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Anglosphere: The new Reformation?

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   Dec. 29, 2001 at 5:54 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A spectre is haunting the chattering classes of the Anglosphere: the new medium of the Internet. The Weblog, a sort of amalgam of commentary, diary and reference, may be to the Anglosphere's traditional modes of power what the printing press was to the medieval church and its intellectual monopoly 500 years ago.

Weblogs, or "blogs" for the verbally spare, have come into their own since Sept. 11. Their combination of instantaneous comment, links to breaking news stories, and links to other blogs and their sources permitted a very rapid and fluid means of following and understanding events. Particularly useful was the ability of bloggers to check and fact-find on articles in the mainstream press, and particularly to pick apart and quickly expose errors by mainstream pundits, broadcast reporters and other sources.

At the same time, blogs have contributed to a wide, if miscast, perception of an opinion gap between various Anglosphere nations.

Although each Anglosphere country has its own distinct national culture, often several cultures, there is no great visible dividing line between any two. Rather, today, the big dividing line runs between the trans-Anglosphere chattering classes on the one hand, and the great majority of the populations of the English-speaking world.

Media sensationalism plays a part, of course. None of the ways in which Anglosphere people think or feel similarly ever constitutes a story, while any way in which they differ is always good for a color piece. Film, television and print all favor treatments that play the sneering English aristocrat or the boorish American businessman as the heavy.

However, the most relevant phenomenon is the fact that chattering classes have more completely captured the media and government apparatus of the non-American Anglosphere nations. Because of the weaker democratic tradition in those structures, the views of the chatteratti dominate the external presentation of those nations' values.

This permits the politically correct intelligentsia of the non-American Anglosphere to indulge in a bit of pseudo-nationalism, by pretending that "American" values are not for the most part also the values of the majority of their countrymen. Anti-Americanism, the more fashionable modern analogue of anti-Semitism, is a delight readily available to them. Meanwhile, their American counterparts can mouth the same opinions, but must appear self-loathing rather than patriotic.

Various contemporary pressures, and especially the Internet, are beginning to have an impact on these factors. An example is the election of British Conservative Party leadership. A process of increasing democratization, this year's race was the first decided by ballot of the party members. To the dismay of the modernizers, the pro-American, Euroskeptic Iain Duncan Smith beat the old Europhile warhorse Kenneth Clarke. Much of Duncan Smith's victory was due to the Euroskeptic rank-and-file organizing via Internet mailing lists and discussion groups.

Similarly, the selection of Conservative parliamentary candidates has been affected by the simple device of a Candidlist, a Web site that ranked each prospective candidate by their public statements on the desirability of further integration with Europe. Many a Tory Europhile either bit the dust like Clarke or developed a newfound moderation on the topic.

Perhaps the newest and most rapidly developing Internet phenomenon is the Weblog. Their quality and content vary wildly, as does their readership. Some are published by professional writers like Virginia Postrel, Andrew Sullivan, or San Jose Mercury columnist Joanne Jacobs. A law professor, Glenn Reynolds, publishes one of the liveliest and most popular, InstaPundit. Others are maintained by people with no obvious connection to media, but who are often as entertaining, informative, and accurate as the professional press.

One of the most interesting and generally unreported aspects of the Weblog phenomenon is its unconscious Anglosphereness. Blog space is pretty much Anglosphere space, in that the network of bloggers, and especially the post-911 "warblogs," publish all over the Anglosphere, and quote freely from media sources across the Anglosphere, but rather sparsely from outside it. (Several redoubtable Norwegians, blogging in English, are the primary exception). For every link to, say, the English edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, there are hundreds to the London Evening Telegraph or the Times.

This pan-Anglosphere aspect to blogspace has permitted a much richer, closer and more critical examination of precisely who is saying what. The typical chattering class anti-Americanism of, say, the Guardian or The Nation is raked through point by point and torn to shreds within hours of publication. Persistent archiving means the foolish wrong predictions of Sept. 12 can be linked to as events prove them not only wrong, but based on such absurd premises that they appear to have been written by somebody on drugs. Blogspace is already affecting the wider media, as criticisms and corrections first made on blogs get picked up by journalists and columnists.

All of these developments suggest a permanent change is in the offing. Bloggers and their readers may form only a small percentage of the Anglosphere populations, but they are typical "early adopters" -- trendsetters and opinion leaders. The crossover between the blogs and mainstream media means that ideas, opinions and identified errors from blogspace will be reflected more and more in mainstream media, to the extent that they remain distinct things.

This writer feels much of academia and the media throughout the Anglosphere has come to resemble, in a way, the Church in Europe immediately before the Reformation. They have grown intellectually lazy, out of touch with the people they believe they exist to enlighten, and irrelevant to the needs they exist to serve. They have come to see their position, incomes and the respect of the public as entitlements due to them for their virtue, rather than earned by achievement.

The intellectual monopoly of the medieval Church was undermined by the advanced communication technology of the printing press. Printers and pamphleteers mushroomed throughout northern Europe, and the rapid and hard-to-control exchange of ideas their network enabled created the medium for new awarenesses and attitudes. Large parts of the old structure of the Church were overthrown and replaced; that which was left was greatly transformed by the Counter-Reformation.

Are these little Weblogs the harbinger of a similar reformation of the academia and media establishments of the Anglosphere? I wouldn't count it out.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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