Sean Wilentz and his employers at The New Republic take the measure of Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and Julian Assange and finds them wanting. Should we even question the headline ‘The Heroism of Fools’ as anything but polemic?
Mr. Wilentz extemporizes on that now discarded practice of psycho-biography: Snowden is a drifter, a misfit: incapable of maturation or growth, but a gifted computer specialist. Greenwald , is the exception, in that he is a successful lawyer and equally accomplished political writer and privacy advocate, but add to this his penchant for making political alliance with Libertarians, but don’t forget his past habit of defending political/legal bad actors.
One might just ask isn’t the object of politics the forging of alliances to make political changes:the art of the possible, or even to bring to bear pressures on policy makers? Assange is a nihilist, petty criminal with delusions of grandeur and an ally of Putin. Assange as ally of dark forces, Mr. Walentz is not averse to self-serving myth-making of his own.
But Mr. Wilentz makes the charge of nihilism to all three of these political actors, who in his telling, wish to destroy America’s duly constituted government. In this instance think of Mr. Wilentz as the Clinton’s Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: chief apologist for established power and it’s utter rightness, not to speak of a self-seeking careerist who values his claims to bourgeois political respectability, and his status as intimate of the powerful.
There is no denying that Mr. Wilentz provides some fascinating bits of information, he has a good eye for international political melodrama, and revels in Mr. Assange’s double dealing, as presented in his narrative. It’s almost like reading a New York Times ‘News Story’ based on speculation and hearsay. Yet this is another recitation of the shopworn, of the cliches endlessly repeated by the apologists for the American National Security State. Who remind us at every turn in their narrative, that the Security apparatus may have been guilty of some excesses, but thing are coming under control, he strikes here a reassuring Panglossian note! Providing a political analgesic is sometimes the lot of the responsible Public Intellectual. Two revelatory quotations:
‘Some of the documents stolen by Edward Snowden have revealed worrisome excesses on the part of the NSA. Any responsible whistle-blower, finding evidence of these excesses, might, if thwarted by her or his superiors, bring the evidence of those specific abuses to the attention of the press, causing a scandal, which would prod Congress and the NSA itself to correct or eliminate the offensive program.’
‘They have unleashed a torrent of classified information with the clear intent of showing that the federal government has spun out of control, thereby destroying the public’s faith in their government’s capacity to spy aggressively on our enemies while also protecting the privacy of its citizens. They want to spin the meaning of the documents they have released to confirm their animating belief that the United States is an imperial power, drunk on its hegemonic ambitions.’
Mr. Wilentz’s concluding paragraph is utterly unsurprising:
‘Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange have largely set the terms in the debate over transparency and privacy in America. But the value of some of their revelations does not mean that they deserve the prestige and influence that has been accorded to them. The leakers and their supporters would never hand the state modern surveillance powers, even if they came wrapped in all sorts of rules and regulations that would constrain their abuse. They are right to worry, but wrong—even paranoid—to distrust democratic governments in this way. Surveillance and secrecy will never be attractive features of a democratic government, but they are not inimical to it, either. This the leakers will never understand.’