ONE blogs – JAMES W WOOD – BLOGGING IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY…

As the media we’ve been used to collapses around us and politicians are proving to be more corrupt than at any time since the English Civil War, it’s worth looking backwards to get a taste for how things might be in the future.

Three hundred years ago, before the advent of learned journals and newspapers, Europe’s intellectuals conversed with each other by letter. These letters were written in Latin and took dangerous, twisting paths from the author to the recipient. If they survived the highwaymen and the perils of the voyage, the letters were ready avidly by those who received them, and most usually by an extended circle of admirers as well.

Thus the Dutch philosopher Spinoza discussed Robert Boyle’s work on gases with friends in England – writing in Latin not just as a common language, but also so that his letters might be copied and understood by other people across Europe. Over time, a wide community of intellectuals might receive copies of these letters from their recipients. Those who received copies might write to figures such as Spinoza, asking permission to contribute to the epistolary conversation.

These exchanges were so important that one of Spinoza’s letters about his then-unpublished Ethics landed him in danger of excommunication from the church, thanks to rumours that the mild-mannered lens-grinder had abjured God’s existence in his unpublished manuscript.

With corruption widespread in modern politics and today’s media rapidly losing its influence through a combination of public cynicism and declining revenues, it seems the humble blog – vilified for years as an excuse for egotistical introspection – is providing hope for those who want to share ideas, debate the issues of the day, and challenge orthodoxies.

Consider the role of “MoneyWeek”, an internet-only publication about economics which currenlty boasts hundreds of thousands of visitors world-wide. Then there’s the blog of Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University. Roubini foresaw the whole economic crash, and uses his blog to update his followers on what he thinks will happen next. Of course, both Roubini and the editors of “MoneyWeek” are careful to publicise their views in the traditional media, but the important point is that it’s on their blogs that the real meat of argument can be found.

Just imagine: a system of letters wired instantly over the ether that enables minds all over the world to engage in debate. Spinoza himself would be in awe of such a device: and we have it at our fingertips. Now our task is to put it to good use, as John Calder has written elsewhere, and establish a new moral order to challenge the growing corruption of the media and the political establishment.