MANY, INCLUDING ME, have cited parallels between Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and the internet. As with blogs and Facebook posts, the printing press meant written thought and communication, and its wide distribution, was no longer the exclusive province of an anointed clergy. The voiceless gained a voice, sparking the violent and centuries-long turmoil of the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the Thirty Years’ War, the sort of existential fractures we seem to be teetering on the verge of ourselves.
But how did 17th- and 18th-century Europeans manage to muddle through such disruptive change? How did something so potentially dangerous give birth to the Enlightenment and all its trappings of democracy and human rights? That required a centuries-long elaboration of norms around editorship, the protocols of scholarly and journalistic truth, and a publishing industry of gatekeepers.