In he classical liberal view of the press, the most important thing, which gobbled up all the attention, was the relationship with the government. The heroic struggle was to escape government censorship of various forms - from outright banning to the state's booted strategy of assessing various taxes - for each copy, or for advertisement - to the newspapers. What the state was doing to suppress freedom of the press was, as well, an impediment to freedom of trade. The classical liberal could thus take up two favorite causes when, abstractly, defending the newspapers Benjamin Constant’s essay (1819), The liberty of the ancients compared with the moderns is an important intellectual link in a chain that goes back through the enlightenment to the British revolutions of the middle of the 17th century; and it made the classical liberal case in the early nineteenth century in ways that were certainly echoed on the Continent, at least. The very title points us back to the battle of the books, the effort by Perrault and Fontenelle to forge another notion of history than that humanistic one which put the scholar in perpetual servitude to the classics. The moderns had long won, but the battle was worth rehearsing (and not simply by Constant - it is rehearsed endlessly in the history of European philosophy) because the stake, this time, was not taste or technology - not progress - but a change in the mode of political experience that acknowledged the end of the old order. Constant does not so much trace an accumulation of knowledge or taste, but instead traces the systematic substitutions that ensue when the ancient idea of liberty is inverted in the modern idea of freedom. Constant presents two determinants of the ancient idea of liberty: one was an ethos of glory that found in war the expression of the highest virtues; the other was a very public view of private life, in which the way one behaved in one’s domestic space was subject, always, to public censure. The moderns have substituted (Constant hopefully claims) commerce for war, while erecting walls to block the transparency of the private life to the public gaze. The ancient city state was, in fact, small enough that the private life spilled out into the public forum; that the private citizen could very well collaborate in government, whose operations were not on a grand scale, and consisted mainly of finding outlets, compensations, for the animal spirits of its citizens (hence, war against an external foe draws away energy from internal feuds); and that was economically semi-autonomous. These conditions do not apply to the great modern powers
In this image, commerce – in classical liberal fashion – is enfolded in the private sphere, which thrusts it outside the household and re-deploys the vocabulary of liberty. The happiness of the individual is enjoyed privately, though necessarily earned through public action. Like commerce, the press exists in the mid-terrain between the household and the state, and participates, as well, in the universal mechanism of compensation – by alternately feeding the delusion of private participation in public administration and by encouraging the feeling that individual power is an anachronism, superceded by the multitude. The industrial experience of the multitude, the assembly line, the treadmill of goods, has its correlate in the newspapers columnar structure, its infinite and dispiriting diversity.