Scribblers into Activists: From the Enlightenment to the New English Review
In this article, we review important writer activists from the Age of Enlightenment to today’s era of instant communications via the Internet.
Among the historical figures who transformed the art of pamphleteering into bold initiatives are John Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine during the Age of Revolution, Emile Zola and Theodore Herzl during the Dreyfus Affair of the Third Republic in France, and Winston Churchill and George Orwell during the Pre-World War II epoch. Gordon relates his experiences as a writer activist in the era of the Anti-Jihad movement using the tools of the internet and instant communications. The review provide details of current New English Review initiatives in radio broadcasting and publishing to create alliances and broaden its reach to a wider public audience influencing developments regarding human rights, national and international security policies.
Scribblers of Note in the Age of Revolution: Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine
The United States has the protection of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in our written Constitution. The Bill of Rights was a testament to the revolt against British colonial overlords. Americans in our Revolutionary War against the British Crown, fought to achieve individual rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as framed in our Declaration of Independence.
The First Amendment ‘establishment clause’ forbade the establishment of a state religion, a good thing that denies the goal of Islam and Sharia. The First Amendment also protected a free press that was motivated to be vigilant and present the facts, which all too often maybe violated in biased reporting.
This brings us to John Peter Zenger. Zenger was a German immigrant and newspaper publisher in New York City in the colonial era. Zenger in 1735 was taken to task for criticizing the Royal Governor, William Cosby, who clapped him in jail on charges of seditious libel.
Zenger went through a trial with Philadelphia lawyer, Alan Hamilton, as counsel. Hamilton did something astonishing for that colonial era. He built a defense based on attacking colonial laws of sedition and won a juried decision that set a remarkable precedent for the drafting of our First Amendment. Zenger returned to publishing the New York Weekly Journal. His comment is timeless and apropos of the current controversy that Geert Wilders is facing in the Dutch courts. Zenger said:
"No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves."
So, Peter Zenger was indeed an exemplar of the scribbler/activist, whose ringing defense of free speech has redounded through the ages and today enables us to pursue our quotidian tasks as bloggers and writers.
We can also put Thomas Paine in that category. Paine, a British immigrant to America, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was reprinted a million fold after publication in January, 1776. If not for a chance meeting in London in 1774 with Benjamin Franklin, America and France may not have benefitted from his ideas that justified the goals of revolution against despotism. Paine was a product of a Church of England father and Quaker mother who eschewed formal religion in favor of Deism. Later as a prisoner in revolutionary France, he wrote the Age of Reason a tract against organized religion. As a tax collector in his native England he advocated before Parliament for better pay and working conditions only to be sacked. His writings improved, but his business ventures and marriage failed. For both Paine and Americans his luck turned when he met Benjamin Franklin and migrated to Philadelphia. There he edited the Pennsylvania Magazine, wrote anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets for the burgeoning American Independence movement. Because of his treatment in England, he was a confirmed anti-Monarchist.
His series of pamphlets called The American Crisis were a significant morale booster for American revolutionaries. Some historians claim that they influenced the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776. Note George Washington and other Revolutionary leaders’ responses:
Common Sense convinced many Americans, including George Washington to seek redress in political independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Benjamin Rush had a great influence on this work, as well as its name. (Paine proposed the title Plain Truth). It was instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. Paine also has the distinction of being the man who proposed the name United States of America for the new nation.
During the Revolutionary War Paine published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis that served to inspire Americans during the long struggle. The first Crisis paper, published December, 1776, began with the immortal line, "These are the times that try men's souls." Following a series of military failures, morale was wavering among the Patriot army. The first Crisis paper was so uplifting that Washington had it read to all of his troops.
In 1791 Paine wrote The Rights of Man a political tract in support of the French Revolution. While a supporter of the French Revolutionary cause, he distrusted Robespierre and the Jacobins and was jailed, but miraculously was spared an execution by the Guillotine. Paine was lauded by Napoleon, and his writings were said to have influenced President Lincoln. He passed away in Greenwich Village in 1809.
