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Helle Porsdam / Mia Rendix (Copenhagen)

The Enlightenment Revisited: Digitization and the Right to Read

The Enlightenment Revisited: Digitization and the Right to Read
So far, scholarly analyses on digitization have been characterized by the same skepticism and/or awe that modernism and, later, the launch of the internet were able to unfold. This article is an attempt to modify some of these reactions, discourses and conclusions. Instead, we call upon the European and American Enlightenment ideals to explain and discuss current transatlantic digitization library projects: A new digital "Republic of Letters" in the US and "Europeana" as its counterpart in Europe. It is argued that classic and more radical notions of Bildung and Enlightenment are useful when trying to understand the premises, visions and ideological battles that determine and challenge current efforts to digitize national libraries and cultural heritage institutions and the UNESCO charter of 1972 on the right to read.

In their analyses of the digitization of cultural heritage, many scholars refer to the history and development of the book,1 to media theories on digitized texts as the remediations of the textual, visual and audible;2 or to cultural theories on museums as new virtual spaces. Often, in such analyses, the word modernism is used and digitization is viewed as representing everything that is "new"/ "nouveau" – a linear and progressive movement toward new horizons: Modernism 2.0. And depending on the underlying attitude toward modernism, digitization is either considered to be very good (a new frontier with endless possibilities) or very bad (a labyrinth full of evil digital companies and pitfalls that threaten to take over the world and forever doom its helpless users).

Digitization and the internet are being praised as something completely new; yet, at the same time, they are described through traditional and well-known mythical, even biblical, metaphors and symbols. This is interesting and the question is: Why are descriptions of the internet full of metaphorical language and discourse that are certainly not new? In what follows, we argue that digitization may be viewed as a cyclical revitalization of the Enlightenment ideals of equality and freedom to open access and to the right to read. Whether we are talking about the analogue or the digital world, echoes of these Enlightenment ideas and sentiments are still to be heard – both in discussions concerning what benefits an individual human being and what benefits his or her society in general.

Our paper will be divided into four parts. In the first part, we will set the scene for what is to come by describing the two explanatory models typically used in contemporary scholarship on the internet, open access and digitization: the culturally optimistic one and the culturally pessimistic one, respectively. The second part of our paper will establish the analogy between various Enlightenment philosophies and contemporary digital initiatives and terminologies. Thirdly, we will compare the epistemology and ontology of classical notions of Bildung to those of contemporary digital notions. And fourthly, we will present the case of UNESCO's 1972 International Book Year as an example of how Bildung and the right to read became a universal human right – a right to which we may find a number of references in contemporary arguments designed to destabilize attempts to limit the free use of the internet.

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1 Two explanatory models of digitization

According to the culturally optimistic model, what initially may look like a certain atomization of the internet will eventually result in completely new conceptualizations and formalizations of classical notions of Enlightenment, Bildung and access to knowledge – qualitatively as well as quantitatively. A pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier has by now joined the more pessimistic camp, as we shall see, but in his influential book of 2010, You're not a Gadget, he very precisely pinpoints the positive language used about the internet by proponents of the optimistic model: From the start, descriptions of the internet included metaphysical and nostalgic-romantic words and phrases such as "new world" and "a new frontier" as well as words rooted in a more modern vocabulary such as "minimalist," "open," "accessible to all," "emphasized responsibility" (Lanier 2010: 6), "energetic," "personal quality," and promoting "a pristine crystalline form of existence in the digital realm" (Lanier 2010: 15). Consequently, open access and the flow of information by and for everyone became a "new manifest destiny," a new Eden of Bildung. By 1984, Stewart Brand had coined the now legendary phrase, "information wants to be free" (Brand 1987: 202) when he founded the Whole Earth Catalogue, which Apple's Steve Jobs characterized as the forerunner of Google and Wikipedia. In 1990, Richard Stallman repeated Brand's idea; and at the website for definitions of free software, his famous quote is stated: "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in 'free speech', not as in free beer." (Free Software Foundation)

As for the more culturally pessimistic model, the argument is that the internet atomizes and alters not only our concepts of ourselves as human beings, but also art itself as well as the relationship between author/writer, audience, and even space and time. As previously mentioned, Jaron Lanier is one of the major spokesmen for this model.3 As he sees it, recent developments concerning the internet seem to lead inevitably toward what John von Neumann once called 'the singularity theory.' According to von Neumann,

Robots and computers will be able to construct copies of themselves, and these copies will be a little bit better than the original (…) Humans might then enjoy immortality within virtual reality. (qtd. in Lanier 2010: 24)

Stanislaw Ulam took an even more decisive step toward ideas of the singularity theory in his conversation with von Neumann in 1958:

One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue. (Ulam 1958: 5)

Unlike von Neumann, Lanier does not consider this scenario very promising. On the contrary, this endless replication removes the human subject further and further from itself and others and the belief in 'the singularity theory' will, Lanier argues, end in a predetermined destruction of human empathy, a contraction of 'the circle of empathy':

