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Essays by Birzer, Davis, Frohnen, Anger, Masty, Robison, Rogers, Elliott, and Willson. wikileaks analysis

What an insane couple of years in terms of politics: recession, cash for clunkers, Bush stimuli packages, Obama stimuli packages, the Russians praising Stalin in their subways (and putting their nuke subs off of our east coast), the Chinese singing “hallelujah” to Mao, the U.S. government entering the pornography business with perverts manning (manhandling) airport security, and now, an Australian and a self-proclaimed libertarian, having gotten his hands on over 250,000 American diplomatic cables, releasing these slowly to the world.  Slowly enough that they’re not to become merely a fad, exciting today, forgotten tomorrow. Instead, WikiLeaks is releasing them slowly enough for each new revelation to be meaningful and soak into the public mind.

Not surprisingly, the characters who claim to represent the American government (and, according to certain British newspapers, erroneously, the American public), are furious. Though these officials—some elected, some not–don’t mind prodding through our personal lives—our family data, our income, and, now with the TSA, our most private bodily parts—they certainly do not like their own decisions and words being made public.  Various government officials—including our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton—have proclaimed the WikiLeaks founders as nothing less than enemies, equal to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

As a good friend of mine, Chase Purdy, tweeted: “WikiLeaks is what happens when the entire US government is forced to go through a full-body scanner.”

101130_Hillary_500I must admit, my own addiction to WikiLeaks and the watching of President Obama and his executive branch squirm is akin to the reaction of many to a car wreck, necks bending, contorting, and craning to see the tragedy that is fallen humanity. It should be noted, of course, that many of the revelations apply just as much to the previous administration and the previous Secretary of State as they do to the current administration and the current Secretary of State.

None of this, however, should force one to conclude that the wanted Australian is on the side of the angels. Most likely, he’s as despicable as the demagogically-inspired malformates of the last two administrations. Given the charges against him in Sweden, perhaps Assange is even more so.

But, why choose between two devils?

Yet, the obvious fact remains: none of the things revealed have been denied. What has been revealed is simply true, and the truth is making many folks quite uncomfortable.

As Thomas Fleming once wrote: “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.”

Government officials don’t seem to like us knowing about the extent of their Machiavellian shenanigans, their abuse of constitutional authority, and their misuse of our tax dollars. They would like us to be silent; they would like us to be unthinking; they would like to eradicate our very individuality and personality.

I asked each of these contributors to write on any topic of his (or her) choice regarding the WikiLeaks revelations. Though the revelations themselves—taken individually—are mostly ephemeral, the revelations as a whole are not.  I gave each contributor only a few days to respond, as I wanted the responses to be as raw as possible, given where we’re at, only about a week into the revelations themselves. Additionally, I have made only the lightest of edits, correcting a misspelled word here or there and making uniform the spelling of a few terms, such as WikiLeaks. As you will see (and enjoy), those who write for this site are any thing but ideologues or conformists. There is, additionally, almost no one answer to the problems presented by WikiLeaks.

And, while each of the writers remains skeptical of the motivations of our government officials who claim to speak for the American public, we each have a fondness and deep affection for our American founders, our constitution, and our troops in the field.

In my own adult lifetime (I was born 1967 on the great bend of the Arkansas River in Kansas), I have seen incredible change in society and especially in the importance of technology.  With information spreading at the speed of typing and hitting the “send” key, the current WikiLeaks reveals will almost certainly not be the last. Indeed, while information and knowledge have always represented manifestations of power, that power has been somewhat constrained by the limitations of communications technology. As long as the lights don’t go out permanently, we seemingly have entered a whole new era.

In their column published today, Cokie and Steven Roberts write:

Assange has “a deep understanding of the new media marketplace….The traditional media model was a vertical one. Information started at the top—with governments, universities, think tanks, news outlets—and filtered down to a consuming and generally passive public.  The new media architecture is horizontal.  Increasingly, people get not from established sources but from one another.  And instead of simply receiving information, the audience can now be an active participant.” (Steven and Cokie Roberts, “The New Media Marketplace,” December 6, 2010; distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Many questions arise.

