In a remarkable coalescence of time and circumstance, Michael Hart typed the Declaration of Independence into his computer on July 4th, 1971, Independence Day, and launched Project Gutenberg, the world’s largest non-profit digital library available on the Internet.
On his way home from a fireworks display, Hart stopped in at a grocery store and was given a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed on parchment. He typed the text into his computer, intending to send it as an email to his friends on Arpanet. A colleague persuaded him that his message would cause the system to crash and so Hart merely posted a note that the full text could be downloaded instead. And thus, according to the obituary noting his passing on September 6th, 2011 in the New York Times, “Project Gutenberg was born.”
Project Gutenberg now has more than 36,000 free eBooks in 60 languages available to download to a computer, Kindle, Android, iOS or other handheld devices in a number of text formats, and the number is growing daily. Hart’s goal, formulated on that day in 1971, was “to encourage the creation and distribution of e-books to help break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy.” Even in its early stages, Hart saw the power of the Internet that would allow for the infinite reproduction of information with the potential, according to the Times, of “overturning all established power structures.” (emphasis added) In 1995, Hart wrote:
For the first time in the entire history of the Earth, we have the ability for EVERYONE to get copies of EVERYTHING…to all the people on the Earth, via computers. Think about what you have just read for a moment, please: EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE…
Arpanet was a “packet-switching” network that was developed in the late 1960’s which led to the development of protocols for internetworking where multiple separate networks could be joined together into a “network of networks.” Initially developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) emerged in the late 1980’s. Arpanet was decommissioned in 1990 and when the NSF ended its sponsorship in 1995, it removed the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic. It is estimated that today nearly one-fourth of the world’s population is able to “surf the ‘net”, with more than one billion people accessing the web on a daily basis. And the technology that risked “crashing” when Hart sent his email on July 4th, 1971 now allows 100 documents the size of the Declaration to be transferred in a single second.
The Gutenberg Press and the Protestant Reformation
It is doubtful that Hart in 1971 had any idea of how the growth of the Internet would impact the world, just as the son of a cloth merchant in the small German town of Mainz, Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, would have any idea of how his invention of the moveable-type printing press in 1436 would impact his world. Not only is the Gutenberg press responsible for the printing revolution that spread across Europe and the world, it had enormous impact in the flowering of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. It allowed the formation of the basis for the modern market economy and encouraged the spread of learning and education to the mass of citizenry.
Gutenberg’s first project was the printing of 180 copies of the Bible, each of which sold for much less than a handwritten Bible which could take a single scribe more than a year to complete. Within six years there were 1000 copies in print.
As his printing press was copied and spread throughout the continent, by the year 1500 one thousand printing presses were in operation and had already produced more than eight million books. By 1600 that number had grown more than twenty-fold to between 150 and 200 million. And the discovery and development of sea routes West (Christopher Columbus, 1492) and East (Vasco da Gama, 1498) greatly expanded the use of his printing press. By 1620 the impact of the Gutenberg press caused English philosopher Francis Bacon to remark that it “has changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world.” In America, Mark Twain wrote
What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source, but we are bound to bring him homage…for the bad that this colossal invention has brought about is overshadowed a thousand times by the good with which mankind has been favored.
“Mankind” reveled in the unrestricted flow of hitherto unavailable information, and caused the restructuring of society. Ideas considered revolutionary transcended borders, propelled the Reformation and threatened not only religious authorities but political power elites as well. The increase in literacy broke the monopoly on education held by the elite for centuries, and bolstered the emerging middle class. The resultant increasing cultural awareness of the people led to the rise of nationalism by accelerating the flowering of European vernacular languages which led to the creation of nation-states within the continent.
