28 April 2004


Oh well, that last post (click here) was a mistake. It seems from the over-full Gauche email inbox - sorry, I've been away - that most of you anonymous bloggers don't use your real names simply because you don't want your employers to fire you, which I have to say is a perfectly reasonable position (though it also shows your employers are a bunch of illiberal idiots).

Socialism in the Age of Waiting went further, however (click here and go to post seven):
"We'd be more inclined to respond seriously to these inquiries if Anderson hadn't used the portentous phrase 'republic of letters', and hadn't chosen such a poor piece of prose to rest his case on. Nico Macdonald sneers at 'an elitist tendency at the centre of the blogosphere' while waffling, in an absurdly elitist way, about 'intellectual leadership' . . . The last thing any of us needs is yet more self-appointed 'experts' claiming to provide 'intellectual leadership', as if the bulk of humanity are doomed always to be followers . . .

"Presumably Anderson wouldn't argue that anonymity and pseudonymity are always and everywhere indefensible - or does he think that Lenin and Trotsky should have betrayed themselves to the Russian imperial police, or that Mark Twain, George Eliot and Lewis Carroll should have been prosecuted for fraud?

". . . While we can't speak for Harry or British Spin - and we wouldn't want to speak for dsquared, whose real name is easy to find anyway - we prefer anonymity for three reasons.

"(a) One of us certainly, and the other two possibly, would risk serious trouble with employers if we used our real names here. Blogging matters, but does Anderson really think that it matters so much that we should lose our jobs for its sake?

"(b) We use a collective name rather than individual names because we write as a collective, and prefer not to let irrelevant details about our personal lives get in the way of discussing the issues we address.

"(c) It?s fun for us, and (as we know from e-mails) for at least some of our readers too, to create a persona here that, while it is neither fictional nor dishonest, is separable from our individual personalities.

"If we were engaged in 'passing off' as someone else . . . Anderson would have more cause to come the heavy copper. But why do authors? names have to matter at all? We?d be fans of, for instance, Normblog, even if we weren?t already fans of Norman Geras's books and articles . . . After all, we don't know whether 'Paul Anderson' is this blogger's real name or not, and we really don't care. We'll go on keeping Gauche in our sidebar and visiting it regularly, because, regardless of who writes it, it's interesting and thought-provoking. Well, most of the time, anyway."
OK, I'll take some of that - particularly the points on the poor quality of the prose of the piece I linked to, the undesirability of self-appointed "experts" and the supreme importance of content.

But I won't quite concede defeat. The reason I use the phrase "republic of letters", which I think was coined by Thomas Jefferson, isn't just because I'm a pretentious twit. It's useful shorthand for what Jurgen Habermas and others call the "bourgeois public sphere", the largely self-publishing print culture that exploded in 18th-century Europe and north America and was at the core of the Enlightenment and the early development of democratic and working-class politics.

One critically important element of it was the emergence from anonymity of (at least some) writers of tracts and polemics, which was massively important in the struggle against the state and the church for freedom of expression. The bravery of those writers and publishers who stuck their heads above the parapet as themselves, took on reaction and sometimes won remains an inspiration.

All right, the contemporary blogger isn't fighting the same fight as John Wilkes et al, at least in western democracies, because freedom of expression is part of the fabric of our society (albeit with qualifications). But I do think we can do something of the same. Thanks to the web (not just blogging), getting the word out to a significant readership with a minimum of capital is possible in a way it hasn't been for a long, long time. And if the self-managed web (for want of a better term) were better, it could have a tremendous impact on the whole political culture. Getting better means getting more credible, and I still think ditching anonymity, where possible, is a good start.

One other thing. I do exist, and even if the comrades from SIAW don't care whether I'm a chimera, I do.

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