An imaginary circle of empathy is drawn by each person. It circumscribes the person at some distance, and corresponds to those things in the world that deserve empathy. (…) The tricky part is that some entities reside close to the edge of the circle. The deepest controversies often involve whether something or someone should lie just inside or just outside the circle. (…) When you change the contents of your circle, you change your conception of yourself. The center of the circle shifts as its perimeter is changed. The liberal impulse is to expand the circle, while conservatives tend to want to restrain or even contract the circle. (Lanier 2010: 37)

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Lanier longs for the transcendent wholeness of the original and unharmed circle of empathy which sought to preserve the human/the subject and the body with its "curvy, transient expressions" and he believes in "the unfathomable penumbra of meaning that distinguishes a word in a natural language from a command in a computer program" (Lanier 2010: 7), and "the rhythms of my body and my mind" (Lanier 2010: 12). When the computer tries to "adhere with absolute perfection to a boundlessly particular, arbitrary, tangled, intractable messiness" Lanier 2010: 8) of a human being, Lanier feels the need to speak up for a manifestation of the human subject with a "consciousness," "a soul" (Lanier 2010: 42). All in all, he sees the individual human subject as being threatened by the collectivity of the internet – a collectivity which he thinks approaches a kind of digital fascism: "If we lose the finitude, we lose our own center and identity" (Lanier 2010: 38).

A critical but arguably more pragmatic and progressive tradition is exemplified by the work of Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. In 1999, Bolter and Grusin published their highly debated and influential Remediation: Understanding New Media in which they proposed a new understanding of the internet media revolution in their reinterpretation of the myth and rhetoric of the newness surrounding the new media and the internet. Bolter and Grusin presented their key concept as 'remediation' which is defined as "the formal logic by which new media technologies refashion prior media forms" (Bolter and Grusin 2000: 273). Eleven years later Bolter and Grusin's theory is still considered to be an important part of the theoretical canon - Bolter even having been named "The new Gutenberg" (Eno 1992: 12). Furthermore, in his recent book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership, Lewis Hyde (Hyde 2010) advocates free access to knowledge and traces this concept/vision to Founding Fathers of American democracy such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Hyde embraces the internet and its possibilities. Also, Hyde continues the thoughts of Lawrence Lessig and his dedication to free culture and remediation as 'remix'.

In this article we propose that in order to understand digitization and to look forward, it is necessary to look back, as it were. Digitization is something more than a regeneration or a tabula rasa; it does not, in our opinion, correspond to the idea of modernity and hence to a new modernism. Instead, we find that the fundamental ideas of Bildung, digitization and open access can be traced back to and contextualized, ideologically, philosophically, culturally, as well as aesthetically, by the ideals of the European and American Enlightenment. In the following, we will compare the Enlightenment definition of Bildung and the ideal of sharing scientific and creative knowledge with today's global dictums on digitization and open access. In many ways, the current attempt by Robert Darnton and others to create an American 'Digital Republic of Letters' is an invocation of Thomas Jefferson's vision of 'A Republic of Letters.'

Before this comparison is made, however, a few comments on the term 'Enlightenment' are appropriate. We do not belong to the scholarly tradition which explains the Enlightenment as a single, unified movement of ideas on both sides of the Atlantic. On the contrary, and in the tradition of Jonathan Israel's work, we want to stress the point that the ideals of the historical period which we call the Enlightenment were neither absolute, nor homogeneous and coherent (Israel 2001, 2006, 2011) Many different groups refuted and contradicted each other in their search for exactly the 'right' version of Enlightenment and Bildung. At the risk of somewhat over-simplifying things and of echoing Israel's work, we maintain that the various Enlightenment visions may be traced back to two major opposing groups of philosophers and revolutionaries: moderates and radicals. We suggest, furthermore, that the views of these two Enlightenment groups can be used to explain and understand the views of the current adversaries in the digitization struggle.

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2 From Humboldt to Hathitrust and Europeana

A revitalization of interest in Greek antiquity in Germany arose during the 18th century. People influenced by the regeneration, or neo-humanism, movement believed that each individual possesses the capacity to cultivate him- or herself via the study of the art works of antiquity, especially the forms and images of Hellenic sculpture whose noble sentiments are common to all human beings. But it is difficult to translate the word Bildung from German into English. According to Eric J. Klaus the word in German refers to an active process, "sich bilden" (to educate oneself) as well as to a state of mind, "gebildet sein" (to be educated). Thus, the word includes various meanings like "image," "form," and "shape," and adding the suffix –"ung" implies both a state and a process (Klaus 2003). This variety of meanings makes it possible to translate Bildung in a number of ways: "physical appearance," "form," "formation," "shape," "education," etc. The framers of Bildung formulated their theory as a means toward self-betterment and social improvement, concurrent with and complementary to the program of neo-humanism (Klaus 2003). To put it simply, Bildung means the formative process of a human being into his or her "Menschsein" (being a person) so as to fulfill his/her cultural, social, political and psychological potential and to enter into fruitful relationships with other human beings, society and the world.4 It was the historian Wilhelm von Humboldt who became the most famous spokesman for Bildung, though. Humboldt connected "Die Menschheit" with positive words such as "Willen," "Verbesserung," "Veredlung," "Kräfte," "Streben" and those led the way to related words like "reine Erkenntnis," "Wärme," "Licht," "Allheit," "Freiheit" (Humboldt 1986: 33-36). The vocabulary used here is distinctly metaphysical. Yet importantly, to Humboldt Bildung did not just involve the individual human being at a metaphysical level; it also had a direct influence on society in general (Humboldt 1986: 17):