The Gutenberg Press and the Renaissance Popes
Pulitzer-prize winning author Barbara Tuchman, in her insightful history, “The March of Folly,” repeatedly marked the influence of the revolution in the printed word taking place from 1470 to 1530. In Chapter Three, “The Renaissance Popes Provoke the Protestant Secession,” she describes in detail the debauchery and moral depravity of six Popes: Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Leo X, and Clement VII. Her point was to show that this amoral behavior could have been reversed at any time, and the honor of the Catholic Church restored, but none of these had any interest in such restoration. The outrage of the citizens was enhanced greatly by the increasing public exposure via the printing press of their excesses and immoral behavior. Wrote Tuchman,
Printing and growing literacy nourished dissent especially through direct acquaintance with the Bible in the vernacular. Four hundred such editions appeared in the first sixty years of the printing press, and anyone who could read could find in the lore of the Gospels something missing from the hierarchy of his own day gowned in their purple and red.
The pressure that grew for enforcement of Biblical standards expected of the Popes and their Cardinals reflected the general standards of morality still present in the citizenry. Her message for today’s efforts to expose immorality and restore decency remains encouraging:
No single characteristic ever overtakes an entire society. Many people of all classes in the Renaissance still worshipped God, trusted in the saints, wanted spiritual reassurance and led non-criminal lives.
Indeed, it was because genuine religious and moral feeling was still present that dismay at the corruption of the clergy and especially of the Holy See was so acute and the yearning for reform so strong. If all Italians had lived by the amoral example of their leaders, the depravity of the popes would have been no cause for protest. (emphases added)
In concluding her chapter on the six Renaissance popes, Tuchman speaks not only of the awful degeneracy of the early 16th century, but also to the present early 21st:
The folly of the popes was not pursuit of counter-productive policy so much as rejection of any steady or coherent policy either political or religious that would have improved their situation or arrested the rising discontent. Disregard of the movements and sentiments developing around them was a primary folly. They were deaf to disaffection, blind to the alternative ideas it gave rise to, blandly impervious to challenge, unconcerned by the dismay at their misconduct and the rising wrath at their misgovernment, fixed in refusal to change, almost stupidly stubborn in maintaining a corrupt existing system. They could not change it because they were part of it, grew out of it, depended on it.
The Gutenberg Press and Luther’s 95 Theses
By 1517 the “rising discontent” that had been building for decades and enhanced by public awareness through the printing press came to a head in the small German town of Wittenberg (located, ironically, not far from Mainz, Gutenberg’s home). Ten years earlier, Martin Luther entered an Augustinian monastery where he dedicated himself to fasting, prayer and constant confession of his sins. Increasingly unhappy, Luther was advised to become a teacher and in 1508 began instructing at the University of Wittenberg. Learning more about the desperate state of the Catholic Church, he had the temerity to write to his bishop to protest the sale of indulgences, insisting that only God can grant forgiveness to His people. He understood the Holy Scriptures to mean that its teachings were to be open to everyone and not just to the priests of the Catholic Church. The church had claimed over the centuries that the purpose of the indulgences was to allow the sinner the opportunity to do “good deeds” as additional penance for the sake of the church. This “opportunity” soon turned into a “requirement” with the result that often indulgences were considered to be a free pass to future sinby those with means. This meant that the wealthy were allowed to purchase the authority from the church to behave as they pleased, while the commoners were held accountable by the church. Luther’s letter of “protest” claimed that the church actually had no such moral authority on its own, that forgiveness was available only directly from God Himself and that salvation is received only as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Friends of Luther translated his letter, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” popularly referred to as his 95 Theses, from Latin into German, had it printed and then distributed. Within two weeks, copies of his letter had spread throughout Germany, within two months throughout Europe, and within the year, copies of his letter had reached France, England and Italy.
The Gutenberg Press and William Tyndale
English scholar William Tyndalealso rode the tidal wave of theological discovery made possible by the Gutenberg Press with his translation of the Bible’s New Testament in its original languages into English. This first such effort in 1525 was met with significant resistance by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, and so copies had to be smuggled into Scotland and England. Tyndale discovered to his dismay that exposure of truth does not automatically result in its endorsement, but he persisted, nearly completing his translation of the Old Testament before being charged with heresy by the English church and burned at the stake in 1536.
