In Search of Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then the American Minister to France, had the "complete skeleton, skin & horns" of an American moose shipped to him in Paris and mounted in the lobby of his residence as a symbol of the vast possibilities contained in the strange and largely unexplored New World. Taking a cue from Jefferson's efforts, David Post, one of the nation's leading Internet scholars, here presents a pithy, colorful exploration of the still mostly undiscovered territory of cyberspace—what it is, how it works, and how it should be governed. What law should the Internet have, and who should make it? What are we to do, and how are we to think, about online filesharing and copyright law, about Internet pornography and free speech, about controlling spam, and online gambling, and cyberterrorism, and the use of anonymous remailers, or the practice of telemedicine, or the online collection and dissemination of personal information? How can they be controlled? Should they be controlled? And by whom? Post presents the Jeffersonian ideal—small self-governing units, loosely linked together as peers in groups of larger and larger size—as a model for the Internet and for cyberspace community self-governance. Deftly drawing on Jefferson's writings on the New World in Notes on the State of Virginia, Post draws out the many similarities (and differences) between the two terrains, vividly describing how the Internet actually functions from a technological, legal, and social perspective as he uniquely applies Jefferson's views on natural history, law, and governance in the New World to illuminate the complexities of cyberspace. In Search of Jefferson's Moose is a lively, accessible, and remarkably original overview of the Internet and what it holds for the future.
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David Post has given us an enlightening map to navigate the new frontiers of cyberspace and cyberlaw. He brings Jefferson into the story in the hope that TJ's profound thinking on the issues of his time might help us getter a better handle on the cyber-controversies of our own time. After all, Jefferson was a man who spent much of his life thinking about uncharted subjects and frontiers. And law, of course!
Using this approach to help us explore cyberspace and cyberlaw works quite well in many cases. It works particularly well when Post brings TJ's leading intellectual nemesis into the drama -- Alexander Hamilton. "Their feud the longest-running in American political history," Post correctly notes, "for they stood on opposite shores of the great intellectual divide, a divide that encapsulates something fundamental in the way we think about society and government." Jefferson desired liberty above all else; Hamilton stressed order and authority. Whereas Jefferson trusted decentralization and wanted diffuse communities making political decisions, Hamilton looked to a strong central authority to guide the nation.
Many modern cyberspace disputes, Post suggests, can be viewed through this same Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian philosophical dichotomy. As Post shows, our Founding Fathers still have much to teach us.
My complete review of Post's book is here: http://techliberation.com/2009/01/22/book-review-posts-jeffersons-moose-the-state-of-cybersapce/