What Blogs Are

Feb 19 2006 @ 3:45pm

A reader comments:

"The doomsayers [about blogs] remind me of those who in the early eighteenth century failed to understand the potential of the new form of mass media heralded by the Tatler and the Spectator–the magazine is still going strong nearly three centuries later. Anyway, these critics really ought to examine their assumptions. Why need anyone assume that "evanescence" makes something "dismal"? Few things are more evanescent than good conversation, yet few things are as good for the soul. It might be more illuminating to think of blogging as a superior form of conversation, rather than an inferior form of journalism."

That’s certainly how I view blogging and why I find it very congenial to my own worldview. I’m re-reading some Montaigne essays right now for my book. In the best translation, by Donald Frame, the text is littered with little letters, A, B, and C. These refer to different publications of the essays. Montaigne wrote and then re-wrote and re-wrote the essays again, adding layer upon layer to his own meanings. Sometimes, you can see how he is undermining one of his earlier arguments with a subsequent interpolation. At other times, he is embellishing them, or finessing them. He doesn’t remove words, he just adds. His philosophy is one of radical skepticism, and he floats his own ideas as provisionally as he assesses others.

Michael Oakeshott’s conservatism owes a huge amount to Montaigne (and Augustine), which is why one of Oakeshott’s central metaphors is exactly conversation. He believed that such a metaphor captures the dramatic, undetermined, spontaneous and organic association of people in free societies. And such an open-ended conversation is, of course, the exact opposite of fundamentalism, which, in its extreme forms, demands no interaction, merely submission to a sacred, pre-ordained text. That’s why blogging is a little retrovirus called freedom, unleashed into the wider world of media to replicate endlessly. And why the blogosphere’s very existence and potential power is one of freedom’s most potent allies in our generation’s war against fundamentalism. Churchill once spoke of sending the English language into battle. He saw it as a great weapon against tyranny. It still is – in print, but just as powerfully, in pixels.