The most interesting thing in our current flurry is the government’s reaction, which has clearly been a combination of embarrassment and self-righteousness. It has called Edward Snowden a traitor for revealing to the American public the activities of its own representatives, and that’s a funny thing. The humor is that the clear meaning of the charge of treason is for a man to act against those to whom he owes loyalty, and in favor of their real enemies. To hit Snowden with this charge, among all the complaints which they could bring against him, has something of the poetry that attends the punishments in Dante’s hell. Edward Snowden, it seems, is to be pursued and imprisoned as a traitor, for he has turned his back on the American Government and handed its secrets to its most deadly enemy: The American People. He has inarguably undermined the interests of his government by the singular act of upholding the obvious interests of his fellow citizens. What better demonstration could we have of the opposition between state and citizenry that a direct service to the public is regarded as an unendurable disservice to the state?
If a man aided you, and then was for it dragged before a court on charges of aiding the enemy, the implication would be hard to ignore. And this is exactly what has happened. The embarrassment of the administration is not any shame over its blatant abuse of privacy or even its clumsy likeness of 1984. It is embarrassed because Snowden made them say out loud what was supposed to be an open secret: The state wishes to impose its program on the public against our will, and as such is in a relationship of quiet enmity, of effort directed at defeating the self-determination of individuals and replacing it with governmental oversight. “Oh thanks a lot Snowden! We were trying to get these masses under control without it getting awkward!” they fairly seethe.