Was verlangt man von einer Nation, einem Zeitalter, von dem ganzen Menschengeschlecht, wenn man ihm seine Achtung und seine Bewunderung schenken soll? Man verlangt, dass Bildung, Weisheit und Tugend so mächtig und allgemein verbreitet, als möglich, unter ihm herrschen, dass es seinen innern Werth so hoch steigern, dass der Begriff der Menschheit, wenn man ihn von ihm, als dem einzigen Beispiel, abziehen müsste, einen grossen und würdigen Gehalt gewönne. Man begnügt sich nicht einmal damit. Man fordert auch, dass der Mensch den Verfassungen, die er bildet, selbst der leblosen Natur, die ihn umgiebt, das Gepräge seines Werthes sichtbar aufdrücke, ja dass er seine Tugend und seine Kraft (so mächtig und so allwaltend sollen sie sein ganzes Wesen durchstralen) noch der Nachkommenschaft einhauche, die er erzeugt. (Humboldt 1986: 3)

For a more generous or inclusive view of the concept of Bildung, we have to turn to Immanuel Kant and his essay "Über Pädagogik" from 1803:

Der Mensch kann nur Mensch werden durch Erziehung. […] Die Pädagogik oder Erziehungslehre ist entweder physisch oder praktisch. [...] Die praktische oder moralische ist diejenige, durch die der Mensch soll gebildet werden, damit er wie ein frei handelndes Wesen leben könne. [...] Sie ist Erziehung zur Persönlichkeit, Erziehung eines frei handelnden Wesens, das sich selbst erhalten, und in der Gesellschaft ein Glied ausmachen, für sich selbst aber einen innern Wert haben kann. (Kant 1803: 11)

Kant's rational view of Bildung was deeply related to his vision of Enlightenment – a term he had already defined in his essay, "Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?" (1783):

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Aufklärung ist der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Selbstverschuldet ist diese Unmündigkeit, wenn die Ursache derselben nicht am Mangel des Verstandes, sondern der Entschließung und des Mutes liegt, sich seiner ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Sapere aude! Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen! ist also der Wahlspruch der Aufklärung. (Kant 1913: 169)

This "Vollkommenheit" or "completeness" ensues from Bildung, but it requires both openness and courage ("Mut") to enroll oneself into a scientia generalis that will be good not only for one's own Bildung, but also for society as a whole. This line of thinking was supported by the French philosopher Denis Diderot whose philosophy had a profound impact on the French Enlightenment and Revolution. In his ambitious and monumental Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers par une société des gens de lettresBildung that might help to change the individual, his society and the world in general (Diderot 1751). Another French philosopher, François-Marie Arouet Voltaire, added to this: "Liberty of thought is the life of the soul" (Voltaire 1727).

It is most often the European countries – in particular Germany, France and England – and their men of letters who are considered to have been the most influential in developing the Enlightenment ideals and of inspiring the French Revolution and its legendary slogan: "Liberté, égalité, fraternité." However, across the Atlantic the American Founding Fathers also formulated visions for Bildung and its importance for society. Thomas Jefferson stated, for example, that "knowledge is the common property of mankind" and continued:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea […]. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. (Jefferson 1813)

John Adams later followed up on this idea of Bildung being necessary for society in general (Adams 1765), and as Lewis Hyde shows, Jefferson's and Adams' thoughts on democratic self-governance and knowledge as a common wealth, not a private preserve, helped shape the American Constitution and visions for American democracy.

But what relevance does this have for today's libraries and the ongoing digitization of archives, books, newspapers etc.? When we revisit the thoughts and ideas of both the European and the American Enlightenment here, it is because we hear echoes of these ideas – especially the ones relating to Bildung for the individual as well as for his/her society – in debates going on today about digitization. Two large and ambitious digital library projects, the American National Digital Library Project and the European Europeana Project, may serve as illustrations.

In 2004, the Director of the Harvard University Library at the time, Professor Sidney Verba, officially signed a deal with the company Google concerning the digitization of Harvard's vast collection of books. The intention was to preserve the many invaluable works and to make them available to students and researchers. The initial response on the part of authors, lawyers and intellectuals was of outspoken criticism, even fear of the disappearance of books as physical, material things, however.

