As a counterforce to government intrusions, technological advances have generally promoted liberty. Among the most powerful of these forces is the internet—the medium of this blog. In the book Technologies of Freedom, Ithiel de Sola Pool showed how the printing press was indispensable to the transformation from monarchy to democracy. The printing press was certainly essential to creating a constitutional, continental democracy in the United States, for, as de Tocqueville observed around that time, organization for the public good “cannot be conveniently and habitually done without a newspaper. Only a newspaper can put the same thought at the same time before thousands of readers.” In 1789 the printing press fostered the most widespread deliberation on fundamental law that the world had ever known.
The history of liberty has been in no small measure the struggle between diffuse and encompassing interests, on the one hand, and special interests, on the other. Through their concentrated power, special interests seek to use the state to their benefit, while diffuse interests concern the ordinary citizen or taxpayer, or in William Graham Sumner’s arresting phrase, The Forgotten Man. When the printing press was invented, the most important special interests were primarily the rulers themselves and the aristocrats who supported them. The printing press allowed the middle class to discover and organize around their common interests to sustain a democratic system that limited the exactions of the oligarchs.
Bu the struggle between diffuse and special interests does not disappear with the rise of democracy.