Scribbler Activists in the Era of the Dreyfus Affair
French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed by the French General staff to cover espionage by the renegade Major Ferdinand Esterhazy who had passed military secrets to the German Embassy. Dreyfus’ first trial and conviction as a traitor on trumped up espionage charges in 1896 led to his sentencing to incarceration for life on the infamous Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Revelations about the innocence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus came to light after an investigation by Col. Picquet revealed that Maj. Henry of the intelligence staff had forged documents effectively scapegoating Captain Dreyfus leading to his conviction at his first trial. Picquet then leaked these facts to liberal opponents of Premier Favre. Senator August Scheurer-Kestner raised the issue of Dreyfus’ innocence and Esterhazy’s guilt in the French Senate. The Dreyfus Affair became a cause célèbre in France pitting the liberal intelligentsia and commercial classes against the conservative Favre government, the French General Staff and the church hierarchy who poured anti-Semitic vitriol on the character of Dreyfus and fellow French Jews using false allegations of divided loyalty.
Emile Zola a leading French writer and liberal took up the cause of Dreyfus’ innocence and with the cooperation of future French Premier, Georges Clemenceau, a publisher of the French daily newspaper, L’Aurore, published his famed open letter “J’Accuse” in January, 1898. Zola’s open letter to President Favre accused the French General staff of anti-Semitism, obstructing justice and leading to the wrongful conviction of Jewish captain Dreyfus, a gross miscarriage of justice. Zola was then tried and convicted for alleged criminal libel in February, 1898. Whereupon he fled to London to escape going to jail. He returned in 1899 as the Favre government fell.
Dreyfus, who returned to France in 1899, was given the choice of a pardon or a further military trial. He chose the pardon, but was fully exonerated in 1906. His rank was restored, promoted to Major, made a Knight of the Legion of Honor and retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel after serving as an Artillery Commander during the First World War. Dreyfus died in 1935.
Zola died at age 62 under mysterious circumstances in 1902. His ashes were moved to the Pantheon in 1906, a mark of honor. His famous remark about the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair was:
"The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it."
Theodore Herzl, the father of Political Zionism was the Paris correspondent for the Austrian newspaper, Neue Freie Presse at the time of the Dreyfus affair. He was present at the ceremony stripping Dreyfus of his rank and the breaking of his sword after his fraudulent conviction, where he heard cries of “Death to the Jews.” Herzl, a Hungarian, boulevardier and secular assimilated Jew, who lived in Vienna, had a minor epiphany as a result of what he had viewed; Jews needed a state of their own and had no future in Europe. Thus began an a remarkably short career that saw the establishment of the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897 and the quixotic journeys across Europe and to Ottoman Turkey to enlist the assistance of Sultan Abdulhamid II in granting lands for the return of the Jewish diaspora. Herzl petitioned Kaiser Wilhelm to demonstrate approval of the Zionist project including a ceremonial visit to Jerusalem in 1900. Herzl was offered land in the British colony of Uganda as a possible Jewish homeland. He offered that possibility at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1903, only to have it rejected by Russian delegates. He authored several books about the Zionist project that included The Jewish State and NeuAltland, the first being a justification of the return to a sovereign Jewish State in the ancient Middle East homeland and the second was a novel about a hypothetical Jewish State in what is now the State of Israel. He died prematurely in July 1904 at the age of 44. His remains were moved from Austria to his final resting place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in 1949. Herzl wrote at the occasion of the first World Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basle:
"At Basle, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it."
Scribbler activists in the Pre-World War Two Era
Following the electoral defeat of Conservative government in 1929 Churchill lost his Cabinet position. He entered his so-called ‘wilderness years.” By necessity he returned to his journalist origins, became a columnist and wrote his wide ranging History of the English Speaking Peoples. He continued as a generally disregarded Conservative back bencher in Parliament. When the ‘Nazees’ as Churchill called them assumed power in March 1933, Churchill concluded that the Democratic West would ultimately find themselves in mortal combat with a renewed, re-invigorated, re-armed anti-Semitic Germany with lebensraum expansionist goals to reclaim lands lost as a result of the Versailles Treaty.
Churchill was especially concerned about lagging British Aircraft production and its consequences in the face of German rearmament. As History net noted:
Beginning in 1934 he articulated a series of warnings that the government was missing the growing threat from German air armament. In an eloquent and, in retrospect, all too accurate speech in November 1934, he warned: 'To urge preparation of defense is not to assert the imminence of war. On the contrary, if war were imminent, preparations for defense would be too late.' Prime Minister Baldwin replied by assuring the House of Commons, 'His Majesty's Government is determined in no condition to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future.' In fact, the government was doing little to force the pace of RAF rearmament — all the more extraordinary in view of the fact that earlier that same year Baldwin had uttered his claim that 'the bomber will always get through.'
