The democratization of the dissemination of news and commentary on the Internet is a throwback to the revolutionary era of American history when Americans were thinking through the principles of free government. This “back to the future” element of the Internet can be seen most vividly through Bernard Bailyn’s classic study of the pamphlets of the revolutionary era in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
Bailyn observes that the relevant political discussion and argument leading to the Revolution appeared in all printed forms. However, he writes:
Above all, there were pamphlets: booklets consisting of a few printer’s sheets, folded In various ways so as to make various sizes and numbers of pages, and sold — the pages stitched together loosely, unbound and uncovered — usually for a shilling or two…
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, as for its predecessors back to the early sixteenth century, the pamphlet had peculiar virtues as a medium of communication. Then, as now, it was seen that the pamphlet allowed one to do things that were not possible in any other form.
Bailyn notes that the the pamphlets themselves were in large part “direct responses to the great events of the time…” and that they “[t]hey 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 conflicts.”
Bailyn describes the pamphleteers as “amateurs next to such polemicists as Swift and Defoe. Nowhere [were there writers who were]… capable, that is, of earning their living by their pens. The American pamphleteers were almost to a man lawyers, ministers, merchants, or planters heavily engaged in their regular occupations.”
We seem to have moved beyond the era of pampleteering, but at Encounter Books Roger Kimball aims to return to it in a new series called Broadsides. “Uniting an 18th-century sense of political urgency and rhetorical wit (think The Federalist Papers, Common Sense) with 21st-century technology and channels of distribution,” Roger writes, “Encounter Broadsides offer indispensable ammunition for intelligent debate on the critical issues of our time.”
And the series harks back to the Revolution not only in form, but also in spirit: “Written with passion by some of our most authoritative authors, Encounter Broadsides make the case for liberty and the institutions of democratic capitalism at a time when they are under siege from the resurgence of collectivist sentiment.”
In the first three Encounter Broadsides, John Fund addresses the threat to the integrity of our elections from ACORN and other sources of voter fraud, Michael Ledeen traces the arc of the Obama administration’s betrayal of Israel and Dr. David Gratzer explains why Obama’s takeover of the health care system will be a disaster.
Courtesy of Roger, I have read these three pamphlets in PDF. These pamphlets present excellent, timely discussions of the issues, with more coming soon by Andrew McCarthy on the politicization of the Justice Department, Stephen Moore on the economic crisis (hold on to your wallet!) and Victor Davis Hanson on the administration’s foreign policy.
There is an element of eternal recurrence in Roger’s project. Back in the sixties, as I recall, Signet initiated a short-lived series of pamphlets under the title Broadsides. I believe the first number of the Signet series was John Kenneth Galbraith’s How to Get Out of Vietnam: the war we cannot win, should not win, are not winning in 1967. While Roger revives the form of the pamphlet, he also seeks, you might say, to overcome the spirit of Galbraith’s ideological successors in Washington.