  • Is the WikiLeaks site a whistle blower to be praised or merely an enemy of the United States?  Neither?  Both?
  • Is the press complicit? While the New York Times has claimed the right to offer a temperate and prudent examination of the information, the Wall Street Journal has argued the press should not be involved in such dissemination. The Weekly Standard has condemned Assange and WikiLeaks in no uncertain terms, but its own posts reveal an obsession with the material being released. Is this a dual standard, hypocrisy, or merely being human?
  • How will nation-states protect themselves from such assaults in the future?

So many questions, and so many more questions to come.

What would a Marshall McLuhan say? What do the fine writers at Front Porch Republic, Pileus, TAC, and Reason say? We’ll never know the answer to the former, at least not in this lifetime, but let’s hope our symposium serves as just one of many such debates, questions, protests, and self-examinations throughout the United States.

Our republic deserves far better than its current leadership provides. . . and, so do we.

Dr. Bradley J. Birzer is co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative and a Senior Contributor. He is the author of Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, and American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll. He is also author of The Humane Republic: The Imagination of Russell Kirk (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). Dr. Birzer also teaches Catholics in the Public Square  for Catholic Courses and the editor of this symposium.

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WikiLeaks and the Means of Communication

wikileaks analysis

The publication of vast amounts of confidential diplomatic cables (220 to start with and the number expected to rise to about a quarter of a million) on the website WikiLeaks has stirred an international conversation that reminds me of that infamous scene in the movie Casablanca where the opportunist, Captain Renault, is “shocked” to find out gambling is going on while he is pocketing his winnings. These cables, which appear to be more embarrassing than threatening to national security, reveal that diplomats are emotional, jealous, and arrogant, and spend much time bargaining, strong-arming, gossiping, and selling each other out. Quelle surprise!

Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, is enjoying his 15 minutes in the limelight given that an arrest warrant has been issued for him as a result of some serious transgressions unrelated to the leaks. The cables were provided to him by Private Bradley Manning of the United States army. Apparently Manning downloaded thousands of cables onto a CD while he was stationed in Iraq. He has been arrested and is rightfully in custody facing trial for unauthorized access and dissemination of secret documents. The New York Times has reported that although none of the cables examined so far has been designated “top secret,” that is to say, none are of the government’s most secure communications status, many of them are labeled “secret” or “delicate” in nature. Many are unclassified.

I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the nature of the individual cables and on the extent to which they damage American and international security. But the publication of large quantities of information does raise some interesting philosophical issues on the nature of technological communication and the affect this has on the quality of our understanding. To flesh out some of this, I would like to address briefly these issues with reference to two seminal conservative thinkers who wrote quite eloquently on these matters years ago: Richard Weaver and John Lukacs.

For Weaver, who extrapolated on the “Great Stereopticon” in his seminal work of post-World War II American conservatism, Ideas Have Consequences, the modern media, contrary to their stated purposes of informing and reflecting, act as instruments of conformity and exploitation, and purveyors of perpetual friction and conflict. For Lukacs, the main problem for us in the democratic age is to comprehend persons and events in a world of “unmanageable” quantities of information. Needless to say, these issues as outlined by Weaver and Lukacs have been amplified exponentially since the advent of the personal computer. What might be most shocking about these leaks is the fact that a lowly Private First Class in the U.S. Army had access to hundreds of thousands of secret documents and was able to copy and reproduce them on a Lady Gaga CD. Has there ever been a more leveling incident in what could be one of the last remaining hierarchical institutions in history?

Richard Weaver’s censure of the popular media was predicated on his assertion that the media direct the reader – or it might be more accurate to say, the viewer – to absorb and respond in predictable and approved manners. He also asserted that popular rhetoric as exemplified in advertising and journalism demonstrated an “insidious urge to exaggerate and to color beyond necessity.” As he put it,

So journalism becomes a monstrous discourse of Protagoras, which charms by hypnotizing and thwarts that participation without which one is not a thinking man. If our newspaper reader were trained to look for assumptions, if he were conscious of the rhetoric in lively reporting, we might not fear this product of the printer’s art; but that would be to grant that he is educated. As the modern world is organized, the ordinary reader seems to lose means of private judgment, and the decay of conversation has but destroyed the practice of dialectic.

