Blogs were officially born in December 1997, when Jorn Barger created the term “weblog” on his site, Robot Wisdom. Then in the spring of 1999, Peter Merholz, host of peterme and an internet analyst announced: “For What It’s Worth I’ve decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee’- blog. Or “blog” for short.”
But in the book I’m working on for Oxford University Press, I’ll argue that blog-like political communication ventures have a long history.
Here is my favorite candidate for (Proto)political Blogger Zero.
Isocrates (no relation to Socrates) was a Greek philosopher who lived to 99 years of age in an era just before Alexander the Great’s march across Asia. His “ABOUT ME” page reads much like that of modern blogger: he was fascinated by politics, but didn’t actually want to be a politician; he wanted to pontificate about his opinions on everything, but did want to go through the grubby steps of showing up to public debates; he wanted to win popular support but eschewed meeting the public. As a modern translator of his works put it well:
“He endeavored to direct the affairs of Athens and Greece without ever holding an office and to mould public opinion without ever addressing a public assembly, by issuing from his study, political pamphlets or essays in oratorical form, in which then set forth the proper conduct of the Greeks in the light of broad ideas.”
For example, in one long letter he wrote (c. 374BC) to the new young King of Cyprus outlining advice on how to rule a country:
“one must be a lover of men and a lover of his country; for neither horses nor dogs nor men nor any other thing can be properly controlled except by one who takes pleasure in the objects for which it is his duty to care. You must care for the people and make it our first consideration to rule acceptably to them, knowing that all governments-oligarchies as well. As the others-have the longest life when they best serve the masses. You will be a wise leader of the people if you do not allow the multitude either to do or to suffer outrage, but see to it that the best among them shall have the honors while the rest shall suffer no impairment of their rights; for they are the first and most important element of good government.”
His other project was even more grandiose: he wanted to convince the Greeks to band together, stop squabbling and defeat the great enemy from the East, the Persians. (Sound familar?) So he would write letters to Philip of Macedonia (Alexander’s father) calling on him to lead the Greeks into Asia. A later Greek literary critic, Demetrius of Phalerum, wrote that such letters were less intimacies than a public document intended to gain public currency. (Thus the mixing of diary and policy paper as in blogs!)
Isocrates modus operandi calls to mind Wonkette blogger Eva Marie Cox’s humorous observation in reaction to people who spoke about a “Blog revolution” that “Starting a revolution involves leaving your house.” As I shall talk more about in my book, it is a big question whether blogs spur political participation (going to campaigns events, working for the candidate, voting) or channel political interest into blog posts and comments “issuing from his study. Many bloggers give advice to or rant about the powerful on public affairs issues, campaign strategy, all sorts of political topics. I form, the headline often reads literally: “What Kerry Must do” or “What Bush must do” and so on.
For example, readers of the RedState.org, a Republican politics blog, were offered insight by one “Jay Cost, creator of The Horserace Blog” on “Nine Tips for Bush on [filling] the Supreme Court Vacancy” of Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired from the Supreme Court. Among his counsel:
“He should find somebody with a short paper trail: This will also put Bush’s political opponents off-balance. Again, they will oppose Bush regardless of whom he appoints. But, if he appoints somebody who has not published very much, they will have a more difficult time constructing arguments reasonable to the mind of moderate Senate Democrats, who are Bush’s real audience here.”
Cost’s credentials for being a presidential advisor? He “is a graduate student at the University of Chicago…currently working toward his Ph.D in political science.” That’s blogging: people who previously would have no political capital (though in Cost’s case he would have developed more years later as a political scientist after many publications) can write memos to the powerful which instantly become public documents. And of course, many redstate readers replied to Cost with advice of their own for the President.
But was anybody in the White House listening?
See “Copyblogger” on “Why Plato Would Have Blown it as a Blogger.”
Plato understood the power of conversation, but his methods made people doubt his authenticity.
In my opinion, you’ve got to provide strong, persuasive content like Aristotle to be an effective business blogger. But you’ve also got to have a healthy dose of Socrates in you, because the conversation is where the true power of blogging is.
He is correct. No man or woman should blog alone. Linking, feedback, response, revision, extension are traits of the best bloggers. “Monologing,” as was expressed in the movie “The Incredibles” as a description of the self-destructive solo-rants of super villains, is for the egomaniac.
Originally posted November 4, 2005 at PolicyByBlog