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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Blogs are not democratic

A democracy is a form of government in which the people, either directly or indirectly, take part in governing. The word democracy originates from Greek, and means rule of the people.
– From Wikipedia

In my recent trip to the FACT centre in Liverpool to evangelise for the blogosphere, it was suggested to me by a young lady that one of the great things about blogs is that in contrast to the established media, they are inherently democratic.

She was somewhat surprised when I disagreed. The young lady then suggested that as blogging empowers the common man by allowing them to express their views to the world without big business media owners or the government getting in the way, that it must surely be democratic. I agreed that blogs do indeed give people an unprecedented means to express themselves directly by disintermediating both the established media and the state, but there was nothing democratic about that whatsoever.

Democracy is about politics, and politics is about the use of the collective means of coercion. Democratic politics thus refers to systems by which the people who control those collective means of coercion are chosen and made accountable via one of several methods of popular voting. For something to be ‘democratic’ therefore, it must be amenable to ‘politics’. Therefore for a blog to be ‘democratic’ that does not mean it is empowering or that it disintermediates the state. In fact it means the state, which is to say democratic politics is very much involved.

But you, the reader, do not get a vote on what get written in the articles on Samizdata.net. You may agree with what an article says or you may utterly disagree, but what gets written does not depend on how popular those sentiments are. We write what we want to write.

Where you do get to choose is whether or not you decide to come back and read us again. Much as in an open market, I might decide to try and sell my fruits and meats to those who pass by, yet I cannot force them actually purchase any of my goods if they do not wish to. They cannot stop me offering for sale those things I think makes economic sense but if I am wrong about what the market wants or if others make a better offer, then the passers by will choose to shop with someone else.

Where potential clients do get a vote, albeit indirectly, rather than a ‘market choice’ regarding what I sell, is when the polity regulates what can or cannot be sold. For example it may be up to me if I wish to try and sell veal or chickens or bananas, but I may be prohibited from selling crack cocaine or flamethrowers. So to that extent a market can be made more subject to politics and less to several choice.

And so it is with blogging, at least to a point. But to the extent that if Samizdata.net was to suddenly and highly improbably start advocating Nazi politics (such suggestions are illegal in Germany) or rather more plausibly call for the overthrow of Islamic law wherever it pertains (such suggestions are illegal in Saudi Arabia) then the very fact it is so extraordinarily difficult to prevent such sentiments being proffered by us makes us the very antithesis of ‘democratic’. You can do the ‘equivalent of refusing to buy’ in a market, i.e. you can just stop reading what we write, but you cannot actually stop us from writing. You, the reader, do not get a vote on that.

Blogs are therefore something which empowers the individual, the blogger, regardless of the wishes, and therefore the votes, of a collective who might wish to have a say in what a blogger writes. The correct analogy is therefore the market place… a blog is a open air stall in a marketplace for ideas called the blogosphere. If you find the ideas we are ‘selling’ interesting (even if you do not agree with them) you will come back for more. If we horrify you or even worse, bore the pants off you, you will probably not come back. But we will write what we will write. There is nothing democratic about that… and long may it be so.

20 comments to Blogs are not democratic

  • I suppose weblogs are more for quickly disseminating evidence of lying by politicians, so as to rapidly build critical-mass discussions around certain figures and debates.

    Whatever it is that a free press contributes to democratic debate, weblogs contribute more of the same, rather quicker and in a diffused way that’s much harder to censor.

    Weblogs assist and support a free press more than rival it – we help distinguish good journalism from bad, and help stop the nuggets of good journalism from getting buried out of sight by the mass of mediocrity and manipulative government news-management.

  • Guy Herbert

    Sounds like your interlocutor had the fuzzy left-liberal idea that democracy is the same thing as nominal openness to participation.

    As anyone who has had anything to do with fuzzy left-liberal organisations can testify, “participatory democracy”, far from being rule by the people (or membership), is rule by activists. Since activists in such situations tend to believe that their views are an expression of some Rousseau-esque general will, one can see how they can come to be boosters for government-by-turning-up…. But it’s truly alarming how deep in the culture such New Left ideas are now embedded.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    It is a common misconception that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, or at least interdependent. Nothing can be further from the truth. While they do work well together, there have been many cases in reent history where one has existed independent of the other.

    Blogs are not democratic, they are capitalist.

