In yet another in what seem to be a steady stream of reflections on blogging in the press, Tim Dunlop nonetheless manages to write something new, or at least put things many of us know together in an interesting new way. He contends that webloggers are the “new public intellectuals.” As everyone now knows, the blogosphere is a fact-checking dynamo:

As I say, the lone blogger’s resources are limited, but experience shows that they tend to make good use of those they have. Chief amongst these is the search engine Google which is to blogging what the Otis elevator was to skyscrapers: not just a way of getting around but the very thing that made the structure feasible in the first place. And there is something relentless that arises from a having several thousand interested persons poring over a given article checking every comma and quote, Googling its contents, that provides a kind of cumulative fact-checking facility that can sometimes be quite formidable. The blog collective, the ant-colony investigating effect, where a bunch of individuals working alone are able to loosely combine their findings in the blogosphere, linking and relinking to the original article, other sources and each other, can sometimes be overwhelming. I’d call it synergy if the word wasn’t so trendy.

And, we’re markedly more interactive than other types of punditry:

For the individual blogger, or even for the reader who decides to leave a comment, there is a real blowtorch-to-the-belly aspect to blogging in that, by engaging in political debate in such a public way, people often move beyond their own knowledge horizon, or come up against people who are simply better informed than they are, or who have thought about the topic more deeply. Under such circumstances bloggers can be forced to do their growing up on a subject in public, which can be a difficult thing.


By giving an increasingly legitimate forum to anyone who can hold the attention of an audience, blogging has provided at least one of the technical means of dissolving the division between intellectual and citizen.

So rather than being in decline, as it is fashionable to suggest, the category of “public intellectual” in this sense is exploding.

What wannabe citizen intellectuals have always lacked is a proper forum in which to express their ideas as the usual outlets of the media and commercially published and distributed books were not available to them. Blogging, with its cheap online publishing facility and its networking capabilities, where one blogger links to another and to another and builds up what is usually called the “blogosphere”, has to some extent solved this problem of access and audience. Sure, the scale is small, but so were the audiences for the “small magazines” of the past that were seedbeds for a whole range of influential intellectuals and commentators. And as small-scale as blogging is, it is so infinitely greater than what has ever been available before, that it is worthy of the title phenomena, worth taking seriously and worth investing some hope in.

Intriguing stuff.

(Hat tip: Kevin Drum)

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Janis Gore says:

    That’s fulsome. You might do it.