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Also, politicians and citizens expressed concerns that it was only a small, elite part of the American citizenry who was allowed access to this important and impressive book collection. Today, six years later, the general evaluation of the Google project tends to be more positive. In addition to preserving the archives of the top U.S. universities, the Google project has inspired a number of new digital projects – several of them headed by the new director of the Harvard University Library, Professor Robert Darnton. Partly as a result of the deal between Harvard and Google, for example, a new initiative has seen the light of day: the establishment of a national university digital library. The HathiTrust, which was launched in 2008, today has 31 partners – public and private university libraries as well the New York Public Library. As expressed in its "Mission and Goal"-statement, the project's rhetoric concerning digitization shows a striking resemblance to the rhetoric of the Enlightenment. The subtitle of the project is "A Shared Digital Future" – a subtitle which points to two different things: 1) That this is a collective initiative with a collective aim; and 2) that the digital is the point of departure for a future, common Bildung. Furthermore, the definition of the project's mission and goal harks back to Diderot's encyclopedia:

The mission of HathiTrust is to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge. (Hathitrust 2010)

Building on the Google-Harvard project and the HathiTrust, in his opening statement at a conference at Harvard University on October 1st 2010, Darnton made it clear that his intention is to build a digital version of the Enlightenment encyclopedia. In referring to both the Founding Fathers and the Constitution and in choosing phrases such as "freely available," "exist everywhere" for "all of its citizens," Darnton pointed to an American version of Bildung related to notions of citizenship in a (American) democratic republic:

The Founding Fathers did not merely turn out quotable remarks, they meant what they said, and that meaning is valid today—unless you think the Constitution has been rendered obsolete by the Internet. Behind the creation of the American republic was another republic, which made the Constitution thinkable. This was the Republic of Letters—an information system powered by the pen and the printing press, a realm of knowledge open to anyone who could read and write, a community of writers and readers without boundaries, police, or inequality of any kind, except that of talent. Like other men of the Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers believed that free access to knowledge was a crucial condition for a flourishing republic, and that the American republic would flourish if its citizens exercised their citizenship in the Republic of Letters. (Darnton 20101)

Were it to be realized, Darnton's idea for a national digital library would not be the first of its kind. Several governments in European and Asian countries – France, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Japan – have donated large sums of money to digitize their national heritage. On a grander scale, the Europeana-website was launched in 2008 and initially had a broader scope and mission than its American counterpart. Director Jill Cousins defines Europeana's mission and goals in this way:

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With a network of over 90 cultural organizations, Europeana is addressing the human, political, technical and semantic issues of creating a joint portal. The significance of Europeana lies in its drive towards enabling access to EU culture to all citizens in Europe, bringing to one place all the treasures currently located elsewhere. In a nutshell, Europeana will provide a single-point access and end-to-end service to all the sources on artists such as van Gogh and musicians such as Mozart in the same place, ultimately making a total of ten million items accessible. All citizens in EU will therefore benefit from access to and the sharing of cultural resources with the potential to increase cultural awareness. (Cousins 2009)

Officially, "all citizens in Europe" will "benefit" from accessing Europeana; "sharing cultural resources," they will hopefully increase their "cultural awareness." In practice, however, Europeana is "a decentralized library managed by experts." This means not only that the people behind Europeana are facing a number of organizational challenges; it also means that a more limited target group will ultimately benefit from the Bildung offered. Realistically, Jill Cousins explains, we are no longer talking about the "everyone" that Darnton envisions for his digital library, but instead about certain "strong target groups":

For any large scale project such as this the million dollar question is, of course, who are the users. In one sense it's everyone, but naturally there are some strong target groups, which we have identified such as academics, the educational sector and tourists. (Cousins 2009)

This talk of concrete users points to a potential problem: the very best of intentions for inclusiveness notwithstanding, in practice, not everyone ends up gaining access to and thus benefitting from Bildung in all its various manifestations. The people behind current digital visions of Bildung risk falling into the same elitist trap as did the people who originally formulated these visions. Despite the fact that Voltaire and his contemporaries repeatedly used the word "revolution," it is nonetheless crucial to see 'the Enlightenment canon' – roughly consisting of Fichte, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Diderot, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams – as a moderate and, in practice, elitist version of the revolution. Basing their notion of Bildung on people's ability to reason, these Enlightenment figures were essentially talking about what, in a Marxist interpretation, would be called the ruling classes. Only members of the aristocracy and the wealthy had the necessary financial resources to care about cultivating their Bildung. Only they were able to read and to buy books. Voltaire quite openly wrote for the aristocracy and in his Éncyclopédie, Diderot explicitly stated that this endeavor could not be completed without "a society of men of letters." Darnton therefore has a point when he observes that Jefferson's (and, by implication, also Diderot's) project of Bildung was not just utopian, but also elitist:

But in practice, most of humanity has been cut off from the accumulated wisdom of the ages. In Jefferson's day, only a tiny elite had access to the world of learning. Today, thanks to the Internet, we can open up that world to all of our fellow citizens. We have the technical means to make Jefferson's dream come true, but do we have the will? (Darnton 2010)

The important question today is whether powerful initiatives such as Google-Harvard, HathiTrust and Europeana will be able to steer free of all the elitist implications which marred many of the original Enlightenment projects on Bildung. Just like Diderot's Énzyclopédie, both Darnton's vision for a national digital library and Europeana build on the notion of a classical, moderate and somewhat static (as well as Western) idea of Bildung which is not necessarily all-inclusive. The moderate Enlightenment notion of Bildung still frames what can be defined as cultural heritage, and it favors 'text' as the primary cultural heritage.