John Lukacs addressed the quality of historical documentation at length forty years ago in his magnum opus, Historical Consciousness or the Remembered Past. Writing on the nature of democratic historiography and understanding, Lukacs asserted that a significant problem for the historian in a democratic age was the unmanageable amount of information which was certain to color and distort our understanding of people and events. The amount of available raw information inevitably raises the question of “how to disregard most of it without ignoring it altogether.” In other words, sound interpretation and understanding in our democratic age are available only to those who have developed high powers of selectivity and judgment. The irony is that fewer and fewer have the time, the ability, and the patience to acquire the faculties that are necessary to make such judgments.

Weaver’s discussion of the “Great Stereopticon” failed on one level, however, for in the immediate post-war period he feared that media would “distort in the interest of holding attention.” The fallacy in this is that human beings in the 21st century do not appear capable of any significant attention to hold. A twenty-four hour news cycle and the availability of hundreds of television channels to choose from make the viewer a moving target for the advertiser, the press agent, and the public relations officer. And the cell phone and various types of personal computer with high-speed internet access are quickly eradicating the twentieth-century means of communication, such as the print newspaper, evening network news programs, etc. The consequences of easy and accelerated access of information are that even school-age children have significant difficulty reading and writing a single paragraph without interrupting themselves to use their cell phones for the latest text message or to check their Facebook accounts. Sustained and reflective attention is no longer to be expected, hardly even to be desired. How do we qualitatively judge when the quantity and speed of information are overwhelming? In what way are we to attend to Manning and Assange’s publication of salacious text when we will be interrupted by shark attacks, killer hurricanes, and celebrity rants? And very important, can we trust the fourth estate to cull those worthy bits from the mountains of dross in this data dump?

For Weaver, the intrinsic nature of the “Great Stereopticon” is to mishandle and distort information. For Lukacs, intrinsic in the quantity of information is the deterioration of the quality of our understanding. To become wise in the democratic age is the mark of talent, extensive learning, and maybe even a “dash of genius.” Both cautioned us to be ever watchful against manipulation. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recently raised this very issue while referencing WikiLeaks. As he stated on the PBS News Hour, we must be very careful reviewing this “data dump” given that there are many organizations, domestic and foreign, with great desire to influence and guide global policies. He did not use the word, but he was speaking about what we used to call during the Cold War era “disinformation.” Without ample time to reflect, without opportunity for leisure, wisdom and sound judgment, truth and beauty are unattainable, much less appreciated. Is our leadership class up to the challenge?

Glenn A. Davis is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and the Academic Dean at All Saints Episcopal School in Lubbock, Texas where he teaches Latin and Russian. He holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His dissertation topic was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s historical imagination. He has published in the Slavic and East European Journal, Christianity and Literature, Modern Age, and Humanitas.

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The guy who leaked it is a bum, the government was stupid to house it this way, and nothing in the leaks really surprised me.

Bruce P. Frohnen is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and Professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University College of Law. He is the author of Virtue and the Promise of Conservatism: The Legacy of Burke and TocquevilleThe New Communitarians: The Crisis of Modern Liberalism, and editor (with George Carey) of Community and Tradition: Conservative Perspectives on the American Experience. He is also the editor of The American Republic: Primary Sources and The American Nation: Primary Sources.

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Boredom or Pride?

wikileaks analysis

The doings of Manning, Assange, and their unnamed co-conspirators have had (and probably will have) little effect on the affairs of state. Most of the noise comes from the media, who have found in WikiLeaks the makings of a few sensational stories with short life-spans. That may be because, so far, the main revelation is that there are human beings inside military uniforms and diplomats’ pin-stripes. The most important disclosure is what WikiLeaks says about the end of privacy in our postmodern epoch. It less a catalyst than a symptom of a culture in which every conceivable act of intimacy—whether in the lives of celebrities or even ordinary citizens—is broadcast publicly. Unfortunately, Assange is simply tapping into a willing market.

