WikiLeaks Copies 16th Century Amsterdam
By Staff News & Analysis - December 02, 2010

How Wikileaks is copying 16th-century Amsterdam … There is nothing particularly novel about what Wikileaks is actually doing – it is actually rather primitive journalism – though none the less brilliant for it…. Disregard the technological sheen; Wikileaks is even more old-fashioned than that. Back in the early days of the printing revolution, when Reformation-period governments realised the power of the printed word, they slapped as many restrictions as possible on owners of presses … The initials signs are that they will try to [shut] down as many servers as possible, potentially re-writing press laws (which are, anyway, rather chaotic things). That didn't work in Reformation Europe; does it stand any chance of working today? – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: Look, an original concept. WikiLeaks partakes of older communication technologies …

Free-Market Analysis: The UK Telegraph has caught onto the idea that there are parallels between what has come before and what is happening today. Specifically, WikiLeaks is a form of pamphleteering and we can see its antecedents in Amsterdam. There is a whiff, therefore, in this article (excerpted above) of forbidden knowledge; an acknowledgement that what is going on today is a great deal like what happened after the popularization of the Gutenberg press (pictured above left). Sh-hh. The modern Western elites don't want to discuss this of course. History is supposed to be built around Great Men (most, if not all conveniently bankrolled and controlled by the elites themselves).

But what is strange to us is that even when the Telegraph begins to approach the truth, it still gets it wrong. The writer claims that Amsterdam was pretty much the only nexus of raw, anything-goes literature when it fact Britain (and likely Europe, generally) had its own history of the same sort of tradition. Wikipedia tells us: "The turbulent years of the mid-17th century, during the reign of Charles I and the subsequent Commonwealth and Protectorate, saw a flourishing of political literature in English. Pamphlets written by sympathizers of every faction in the English civil war ran from vicious personal attacks and polemics, through many forms of propaganda …"

This is no doubt true because the period after the invention of the Gutenberg press was fairly brutal throughout Europe. (And the electronic frontier of the Internet has manifested a similar tendency.) The Western elites of the day had done a good job of tamping down dissent and reducing knowledge. The science, philosophy and art of the Romans and Greeks had been fairly well suppressed. The Catholic Church provided a kind of universal law, affirming the predominance of the ruling powers – the Kings, nobles, knights, etc., the entire lamentable aristocracy. But the Gutenberg press changed all that.

First there was a Bible: the Gutenberg Bible. And then other Bibles; then other books were reprinted – and presumably much of the canon from Greece and Rome, what was left of it anyway. The entire Western tradition was gradually reclaimed – first in Italy and then throughout Europe. People began to think again. Books empowered. Mind-control was vanquished for a time.

Now it is true, perhaps, that the Venetian banking elites took advantage of the Renaissance to aid in the creation of a new movement now known as the Reformation in order to divide and weaken the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we would speculate that the Reformation itself proved no more controllable in the long run than any other great intellectual trend – and in fact the Catholic schism would have happened anyway. The power of these big technological revolutions is never truly controllable, as today's elite is finding out.

The comparison between the Gutenberg press and today's Internet is a point we constantly drive home (as readers and Bell feedbackers know well). But we have been writing and talking about it for at least a decade because it is not a widely understood phenomenon. (The elites, obviously, are not fond of it.) Throughout academia, in fact, there are so many ways to interpret history. One can approach history from a Marxist, socialist or "great man" point of view, but rarely will you find history being approached from a free-market standpoint, and even more rarely will you find it approached conspiratorially.

What has been lacking is the sense of a dynamic between money power and the societies it impinges. It was technology itself, specifically the Gutenberg press, that shattered the Dark Ages and brought about the Renaissance, etc. One could even argue that the formation of the Illuminati (a Jesuit-inspired group) was in a sense created to take back what had been lost. It was intended to reassert, secretly, the degraded power of the elites.

The parallels remain strong in our view. Utilize the Gutenberg press as a kind of historical touchstone and interpretation of modern events becomes easier. We would not be surprised, for instance, if Julian Assange has some sort of relationship to Western intelligence agencies. The Venetians seem to have encouraged Martin Luther. Likewise, we are not surprise by the angry reaction to Assange's efforts. Just as the elites lost control of Martin Luther (in our view) so they may be losing control of Assange.

The parallels run much deeper than that of course. Here at the Bell, we are regularly accused of a false optimism about the Internet. It isn't like the Gutenberg press, feedbackers regularly complain. Our argument, of course, is that the two technologies have much more in common than most may think. There was nothing for instance, that stopped the ancient state from mounting a house-to-house search for printing presses, had they really wanted to confiscate them in a given area. Printing presses, even small ones, are hard to hide.

But the powers-that-be didn't confiscate all printing presses anymore than today, they will "turn off " the Internet (assuming it could be done) because human beings are tool-using creatures that will enthusiastically adapt to the latest, "coolest" technologies because (in large part) of sexual advantages. (Over and over, men use the latest tools and women are attracted to men who have such mastery.) The most modern tools activate the most primal instincts. Also, the printing press, no doubt, was already nestled deep into the economies of the day and trying to eradicate it would have been useless and detrimental. Powerful forces would have spoken up in its defense. The same is true today.

The Catholic Church apparently experimented with licensing books, but that didn't work. The powers-that-be then came up with the idea of copyright, and perhaps that worked a little better. But it is safe to say that the powerful intellectual movements started by the Gutenberg press burned on nonetheless until they burned out; and then the elite was finally able to counterattack. From what we can calculate this took almost 300 years and the American Civil War punctuated the decline of the Gutenberg era.

The Internet is a huge revolution involving billions of people, and the world's largest corporations as well. It is not feasible to turn such a massive technology "off." The Internet will simply have to run its course, as the Gutenberg press did. The timeline may be condensed, because the world moves faster now. But the Internet, we figure, has a good 50-100 years to run before the elite gets a firm hold on it. And by then a new technology may have emerged …

We've suggested that what may be going on now is a kind of New Enlightenment (a Renaissance to be more exact). Literacy itself is returning; as is the development of a historical frame of reference. Modern Western society, under the control of the elites, has worked hard to eradicate free-market thinking and to celebrate linear analysis. Engineers and accountants are much-in-demand (as they help support the larger elite portfolios) while "creative" personalities often have a tougher go.

After Thoughts

Of course, the elites will continue to fight (and try to control) the Internet's evolution; and no revolution runs smoothly. But we look to the effects of the Gutenberg press, and how its ripples of influence spread; and we see the same process at work today. In fact, the Internet is a process, not an episode, and its continued advancement is deeply rooted in human psycho-sexuality. The article in the Telegraph, with admittedly tentative conclusions, may be just the beginning.