The Tyndale Bible had such an impact that when the 47 scholars gathered in 1604 under the direction of King James I of England at the Hampton Court Conference to revise earlier editions of the Holy Bible, Tyndale’s influence was mighty:
Behind the superlative praise of the King James Bible, however, lay the genius of the first English translator of the Hebrew Bible, William Tyndale. The “companies” that worked on the King James Bible went back to Tyndale afresh, and relied on him heavily, often verbatim, to the point that about 83 percent of the New Testament is deemed to be based on Tyndale and 76 percent of the Old.
The Gutenberg Press and the Rise of National Sovereignty
As the Protestant Reformation gained momentum, it met resistance from the church, resulting in conflicts among the nations of Europe, ending in the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), one of the most devastating conflicts in European history. The war ended with the signing of a series of peace treaties summarized as the Peace of Westphalia.
This established a new system of political order in central Europe, later referred to as Westphalian sovereignty or “The Westphalian System”, based on the concept of a sovereign state and honoring the separateness and distinctiveness of each nation-state. The foundational principles established were
- The principle of the sovereignty of states and the fundamental right of political self-determination
- The principle of equality between states, and
- The principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state.
The Gutenberg Press and the Rise of the American Republic
John Calvin was only eight years old when Luther sent his letter of protest to his bishop, but by age 21, Calvin had broken from the Catholic Church and in 1536 published, thanks to the Gutenberg press, the first edition of his seminal work, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
By 1560 the impact of Calvin’s theology was so great that the Scottish parliament repudiated the pope’s authority and in its place approved the Protestant Confession of Faith. The Scottish Reformation resulted in a number of Christian churches adopting the Calvinist theological tradition under a Presbyterian organization. Immigration to America by Scots brought that reformation with it and most modern Presbyterian churches can trace their roots back to that historic event.
The impact of Calvin’s theology in American can scarcely be overstated. In his book, “The Creed of Presbyterians,” author E. W. Smith asked, “Where learned they [the founders of the republic] those immortal principles of the rights of man, of human liberty, equality and self-government, on which they based their Republic, and which form today the distinctive glory of our American civilization? In the school of Calvin they learned them. There the modern world learned them. So history teaches.” This was confirmed in a speech by Dr. W. H. Roberts before the church’s general assembly:
The Presbyterian Church was for three-quarters of a century the sole representative upon this continent of republican government as now organized in the nation…
From 1706 to the opening of the revolutionary struggle the only body in existence which stood for our present national political organization was the General Synod of the American Presbyterian Church.
The Presbyterian Church taught, practiced, and maintained in fullness, first in this land that form of government in accordance with which the Republic has been organized.
Additional evidence of the influence of the Presbyterian Church, and John Calvin’s teachings, is the Mecklenburg Declaration, proclaimed by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of North Carolina on May 20, 1775, more than a year before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Part of the Mecklenburg Declaration included these words:
We do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the mother country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown…
We hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people; are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing association, under control of no power other than that of our God and the general government of Congress; to the maintenance of which we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual cooperation and our lives, our fortunes and our most sacred honor.
The crafter of these words, to be picked up by Jefferson a year later, was Ephraim Brevard, a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church. E. W. Smith wrote, “If the average American citizen were asked, who was the founder of America, the true author of our great Republic, he might be puzzled to answer. We can imagine his amazement at hearing the answer given to this question by the famous German historian, Ranke, one of the profoundest scholars of modern times. Says Ranke, ‘John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.’” None of this would likely have happened were it not for Mr. Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press and the consequent rise of Westphalian sovereignty.
