Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bloggers: The Pamphleteers of Today

The spontaneous uprising of Internet bloggers shows a discontent with the orthodoxy of the leftward-leaning mainstream media (MSM.) Blogging today has its precedent in yesteryear’s pamphleteering and often driven by a similar dissatisfaction. George Orwell’s, in an introduction to the British Pamphleteer, was motivated “by his belief that in Twentieth-century society the press does not adequately represent all shades of opinion.” [p2] Orwell wrote,
“The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or I most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage.’ All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.”
Substitute blog for pamphlet and the same can be said today. Far more striking is the role the pamphleteer played in the American Revolution. Bernard Bailyn, in his path-breaking book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, explains the phenomena leading up to the Revolution (all quotes from the 1967 edition.)
“It was in this form—as pamphlets—that much of the most important and characteristic writing of the American Revolution appeared. For the Revolutionary generation … the pamphlet had peculiar virtues as a medium of communication. … The pamphlet’s greatest asset was perhaps its flexibility in size, for while it could contain only a very few pages and hence be used for publishing short squibs and sharp, quick rebuttals, it could also accommodate much longer, more serious and permanent writing as well. … It was spacious enough to allow for the full development of an argument—to investigate premises, explore logic, and consider conclusions …” [p3]

“It was in this form, consequently, that ‘the best thought of the day expressed itself’; … it was in this form that ‘the basic elements of American political thought of the Revolutionary period appeared first.’ And yet pamphlets of this length were seldom ponderous; whatever the gravity of their themes or the spaciousness of their contents they were always essentially polemical, and aimed at immediate and rapidly shifting targets: at suddenly developing problems, unanticipated arguments, and swiftly rising, controversial figures. The best of the writing that appeared in this form, consequently, had a rare combination of spontaneity and solidity, of dash and detail, of casualness and care.” [p4]
Of course, even in the printed media of pamphlets, some of the personal dynamics of the Internet were evidenced early on.
"They resulted also, and to a considerable extent, from what might be called chain-reacting personal polemics: strings of individual exchanges—arguments, replies rebuttals, and counter-rebuttals—in which may be found heated personifications of the larger conflict. A bold statement on a sensitive issue was often sufficient to start such a series, which characteristically proceeded with increasing shrillness until it ended in bitter personal vituperation."
One wonders if they had trolls who, perhaps, went from pub to pub to irritate the writers.
"Important above all else as expressions of the ideas, attitudes, and motivations that lay at the heart of the Revolution, the pamphlets published in the two decades before Independence are primarily political, not literary, documents. But form and substance are never wholly separate.” [p8]
Still, despite the humble nature of the pamphlet, Bailyn notes the Revolutionary writings are part of a larger tradition “to which the greatest men of letters contributed. Milton, Halifax, Locke, Swift, Defoe, Bolingbroke, Addison were all pamphleteers at least to the extent that Bland, Otis, Dickinson, the Adamses, Wilson, and Jefferson were.” [p8]

Style also varied:
“In addition to satire there is an abundance of other devices: elusive irony and flat parody; extended allegory and direct vituperation; sarcasm, calculated and naive. All the standard tropes and a variety of unusual figurations may be found in the pamphlet literature.”
The Revolutionary pamphleteers were not professional writers but common citizens engaged in the debate of ideas; they created a sense of democracy to the intellectual struggle that preceded the call to arms. In stark contrast was the French Revolution—debate was among the elites who often looked down on the general population as hopelessly retrograde. If the French Revolution started in salons, the American started in saloons … and town squares, churches, etc. One ended with a stable republic; the other with Napoleon and what was basically a world war.

With the advent of radio and television, particularly the days where networks dominated, the professional writer was separated from the man in the street. With the rise of the Internet the writer-citizen has re-established a healthy balance not seen since great days when our republic was founded. Perhaps two hundred years from now, some graduate student will be writing a dissertation on The Role of Blogs on the Restoration of the Principles of the American Revolution.


Blogger beakerkin said...

I do not see bloggers that way. However, the days when big media could set the agenda are over.Who knows how many Mary Mapes types got away with murder in the past. VVAW was famous for putting fake Veterans in front of TV cameras. The stories were reported but not widely circulated.

1/14/06, 12:05 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

LOL. Thanks the spirit, Caroline. C'mon, join us beak.

1/14/06, 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. Blogging like pampheteering empowers the individual. From the advent of paper, the printing press, computers, the internet - what's next? Is the internet, as some suggest, the start of a new revolution? Maybe the internet is another torpedo fired at the establishment - the nation-state. Maybe through technology, the future individual will ultimately triumph over the collective. But then, maybe wishful thinking on my behalf.

1/14/06, 4:27 PM  
Blogger beakerkin said...

I join you as a brother Jason. The return home was swift and uneventful .

Some people do not understand how real this is. My home attacked twice and I was a survivor in 93 and an eyewitness on 9-11. I traveled 400 miles to do my part.

Let the spirits flow free and woe unto Commie or Jihadi

1/14/06, 5:05 PM  
Blogger (((Thought Criminal))) said...

I certainly see blogging that way.

The Crank Files will be regarded this way once I'm President of the United States and lay out my grand strategy of conquering the Earth in 100 days or less.

