto, or maybe my raison d’être—at the very least it’s my raison d'écrire. Until now, I’ve been trying to fit my idealism into some combination of a day job and a side hobby. But when I lost my job, I knew I wanted to do it on my own—to have all my writing in one place. To create the next enlightenment right here.
This is thrilling, but also terrifying. I am very aware that imagining a better future doesn’t sell. That utopian thought won’t be supported by algorithms or advertising. That thinking through better systems for humanity won’t be rewarded with virality. That alarmism works much better for those mechanisms. But I’m also hopeful that we’ve reached a shift. That we’re looking for something else. That we’re craving more aspirational thought.
I intend to do that here, and I would love to ask for your support as I do so. I’m going to spend the next year seeing if I can do this for a living before I look for another job. Think of this as my annual Wikipedia drive to see if I can keep going for another year. If I can, I would love nothing more than to spend this year devoted to this space, to this community, to writing a better future into existence together, to creating a compendium of utopian thought together so we can finally tip the scales away from dystopia’s stranglehold on the market.
Free subscribers will have access to most of my writing, but paid subscribers will be able to join in the discourse, debate ideas, write their own essays for each series, and even contribute their own utopian fiction to the project. I will share our discourse in regular debriefs as well as in the collected print volumes at the end of the year. Subscribers at the collector tier will receive the annual print edition, which, over the years, will become several volumes of Elysian thought. Start now to collect all of them, here’s what they will look like:
Get most essays and novel chapters
Join twice-monthly discussions with utopian thinkers
Contribute comments and essays and fiction to the series
Access monthly paid posts and author commentary
Collect the annual print volumes
Right now I have 10,369 free subscribers, 234 paid subscribers, and $16,205 in annual recurring revenue. I am grateful that Silicon Slopes believes in this project enough to invest in its growth, supporting my newsletter as a sponsor for my first six months which will earn me an additional $12,000 in revenue. That’s $28,205 I can expect to make over the next year, and it’s an amazing head start.
My goal is to reach 1,400 paid subscribers and $70,000 in annual revenue by May of 2024, which will make me feel confident that I don’t have to go out and get another job at that point. I’m hoping I can earn about half of that throughout the next year as my newsletter grows, but that means I still need to reach at least 700 paid subscribers this month, or 466 more paid subscribers in the next two weeks.
I’ve raised my rates to $70/year to be more in line with the market for newsletters like mine and so that my newsletter can be more financially sustainable in the long term. But anyone who subscribes during the month of May will be grandfathered in at $50/year for life. (And if you are already a paid subscriber your price will never go up.) For half the cost of The New York Times, would you support a different kind of thought? Would you be part of creating it?
My plan for the next year
I’m going to send a couple more emails this week and next to let you know how this goes—just two weeks of promotion!—then I‘ll be back after the holiday on June 5th when I will dive into my new capitalism series and the continuation of my utopian novel. Here are just a few of the series I plan to dig into over the next year:
New Capitalism (how can we make capitalism better for humans?)
Capitalism & The Commons (how can we make capitalism better for our world?)
Co-ops & Community Ownership (I want to spend at least a month at the Mondragon Corporation learning about the company that acts as a city and is owned by its employees and figuring out if this is a model we can/should scale)
Democratic Socialism (How can/should democracy evolve to be better for humans?)
I’m also very excited about the discussion threads I’ll be hosting for paid subscribers. I’ve invited some of the utopian thinkers I’ve been studying to join us in the discourse so we can chat with them about their field of study. I cannot wait to dive into the comments with my own questions! Here are a few of the discussions we have coming up:
A discussion with, professor of English Literature specializing in Victorian Utopias, about William Morris' utopian novel News from Nowhere
A discussion with Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese about their book Half-Earth Socialism
A discussion withabout the history of utopian idealism in the South Pacific and what it’s like living on the utopian island Espiritu Santo in the Edenhope Nature Preserve community
Discussion threads are only available for paid subscribers, and there are many more to come. I hope you’ll join us!
Thank you so much for reading. I’m grateful to be here with you, and I am thrilled (and anxious and nervous and terrified) to embark on this next chapter of my writing and my work with you. Comments are open for all your thoughts and feelings and suggestions and questions and ideas. Let’s dream up a better future together!
P.S. If this is not the right time to support my work financially, I totally understand—that is why most of my writing will remain free. But I would love to ask: Would you consider supporting my work another way? Would you recommend my publication on Substack? Or share it online or with a friend? Would you share this post right here? However you would be willing to support my work during the next couple of weeks, I would be extremely grateful. This is my job now, and I hope it will continue to be!