Readings: Sean Wilentz on Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, January 24, 2014, 8:15 AM

Over at the New Republic, Sean Wilentz has this fascinating long piece about the ideologies of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald. The bottom line, in Wilentz's view, is that it's odd that these people have become heroes of the Left, because Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange's writings "reveal an agenda that even the leakers' most dedicated admirers should question," a "crazy-quilt assortment of views, some of them blatantly contradictory."  The article is based on Wilentz's reading of writings by the three that predate the current controversies:

So far, the adulatory treatment the leakers have received closely mirrors their own self-presentation. But important caches of evidence have gone largely unexamined by the media. Documents are, of course, the leakers’ stock-in-trade---and they have produced quite a few documents of their own. The Internet houses a variety of their writings for message boards, blogs, and magazines. Much of this writing was produced before the leakers entertained the possibility of a global audience. They are documents in which one can glimpse their deepest beliefs and true motives. What they reveal is at odds with the flattering coverage the leakers have received, and goes beyond personal eccentricities or dubious activities in the service of noble goals.

As Wilentz summarizes:

[F]rom an incoherent swirl of ideas, a common outlook emerges. The outlook is neither a clear-cut doctrine nor a philosophy, but something closer to a political impulse that might be described, to borrow from the historian Richard Hofstadter, as paranoid libertarianism. Where liberals, let alone right-wingers, have portrayed the leakers as truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors, that’s hardly their goal. In fact, the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.

Very worth reading.