« "Conversion Therapy": From Straight to Gay | Main | Song of the Day #1676 »

In Praise of Footnotes!

For years, I've heard from "fans" and "foes" alike that I had a curious obsession in my scholarly reliance on extensive footnoting. A former professor of mine once said that virtually every footnote in my books was so extensive that each could provide a portal to a whole other book! But my critics dismissed it as "scholarly dressing" for preposterous theses bolstered by the "trappings of scholarship" (in other words: footnotes!).

Not counting in-text "author-date" citations in my books, I count a total of 2,045 notes and 89 pages of bibliographic references in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" alone: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (429 notes; 21 pages of references); Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (second edition; 999 notes; 20 pages of references); and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (617 notes; 48 pages of references).

But I have now learned from historian Karin Wulf that the very practice of footnoting is a bulwark of our democracy! In a recent Washington Post essay, "Could Footnotes Be the Key to Winning the Disinformation Wars?" (hat tip to my pal Brandon!), Wulf argues that the practice of footnoting has been aligned with the emergence of the Enlightenment and democracy, important to information transparency, the art of argumentation, and the noble practice of giving credit where credit is due. As Wulf states:

But footnotes do even more: They also teach us how to be active and knowledgeable citizens. The transparent exposure of the evidence being used to make claims puts the reader in charge of assessing their relationship. This is precisely the deliberative process that self-governance asks of us. … Accurate, full and contextualized information is the most important weapon wielded on behalf of accountable and transparent government. That is why despotic regimes want to control and restrict it. It is why we have the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press. It is the heart of the Freedom of Information Act. Information itself is democracy’s shield and sword, and the footnote every American’s birthright.

Well, damn! Footnote Fetishists of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your despotic governments---and a world to win!