Two-Faced Kittens and the NSA Leaker
Yes, the kitten with four eyes, two noses and two mouths is real. She was born on Tuesday and answers to, cue the pun, “Deucy.” What does Deucy have to do with Edward Snowden, aside from their adorable whiskers? A lot.
I could explain, but Hobbes does such a better job. Arguing for entrusting political authority in a single body, Hobbes insists that multiple sovereign bodies would be a recipe for disaster:
For that were to erect two sovereigns; and every man to have his person represented by two actors that, by opposing one another, must needs divide that power, which (if men will live in peace) is indivisible; and thereby reduce the multitude into the condition of war, contrary to the end for which all sovereignty is instituted.
Lest subjects are made “to see double,” Hobbes argues that a government must communicate with one voice, one law, one ultimate source of authority. For Hobbes, this meant an absolute monarchy. For the more democratically minded, it means that we have one president, not two, and that we have a clear line of succession if something happens to the commander in chief. It means that the buck stops with someone, that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, that when laws are unclear or come into mutual conflict, we have courts to sort things out for us. It also means that government employees need to follow through on their oaths to protect national secrets.
You might think the NSA surveillance state is deeply objectionable. You might agree with John Cassidy of the New Yorker that Snowden is a hero, or with authors of a petition that he ought to be pardoned. But if you’re in the camp of those who think Snowden should not be prosecuted, Hobbes offers an important corrective lesson.
Whether or not the program he has revealed to the world represents objectionable government overreach, Snowden has violated the law with his leak and has compromised the global interests of the United States. This is especially true of his claim on Thursday that the U.S. is hacking into Chinese computers. Imagine if every one of the nearly 5 million Americans with access to government secrets took it upon themselves to leak anything they liked when they thought the public interest had been violated. Now imagine if only a few of them did.
Not everything in a democracy can be transparent, and representatives of the United States have a responsibility to keep secrets. Chaos would ensue if the considered judgment of every individual secret-bearer were the new standard for what stays private and what gets splashed on the pages of the Washington Post. Hobbes was right: if we want a functional government, we can’t have a 5 million-headed monster running our affairs, cute as it may be. Snowden must be prosecuted.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.