Isaiah's Digital Job

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In
1937, Albert Jay Nock wrote a chapter for his book, Free
Speech and Plain Language
. The chapter later became a classic
essay in libertarian circles: "Isaiah's Job." Leonard
E. Read of the Foundation for Economic Education recommended it
for over two decades. You can still read it here.

Nock
argued that if you try to recruit the masses to your principled
cause, you will fail to the extent that you try to take the moral
high ground. If your cause is based on high principle, the masses
are not interested, and people who can truly help you to spread
the word will be alienated by your very promotional efforts.

Nock
used the biblical example of the remnant in Israel who had not bowed
the knee to Baal. The prophet Elijah had imagined that he was the
only person remaining in the nation who still worshiped God. Not
so, God told him. "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel,
all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which
hath not kissed him" (I Kings 19:18). The Apostle Paul cited
this passage centuries later (Romans 11:4). Elijah believed that
he was alone. He was not alone, but the seven thousand had not contacted
him. A direct-mail campaign would not have helped him, Nock implied.

No
technology in history has ever matched the World Wide Web for enabling
members of a remnant to locate those who best articulate their position
and vision. The "Send" button has become a means of communication
matched by no other for its ease of use, speed, and low cost. We
are told that word-of-mouth advertising is the best there is. Not
any more. Word-of-mouse advertising is.

Revisionist
History

Let
me offer an example of a modern remnant in action. By inclination,
I am a revisionist historian. I fell into this affliction in 1958,
when I wrote a term paper for a high school civics class. I wrote
it on Franklin Roosevelt. I read John T. Flynn's The
Roosevelt Myth
(1948), which by 1958 was out of print. Back
then, it was the only book that was hostile to both the domestic
policy and the foreign policy of FDR. (As far as I know, it still
is.) Four years later, I took a college class on the American revisionist
historians of World War I and World War II. Even then, most of the
revisionist books were long out of print. Most of them had been
published by small publishing companies: Caxton, Devin-Adair, and
Regnery. The market for World War revisionism had just about died
by 1955.

As
for the dozens of published volumes of the various Congressional
hearings on Pearl Harbor, only a privileged few knew of them, let
alone had access to them. And who was going to read through all
of them and create an index system of the truly relevant passages?
No one.

Today,
all of the hearings could be scanned in, indexed electronically,
and put on the Web for $29.95 per month or less. Or they could be
put onto a CD-ROM and delivered by mail for about $3. The main cost
of production would be proofreading the scanned-in text, but this
cost drops every time an update of OmniPage Pro is released. The
error rate keeps going down.

Establishment
historians have tremendous advantages. Their books are numerous.
These books are assigned to college students: a guaranteed market.
Peer-review professional journals keep certain kinds of information
away from public discussion.

Technological
innovation has begun to change this by drastically altering costs.
The World Wide Web and the CD-ROM have drastically lowered the cost
of getting material in front of small, dedicated, highly opinionated
audiences. This Web site is a good example. So is www.freerepublic.com
and www.worldnetdaily.com.
There are thousands of others.

Here
is the digital world's version of Nock's philosophy:

"A
site for every remnant, and every remnant with a site!"

There
is another huge advantage for small publishers. The master file
of the CD-ROM is stored on computer. The CD-ROM seller can produce
a CD-ROM whenever there is an order. He has no inventory expenses.
He also pays no state inventory tax. This will breathe new life
into the out-of-print book market. This drastically lowers the cost
of publishing, which opens new markets to under-funded publishers
with a vision.

A.
J. Liebling's quip was clever: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed
only to those who own one." Now, almost anyone can rent one,
cheap. Furthermore, if necessary, he can rent one outside the jurisdiction
of his national residence. Anonymously.

"If
you build it, they will come." But if it bores them, they won't
come back.

Primary
Source Documents

One
of the problems that all historians have is access to primary source
documents. Printed versions may be incomplete or secretly reworked
by an editor. Then there is the problem of gaining access. Only
major university libraries have anything like complete collections
of even the printed versions.

It
is not cheap to edit, typeset, and print documents. For most volumes
of collected primary sources, there is no market other than research
libraries. This tends to raise the price per volume: low circulation,
high prices.

By
eliminating paper and printing expenses, and by drastically reducing
typesetting costs, the Web is changing the nature of narrow-audience
publishing. Once a Web site is on-line, a publisher can fill a site
with documents. If the site's software and Web design is easy to
manage, the publisher can post new materials very inexpensively.
He may not even need a full-time Webmaster.

A
good example of what can be done is a site on American foreign policy
on a Mount
Holyoke College faculty member's site
. He has assembled hundreds
of primary source documents, classified under two dozen topics.

There
are problems with Web site documentation. The scanning and proofreading
must be accurate. Readers are also dependent on the accuracy of
the government's printed versions of these documents. The original
documents are rarely available. It would be unwise professionally
to rely exclusively on a Web version of any historical document
unless there is an image of the original document available.

But
this, too, has now become easy to include. A new technology developed
by AT&T, called DjVu,
allows posting of highly compressed scanned-in images. It is available
royalty-free for non-profit publishing ventures. A Web site could
offer HTML documents, which can be indexed electronically, and also
supporting documentation in the form of DjVu images of the original
source documents.

For
anyone involved in writing history, the new digital technology will
change the way he researches and writes. Thesis-supporting documents
add both credibility and historical context. Footnotes will include
links to the original documents. A reader will be able to read an
entire document in order to verify the writer's interpretation.
For both Web sites and CD-ROM use, digital technology is revolutionary.

I
think future PhD dissertations in history will be submitted both
on paper and on CD-ROM. The CD-ROM will include links to Web-based
documents and include images of the primary sources.

You
can create a decent small site with Microsoft's FrontPage, which
has lots of independently published "how-to" guides to
help you. For large sites with a lot of documents, I recommend Allaire's
ColdFusion.

July
6, 2000

Gary North is the author of Crossed
Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church
,
available as a free download on www.freebooks.com.
Chapter 7, on how the Rockefellers, Harrimans, and Carnegies funded
the theorists of Nordic racial supremacy, and how the Supreme Court
in 1927 upheld compulsory sterilization, will not soon be quoted
in U.S. history textbooks.

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