In case you don’t know, Glenn Reynolds is the biggest sole proprietor in the political blogosphere. By day a mild-mannered law professor in Knoxville, Tenn., when he walks into the Internet phone booth, he emerges as Instapundit, a.k.a. the Blogfather, blogdom’s “all-powerful hit king.” On his site, instapundit.com, Mr. Reynolds posts his thoughts on a variety of topics, from politics to press criticism to science fiction to space exploration, on what seems like a minute-by-minute basis virtually every hour of the waking day. His favored formula is the one-sentence introduction followed by a block quote and one of three sign-offs: “Heh,” “Indeed,” or “Read the whole thing.”
Mr. Reynolds’ enthusiasms have proven popular enough to make Instapundit the seventh-most-linked-to blog on the Internet, according to data compiled by the blog-tracking Web site Technorati and published in a recent issue of New York magazine. Among political blogs, only two sites are bigger than his, and both are group efforts: The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington’s Hollywood gabfest, and DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga’s left-wing community. Before Instapundit, Mr. Reynolds anonymously fed his amateur-pundit urges by opining, under multiple aliases, in “The Fray,” Slate’s reader forum. Among some journalists (I’m not one), that kind of behavior gets you labeled a crank. But outsource the same thoughts to your vanity Web site and you’re fit to be a guest on CNN’s Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz.
Blogging made Mr. Reynolds famous, at least in the medium-size universe of people—journalists, law professors, and the handful of political and news junkies who aren’t journalists or law professors—who read news-and-politics blogs. It landed him two regular gigs in the mainstream media: a blog at MSNBC.com and a blog at The Guardian’s new group blog, “Comment Is Free …. ” (Yes, he has three blogs.) If Mr. Reynolds deigns to bless a puny, readerless blog with a link from Instapundit, he creates the fabled “Instalanche,” a wave of readers whose traffic can vault a blog from obscurity to the A-list (or at least the B-list.)
So you would think that Mr. Reynolds would devote his new techno-topian manifesto, An Army of Davids, to the wonders of blogging. But he doesn’t. On that subject, Mr. Reynolds is remarkably sedate. The triumphalist tone he strikes on Instapundit turns out to be a bit of a pose. Blogging, Mr. Reynolds tells us, is like brewing your own beer: You do it because it’s fun and because it makes you happy, not because you think you’re going to take down Anheuser Busch.
Mr. Reynolds has bigger things on his mind than blogging, such as explaining how, in the future, everyone is going to live forever on a terraformed Mars, where we’ll all work from Starbucks. (It’s slightly more convincing than it sounds.) The various chapters—including ones on blogging, nanotechnology, aging research and space travel—are supposedly linked by a unifying theme: All of these technologies help the little guy. See, nanotechnology, it’s really small, so it fits. And slowing the aging process, that helps people. And space travel, that involves technology. To the limited extent that this scattershot approach succeeds, it’s because the book resembles Mr. Reynolds’ blog: cheery, brief, optimistic, opinionated, idiosyncratic. Unfortunately, it more often resembles Mr. Reynolds’ blog: condescending, slight, triumphalist, data-free, idiosyncratic. The entire book is written in an oblivious, lecturing-to-children tone (“People used to be ignorant. It was hard to learn things.”)
There’s something to the notion that technology—whether slingshots or Web sites—lets the individual level the battlefield against institutional Goliaths. But Mr. Reynolds doesn’t add any new or surprising thoughts. He thinks it’s novel to point out that we’re moving from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy, that the Internet is cutting out the middleman and “disintermediating” many industries, and that technology now gives individuals powers that once belonged only to nation-states.
Mr. Reynolds is also very good at vanquishing straw men. No idea passes through his mind, it seems, without simultaneously conjuring up an army of imaginary skeptics wielding preposterous, easily debunked arguments. In one passage, he imagines how “bluenoses” would scorn his practice of taking his daughter to the Build-a-Bear store at the mall. In another, he fantasizes that members of the media get upset when citizens respond to disasters calmly, and without the need for directions from government officials, “because there’s no one in charge to interview.”
Most of all, Mr. Reynolds also seems wholly unaware of the many ways in which his thesis is invalid. It may be fun to pretend that you’re a rugged online individual fighting The Man of big institutions that keep putting you down. But Instapundit himself draws a paycheck from an institution of a kind that’s been around since the Middle Ages: the university (and his is funded by the state). There are exceptions, but the vast bulk of successful news-and-politics bloggers seem to be tenured professors or prominent journalists. Who are the Davids here?
The original David, the boy-with-slingshot who felled the fearsome Philistine giant, didn’t stay small for long: After the slingshot episode, he rose to become king of the Israelites. And he abused his power, sending a man to his death so that he, David, might sleep with the dead man’s wife. In other words, David eventually became a Goliath. And so has Instapundit, at least in his corner of blogdom—though to my knowledge he has yet to kill anyone.
In the blogosphere, there’s an irritating convention: the use of the phrase “gets it” to mean “agrees with me.” To be honest, I think Glenn Reynolds gets it. I just wish he did more than that. If you don’t believe me, well, read the whole thing.
Chris Suellentrop writes the “Opinionator” column for The New York Times.
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