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The Weekend Read
The Conscience of Edward Snowden

To say that Snowden acted according to his conscience, but then to excuse his decision to become a fugitive and argue we should ignore his character and focus on what his acts revealed, is to mistake the nature and importance of conscientious action.

Published on: June 21, 2014
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  • Tim Fairbank

    Roger, this is a fascinating and learned article, and I learned much from it. But I fear it fails the test of practicality.

    Here’s what I believe would happen if Edward Snowden returned to America:
    1. He would immediately disappear into a Supermax prison.
    2. He would not be granted bail.
    3. He would be tried in camera using secret procedures.
    4. He would never see sunlight again.
    5. And, at a minimum, he would be subjected to psychological torture.

    A example would be made of him, because the permanent government does not abide those who seriously threaten its power. Snowden is not practicing civil disobedience; he’s fighting a war.

    It will be a fight to the finish.

  • mgoodfel

    Spend more time worrying about the excessive powers of the federal government, and the effective lawlessness of their actions. And worry that outside a tiny group of technology people, there’s been relatively little outrage.

    Trying to decide whether Snowden acted ethically or not is a waste of time. In your piece, all I see is someone who wants to take a conservative line and demand loyalty, but is uncomfortable with that. So instead, you spend time worrying about the example he sets and whether he acted ethically or not.

    I don’t see any ethical principle that requires a whistleblower to throw his life away. Short of a presidential pardon, there is no way he would not spend years in jail for telling the public what their government is up to.

    And in his situation, I would “live uncomfortably” with the fear that the government will get ahold of him and throw him in solitary confinement until his mind is destroyed.

    • Stacy Garvey

      Exactly right. Pundits, academics, journalist need to spend significantly more time researching and pontificating on the excesses of the NSA and federal and even state governments.
      This Snowden snow job is boring, pointless and besides the point.

  • Bruce

    The judiciary is co-opted by the same people that would throw Snowden in jail. He threw his life in America away. I am not sure how many of us would have done the same. He gave up a lot. The NSA scandal is one of many. Look at the IRS.

  • Pete

    Who in their right mind would trust the U.S. government and the people in to get a fair deal if the stakes were to expose corruption in the government and its bureaucracies? I wouldn’t.

  • Anthony

    “…But Snowden’s choice to flee only confirms the cynicism and despair so many of us feel about the failure of our constitutional institutions.”

    Albert Camus : “I would like to love my country and justice too.” That said, essay brings to mind that it is desirable and necessary for citizens to examine the country in which they live – hopefully to make steps towards improvement. I recall being instructed that political life is replete with deceit, corruption, and plunder. In any event, one ignores the doings of the state (NSA) only at one’s own risk. Snowden is neither hero nor tryant but perhaps young man confronted with stark reality of “Law, Repression, and Democratic struggle”. To this end, conscience in either of the aforementioned senses may or may not be relevant to Snowden’s historical event; what is relevant is that Snowden encountered a discomforting discovery vis-a-vis his world view concerning the law as a neutral instrument (NSA) serving interest of entire country. Snowden may have come up against the argument that a strong intelligence community is needed to gather information essential for government policy makers and the “reality”. The young man made a choice; was it activated by conscious; whose to say. But, one thing is certain established rules and conventional wisdom have been challenged by Snowden’s act…

  • Fat_Man

    I still don’t know enough to pronounce judgement on Snowden, nor I suspect does anybody else on the outside.

    Consider what your view would be if the following article is correct:

    “Was Snowden’s Heist a Foreign Espionage Operation?: Those who know the files he stole think he was working for a foreign power, perhaps Russia, where he now lives.” By Edward Jay Epstein May 9, 2014 6:50 p.m. ET
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304831304579542402390653932

    Does that change your opinion?

    • ljgude

      Well, it is behind a pay wall so no it doesn’t change my opinion. Still I accept that he may be a plain old spy wrapping himself in the flag and idealism. If so he is as degenerate as the people who are subverting the constitution they are sworn to uphold. I don’t mean the punters who work at the NSA; I mean the bureaucrats and politicians who usurp the sovereign power of the people for their own ends.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Be glad Snowden is overseas, Hope—for his sake and ours—-that he stays out of the USA happily ever-after.

    Some people will argue that we should never have known any of what Snowden has caused to become public information. If that is one’s position, such a person will always want Snowden imprisoned. A lot of Republicans seem to see it this way.

    Some will argue that it’s good for the world to know the disclosures, but Snowden must “face the music” for telling us. That’s a conflicted mindset that makes little sense. It’s either good to have information out—-or it isn’t.

    Some want Snowden returned merely to put Obama in the obligatory spot of having to prosecute him to the fullest, essentially hoping the process would peel away Obama’s leftward base. Phooey on that idea.

    Net, net, Snowden is going to need to remain in asylum somewhere, if he can.
    Russia is not an ideal spot, and, as Snowden has pointed out, it was not his plan to get diplomatically stranded in a Russian airport. But, he is where he is, and it’s better for both him and us that he’s not here.

  • Rodrigo Castalan

    “But the fact that he fled and did not “transform the situation in such a way that the law can again operate and his act can be validated,” means that he does not, in the end, “render a service to justice.””
    Always, on the part of those whose normalcy biases scream that the system can be saved, the system matters too much, please oh please don’t take away my system: Snowden has talked openly about the channels he attempted to take in reporting the breach of the very law you are touting as his ideal manner of redress. Guess what? No one listened. Now, even that is flaunted by the same government you pretend would have earnestly considered his case, with officials saying things like he should have “used the appropriate channels”.

    Your precious law, along with your precious justice, are ink on slips of paper. The police, and the NSA, those are real people, with real guns. Even the IRS has a SWAT team. And those real people don’t read your law, and they aren’t bothered by your sense of justice. Those people do what they want, because it feels good, or they follow orders, because thinking is hard. And when people speak up, they get stomped on.

    You are really writing to yourself. Snowden is not required to face the wrath of a lawkeeper who keeps no law, in order to assuage his conscience. But you are required to face your conscience in demanding not only honesty but also self-immolation on the part of a whistleblower.

    Edward Snowden ran because he wants to breathe the air, outside. He wants a life, as well as to be honest about the wrongs his government is doing. You, as a small part of the primary channel through which those wrongs might one day be addressed, have no right whatsoever to demand of Edward Snowden that he give up his life for some somber tomb so that you can feel good about defending the act of some sad, lonely martyr in chains for the next decade or the rest of his life.

    We cannot demand that to call foul on their government, its people have to be Jesus Christ, standing forth to crucifixion so they can admit their boss is cheating his only client.

    Here’s a job: write opinions about the justice and morality of a person without opining that they make it hard by not throwing their lives away for the sake of their chosen actions.

    He doesn’t have an S on his chest, or a white cowboy hat, either. I’m sure you’ll find those facts particularly revealing.

  • ljgude

    Evidently you are naive Mr. Berkowitz. as naive as Private Manning or Aaron Swartz. Or you are in the pay of the government apparatus that is so eager to cast moral doubt on Mr. Snowdon. Hanna Arndt, Socrates, and dear old St Augustine. Mon Dieu. The people running our government are just plain no good. It isn’t hard to understand and it isn’t left and right, conservative liberal or any other culture war distinction. They are moral degenerates – the end product of Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts.

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