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As long as the funding for such initiatives comes primarily from public sources, moreover, the state will have an active interest in what ought to be digitized, preserved, read or downloaded – an interest which will typically be legitimized by reference to the Enlightenment notion of Bildung, to that which is good for the individual citizen, but also for society as a whole. Is it conceivable, for example, that national libraries will pay to get pornography digitized – or that they will provide open access to violent video games for children of all ages and/or will wish to preserve nationalistic propaganda as part of the digital, national heritage, for that matter? Not if the powers that be base their decisions on the Enlightenment idea of Bildung. As was the case during the period of the Enlightenment – or at least that part of the Enlightenment which we initially termed the moderate part – notions of Bildung may well end up clashing with issues of free speech in the digital age. In the next section, we will turn toward the more radical part of the Enlightenment whose legacy arguably may be found in today's anti-authoritarian web piracy as a kind of 'Counter-Enlightenment.' In their own opinion, members of this part of the digital milieu have managed to hold on to the promise of equality and individual freedom inherent in the original Enlightenment thinking – and hence to avoid that fatal tendency toward exclusion which seems to pop up every time Enlightenment thinking is translated into Bildung.

3 From Spinoza to Pirate Bay

It is not only the more moderate proponents of digitization, discussed above, who have found inspiration for their digital Republic of Letters in the work of the thinkers of the Enlightenment. Today's self-proclaimed web pirates and tech savvies also look toward the Enlightenment; as far as they are concerned, however, it is not so much the writings of Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Diderot, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams which count, but rather the more complex and more radical writing of someone like the Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza.

Baruch de Spinoza represents what Jonathan Israel calls "Radical Enlightenment." This is a version of Enlightenment thinking which centers around three absolutes: Absolute democracy, an absolute people's court, and absolute anarchy. Limiting or controlling another person's thoughts would be subversive and destructive to the state and the society in general. The right to speak and think was crucial to Spinoza. In his article, "Locke, Spinoza and the philosophical debate concerning toleration in the early Enlightenment 1670-1750," Israel emphasizes that Spinoza was not advocating for limitless freedom, but for a government that allows the freedom of philosophical speculation as well as the freedom of religious belief (Israel 1994: 14). Sometimes this wide understanding of liberty will cause trouble, but the attempt to regulate everything by law, Spinoza warned, "will aggravate vices rather than correct them" (Spinoza 1989: 295). And, as Spinoza reminded his readers, whatever abuses of power actually do occur, the fundamental "purpose of the state is, in reality, freedom" (finis ergo reipublicae revera libertas est) (Spinoza 1989: 293.) Spinoza furthermore believed that "this freedom is of the first importance in fostering the sciences and the arts, for only those whose judgment is free and unbiased can attain success in these fields" (Spinoza 1989: 293). Israel concludes:

Since the right of the state is the same as the power of the state, according to Spinoza, it follows that it is impossible to control men's thoughts and that it lies entirely outside the competence of the state to seek to do so. (Israel 1994: 14)

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For Israel this is the logical conclusion drawn from Spinoza's assertion that,

since no man should give up his freedom to judge and to think as he pleases, and since everyone by natural right is the master of his own thoughts, total failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to compel men to speak only as prescribed by their sovereign and to forget their various and contrasting opinions. (Spinoza 1989: 292)

Jumping forward more than four hundred years, the era of the internet provides opportunities for open access and information sharing, for self-improvement as well as for the democratic giving and sharing of information on a scale that Spinoza could hardly have dreamed of. It is interesting, therefore, that among radical proponents of internet openness, the Dutch philosopher's liberal thoughts on intellectual freedom and intellectual property have become revitalized as an alternative to the state-governed and ideologically moderate ideas of Bildung, outlined above. The slogan of the French Revolution, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," might seem anachronistic today, but it somehow keeps showing up in the more far-reaching and categorical visions and ideas on file sharing. However, even though national and international laws on the limitations and boundaries of the net are thought of as being founded on this slogan, this does not quite seem to be the case when it comes to copyright and intellectual property. Even as the state supports the spreading of information and knowledge it still finds a need to structure and control the sharing and the contents of those shared files. With the aim of protecting the rights of creators of literary works of art, music albums, scientific articles etc., both the European idea of droit moral and its American counterpart of intellectual property work against total web freedom. Furthermore, pornographic websites, pedophilia websites, racial and hate-crime websites are only some of the criminalized segments that are not included (and rightly so, in our opinion) in the original idea of Bildung for everyone.

