28 November 2010

Wikileaks - a quandary for libertarians

In principle, the more the workings of any state are exposed to public scrutiny, the more people will realize that they are ruled by group-thinking mediocrities corrupted by an inflated idea of their own importance. The hope is that this will motivate people to take back the excessive power they have delegated to the state.

In practice any student of politics already knows this, and the rest are divided between those who prefer not to be reminded of their own abdication of  personal responsibility, and those who yearn to be subsumed into a great collective endeavour because their individual existences are so dispiriting.  

This peculiar fellow Assange seems to be waging an info-war exclusively against the United States, as though it were the source of all the evils in the world. Yet he is able to do this only because it is the most open society in the world. One that, at its best, does more good in the world than all the rest put together.

From the treatment of AIDS in Africa to Chilean miners trapped a mile underground, who are you going to call?  Not that you need to - they are usually only too ready to volunteer the help that only they can provide. The rest of the developed world may have the means, but it miserably lacks the capacity to act. 

Does Assange only receive leaks from US sources? If so, is it because it is more careless with its confidential information? Or because the profit to be made from it far outweighs the limited amount of punishment the US can inflict on those responsible?

If Assange does not receive leaks that would embarrass other governments, then the potential profit and loss calculation would seem to predominate. But if he does receive such information, and chooses not make it public, then his pose as a guerrilla warrior for freedom of information is a sham. 

As I said at the beginning - it's a quandary. The most likely result of using the relative openness of US society in order to damage its international standing will be to make it less open. Power will still do what power always has - it will simply do it with less consultation and on the basis of far more limited group-think.

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