Is Using a Pseudonym Necessarily “Cowardly?”

by Jonathan H. Adler

If by “cowardly,” Charles Murray simply means “lacking courage,” or adopting a course of action to prevent potentially negative consequence, then perhaps blogging (or writing generally) under a pseudonym is necessarily “cowardly.” Yet “cowardly” often means something more, such as “contemptibly timid,” and when used to describe behavior often connotes that there is something unprincipled or “sinister” about the acts in question. Further, as Walter Olson notes on Point of Law, there are many bloggers who work under pseudonyms and provide a great service to the rest of us. With this understanding, I stand by my statement that “adopting a pseudonym is not necessarily a cowardly or sinister act.” It depends on how and why it is done. I don’t think Jack Dunphy is “cowardly” for using a pseudonym, and I certainly hope my past use of a pseudonym was not either.

If, as Jonah notes, a pseudonymous or anonymous blogger has “no larger point than to hurl shabby insults,” then I think it is fully appropriate to label their behavior cowardly. Thus, in response to Ed, I do not think it is (or should be) “par for the course” for bloggers — pseudonymous or otherwise — to smear others without rebuke. I agree with Jonah that use of a pseudonym requires “more politeness and decency even though it liberates you to use less.” Where Ed and I disagree is on whether it is appropriate to expose the pseudonymous blogger who violates these rules.