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Wikileaks: Traditional liberalism with balls?


Jullian Assange sniffing

The mainstream media likes to suggest, with a nudge and a wink and abuse of the word “cyber,” that Wikileaks represents a radical ideological position. But if there’s a moral crusade to be found, maybe it’s rooted in a tradition closer to home: classical Western liberal-democratic principles.

In The New Republic, Noam Scheiber takes for granted that Wikileaks is here to stay, with relentless pressure on big business and big government that permanently hampers their ability to prevent leaks. This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.

I have no idea what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks, but, presumably, it should be small enough to avoid wide-scale alienation, which clearly excludes big bureaucracies. Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.

To make this point, Scheiber reminds us that Wikileaks’ stated aim–making organizations operate more ethically–is a mainstream one: “It’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses,” he quotes Julian Assange.

Scheiber’s argument seems to be that Wikileaks’ disclosures could have more subtle and far-reaching effects on organizations than it expects.

It’s easy to make a meal of the “crushing bastards” side of Wikileaks, but that distracts us from the fact that it reveals things that should not be hidden from us if we take liberal democratic principles seriously. It might be reasonable to argue against such disclosures, but you can’t claim those principles as your own and then call Assange a terrorist for soliciting proof that they’ve been shat on.

And Scheiber’s not the only person to draw unusual connections between Wikileaks’ activities and mainstream politics.

Writing in The Economist, Will Wilkinson’s inane hostility toward Bruce Sterling acquires a halitosis-like force that makes sticking with it hard going. But he scores one good hit on Sterling’s otherwise superb essay, which is that seeing everything about Wikileaks through the lens of hacker culture is a mistake. Assange’s activities are in fact consistent with traditional liberal demands of government, and only converge with sociopathic cyber-utopian anarchism on paper:

Liberalism was once a radical, revolutionary philosophy, but it has become hard to believe it. What is most intriguing about the WikiLeaks saga is not the pathology of hacker culture as envisioned by Mr Sterling’s fecund imagination, but the possibility that Julian Assange and his confederates have made dull liberal principles seem once again sexily subversive by exposing power’s reactionary panic when a few people with a practical bent actually bother to take them seriously.

I’ll be leaving on the mirrorshades of sociopathy +1 myself, but Liberalism isn’t the only other vantage point Wikileaks serves. Take, for example, the “nothing new here” response to cablegate. Stupid as that is concerning specific relevations, it’s true that most of the disclosures are of trivial events that are routinely and inappropriately classified as secrets. This is something conservatives and the left-libertarian netariat alike can hate equally: government growing in dumb, relentless symbiosis with the bureacracy of its own secret bullshit.

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