The Gutenberg Press and Common Sense
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, rode not only the revolutionary discontent of the colonies but the increasingly common printing press to become, according to historian Gordon S. Wood, “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.” First published anonymously in January, 1776, the 48-page booklet sold 120,000 copies in its first three months, 500,000 in its first year, and went through twenty-five editions in its first year alone. George Trevelyan, author of History of the American Revolution, said,
It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting […] It was pirated, parodied and imitated, and translated into the language of every country where the new republic had well-wishers. It worked nothing short of miracles and turned Tories into Whigs.
And so, from the development of movable type in 1436 to the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455, to the explosive duplication of Luther’s 95 Theses beginning in 1518, to the Scottish immigration to America in the 1600s (carrying with it John Calvin’s theology), to the Peace of Westphalia in 1668 (establishing the sovereignty of nations), to the Mecklenburg Declaration in 1775, to the patriotic bursting forth of “Common Sense” in January, 1776, to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, one can trace the immeasurable impact the Gutenberg Press had on political, social and religious institutions in just over three hundred years.
From the Gutenberg Press to the Internet
But it took just three years from the start of the commercialization of the internet in 1995 (the year the first sale on Echo Bay—later to become EBay—was completed) that the political power of the Internet as the “alternative media” began to be felt. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff had been investigating the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and then-President Bill Clinton for nearly a year, and his story was about to be published on Saturday morning, January 17th, 1998. After listening to one of the taped conversations between Lewinsky and a friend, Isikoff’s editors decided to “spike” the story. Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report, an online news aggregator, learned of the decision to withhold the story, and ran his exposé with the headline: “Newsweek Kills Story on White House Intern: 23-Year-Old Sex Relationship with President,” which instantly, profoundly and permanently changed the perception of the Internet as an alternative to the mainstream media. By Sunday morning, so many individuals were seeking more information from Drudge’s website that it couldn’t handle all the traffic.
According to BBC News, “This may be the first time that a story of such consequence developed on the Internet. Love him or hate him, Matt Drudge’s report on the Clinton scandal is the most visible sign to date of the changing nature of journalism.”
The First Internet Presidential Election
The Presidential campaign of 2008 is considered to be the first “Internet election” with candidates of both parties using the Internet to promote their positions. Pew Internet noted that “a record-breaking 46% of Americans used the Internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views, and mobilize others…[and] 6% of Americans made political contributions online, compared with 2% who did that during the entire 2004 campaign.” One of those enjoying the Internet’s capability to raise campaign funds was Presidential candidate Ron Paul whose “money bomb” raised a record $4.3 million in a single day, followed by another $4.4 million raised just a few days later.
The Internet and the Departure of Dan Rather
The Internet had a significant role in the retirement of Dan Rather from CBS in 2005. In 1988 Rather interviewed six former servicemen, each of whom had witnessed horrible acts during their time in Vietnam. Two of them said that they had killed civilians and each talked about the impact the war had on their personal lives, including periods of depression, unemployment, drug use, and homelessness. Unfortunately for Rather, authors B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley, in doing research for their book Stolen Valor obtained the service records of all six of those interviewed by Rather and discovered that only one of them had actually been stationed in Vietnam, and that he had only served as an equipment repairer. Bloggers on the Internet had a field day.
And then in 2004 Rather reported on a series of memos he had obtained about President George W. Bush’s service with the Texas Air National Guard. The memos found their way onto the Internet and were declared by experts to be forgeries. The mainstream media reluctantly printed the story of the forgeries, forcing CBS initially to defend Rather’s report. Two weeks later CBS retracted the story. In 2005 Rather left CBS after being relegated to a corner office with few responsibilities.
