The Duty of Loyalty
Kirsten Powers has written a terrific piece in The Daily Beast on the mendacity and perversity of the supposed “authorities” righteously pontificating on the supposed treachery and betrayal of Edward Snowden for revealing the secret surveillance programmes being conducted by the State. But, in fact, Mr. Snowden has placed the onus on them to prove their good faith.
That is, perhaps, what they most hate about Edward Snowden and his actions.
In her essay, “The Sickening Snowden Backlash”, Ms. Powers quotes, as an example, David Brooks from the New York Times. So, I hyper-jumped over to Mr. Brooks article to check out his reasons for belittling Mr. Snowden rather than addressing the problem Mr. Snowden raised. Mr. Snowden, according to Mr. Brooks, has a duty of loyalty which he violated. It’s a pathetic piece that falls apart completely on one sticking point — loyalty to what?
Here’s Mr. Brooks rationale in his piece called “The Solitary Leaker“,
“For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”
You might notice something that struck me as odd. Mr. Brooks avoids the question of what type of society is owed the duty of loyalty. According to his logic, any type of society, which could just as well be Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, or a monarchist or fascist state, is owed the duty of loyalty. According to Brooks, Mr. Snowden committed the great sin against this kind of groupthink and the mass mind. He was too “individualistic”.
The duty of loyalty to authoritative institutions — loyalty simply for its own sake — (which, apparently, includes unquestioning loyalty to the authority of conservative opinion and ideology) is a very reactionary attitude. Individuals apparently exist to serve authoritative institutions, not institutions to serve the free development of individuals. It is a perverse inversion of democratic values. We aren’t far from fascism in such a pernicious interpretation of the relationship between social institutions and the individual. Mass surveillance inevitably reduces the individual to a mere particle in the mass in which “individualistic” action apparently becomes deviant and criminal.
I’m afraid that it is, in fact, Mr. Brooks who lacks that integrity of perception and personality that he seems to find wanting in Mr. Snowden. His entire piece falls apart for the simple reason that he does not specify what type of society the individual owes the duty of loyalty.