Fourth Estate  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The concept of the Fourth Estate (or fourth estate) is a societal or political force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognized. It now most commonly refers to the news media; especially print journalism. Thomas Carlyle attributed it to Edmund Burke, who applied it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Earlier writers have applied the term to lawyers, to the queen of England (acting as a free agent, independent of the king), and to "the mob".

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Proletariat

The term Fourth Estate has less frequently referred to the proletariat in opposition to the three recognized estates of the French Ancien Régime.

An early citation for this use—earlier than for the one that now prevails—is Henry Fielding in Covent Garden Journal (1752):

"None of our political writers ... take[s] notice of any more than three estates, namely, Kings, Lords, and Commons ... passing by in silence that very large and powerful body which form the fourth estate in this community ... The Mob."

The concept is well illustrated by the painting Il Quarto Stato.

The Press

Fourth Estate has referred to "the public press" since at least as far back as the early 1800s. More generally, it has also been used to refer to any group other than the clergy, nobility, or commons that wields political power.

The term Fourth Estate refers to the press, both in its explicit capacity of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century.

Novelist Jeffrey Archer in his work The Fourth Estate made this observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estate General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.'"

Fiction

In his novel The Fourth Estate Jeffrey Archer made the observation: "In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the 'Estates General'. The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners." The book is a fictionalization from episodes in the lives of two real-life press barons: Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fourth Estate" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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