Poplicola rides again: Berkman’s Publius Project

Publius Valerius Publicola, otherwise known as Poplicola, Roman counsel, ‘friend of the people’, had his name pseudonymously used to author the Federalist Papers,  a collection of essays written over two hundred years ago (primarily by Hamilton, Madison and Jay) to strengthen and ratify the US constitution.

Those must have been heady and challenging days, as a new country was born, as new citizens tried to figure out who they were and what they stood for.

For many of us, the internet is a modern parallel, as we strive to understand what it is, what it stands for, how it is inhabited, how it is governed. It is fitting therefore that the Berkman Center, as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, has launched the Publius Project.

The project is described as “essays and conversations about constitutional moments on the Net collected by the Berkman Center.“, as people try and recapture the spirit of the Federalist papers.

I’m delighted and honoured to be part of that process, part of the project; the first few essays have now been published; do take a look, and let’s get the conversations going. Comments welcome.

2 thoughts on “Poplicola rides again: Berkman’s Publius Project”

  1. In a conversation about this and the Berkman Center conference last week, my boss reminded me that the Publius was formed to protect the identities of the authors… this anonymity is what gave weight to the issues (it wasn’t supposed to be about the people writing the papers). It’s a bit disappointing to see that only the perceived experts and academics can contribute articles to this effort– what was so great about the Publius was to make the public a part of what were revolutionary ideas– the papers were accessible to the people and they became a part of the conversation. It appears that the Berkman Center missed this important aspect, and in doing so, only leads to experts/academics patting other experts/academics on the back.

  2. JH, thanks for your comments. If all we achieve is “experts/academics patting other experts/academics on the back”, then we will have failed. All of us.

    I think the original reasons for use of the pseudonym Publius were quite different from what you suggest. Madison and Hamilton had been very heavily involved in crafting the Constitution, and Jay to a lesser extent. All three became public officials holding high office. The draft Constitution was under attack, people were publishing open letters and writing articles criticising the draft. The draft that Madison and Hamilton had worked so hard on. So they chose to work behind a pseudonym, becoming “friends of the people” rather than “authors of the Constitution”. I guess their fear was that they would not be “heard” if it was known who they really were.

    The distinctive aspect of the Publius papers is therefore not the anonymity of the authors, but the quality of the debate. A debate which included people who worked on the constitution and those who did not. A debate made more powerful by the participation of people who did not work on the original draft, but who critiqued it later.

    The Publius Project is making today’s equivalent of the draft papers accessible to all, and encouraging all to comment. Just like you are doing here, and others are doing at publius.cc; I would encourage you to join the debate at the site, enrich the debate with your views and comments.

    Hope that helps.

Let me know what you think

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