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A sort of pamphleteer...

Few are fooled by the claim that impending Hate Crime Bill enforcement is about protecting 'feelz'.

Sunday, March 24, 2024
3 mins

by Frances Watt

Few are fooled by the claim that the impending Hate Crime Bill enforcement is about protecting 'feelz'.

It's about shutting down debate, silencing legitimate criticism and vilifying those who dare to expose corruption, conspiracy, hypocrisy and state criminality.

What are bloggers if not the modern equivalent of pamphleteers?

And bloggers are nothing without their audience, all of which is generated via social media. The current stable of pro-independence bloggers may, at times, resemble nothing more than a Gordian knot of disagreement and personality clashes but, for better or worse, it continues to provide discourse which has been developing over the past two decades. Taken as a whole it is a valuable (if unwieldy) historical document. If it had all appeared in hard copy rather than ‘online’, it would present a mammoth task for archivists.

Consider some material produced in a relatively recent revolutionary period…

‘In his book The French Revolution (1837), Thomas Carlyle termed the period 1789–95 ‘the Age of Pamphlets’. In August 1789 the National Assembly declared that ‘all citizens can speak, write and print freely’ and the whole system of state censorship began to break down. A mania to produce and read pamphlets and periodicals swept across France. The number of printing establishments in Paris tripled in the Revolutionary period, with 55 new shops in the years 1789–90 alone. With deregulation, book publishing virtually collapsed but the output of journals, newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets was enormous. The pamphlets ranged from treatises on finance, proposals for new systems of public administration, and scholarly and philosophical essays to political denunciations, eulogies and ‘Les Cris de Paris’. Many of the pamphlets that deluged the country were anonymous, libellous, seditious and pornographic.

Before long, there was a backlash. Laws in 1793 turned political journalism and pamphleteering into dangerous professions and the Terror brought printing presses to a halt. As Benjamin Constant later wrote, ‘pamphlets, and handbills, and especially newspapers, are produced quickly, you can buy them for little, and because their effect is immediate, they are believed to be more dangerous’. After 1794 there was a revival of book publishing, but the production of journals and pamphlets declined. Nevertheless, throughout the Directory (1795–99) and the Consulate (1799–1804) the publication of pamphlets generally exceeded output in the pre-Revolutionary period.’

French Revolutionary Pamphlet Collection | National Library of Australia (nla.gov.au)

Modern pamphleteers

‘In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.’ Orwell.

Why I Write | The Orwell Foundation

Had Orwell been alive right now, he would probably have his own blog. And we know his thoughts on the peculiar nature of ‘English’ censorship, the fourth estate, propaganda and so on. The Hate Crime Bill would have attracted his critical attention. 

In the weeks and months ahead, as the HCB comes into force and the mainstream media decides which tack it is going to take in coverage of implementation and public reaction, we would do well to remember that the demise of intelligent online commentary would not cause an outpouring of grief in the ever-shrinking newspaper offices of the land. Likewise in BBC HQ at Pacific Quay and other broadcasting hubs.

The Scottish pro-independence blogging community is not the most cohesive of movements but it is ours and no-one else can protect it but us. All of the cliches about defending ‘freedom of speech’ come into play and whatever 'solidarity' exists is about to be tested as never before. Orwell’s self-examination, as detailed in that essay, can help us all clarify our motivation and have a think about how best to negotiate the turbulence ahead.

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