There are two conditions which drive us to delve into things that do not directly concern us: boredom or pride. The former is due to lack of self-discipline. The other is due to the presumption that we need to “know everything.” It is the Baconian truism that knowledge is power. We live in an age of superabundant information. Like any tool it has its benefits, like breaking the decades’ long blockade on theological, cultural and ideological subjects. But information is not knowledge. Even less is it wisdom, especially when it is the object of mere prurience.

As with any political scandal there may be some salutary impact. But only if we are disinterested. As Sir Thomas Browne put it: “Carry no careless Eye upon the unexpected scenes of things; but ponder the acts of Providence in the publick ends of great and notable Men.” It is a lesson to be learned by the impatient and the conceited. The idealist imagines that such disclosures will wipe the slate clean. Any consequences of rash disclosures are justified by the ends. This is true for the nihilist as well, who welcomes the collapse of an apparently corrupt and inefficient regime, without bothering to consider what will follow in the wake of this continued dumbing-down of civility and conscientiousness.

Finally, political scandals often are tinged with irony and hypocrisy. In this instance, the very people who have preached “transparency” have discovered that it is a two-edged sword. Transparency is a classic Marxist platitude implying that the operations of the new order will invoke an entirely different paradigm, thereby ignoring millennia of messy but highly instructive social experience and sound ethics. The proponents of “transparency,” whether Obama or Assange (following Marx himself), have no wish to apply that rule to their own conduct.

Matthew Anger resides in Richmond, Virginia. His most recent article is “On Gratitude & Growing Up,” (New Oxford Review, April 2012), a commentary on Dickens’ novel Great Expectations.

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On Leaks, Drips, & Danger

wikileaks analysis

Government effectiveness is inversely related to its aspirations: the more that it attempts to do, the more incompetent that it becomes.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind writes in The Daily Telegraph: “The 250,000 dispatches and diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks have, apparently, been on a Pentagon-run electronic database that could be accessed, quite properly, by at least tens of thousands and, possibly, hundreds of thousands of officials and military personnel with the appropriate security clearance.”

An information system designed with good intentions, but poorly executed, disgorged cable traffic of enormous value as gossip and temporary embarrassment to the US government, but of little danger to policy or people. Most of it is uncorroborated chat: some diplomatic dogsbody heard from a disreputable source over lunch that Bin Laden is staying in a suite at the Savoy, or similar. Most of it is so un-newsworthy as to be unpublishable, thus revealing few sources to be put at risk by exposure. A very few instances will reveal the confusion at the core of much American foreign policy, but one reads snippets that may not represent policy as a whole. Mostly, it allows us to revel in accurate if crude comments on the leaders with whom American government must deal, including buffoons such as Italy’s Berlusconi, or the Neo-Soviet gangster Putin. Historically and geopolitically, WikiLeaks’ recent contribution is a damp squib.

Of greater concern is much of America’s reaction, longing (bizarrely) to charge an Australian citizen working off a foreign website as somehow a ‘traitor’ to America, and Sarah Palin’s dark and ominous desire that he be assassinated by CIA hit-squads. Thus, while mass-media whoop it up for money, many Americans – especially on the Right – abandon any support for rule of law. These people love a good lynching, even if black people are off the hook temporarily. It is no use blaming only government: officials pander to their domestic lynch-mobs, who justify them pursuing their own agendas of control.

Given the potential political power inherent in new media—obvious since mobile telephones in Tiananmen Square and made more immediate by radical Islamists over the Internet—all governments long to control, not to merely monitor, electronic communications. President Clinton was rebuffed in his efforts to regulate the Internet, so it isn’t just Mssrs. Ahmedinejad and Kim Jong Il. So far, states are incompetent even within their own fortresses, as WikiLeaks helps to demonstrate.

Government cannot likely control the Internet: there are too many of us yammering away to be even monitored well. Instead, government will try to use this opportunity to allow it to identify political scapegoats, to fulminate against modern versions of Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein, to stage more security circuses as bread becomes scarce, to persecute without recourse to law and to otherwise restrict freedom—the Elysian Fields for demagogues and dictators. Meanwhile (speaking of liberty, rather than imparting divinity to WikiLeaks’ founder), America’s foolish, angry and unlettered mobs can be depended upon to vote for Barabbas.

