Having been a reader of the Economist for two decades, I can attest that the blogs and comments are more insightful than the newspaper.Economist’s main pages reflect conventional opinion more than creating novel interpretations of events.
“If you were literate, you must be in the church — this belief was so firmly fixed that it was part of the law.”
Don’t you think the “benefit of clergy” started because the Church didn’t want to be governed by secular law, even with regards to individual crimes of clergy? And they merely took advantage of their exclusive literacy at that time. This legal exception created a separate and not equal standard for the church, so it obviously benefited only them. However, it is fascinating how this benefit evolved over the years. Thank you for the link to Wikipedia’s article. It is a great example of how contingent history, and thus culture, is. (BTW, if you truly want to embrace the blog as medium, you need to link to more source material, especially outside Wikipedia).
As for SC, “deep reverence for learning” my arse. If that truly existed in ante-bellum SC, it wouldn’t have been against the law to teach slaves how to read. Aside from that, I suspect that elementary public education wasn’t widespread outside the aristocracy. No, it is far more likely that the “benefit of clergy” was just another way to enforce the class structure.
“The rise of the intelligent lay public and its ability to support independent writers and analysts was one of the most important developments in the history of the modern world and in the growth of democracy. ”
My, oh, my! Not one to shy from superlatives, are you? Even “one of” doesn’t qualify this development enough. Taking 1750 as the starting point, and sticking to the Western world as I believe you intended, the most important developments in modern history are, in general, either wars, revolutions, or -isms.
Wars (short list): Great, Second World, Cold
Revolutions: American, French, Industrial, Scientific, 1848, Russian, Information
Isms: Capital, Marx, Imperial, Colonial, Totalitarian, Global, Terror
etc. etc. etc. As for democracy, that’s a narrower field, but still, the general public being able to support public intellectual writers (and very few at that) isn’t one of its most important developments either.
“During the twentieth century, magazine and book publishing inexorably became more businesslike. To print and distribute a book or a magazine was so expensive that with a handful of noble exceptions only large and well financed companies could succeed.”
Actually the exceptions were the large and well financed publishers that were lasting commercial successes. They put out popular (as in not intellectual) products and had strong sales and distribution operations. There was only room for a handful of these top dog companies, but there were hundreds if not thousands of small or regional book houses, magazines, newsletters, newspapers and other various media outlets. Sure, they didn’t make much money and frequently went under, but there was always another springing up in its place. And they were the places where the intellectual curmudgeons and muckrakers flourished.
Blogs and self-published books are technical advancements in continuing this trend. They are not new intellectual enablers.