Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.This makes me so sad I can't even chew it up. The premise, though, is that Snowden is a moralizing idiot shaped by his moralizing idiot generation, a man helping the "corrosive spread of cynicism" by exposing things that better, older people know should remain hidden.
If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.
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.More on Brooks' moral-thumping attack below the fold.
This is, in the literal sense, an authoritarian argument. Government knows best; to question it is fine, but to act upon it is not and will only result in further punishment, not only for the leaker but for us all:
He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.How can programs that collects and catalogues vast swaths of private communication between Americans on the off chance that the government will later want to look into one or two bits of it be constitutional? That is irrelevant; it must be legitimate because someone better than Snowden declared it so. How has the revelation of these programs harmed national security in any substantive way? It is left as blanket assertion. Nor does Brooks have any patience for whatever soul-searching Snowden went through before deciding to permanently ruin his life or forfeit his freedom; he was just so irritatingly moral about it all that he probably never thought of that:
He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.
Judging by his comments reported in the news media so far, Snowden was obsessed with the danger of data mining but completely oblivious to his betrayals and toward the damage he has done to social arrangements and the invisible bonds that hold them together.I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that I would think much less of Brooks if I honestly thought any of these were his own thoughts. I'm not sure I do—in the matter of one evening, the conversation in all of Washington turned immediately to Snowden as dropout, as misfit, as "solitary," as an implausible Boy Scout in a world gone too mean for Boy Scouts to do us any further good. No doubt Brooks typed up his own moral-thumping attack on the young man, but his result is identical in words and tone to all the others out there. Both our government and the guardians of our discourse are very, very sure that data mining done on the entire American population is not worthy of discourse, and that is a damn odd view for a group that obsesses over whistleblowers in a dizzying array of other stories. What makes a Benghazi "whistleblower" the stuff of media fawning, and a whistleblower questioning a government infrastructure of implausible scope and incomprehensible legal construct a betrayer of his Constitution? Is it only the fluff that we are interested in now? Did this one cut too close to the bone, did it threaten to damage government authority in too uncomfortable a manner?
Brooks covers all the bases. Snowden betrayed our privacy by exposing government betrayal of our privacy. Snowden has damaged trust in government my exposing government as being untrustworthy. Snowden ensured that the security state will crack down harder on us all, by exposing their softer methods. Snowden did damage to our social arrangements by questioning his government; Snowden damaged our invisible bonds by forcing us to discuss all this unpleasantness when it was not his place to do so. It was not his place to do it.
To go through all that, and to blame all of that chaos and social upheaval on one leaker, and not once ponder the morality or the trustworthiness or the "betrayal" of the Constitution on the actual government program being leaked, even though the program seems extraordinarily controversial in all of those regards—that is quite a tell. Really, that is the only moral to be had here, that Edward Snowden is a bad man, a moral simpleton? That is a remarkable reaction to the story, and that it is so universal, throughout the halls of power, both parties, all pundits, and essentially anyone who has two words to rub together inside the Beltway, speaks to a morality and national loyalty founded on much shakier stuff than whatever Edward Snowden can be accused of.