The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

WikiLeaks and the Totalitarian Impulse

Posted on | December 2, 2010 | 10 Comments

“The dissolution of the distinction between the private and public spheres was one of the great aims of totalitarianism.”
Theodore Dalrymple, “What’s Really Wrong with WikiLeaks”

Coincidentally, last night I was thinking along very similar lines not only in regard to Julian Assange’s info-terrorism, but also in regard to what Betsy Rothstein does at FishbowlDC.

Those who delight in prying into the privacy of others are shocked when the tables are turned. The feature on Rothstein points out that she — who played a key role in the “Journolist” revelations — becomes quite flustered when people want to make her life the subject of inquiry:

By the next campaign season she had left [a congressional staff position] for The Hill, where she worked for a decade until leaving abruptly for (highly un-salacious) reasons about which she did not want to elaborate on the record. Before I learned most of this I gleaned that, despite the Adams Morgan residency, she spends many days blogging from a coffee shop in Bloomingdale. When I asked if she had a boyfriend in that neighborhood, it caused a mild freakout. . . .
This elusiveness only serves to reinforce Rothstein’s “agenda vacuum,” the unexplained motivations behind her posts that rankle her critics the most.

Exactly: What ax is she grinding? What’s she all about? What makes her tick? The kind of curiosity that drives Rothstein’s exposure of other people’s secrets feels distinctly uncomfortable to Rothstein when it’s directed at her.

And likewise, as Dan Riehl pointed out, while Julian Assange is subjecting massive amounts of U.S. national security materials to total disclosure,  the details of Assange’s own operation — Who’s paying the bills at WikiLeaks? Where’s he getting these leaks? What’s his motivation? — are unknown.

What would we discover if somebody hacked Assange’s e-mail account? What would happen if someone tapped his phone and released the recordings? What might be concealed in the financial records of WikiLeaks?

Dalrymple’s observation about the totalitarian impulse to eradicate privacy is relevant here because, of course, totalitarian governments are always intensely secretive about their own activities. And this inherent double-standard of totalitarianism was something that crossed my mind last night, as I pondered the WikiLeaks revelation of State Department secrets.

During the Russian Revolution, a major propaganda claim by the Bolsheviks was their repudiation of “secret diplomacy,” which they portrayed as the “imperialist” cause of the World War:

[I]n an attack on imperialism, [the Congress of Soviets] called on the nations of the world to abolish secret diplomacy. It promised that the Soviet government would conduct all negotiations in the light of day before the people. And it promised to publish all of the secret treaties to which Russia had been a party.

As the historic record shows, as soon as Lenin’s Bolsheviks gained power, they entered into secret negotiations with Germany that led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. With similar secrecy, the Kremlin sent Comintern agents everywhere to subvert “capitalist” governments and foment labor unrest in an effort to spark revolutionary uprisings. The U.S. and other governments for some years refused to grant diplomatic recognition to the Soviet government, in part because of the concern — entirely warranted, as subsequent events proved — that Soviet embassies would become hubs of espionage and subversion.

Most notoriously of all, in 1939, after years of Communist propaganda about the need to maintain a “common front” against the fascist menace, Stalin reached a secret treaty with Hitler that provided for the partition of Poland and the liquidation of the Baltic states — the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that was the necessary and immediate precursor to World War II.

So now, while the democratic government of the United States finds its diplomatic messages turned into front-page news through the crimes of Julian Assange and his accomplices — and this action is defended by some who call themselves “libertarians” — WikiLeaks seems to pose no threat to the secrets of North Korea, Cuba, Iran and other terror-states.

As the communists used to say, “This is no accident.”


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