The Internet’s Offspring, YouTube
YouTube.com, a video-sharing website on the Internet, has more than one billion videos in its online library but none more damaging to the credibility of one of the establishment’s favorite institutions, The Federal Reserve System, than the confrontation between Congressman Alan Grayson and Fed spokesman Elizabeth Coleman. In five minutes and 26 seconds, on May 5th, 2009, Coleman stuttered and stammered and deflected and finally wilted under Grayson’s barrage of questions about the Fed’s off-book balance sheet activity. Her lack of preparation and inability to answer the simplest of questions has been viewed by more than a million people, doing irreparable damage to the prestige of the Fed. As noted by Andrew Wile“It is one of the single most astonishing moments (or minutes) ever manifested or preserved in this already amazing digital era.” Wile wrote
During the questioning of Coleman, Grayson asks her over and over if there is a formal accounting available for the trillions in off-book balance sheet activity for the Fed. He asks patiently, and he repeats the question many times. Coleman stutters, makes statements that are obviously evasive and finally all but admits that she actually has no authority even to examine the Fed’s off-balance sheet activities. She admits this in a frazzled manner, but only after losing her way so badly that she has to ask Grayson to repeat the question (which he has already asked about ten times).
The Internet Empowers WikiLeaks
The whistle-blower website Wikileaks.org has proven the power of exposure as a disinfectant, especially in its leaking of the Kroll Report, an intelligence report commissioned by the Kenyan government in 2004. For political reasons the government sat on the report until Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, published the report on the Internet. Interviewed on TED TV by Chris Anderson, Assange said
This report…became a dead albatross around [the president’s] neck.
Anderson: And…word of the report leaked into Kenya, not from the official media, but indirectly [via the Internet]. And in your opinion, it actually shifted the election?
Assange: Yes. This became front page [news] and was then printed in all the surrounding countries of Kenya, in Tanzania and South Africa … It ran for 20 nights straight on Kenya TV [and] shifted the vote by 10 percent…which changed the result of the election.
Anderson: So your leak really substantially changed the world?
The Internet is Located in the Ether
The Internet doesn’t have a physical location which has proved to be an obstacle in attempts to regulate it. Following WikiLeaks’ publication of some 90,000 documents in July 2010 about the U.S. government’s involvement in the Afghan war (on both sides), David Carr of the New York Times asked MSNBC: “If you’re going to prosecute WikiLeaks, where would you go? Where does WikiLeaks live? I mean, their state-less news organization exists literally on the web. And so you have this black box out there. And what government would you go through, what justice system?”
The Internet is everywhere and outside of the control of the mainstream media. It continues to expose the fallacy of “peak oil,” the falsity of global warming, the senselessness and the predictable breakdown of the European Union, the illogic of the various scarcity themes of food and water, as well as thwarting attempts to denigrate Internet movements like the Tea Party. The official unemployment rate has repeatedly and effectively been questioned through reliable sources available on the Internet. Increasingly attempts to employ the Hegelian Dialectic by the media are failing. When Bill O’Reilly of Fox News brings on guests with opinions that merely reflect variations of statist themes, listeners informed through the Internet become more and more aware that the conversations are being limited only to what is acceptable to the establishment’s media.
The Internet Defies Attempts to Co-opt It
Attempts to pre-empt the Internet or to restrict it are failing. When Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, purchased MySpace for $580 million in July 2005, he had the idea of inserting Fox News political contentinto the site and thus help to redirect the political conversation.
At the time, MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the United States, while Facebook, its primary competitor lagged behind. However, by April, 2008, Facebook surpassed MySpace based on monthly unique visitors, and Murdoch’s attempt to get political with his acquisition failed. With three-quarters of its workforce laid off, Murdoch sold what was left of the company in June of this year for $35 million, taking a loss of half a billion dollars. As The Daily Bell opined in July, Murdoch “hoped to use the network as a vehicle from which he could disseminate news. He wanted to make MySpace into a mechanism to deliver current-events content.” When it failed to do so, Murdoch lost interest. Although social networking sites are popular, serious seekers of accurate non-media-filtered news look elsewhere. As Anthony Wile noted, “a social network is not a news delivery system. I could have told him that for a much lower fee!”
