A Dangerous Innovation!

by Don Boudreaux on October 28, 2004

in History

The following confession reveals my tastes to be pedestrian: I confess to being very fond of the eleven-volume Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant. (I confess also to having so far read only about half of this work on world history. I don’t doubt that the other half is as good as the first.) They are learned, balanced, and genuinely eloquent.

And they contain (as does all good history) important lessons – lessons that teach us that human nature is the same today as it has always been, as well as lessons that instill the wisdom of perspective.

Here, for example, is Will Durant on Gutenberg’s invention, in the 15th century, of the movable-type printing press:

But not all welcomed it. Copyists protested that printing would destroy their means of livelihood; aristocrats opposed it as a mechanical vulgarization, and feared that it would lower the value of their manuscript libraries; statesmen and clergy distrusted it as a possible vehicle of subversive ideas….

Printing replaced esoteric manuscripts with inexpensive texts rapidly multiplied, in copies more exact and legible than before, and so uniform that scholars in diverse countries could work with one another by references to specific pages of specific editions…..

It affected the quality and character of literature by subjecting authors to the purse and taste of the middle classes rather than to aristocratic and ecclesiastical patrons.

(From Will Durant, The Reformation [1957], pages 159-160.)

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