NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden continues to loom large in the world’s daily news. Revelations from the trove of data he disclosed to journalists roll out on a near-weekly basis, followed by denials and excuses from politicians and bureaucrats he exposes as responsible for rights violations around the world. Citizenfour, a documentary covering his heroic actions on behalf of the public, just grabbed the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of Snowden’s individual disclosures. And that’s OK. Each disclosure tells us something important about those who rule us. But there’s more to it than the details. There’s a bigger picture.
In a February 23 “Ask Me Anything” discussion on Reddit, Snowden encapsulated that bigger picture. “[W]e the people,” he wrote, “will implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights” (emphasis Snowden’s).
That’s the whole ballgame right there, folks. The purpose of political government has never been, as the US Declaration of Independence claims, “to secure these rights [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] … deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The purpose of political government has always been to monopolize violations of rights and to use those violations to redistribute power, control and wealth from you to the political class.
Many — perhaps most — of us don’t get it. Sometimes Snowden himself doesn’t seem quite sure of it. But the politicians know it deep down in their guts.
When the world’s panicked potentates and powermongers squeal that people like Snowden make it more difficult for them to “protect” us, what they really mean is that people like Snowden unlock and open the doors of the cages we’re kept in.
The politicians aren’t afraid of bad actors getting in. They’re afraid of us getting out. Worse, they’re afraid that while we’re out, we’ll realize we never needed them. They fear that the final shred of the emperor’s clothes — the notion that the state is a “necessary evil” — will fall away, revealing them to us in all their nakedness as the unnecessary evil they’ve always been. And that fear is fully justified.
Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden (among others; Barrett Brown and Ross Ulbricht also come immediately to mind) have earned their places as central figures in the pantheon of human liberty. They will one day be revered (indeed, they already are among many) as modern-day Thomas Paines.
Paine’s work brought down the British Empire in one small corner of Earth; it also inspired and informed the revolution in France. The effects reverberate across more than two centuries of human history down to this very day. Snowden and those others are in the process of completing Paine’s mission by bringing down the global political class’s preferred governance model of the last 400 years, the Westphalian nation-state.
Snowden’s Great Removal is in progress and unstoppable. It deserves our enthusiastic embrace.
Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).