Soon after the end of World War Two, a group of well-known intellectuals, writers and scientists gathered to found the International Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). The organisation was established to build an organisation that would protect freedoms, liberties and creativity against a number of perceived threats, particularly Communism. To support the intellectual program of the CCF, magazines were established in several countries: Encounter (England); Preuves (France), Der Monat (Germany) and Quest (India). Richard Krygier was encouraged by the editor of Encounter to establish a similar kind of magazine in Australia. In January 1956 the CCF endorsed a proposal for an Australian magazine put forward by the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom. The poet James McAuley was appointed foundation editor and the first quarterly issue appeared during the Australian summer of 1956.
McAuley was Catholic, anti-communist, anti-modernist and brought to the editorial chair a strong belief that politics and culture should remain separate. In the first twenty years many poets appeared in the pages of Quadrant, the most frequent including McAuley, Evan Jones, Gwen Harwood, Rosemary Dobson, R. A. Simpson, Vincent Buckley, A. D. Hope, Thomas Shapcott, Charles Higham and Chris Wallace-Crabbe. McAuley admitted that his preference for traditional European forms against modernist poetics may have limited his role as a poetry editor. Nevertheless, Quadrant's support of Australian poetry remains a significant achievement. This support has continued to the present day with the assistance of several poetry editors, including Vivian Smith (1977-1989) and Les Murray (1990- ). Many of Australia's best poets have appeared in the pages of Quadrant since the 1970s, the most prolific including John Blight, Gary Catalano, Hal Colebatch, W. Hart-Smith, Geoff Page, Andrew Lansdown, Alan Gould, Bruce Dawe and Peter Kocan.
Although poetry has dominated the literary pages of Quadrant, fiction has received significant attention with more than five hundred and fifty stories published since 1956, the majority appearing since 1980. Contributors in the 1960s and early 1970s included Patrick White]m), Xavier Herbert, Hal Porter, Dal Stivens, Elizabeth Jolley and Frank Moorhouse. The late 1970s and 1980s saw a new wave of writers who have since established significant literary careers. These writers include Garry Disher, Robert Dessaix, Marion Halligan, Nicholas Jose, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Murray Bail.
James McAuley was editor of Quadrant until his death in 1976. During this time he was assisted by a number of co-editors and associates. Donald Horne's term (1964-67) brought a stronger international focus with a number of contributors from overseas. There were fewer articles on Australian authors and McAuley's views on literature were not as apparent as in earlier issues. Quadrant returned to the balance of literary and political material similar to its first eight years when Peter Coleman was appointed co-editor in 1967. During the next decade, the magazine maintained a loyal readership, but did not increase its circulation significantly. When McAuley died Peter Coleman acted as editor for a brief period before Elwyn Lynn began his term, leading Quadrant into the 1980s. Vivian Smith, who was appointed literary editor in 1977, continued in this position throughout the 1980s.
Peter Coleman guided Quadrant through most of the 1980s. Some commentators (including former Quadrant editorial staff) have argued that, without the strong foe for which the magazine was established, Quadrant lost focus in the 1980s and adopted a much more negative tone with articles that lacked the intellectual rigour of the past. Coleman and others dispute this suggestion, but, regardless, circulation dropped and the editorial board was forced to consider changes.
Robert Manne was appointed editor in 1990 and gradually shifted attention to issues unfamiliar to the pages of Quadrant. Manne printed articles on Aboriginal issues such as the 'stolen generation' and land rights, and supported significant critiques of economic rationalism. To many readers and members of the editorial board, these changes were unacceptable. In 1997, after receiving a strong letter of condemnation from Les Murray, Manne met with the Editorial Board to request Murray's removal. Manne was unable to find support, and, coupled with the growing lack of support for his editorial decisions, he tabled his resignation. Manne was replaced by Paddy McGuinness in 1998. At the time, McGuinness criticised the 'academic conformity' that had taken over magazines (he identified Meanjin in particular) and promised that their would be no 'sacred cows' in his Quadrant.
Syson investigates the background to recent attempts by right-wing journalists, historians and intellectuals (mainly in Quadrant and the Courier-Mail) to discredit some former sympathisers with socialism and communism, such as Manning Clark and Henry Reynolds. This leads to a more general discussion of the representation of Australia's history, the role Quadrant, the CIA and the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom have played in it, and the continuing impact of the Cold War on Australian politics and culture.