1/14/06, 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit off topic here but I'm about to watch a Discovery channel documentary on TWA flight 800 that exploded 30 minutes out of JFK in 96' and I know a few of you are New Yorkers. Does anyone believe this could have been terrorism rather than an accident? I'm a skeptic but remain open-minded. Also, Daniel Pipes raised the possibility last year on his website.

1/14/06, 9:24 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jason: One wonders if they had trolls who, perhaps, went from pub to pub to irritate the writers.

I would guess so, human nature being what it is. I'm sure that every generation has the likes of Ducky.

Beamish: The Crank Files will be regarded this way once I'm President of the United States and lay out my grand strategy of conquering the Earth in 100 days or less.

Remember that we were your friends and helped you to get elected. Each of us deserves a position in your Cabinet. What positions are you going to offer us? LOL.

1/14/06, 11:15 PM  
Blogger (((Thought Criminal))) said...

Well, since Beakerkin wants to keep totalitarians out of America, he can head up Homeland Security.

Other than that, I'm still working on my ideas. For example, at the Department of Labor, I'd want someone with lots of strikebreaking and union busting experience.

1/15/06, 12:16 AM  
Blogger Freedomnow said...

Its the freedom of information age.

Coming to a theatre in China...or maybe not...

1/15/06, 7:00 AM  
Blogger beakerkin said...


On a certain level trolls are entertaining. The Duck reminds everyone how out of touch and bigoted the left is. 167 is a satirist dream at best.The trolls copy and recycle material but 167 is further out in space.

Anyone who reads my blog for a week knows that I seldom post on Israel . There are plenty of blogs who do that. However I am against all types of totalitarians and that is the focus of my blog. I leave Israel for people like Pam of Atlas Shrugged, Outside The Blogway and the comedic Mad Zionist Blog.

Yet one can read the familiar terms of commie erudition Kahanist, Likudnik, Genocidal , Neocon and oddly now anti American.
The far left defines Cindy Sheehan and Rachel Corrie as American but not our elected leader George Bush.

Sometimes the trolls are entertaining and we get good debate. Beamish had a decent troll wintermute.

There are certain blogs that are troll magnets. This blog got Jihadis a while back. I seem to get Commies and Jason got jihadis.
The Duck is more of a house crank who mainly spends his time at Big Bubba. Trolls are atracted to the in your face style of Pam at Atlas Shrugged and to a lesser extent my blog.When they figure out that I use them as entertainment they avoid the blog.

1/15/06, 9:04 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Yes, the trolls are entertaining, but I doubt they see that fact.

I was sick most of the time that Wintermute was hanging out at Beamish's, so I had to read the postings after the rolling in the dust ended. I also missed most of the exchages here with the jihadis because of my work schedule.

I don't understand why Duck hangs out over at Bubba's. I stop by there once in a while, but rarely comment at that site--unless I'm looking for Farmer.

1/15/06, 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, one of your best!

1/16/06, 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're giving a plug to Bailyn. Rothbard, in his four-volume history of Colonial and Revolutionary America, CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY, also draws on Bailyn, as I recall. Interesting how statists such as Garry Wills, trying bizarrely to make the Founders into some kind of big-government counter-revolutionaries, invariably skim over Bailyn. To anyone with a pro-freedom outlook and disposition, reading the radical Whig pamphleteers quoted by him, and by Rothbard, is pure uncut Grade-A Columbian catnip. Remember when the Bill Clinton gang was trying to use the OKC bombing to denounce, marginalize, and even suppress, anti-statist "hate speech"? I used to wish the Slickster and his fellow State-shtuppers could be forced to read the libertarian pamphleteers of the 18th Century. Talk about "hate speech"! Tom Paine makes Rush Limbaugh look like Ned Flanders. By the way, do you know why "Duck Pasha" and his fellow "Welfare State Tories" dislike ATLAS SHRUGGED? Because if enough people read it, and took the ideas in it seriously, and voted accordingly . . . why, the tax-serfs could get restless, and real freedom could break out!

1/17/06, 11:04 AM  
Blogger Pastorius said...

Hey Jason,

Could you cross-post a bit of this over at IBA, with a link that says, "Go read the rest." I like this post, and I'd like more to see it.

1/17/06, 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post, Jason. I do say a lot of us, see ourselves that way.

Thanks for posting it. Really.

1/17/06, 9:02 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

You've got to see this! Part 2 is also now posted at that site.

1/18/06, 7:01 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Caroline, it struck me the same way. As a matter of fact, I posted a similar remark on the "Pedestrian Infidel" website before I read yours.

The similarity between utopians is uncanny. I’m sure we’ll be seeing increased mutual support between the left and Islamists.

1/18/06, 9:01 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

So I wonder where that leaves the multicultural liberals, who appear to genuinely celebrate differences?

"Mugged by reality."

1/19/06, 6:27 AM  
Blogger Doctor Rick said...

I Am the greatest pamphleteer

1/19/06, 10:23 PM  
Blogger Kiddo said...

I adore this post, actually. As a longtime fan of Alexander Hamilton and a student of history (always) this was the thought that occured to me when I first started to post. I almost ended up as "Publius", but was sure that that would be taken by now!!

1/20/06, 12:47 PM  
Blogger Tahoma Activist said...

Brilliant piece - I am giving a speech on this topic at our Upcoming Tahoma Progressive Media Conference next Saturday in Tacoma, Washington.

Great work - only thing I would have liked to see would be some quotes from the old bloggers themselves.


9/30/06, 10:14 AM  

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