We can only speculate about what Spinoza would have thought of the internet, but we suggest that he would surely have supported free access and freedom of speech and thus a much broader and harder-to-control spreading of Bildung. This was and is what the so-called web-techies or web pirates fight for in today's global internet-governed world. In the contemporary context, belief in the slogan of the French Revolution gets translated into the belief in the democratic power of and relationship between people on the internet. But the ideas and consequences are even more politically, ideologically and culturally radical. In its core, the vision is absolute power to the people and their 'unalienable' rights to seek and gain access to every piece of information or file they would like to look at. The founder and spokesperson of the groundbreaking free file-sharing site, Pirate Bay (which was launched in 2003 from Sweden), Peter Sunde, explains the basic ideology behind the site:

Of course people have to have a system in place to be able to share and every country will have to do what they want surrounding that, as long as they don't infringe on the freedom of speech and access to knowledge. Which kind of sets the barrier quite high. This idea has been discussed for hundreds of years. (Sunde 2010)

Pragmatically, Spinoza acknowledged that most restrictions on freedom of speech and access to information would be a danger to the well-being of society. True Bildung to Spinoza was based on freedom – ideologically and ontologically. Thus, the state must be ready to live with the sometimes potentially subversive results of such basic freedom. Again, Peter Sunde repeats this idealism: "Not everything people do is good – people make Coca Cola and some people want it and some people don't, but we don't outlaw it" (Sunde 2010).

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For the many internet pirates, Bildung is not only an idealistic vision of the dialectic relationship between individual Selbst-Bildung and the well-being of a civilized society; to seek Bildung is also considered a fundamental human right in and of itself. The internet, in Pirate Bay's worldview, is a metaphysical space in which a dialectical exchange between people becomes an exchange between sharers and receivers.

How, then, to make sure that no one gets hurt in the midst of all this freedom? As proponents of Pirate Bay see it, there are inherent, un-official codes of norms, values and ethics – things you just don't do on the internet. This purity in both theory and practice has gradually become somewhat of a problem for another ground-breaking internet search machine and website: Google. The founders, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, presented the website with the slogan, "Don't be evil," which matches Pirate Bay's idealism. But Google's heroic idealism collided with the monumental fact that Bildung has become commercialized, and this has overshadowed the original vision of information sharing and receiving and the spreading of Bildung for and by the people. Peter Sunde, again, and somewhat polemically, describes his view of the global Google coorporation:

I think Google are a bunch of people trying to be good people but they know they are not – they are a big bunch of liars. Google is too good to be true – they went into China not to help the Chinese people but to make money and gain a big chunk of the search engine market in China. I hate that people that have so much influence on the internet don't actually care about the internet. (Sunde 2010)

Sunde is obviously no Spinoza in terms of level of abstraction and linguistic ability, but he does express a sense of the sacredness of freedom and the sin of ideological hypocrisy that is reminiscent of the Dutch philosopher. Whereas Spinoza was a radical intellectual and philosopher, Peter Sunde is a left-wing activist. In fact, Sunde carries the torch even further in his and Pirate Bay's radical belief in the internet as an empowering tool and a right of the people:

A lot of people see us as copyright haters, but actually we don't care about the copyright. How could we hate it? Of course we want to change the way copyright is today, but it's not because we hate it – it's because copyright is a problem for our users and us. It has changed so much in the past 10 years that we need to have it altered. For private use, filesharing and copying should be legal. (Sunde 2010)

4 Concluding Remarks: The Right to Read and Web Access as a Human Right

In its September-October Issue of 1972, the UNESCO Bulletin for libraries published a Charter of the Book. Approved the previous year in Brussels by the Support Committee for the International Book Year, the Charter was meant to confirm the 1972 UNESCO International Book Year and its theme 'Books for All' by stating, "that books, as well as related materials, should be accorded a position commensurate with the vital role they play in promoting individual fulfillment, social and economic progress, international understanding and peace."

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Consisting of ten brief articles, the Charter starts out by proclaiming, in Articles I and II, that "everyone has the right to read" and that "books are essential to education," respectively. And it ends, in Article X, by connecting the reading of books to international understanding and peaceful co-operation: "'Since wars begin in the minds of men,' the Unesco Constitution states, 'it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.' Books constitute one of the major defences of peace because of their enormous influence in creating an intellectual climate of friendship and mutual understanding" (UNESCO 1972).

The language used throughout is a rights-based one and this is no coincidence. As Samuel Moyn argues in his book, The Last Utopia (2010), it was during the 1970s that the concept of human rights became so well-known that people began to base their hopes for justice and equality on it. It was in the decade after 1968 that human rights achieved their contemporary prominence and came to form the basis for social activism and political rhetoric on a major scale – so much so, claims Moyn, that human rights became the only utopian idea to survive at a point in time when all other utopian ways of thinking were being discredited and/or deconstructed in the Western context (Moyn 2010).

Furthermore, the 1970s was the decade during which, as the title of another recent volume of essays proclaims, the world suffered a 'Shock of the Global' (Ferguson 2010). From the breakdown of the post-war economic order to the advent of free capital movements and the success of postcolonial movements for self-determination – it was the 1970s that introduced 'globalization. From then on, it became increasingly clear to what extent the world would become irrevocably interconnected. Promoting the respect for diversity would accordingly become more and more important as would making sure that knowledge is made available to everyone, everywhere on the planet .

