Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Men of Letters

Taking advantage of a last-minute invitation, I'm liveblogging the PajamasMedia get-together at the National Press Club. My first time attending one of these things. It certainly is a pleasure to meet many people whom I've only read from before. I met hard-driving Pamela right at the door, and intrepid travel-blogger Michael Totten (does being taller make one braver?) a few moments later, publisher Adam Bellow, and many more.

(I no longer use a notebook computer at these events; I laboriously type everything into my handheld "toy" - a Dell Axim X51. With the rhinoskin cover, I can pretty much carry my computer in my back pocket. I'll do the editing later.)

As I meet and greet old friends for the first time, my mind fixes on an analogy to our little community of bloggers. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that it applies:

We bloggers are "men of letters".

Most people don't realize that what we call the mainstream media really only dates back to the first daily newspapers of the early eighteenth century. Before that, and for over a hundred years later, it was the letter-writers who shaped the world. The salons of the French and the coffee-houses of the English are the places where politics, science, and culture were shaped. Us bloggers use email and blog posts to communicate. Our spiritual predecessors used letters and
mass-produced pamphlets.

It was the letter-writers who have the fame and infamy for creating the French and American revolutions; newspapers were a poor accessory.

I date the end of the era of the dominance of the letter-writers to the election of Andrew Jackson in the nineteenth century. For the first time, the great size and ease of communications of the United States of America permitted an unprecedented campaign of national vilification of a devoted public servant...

Ah, I should be paying more attention to the lecture. Benjamin Franklin in a
green suit? I love it!...Reynolds talks about his invitation to the White House
today and the dangers of faction...

The men of letters essentially organized themselves to replace the monarchs and courtiers of their time with the rule of men like themselves. When newspapers grew more prominent in the public consciousness, the letter-men peacefully yielded leadership to the democratic majority -

Ah, Barone is striking near as he talks of drawing and quartering courtiers.
"Real partisanship", as he puts it...

Because of their scale and advertising support

- oh come on, the baby-boom generation wasn't ALL bad -

newspapers have displaced pamphlets for nearly two centuries. The rise of weblogs and the ease of email may now be swinging the reins of democratic power back into the hands of the class which created it in the first place.

May we use that power well and to the benefit of all mankind.

Update: A rebuttal from Tristam Shandy tries to trash us PJM folks by comparing us specifically to Thomas Paine. That's really good. Paine's Common Sense convinced many colonists of the tyranny of George III, just as Charles Johnson's exposure of the CBS "Rathergate" scandal convinced many Americans of the tyranny of the mainstream media. Later, Paine supported the French Revolution, but not the Regicide or the Terror.

When he died, one newspaper obituary read: "He had lived long, did some good and much harm." Perhaps when we pass on, we will have the honor of the MSM characterizing us the same way.

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