Stephen Masty is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has been a journalist, a development expert, and a speechwriter for three US presidents, British royalty and heads of government in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He has spent most of his adulthood working in South Asia including Afghanistan, and he is presently a writer, poet and artist in Kathmandu.

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Taking Romance out of Schmoozing Sources, and Other Bad Habits

wikileaks analysis

Gentle Readers, today Miss Manners would like to remind everyone that it is bad manners to tell state secrets, especially those found out because of a vindictive American soldier.

Julian Assange is not, despite his defense, doing anyone a favor. In fact, in this time of war, he is doing quite the opposite. The U.S. Government, as is the case with most (if not all) governments, certainly has its share of skeletons. But that does not justify the extent of information sharing he is doing, especially in relationship to national security. What is the real purpose of WikiLeaks releasing the unsanctioned US Army field reports from the Middle East or, more recently, the secret US Embassy cables?

The WikiLeaks website prominently displays on its opening page a quote from Time magazine; Time says WikiLeaks “could become as important a journalistic tool as The Freedom of Information Act.” The real controversy surrounding WikiLeaks, however, is not the ability or right to release information but the antiquated question of who exactly is the purveyor of truth.

The government is certainly not the arbiter of truth, but, then again, neither is the media. Journalists are interested in the truth to the extent that revealing it produces an audience and breaking a story improves their brand. No matter the reasons, though- sharing information has its consequences. More specifically, people at every level and in every field suffer from these consequences- not only public officials like President Obama, Secretary Clinton or even the Turkish Prime Minister, but the hundreds of thousands of men and women serving in the military and special forces, willingly risking their lives for their country, as well as their family and friends.

Diplomatic secrecy is essential at times, whether we like it or not, because the control in this experiment is that there are those who would use the information to harm innocent people. The most telling defense of WikiLeaks, therefore, has came from Reporters Without Borders: “Reporters Without Borders can only condemn this determination to hound Assange and reiterates its conviction that WikiLeaks has a right under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to publish these documents and is even playing a useful role by making them available to journalists and the greater public.”

So self-interested journalists with seemingly no patriotic affiliation pick the U.S. Constitution to defend the right of WikiLeaks to publish those documents? That’s amusing. Why not appeal to Australia’s laws, where Assange is from? Oh! I know why! Because Australia has blacklisted them, as have many other countries. Assange and WikiLeaks are not the cure for Transparency, gentle readers; they are just another filter and more like volatile free radicals in the body, reacting with all in their path.

The Gnostic ideal that knowledge will save the world places too much trust in WikiLeaks. For all it is revealing, there is still plenty it is not; and, for better or worse, the truth is all-encompassing and not so particular. WikiLeaks is not being persecuted; this isn’t undue censorship by the Big, Bad Government. Like a virus in the body, an immune response has been provoked by individuals, governments, news media outlets and businesses all over the world, demanding its elimination. WikiLeaks: it is time to take the final bow and leave the stage; after all, it’s only polite.

J.R. Baldwin is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has a B.A. in American Studies from Hillsdale College. She is a managing editor at Ignitum Today, co-edits The Bright Maidens, writes at Progarchy and reviews books.

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Our Press is Complacent (ft and well-fed), Our World Leaders Arrogant, Our Citizenry Horribly Ill-informed

wikileaks analysisBecause we’ve been asked to be brief, my response to the leaks are offered in a way to get the conversation going and thus will be twofold: a general response and then some thoughts about a specific cable.  I also will avoid questions of intention (on the part of Assange and Manning) and will simply have to ignore the consequentialist-versus-deonotological foundations of such a discussion.  There is simply too much groundwork to be covered.

First, let me say that the diplomatic cables are not comparable to the Pentagon Papers (not even the Abyan bombing revelation that validated Amnesty International’s version of the story–that the killing of dozens of civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, were the result of U.S. bombings, and not the work of the Yemeni government as initially reported).  In general, I support WikiLeaks, even if they weaken our diplomatic ties and complicate our foreign “adventures.”  WikiLeaks simply reports unvarnished material–even if they do so illegally (and thus should be prosecuted according to the law).  As a citizen, I feel they have done me a personal service (offering me unvarnished information about the workings of my government), and no doubt a disservice as well (perhaps weakening that same government in areas in which it legitimately harms us to be weakened).