Given his political connections and network of concerned officials in the British Air Ministry, the RAF and in the Foreign Office, he formed a working group involving Brendan Bracken and Professor Lindemann at Oxford to find out the particulars of German aircraft production. Churchill wrote tirelessly using information supplied by his working group about the rapid buildup of German Luftwaffe production in violation of the Versailles Treaty. This enabled Churchill to incessantly prod the resistant Baldwin and later Chamberlain governments to ultimately expand British production of tactical Spitfire defensive fighters.
After the debacle of “peace in our times” after Munich in 1938, Churchill’s stock rose with the Fleet Street press. Chamberlain was forced to invite him to join the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939 following the declaration of war against Nazi Germany. Chamberlain resigned in May, 1940 when unable to form a unity government, whereupon Churchill was asked to form a wartime unity government. Churchill’s emphasis on aircraft production during his ‘wilderness years’ enabled the RAF together with the new technology of radar to win the Battle of Britain in 1940 against the Luftwaffe onslaught and bombing of London, Coventry and other major cities. Thus, we consider Churchill as an exemplar of a scribbler activist who made a difference in the war that ultimately vanquished Nazi totalitarianism.
Another British Scribbler Activist during the pre-war era was George Orwell. Orwell, educated at Eton College, served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. During the 1930’s he became a Labor socialist, journalist and author. He served in a Trotskyite militia in the Spanish Civil War and during WWII was a BBC propagandist and commentator. Orwell succumbed to the ravages of tuberculosis in 1950. We associate Orwell with his fable of Stalinism, Animal Farm, and his dark view of totalitarianism under the Party of Big Brother in the chilling 1984. Earlier in the 1930’s his works such as Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Apidistra Flying depicted the ravages of poverty during the Great Depression that ravaged Britain and left the British coal miners and middle class destitute and dispirited.
Like Churchill, Orwell was a scribbler activist. However, as a Labor Socialist he was drawn into the cockpit of the war against democracy in Spain on the Republican Loyalist side. As a college undergraduate a half century ago what defined my early personal commitment against totalitarianism, whether, Fascism, Communism or fundamentalist Islam was the reading of two books; The God that Failed- a series of essays by former Communists edited by British Labor MP, R.H. Crossman, and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
Homage to Catalonia chronicled Orwell’s service with the Trotskyite P.O.U.M militia in Republican Catalonia fighting against the Nationalist rebels lead by diminutive Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the purported ‘hero’ of Pat Buchanan. Franco and his nationalists were determined to root out the Republicans and Socialists who were endeavoring to reform Spain’s medieval land and labor practices in a blood thirsty campaign. In a recent volume on correspondents who reported during the Spanish Civil War by British writer Paul Preston, We Saw Spain Die, the brutality of Franco’s Foreign legionnaires and Moroccan jihadi mercenaries, were graphically depicted. American Journalist Jay Allen reports of the slaughter of thousands of innocents in the bull ring at Bajadoz near the Portuguese border in 1936 and South African George Steer’s reports of the terror bombing of Guernica in April 1937 by the German Condor Legion and Italian Fascist bombers shocked the public.
What Orwell did in Homage to Catalonia was to chronicle the duplicity and suborning efforts by Stalin’s advisers and political commissars who ruthlessly rooted out, tortured and killed Trotskyites and Spanish anarchists from fighting units of the Spanish Republic. It was that exposure to the evidence of Soviet duplicity as viewed by Orwell, who was severely injured in combat in Republican Spain, that lead him to excoriate Stalinist betrayal of democracy with the publication of Homage to Catalonia. Later he would use the fable of Animal Farm with his caricatures of Stalin as the Pig Napoleon and Trotsky as the Pig Snowball to issue the ultimate commandment that “all animals are equal, except that some animals are more equal than others.” View an animated video of Animal Farm, here.
The Scribbler-Activist in the age of the Internet
The Lessons Learned
To help New English Review continue to publish timely and interesting articles like this one, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this article and want to read more by Jerry Gordon, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this article and want to read more by Jerry Gordon, please click here.
Jerry Gordon is a also regular contributor to our community blog. To read his entries, please click here.
Join leaders of the American Middle Eastern community to endorse
Donald J. Trump
for President of the United States
and spend an evening with his foreign policy advisors featuring
Dr. Walid Phares
and other surprise campaign guests.
Monday October 17th
Omni Shoreham Hotel
2500 Calvert Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20008
cocktails at 6pm - dinner at 7pm
Business casual attire
$150 per person / $1500 per table
Sponsored by the American Mideast Coalition for Trump