The Charter of the Book reflects all of this. In Article III, we find it stated, for example, that "all countries have the right to express their cultural individuality and in so doing preserve the diversity essential to civilization." This is a clear restatement of the principle of self-determination laid down in the UN Charter (1945) and affirmed by Article 1 in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted in 1966, but only entering into force in 1976). Both read: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

1972 was also the year in which the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, or just the World Heritage Convention. Together, these UNESCO initiatives point to what would become a major problem in years to come – finding a way to reconcile arguments in favor of diversity with views of world culture as a universal entity that needs collective protection. Thus, the World Heritage Convention talks about "the world heritage of mankind as a whole" and the protection of "the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value." (World Heritage Convention)

This dilemma of promoting both diversity and unity is with us to this day. It is played out in the many battles fought over who owns culture and cultural heritage – battles which are "at [their] base, a conflict over identity, and over the right to reclaim the objects that are its tangible symbols" (Waxman, 2008: 3).

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Is Egypt justified in reclaiming from the British Museum the Rosetta Stone because it is an important source of identity, for example – or is the Rosetta Stone part of the common heritage of us all, deserving as broad an audience as possible and best displayed in a cross-cultural and comparative context? Cultural heritage battles such as the one fought over the Rosetta Stone involve a number of different issues: the right to property; the public responsibilities of museums; threats to cultural artifacts from war, pillage, and development; and international cooperation to preserve collections in both the developed and the developing world, just to mention a few (Waxman 2008).

With the rising importance of the internet protocol, moreover, such cultural heritage battles increasingly involve intellectual property (IP). Madhavi Sunder has aptly used the metonym "IP3" – which stands for identity politics, the internet protocol, and intellectual property rights – to capture the way in which

the convergence of these 'Ps' begins to explain the growth of intellectual property rights where traditional justifications for intellectual property do not. IP3 reveals intellectual property's social effects and this law as a tool for crafting cultural relations." Identity politics are converging with intellectual property movements; new claims for intellectual property are voiced in terms of identity politics, cultural survival and human rights and "these new claims for intellectual property understand rights not just in the familiar terms of incentives-for-creation, but also as tools for both recognition and redistribution (Sunder 2006: 360).5

The internet and new digital technologies have made it possible for people all over the world not just passively to enjoy culture, but also actively to participate in making it themselves. In fact, what we are currently seeing, according to Sunder, is a New Enlightenment in which the actual making of cultural meaning is happening in many different places: "The New Enlightenment recognizes that liberty demands autonomy within culture, and simultaneously understands that equality requires the capability to participate equally in the social and economic processes of cultural creation. The freedom and equality battles of this new century will not only be about access to physical space, but also to discursive space" (Sunder 2006: 320-321). The traditional intellectual-property-as-incentives approach does not take into account all the many different values that are involved in global cultural and intellectual production today. With her cultural approach, Sunder hopes to remedy this – to "lay the foundation for a cultural analysis of intellectual property" (Sunder 2006: 258).6

In Article V of the Charter of the Book, we see a further example of a raised awareness for the needs of the less fortunate members of societies and cultures. The Article recommends that "particular efforts should be made for the manufacture of books for the handicapped." It also recommends, interestingly enough, that "urgent attention should be given to the development of transcriptions of oral languages." This indicates its framers' awareness that books and libraries promote a culture based on texts to which not everyone has access. As the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor would put it many years later in the introduction to his attempt to tell and then later write A History of the World in 100 Objects,

If you want to tell the history of the whole world, a history that does not unduly privilege one part of humanity, you cannot do it through texts alone, because only some of the world has ever had texts, while most of the world, for most of the time, has not. Writing is one of humanity's later achievements… In addition… it is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write… (MacGregor 2010: XVI)

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The passage about the need for attention to the development of transcription of oral languages notwithstanding, with its emphasis on the importance of the publishing industry, of booksellers, and libraries, the Charter of the Book does primarily concern itself with the world of the written word. "To enable all to share in the world's creativity, the unhampered flow of books is vital," we read in Article IX. Obstacles such as tariffs and taxes, licenses and foreign currency must be dealt with in order that restraint on trade may be reduced to a minimum (Article IX). The books dealt with here are obviously material things – or, to put it in a different way, we are in a pre-digital environment.

Just a few years before, however, pioneer thinkers were beginning to speculate – and dream – about the personal computer as a learning tool. In 1967, Seymour Papert introduced 'Logo', the first programming language written especially for children, and this became the start of the program 'One Laptop Per Child' whose Mission Statement reads:

To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future. (One Laptop Per Child)

According to one of its founders, Nicholas Negroponte, the 'One Laptop Per Child' project has supplied millions of cheap computers to children in some of the world's poorest countries over the years. At a symposium on "Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything," held at MIT in Boston on April 12, 2011, Negroponte showed pictures of children around the world playing with the laptops. Each laptop, he noted, was loaded with 100 books (Brodkin 2011).

