This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
It’s the revolt of the geeks. Edward Snowden is John Peter Zenger digitized, a post-Internet free-press hero soaring above the security obsessions of the past decade to assert the inalienable requirements of individual sovereignty in a wired world.
It was Zenger whose journalistic efforts to expose the wrongdoing of a colonial governor appointed by the crown landed him in jail facing the charge of “seditious libel,” quite similar to that brought against Snowden for exposing the NSA’s illegal spying.
Their defense is the same: true patriotism demands a vigilant confrontation with government infamy. “I know not what reason is,” Zenger published in his defense back in 1734, “if sapping and betraying the liberties of a people be not treason.” After Zenger spent more than eight months in jail, a jury of his peers exonerated him and his cry for an unfettered free press came to be enshrined in the US Constitution.
The patriotic ideology that drives Snowden is a throwback to that innate American sense of personal liberty in the face of government excess for which Zenger stood. In every interview Snowden has relied on the simple notion that informed the founders of our nation regarding the primacy of truth in public discourse.
His commitment to that ideal cannot be comprehended by a mass media culture of careerism informed by public relations that trivializes all differences of truth and logic into incomprehensible mulch. His is instead the simple veracity of the once-honored slogan that the truth shall set us free and that it is overwhelming government power that is most threatening to that freedom.
What is at issue in the information Snowden’s courageous actions have revealed is our government’s denial of the core principles of the enlightenment: rule by, and of, an informed and thoughtful citizenry that has come to be smothered by the omnipresent corporatized national security state.
He has translated those ideals from a technologically vastly more primitive time into a cry for freedom in the age of an Internet that contains both the seeds of human liberty in an increasingly informed and cosmopolitan public and its opposite, in the wired world’s capacity to totally obliterate the right to personal privacy that is the essential oxygen of a free society.
As power came to be ever more concentrated and its rewards more inequitably distributed, it was all rationalized as somehow harmonizing because of the onslaught of a neutral sounding technological revolution whose new billionaires seemed to profit not by exploitation but by enhancing the lives of the masses.