  • Weblogs assist and support a free press more than rival it

    Amen to that! As I once wrote before, bloggers are the little birds on the back of the hippopotamus called Big Media, rather than rival hippos. Now as for editorial writers in the established press, ah, now there indeed we are going head-to-head with them. And we outnumber them more every day.

  • Independent dictatorships would perhaps be a better description. 🙂

  • Quite so… “An Englishman’s blog is his castle.”

  • Blog aren’t democratic yet.

    Just wait for the first lawsuit, and watch the free speech being slowly screwed here in the continental EUrope.

  • Kevin,

    Blogs are not democratic, they are capitalist.

    Careful, you might attract some flies with that word. ‘Free-market’ might be a better description, or even, dare I say – libertarian!

  • Joe

    At risk of being struck down by a bolt of bloglightning – I feel destined to point out that, although blogging itself isn’t defineably democratic, Samizdata being a group blog probably has a partially democratic nature because of the nature of group politics… although I suppose Perry, Dale and Adriana do state that they are “God” -so they could be regarded as a non democratic Tyrannical Triumverate ???? 😉

    PS…I think blog god should be called Golb

    Golb moves in mysterious webs!

  • Jacob

    “Blogs are not democratic, they are capitalist.”

    They are more democratic than capitalist, judging by their revenue.

  • Blogs aren’t democratic, but they facilitate and encourage cheap and widespread participation in the democratic processes available to us in our respective governments. I think that this is what the young lady meant by her statement. Don’t be too hard on her, it’s not like it’s HER fault she’s incapable of articulate speech. I mean, she didn’t CHOOSE to be English.

  • No I do not agree Aaron. How do blogs encourage cheap and widespread participation in the democratic processes rather than resistence to them? I think it encourages people to actually not accept the voices of others. Blogs can just as easily be used by people like me to discourage participation in coercive collectivist politics with the ‘fuck the lot of them’ ethos so prevalent across the blogosphere. I suspect the very individualist nature of blogging will have quite the opposite effect you anticipate.

  • Snide

    It sounds like she was perfectly articulate, Aaron… she was just wrong. Like you in fact.

  • Let me riposte. A blog is neither democratic, nor undemocratic. It’s a communication device. It can be one way like a megaphone, or two way like a telephone, but the point is that ideas and perspectives are being communicated and marketed. The way you run your blog is absolutely undemocratic, because it’s your private property. But the exchange of ideas that occurs because of your blog, whether in comments, on the main page, or through further email transactions most certainly does facilitate the exercise of free speech, which is necessary to the functioning of a healthy democracy because it increases the quality and quantity of the information flowing between members of society at large. Even if the communication is only one way (a blog w/no email address or comments section), it remains an aid to the democratic process as long as the reader retains control over his viewing habits.

  • Jacob

    Many poeple equate or associate democracy with freedom or with liberalism. There is some correlation between the concepts – democratic societies are freer than totalitarian or autocratic ones. Nevertheless, democracy and freedom aren’t the same thing.
    What blogs help promote is (we hope) freedom. Disseminating freely information and ideas helps promote freedom.
    If some people call this promoting democracy, they use too loosely the term “democracy”, this is maybe not exact, but neither terribly wrong.

  • Okay, Jacob bridges the gap for me.

  • I am a little fish in big pond. Nothing democratic about that. This pond was created by much bigger fish than I, long before I started blogging. The pond might be large enough by now to be considered a lake, or even an ocean.

    There is nothing democratic about a fish pond. There may be various schools of thought contending, swimming together, or an occasional lone fish attempting to swim against this or that current, but no one can tell anyone what to do, how to swim, indeed whether to sink or swim. Little fish like me may get big or we may die. Big fish may get bigger still, and some of them may evolve, eventually to leave the pond for different environments.

    I like the absence of democracy, because it means no one can be told what to do or think. Even if the overwhelming majority of blogfish (and every conceivable school, species and current) disagree adamantly with me, all they can really do is criticize me and/or avoid me. This does not harm me at all, and it is the essential difference between the blog pond and real fish ponds.


    If I want to be popular, I suppose I could find particular schools and try to join them, or perhaps change my colors to blend in (as do many varieties of fish, some of which — like the Parrot Fish — can even change their sex.)

  • Blogs ARE democratic. I believe it was Aristotle who told me so!

  • Gary… put the bong down… step away from the blog