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Thomas Paine, Blogger
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On C-SPAN this morning, the topic was blogging, just in general, what people thought of it. There's an awful lot of navel-gazing among bloggers (I personally try to gaze more at other people), and also the occasional crowing about having scooped or corrected an MSM ("mainstream media" for the uninitiated) story. I think it's absurd to talk about the end of traditional forms of journalism being supplanted by blogs.

If anything, I've thought of blogs the way Randy Barnett describes them over at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Bloggers & their readers are a check on the MSM but this does not make them a replacement for it--and vice versa. Checks and balances are good things.

This is, of course, referring to blogs that are even of a political or news-oriented nature. Hell, there are lots of blogs where people just post poems they've written or pictures of their cats.

Anyway, back to C-SPAN, what one of the callers said really struck me. He said that bloggers were just an electronic counterpoint to the tradition of pamphleteering popular during Colonial times. I hadn't thought of it that way.

It's not journalism, edited and distributed by a newspaper or radio or television station. It's the same as some dude writing up his little screeds and printing them off in his garage (or stable, or whatever).

So, for a refresher on Thomas Paine, have a look at the Wikipedia entry for him. Among other things, he worked on the steam engine and a smokeless candle (when the hell did these cats find the time, man?). He apparently also escaped execution because a guard marked the wrong side of his cell door with chalk (whew).

On his political views, it says:

Paine advocated a liberal world view, which was radical at the time. He had no use for royalty, and viewed government as a necessary evil. He opposed slavery and was an early supporter of social security, public education, genuinely unconditional grant and many other ideas that came to fruition decades later.

I don't know exactly how you can hold the view of government as a necessary evil while supporting massive government spending programs, but whatever.

He was also a Deist, and I liked at least the first part of this quotation from The Age of Reason:

The opinions I have advanced... are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues—and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now—and so help me God.

Also of note is the Thomas Paine Memorial Lecture most recently given by Christopher Hitchens last month. I liked this bit:

[I] would say that Paine had a part in three revolutions, since his example later went on to inspire the reformers and the Chartists and the feminists who brought universal suffrage, the emancipation of religious minorities and trade unions to the United Kingdom, and broke the power of King George's descendants and of their enforcers like the Duke of Wellington.

Now, how was Paine able to do all this? This man of no background and no property and really very little education? Because he believed in science and the scientific method and because he believed in human reason and because he evolved the concept of rights and he thought these things were indissoluble. And he thought, if there were going to be rights, then there had to be reason.

Yes, and even more importantly, he didn't just think these things. He wrote them down and spread them around.

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