I think the debate centers on:
1) whether or not to consider blogging as an act of participation in the public arena of political debate alongside other forms of participation like getting on a soap box in a public square or publishing an article in a newspaper
2) whether or not that an individual retains the right to determine the persona, the mask so to speak, they give themselves when entering into the public arena of debate. This mask could be one’s own real name (for who else but God can really know a person), or a pseudonym or no name at all.
For Goldberg, following his argument, one must participate totally unveiled with full name transparent for all, etc. once one enters the foray of public debate. Charles Murray thinks the time of persecuation & discrimination is passed, no need to assume a man’s name, etc.
I can understand the fear they might have for those who abuse the position of anonymous blogger, commenter, etc. and smear people. But the question still remains as to whether the “named” participants can impose – and I think impose is the verb – the unveiled status they have chosen for themselves onto other persons who chose to remain anonymous. I think they can’t since that means they’d be both participants and censors of the public sphere they pretend to share with others on an equal footing. After all, one could simply ignore the comments of an anonymous writer and leave it at that.
Very true, Joe, though the problem was extremely widespread at the time. I think Rick Brookhiser had it right when he said that American journalism was simultaneously at its best AND it’s worst during the 1780s and 1790s.
It’s true that there is no value added to the Federalist Papers due to their anonymity (though there probably was value added to Common Sense) — but the point is that absent the option of publishing anonymously, Hamilton and Madison might not have produced to Federalist Papers at all, and that would make us worse off.
As another commenter notes, the same goes for Kennan’s essay.
To be clear, I am a big fan of putting your name on what you write, a practice that I regard as preferable to writing under a pseudonym. But I happen to work in a profession where writing one’s opinion is accepted. There are many other professions where expressing any political opinion is a career impediment.
I think you are sympathetic, Joe, to the idea that our public discourse would be broader and better if it weren’t so dominated by professional journalists. One way to make that happen is to crate a mechanism for people in other professions to engage in politics without suffering for the expression of their views.
Joe Carter wrote:“The Founders (esp. Ben Franklin) were often quite cowardly in attacking people by name while concealing their own. The fact that the practice has a venerable history does not make it praiseworthy.”
If the attack’s credibility doesn’t hinge upon the critic’s identity, how is the critic’s identity relevant?
I think you are sympathetic, Joe, to the idea that our public discourse would be broader and better if it weren’t so dominated by professional journalists.
I certainly agree with that.
One way to make that happen is to crate a mechanism for people in other professions to engage in politics without suffering for the expression of their views.
I almost agree with this, though not entirely. One of the ways that Publius said he would suffer was because his family would disagree with his views (honestly, I wish this debate were centered on a better example—the more I think about John’s reason’s the more cowardly they sound). Do we really need to make it possible for people to be able to express a political opinion without their relatives getting the vapors? Do we need to protect the Meatheads of the world from the Archie Bunkers?
And Publius is in a profession where he can engage in politics: He’s a law professor. The problem is that he fears that it might offend the wrong people (i.e., the tenure committee). Now either John’s views on politics are pertinent to the decision to tenure, or they are not. If they are, then for John to express them by hiding behind a pseudonym is dishonest and he is unethically misrepresenting himself to the committee.
If his political views should not be taken into account, the solution isn’t to encourage more un-tenured academics to blog under pseudonyms but to start ranting about the system that engages in unfair discrimination.
I have to say that the defenses I have heard of Publius tend to be post hoc justifications for behavior (blogging without accountability) which they want to condone. It’s like people who want to abolish copyright laws so that they can continue to download pirated music with a clear conscience. (I say this about the motives of the Internet community in general, not of anyone in particular. With some exceptions (re: Conor) most of the people defending Publius seem to be pseudonymous bloggers or academics.)
Isn’t it Publius’ decision, and his alone, whether or not to write pseudonymously? You have every right to call him names, to question his motives, to refute his arguments, but what right do you have to make this decision for him?
JD writes: ***Isn’t it Publius’ decision, and his alone, whether or not to write pseudonymously? ***
Sure it is. Just as it was Ed Whelan’s decision to reveal Publius’s real name. The questions is not whether someone has a right to us a pseudonym but whether other people—particularly those who the pseudonymous blogger attack—have an ethical obligation to keep such information secret.
Can anyone figure out what Jonah’s reasoning is here?
Implicit in the formulation that Publius equals Publius is that John Blevins’ anonymous (or pseudonymous) blogging is of a kind to the writing in the Federalist Papers. But Blevins used his anonymity to endorse the position that Whelan is a partisan “legal hitman.” Jonah’s point is that comparing the Federalist Papers to this kind of libel is intrinsically silly.