To another speaker at this same conference, the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, access to the Web and the internet should by now be seen as a basic right. People have become almost as reliant on the internet as they are on water. Having access to water is more fundamental in that people will simply die without it, Berners-Lee said, but anyone without access to the internet will fall completely behind their more connected peers, and this is very serious indeed. "Access to the Web is now a human right," he continued. "It's possible to live without the Web. It's not possible to live without water. But if you've got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger" (Brodkin 2011).

If access to the internet is seen a basic human right to some, however, there are people who see the very freedom and power of the internet as a potential problem. One case in point is former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who, during his presidency, backed legislation to address the harms of online piracy and to encourage internet users to use legal download services (the so-called 'Hadopi' laws – named after the governmental agency that oversees their enforcement, the High Authority for Copyright Protection and Dissemination of Works on the Internet). Sarkozy furthermore proposed taxes on internet use as well as talked about the importance of creating a 'civilized' internet.

"Is France Plotting to Kill the Free Internet?," Bobbie Johnson accordingly asked in a 2011 article (Johnson 2011). Advocates of free access to the internet may, according to Johnson, take heart from a recent preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice, though.

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In this ruling, the Court suggests that it is illegal for anybody to force Internet Service Providers to filter traffic: "The installation of the filtering and blocking system is a restriction on the right to respect for the privacy of communications and the right to protection of personal data, both of which are rights protected under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. By the same token, the deployment of such a system would restrict freedom of information, which is also protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights" (qtd. in Johnson 2011).

Whether or not France was indeed plotting to kill free internet, the discussion concerning former President Sarkozy's legislative initiatives suggest that the battles between moderates and radicals, dating all the way back to the period of the Enlightenment, are still very much with us. Today, many of those battles are framed around the future of the internet. The rhetoric is more technical, but underneath all the talk of network neutrality, virtualization, and cloud computing it is still the same basic issue which is at stake: the right to read, to be educated and to receive Bildung.


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1 See for example (Darnton 1979; 2009 and 2010) and several of the same author's essays/articles in The New York Review of Books: "Who will digitize the World's Books?" (2008), "The Library in the New Age" (2008), "Google and the new Digital Future" (2009). For a full list see:

2 See the authoritative volume by Bolter and Grusin (Bolter 2000). See also (Lessig 2004 and 2008).

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3 We do not want to make too much of Jaron Lanier. Because of his impeccable technology credentials he has received a very positive, sometimes even reverential, reception. We suspect this may be due to the fact that many scholars and critics of the digital world, themselves ignorant about and thus reluctant to talk about the technology involved, have been very happy to see Lanier express their own thoughts. Lanier's work does have its own ideological dimension, though, which at times threatens to make his take on the web and digitization seem unnecessarily biased. In particular, we do not appreciate Lanier's use of highly polemic metaphors when speaking of the so-called optimistic internet revolutionaries: Analogies to "Freudians," "Marxists," "Slaves," "Slavery," and even "abortions" and "embryos" are used as examples of what he categorizes as "Cybernetic totalists." "Digital Maoists" are often alluded to just as we are treated to descriptions of the "perversions" that the internet has developed into: "The intentions of the cybernetic totalist tribe are good. They are simply following a path that was blazed in earlier times by well-meaning Freudians and Marxists […] both claimed foundations in rationality and the scientific understanding of the world. Both thought themselves to be at war with the weird, manipulative fantasies of religions. And yet both invented their own fantasies that were just as weird […]. A self-proclaimed movement that attempts to base itself on science starts to look like a religion rather quickly. It soon presents its own eschatology and its own revelations about what is really going on […]. The singularity and the noosphere, the idea that a collective consciousness emerges from all the users on the web, echo Marxist social determinism and Freud's calculus of perversions" (Lanier 2010: 16-18).

4 Much like the concept, Enlightenment, Bildung is a complex concept that has developed in several different directions within the German tradition: From Meister Eckhardt, who coined the word in his theological Imago-Dei-writings to Wolfgang Klafki and his Erziehung - Humanität – Demokratie: Erziehungswissenschaft und Schule an der Wende zum 21. Jahrhundert from 1998 - see: Ernst Cassirer's The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, transl. by Fritz C.A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove, Boston: Beacon, 1955; and Louis Dupré's The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture, New Haven: Yale University Press (2004) are worth mentioning; as are Lester Crocker's An Age of Crisis: Man and World in eighteenth century French Thought, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (1959) and Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (1963).

5 When Sunder refers, here, to "the familiar terms of incentives-for-creation "– and later also to "the traditional intellectual-property-as-incentives approach" – she is thinking of the traditional theory of copyright according to which there would be insufficient incentives to invent, create, and build commercial goodwill without intellectual property law. "The Anglo-US copyright model is often framed as being about creating incentives for creative production," writes Kim Treiger-Bar-Am: "The idea is that where creators and producers have the incentive of financial reward, they will continue to produce. The creation and communication of works will increase. Given such incentives to disseminate works, authors and media entrepreneurs are thought to be more likely to maximise the information available to society" (Treiger-Bar-Am 2006: 360).

6 Sunder has been discussed in more detail in (Porsdam 2009).