Our press is complacent (fat and well-fed), our world leaders arrogant, our citizenry horribly ill-informed/dis-informed/mis-informed.  Everything becomes filtered for us in some way shape or form for the good of country, for the safety of soldiers, for the good of our citizenry (usually to keep us “safe”), and/or to safeguard the collapse of the economy.  And I don’t deny that some or all of the above may be true in some respect.  As a citizen, I tire of being told that I need not know what our officials are up to in foreign lands (or even in our own land–I hope for and would relish a thorough WikiLeaks-type release of the lobbying that goes on in DC; I think it would make us really rethink what we mean by “representative” government, perhaps far more so than the cables dealing with foreign affairs and the killing of foreign persons).

There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed, I think, regarding the safety of our diplomats, soldiers, and officials overseas.

  1. WikiLeaks has been publishing for four years (did anyone else read their stuff on Kenya?  Chilling.).  In those four years, I don’t think there has been one instance, not a substantiated, non-hypothetical allegation (not even by the Pentagon) that any person has come to any harm because of these leaks.  Embarrassment abounds and brutality has been exposed, but we have yet to see a substantiated charge of reckless endangerment.
  2. Through his Lawyer, Assange contacted the Obama administration and asked them to “privately nominate any specific instances (record numbers or names) where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed” (NYTimes).  Harold Koh of the State Department refused.  I guess it wasn’t that important to protect them.

I’ve already gone over the limit with these general comments, so I will close with what I found to be an interesting cable:

Abu-Ghraib photos leak.  These were shocking and made me sad and angry.  I hated seeing and reading about what was being done by my country and essentially with my tax dollars (the stories of family members being used for interrogation purposes literally made me vomit).  We were told by the administration that release of the photos would mean recruits for various terrorist groups.  Many thought that this was a trumped up “scare tactic” (“the war on terror” in yet another key) used by the administration to avoid embarrassment (if not charges of international crimes).  Know what?  The administration was right.  From a cable: “MbN responded ‘You bet!’ it would be bad for security, and noted that following publication of the first Abu Ghraib photos, Saudi authorities had arrested 250 individuals trying to leave Saudi Arabia to join extremist groups in Afghanistan. Release of more pictures would give AQ ‘the favor of their life,’ said the Prince. Saudi Arabia had fought very hard to defeat AQ on the Internet, but he couldn’t see how to fight 2000 new photos.’”  Perhaps the most ironic thing about many of the leaked cables is that they show that the various administrations’ diplomats were actually correct in their various assessments and that they are extremely skillful in what they do diplomatically.

Norville Rogers works as a private investigator who specializes in uncovering money-laundering rings, corrupt buy-outs, and has even discovered lost treasure a time or two.  He is also a lover of dogs.

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Prudence in the “Assangeian Stables”

As I write this, the DOJ is trying to find a way to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, calling to mind earlier uses of that catch-all and very ambiguous legislation. 

wikileaks analysis

Senator Joe Lieberman says to Fox News (this is only a slight paraphrase), “If we can’t shut this guy down, then shame on us, the civilized world.” Others are calling, literally for Mr. Assange’s head, Sweden is trying to get him back on a sex charge, and Ecuador has offered him unrestricted asylum. Not since Daniel Ellsberg moved what became the Pentagon Papers into the public domain has so much sound and fury settled over Washington.

I know little about Mr. Assange’s motives or methods—I doubt if, right now, many people do—but I would suggest that he is not the problem; nor are we dealing here with an assault on the rule of law, natural rights, or what used to be the republic.

If this is a criminal matter it should be treated as one, minus the considerable hysteria that has emerged on particularly some elements of the political Right.  If it is a matter of freedom of the press, I am skeptical that much clarity will come out of what so far is not, to say the least, a calm and considered discussion.  Certainly the Ellsberg case gave little clarity to the complex issues of press freedom in an electronic age.