As the influence of truths on the Internet have grown and exposed false themes used to promote world government, efforts to censor the Internet have increased as well. On September 2nd, Reuters reported that “China’s Communist Party control is at risk unless the government takes firmer steps to stop Internet opinion being shaped by increasingly organized political foes.” But attempts to choke off truth will ultimately end badly.
The Internet and the “Streisand Effect”
Attempting to silence bad news by shooting the messenger simply means the bad news will get worse. In addition, it draws attention to the actions of the government seeking to damp down the spread of the truth. This is known as the “Streisand Effect.”
When Barbra Streisand sued to remove photographs of her Malibu home from a public collection of California coastline photos, she inadvertently drew attention to those photographs, resulting in more than 420,000 people visiting the website of the California Coastal Records Project over the next 30 days to see the contested photographs of her home.
The Internet’s Technology Stays Ahead of Regulators
In addition, attempts to defeat the Internet are increasingly being met with technological innovation that continues to stay several steps aheadof the government gatekeepers.
Telex is one of many innovations designed to foil attempts to restrict the flow of truth by Internet. The developer refers to the technology as a “work-around” by turning the Internet itself into an anti-censorship device. Software that is installed on a computer connects with the Internet service provider that has Telex stations attached to the wires carrying the digital traffic. “So,” says the developer, “if you’re in China, and you want access to a banned site like YouTube, you just type YouTube.com into your computer, and the Telex station will see that connection, and disguise it as something innocuous. You might be watching YouTube, but to a censor, it will just seem as if you’re visiting a harmless, non-blocked site.” If governments pursue Internet censorship, they will find that the free-market innovators have gotten there first, in plenty of time to make such efforts not only fruitless but obsolete.
The Internet’s Influence Continues to Grow
The Internet levels the battlefield in the freedom fight, just as the Gutenberg press leveled that same field five hundred years ago. As individuals face an uncertain future, they increasingly look to the Internet for answers. When they discover that the paper money in their wallet is a sham and a fraud—far removed from real money, and deliberately so—they are motivated to dig deeper for answers. Their distrust of the kept media increases as they discover websites like LewRockwell.com, TheDailyBell.com, and especially TheNewAmerican.comwhose monthly absolute unique visitor count has exploded from 28,000 in September 2008 to well over 400,000 today.
In the freedom fight, YouTube continues to have increasing influence. Camera-phones are exposing corruption as ACORN and Planned Parenthood have painfully discovered. The internet video service is being used to expose fallacies and change opinions. An instant example, the 30-minute film “180” on the issue of abortion, was viewed 30,000 times within 24 hours of its release, and is approaching 1 million at this writing. As noted by producer Ray Comfort “If you can change people’s minds…you can change the way they vote. And if you can change the way they vote, you can change the direction of a whole nation.”
The Internet Has a Long Memory
Users are discovering too that the Internet has a long memory. False renditions of history are exposed. Half-truths are uncovered. Statist assumptions are questioned. George Orwell’s Memory Hole has been illuminated. History, it is said, is written by the survivors. With 300 million websites feeding the Internet and billions of people seeking the truth, when this history is written, it will proclaim the free unhindered flow of information via the Internet as the victor. As Anthony Wile expressed it,
All of a sudden people are understanding the rot at the base of their monetary systems. They can see the game is rigged, and not on behalf of those who believe in democracy but those who are selling the dream. People can see that the newspapers and mainstream media broadcasts are pure propaganda that utilizes the Hegelian dialectic to create an illusion of democratic debate—when in fact all it is doing is constraining the discussion in order to arrive at pre-determined conclusions. People can now see the outright lies that spew forth from the mouths of the puppet leaders who pretend to run the State.
With this new information, the final choice lies, where it always has, in the hands of an informed electorate. Writing to William Charles Jarvis on September 28th, 1820, Thomas Jefferson said
I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
All that the Gutenberg press did then, and all that the Internet is doing now, is informing the peoples’ discretion. The rest is up to them.