Sir Malcolm Rifkin has pointed out that there is a difference between “the public interest and the public are interested.” That’s true, but before one can determine which this case is, much needs to be sorted out about exactly how the government stores (and classifies) sensitive documents. While we should never underestimate the power of enemies to do us harm, we should also remember that the genius of our system of government (its only genius) is that it is based on the fundamental idea of limited government.

Whatever else we are dealing with in the “Assangeian Stables,” it is a prudential matter until it is proven otherwise.  It needs to be cleaned out, but with as little government initiative as possible.

The wise words of Paul Johnson (Modern Times, p. 14) give us context:  “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless.”

John Willson is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and professor of history emeritus, Hillsdale College. His work has been published in Modern Age, Imprimis, and the University Bookman, and he contributed to Reflections on the French Revolution (1990). Dr. Willson is past President of the Philadelphia Society and gives speeches regularly to various groups.

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Gentlemen and Honor

First, gentlemen do not read other men’s private correspondence.

wikileaksSecondly, in The Wise Men Know What Wicked things Are Written on the Sky Russell Kirk wrote: “It is not the mission of the United States to establish universally some imitation of the American political and economic order.  Every people must find their own way to order and justice and freedom.” Still, an enormous (likely Sisyphean) job has been given to the Departments of State and Defense and the CIA. They have been tasked with transforming other nations to become more “American.” Of course this is planned with little thought given to whether the culture and history of these nations has in anyway prepared them to emulate the United States, or whether the peoples of these countries desire to be transformed into well behaved democratic capitalists. Yet, diplomats cajole and negotiate, armies are dispatched, and bribes (both piratical and those styled as “aid”) are employed to encourage other nations to do our bidding. We are not surprised when WikiLeaks confirms that pride, avarice, envy and lust play their part in international relations. We are disappointed when reminded of America’s part in fostering these vices in order to suit our purposes.

Finally, it appears likely to me that good men may die because the “non combatants” of WikiLeaks choose to reveal secrets regarding our military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I would prefer that we did not have any of our warriors in those nations (or in any other foreign nation unless the result of formal declaration of war or involved in joint training exercises) I would reserve a special place in Hell for WikiLeakers, and their co-conspirators, if a single soldier dies due to their wickedness.

An America that did not depend on foreign lenders to fund our enormous national debt could be much more plain spoken in foreign affairs. An America that did not depend on $28 billion a month in foreign oil could be much more honest in our foreign affairs. An America that respected the cultures and histories of other nations sufficiently to allow them to find their own paths to order, justice and freedom could be much more patient in foreign affairs. Until we have our domestic affairs in order we cannot be independent, we dare not speak plainly. As a nation we live in fear that the piper will come to collect his due. God grant us the fortitude to get our house in order and the wisdom to appreciate that reasonable men will only emulate those who they truly admire.

Winston Elliott, III is Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative.

Books mentioned on the topic of these essays may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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1 reply to this post
  1. My comment to a post criticizing my comments in this article regarding the TSA (posted originally at CatholicVote.org):
    "Greg, first, thanks for the comment. Second, thanks for serving the cause of law, order, and justice while a police officer. But, third, while I very much appreciate the caveat and recognize my own hyperbole, I also think and assume that you patted down folks with probable cause and only with probable cause. You didn't just pat down folks randomly, you used reason and accepted the constitutional limitations of probable cause. Re: my opposition to the TSA, salary has absolutely nothing to do with it. The TSA (and ALL who work for it, at least at some level), have overthrown the common law tradition of being innocent until proven guilty. They do not, and have openly admitted they do not, seek out those who might very well be a threat against U.S. interests. Their selection criteria isn't helpful, just, or effective. It's just play perverted–in very sense of the word. In the long run, the TSA will prove as vicious to the United States, its traditions of rights, and the sanctity of law (and our children and our children's children and so on) as almost any act committed against the sovereignty of the U.S. by a foreign power or ideology. So while I will happily apologize for a little fun wordplay that might cause offense, I will certainly not apologize for a criticism of a power that is neither American nor constitutional in its actions against its own citizens."

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