Edward Snowden is no Socrates and no Martin Luther King.
I’ll explain these outlandish comparisons in a bit, but first the confession that I was not erudite enough to come up with them myself. The insight comes courtesy of the Aspen Institute’s Justice and Society Seminar, where I’ve been spending several days, pondering at times abstruse texts that turn out to have surprising resonance with current events. Among them: how to think about whether Snowden was justified in leaking classified materials about U.S. surveillance programs and further justified in fleeing the country.
King and Socrates (actually, Plato channeling Socrates) helped convince me that the answer to both is no, as much as Snowden likes to cast himself along such heroic lines. To listen to Snowden, he acted in a noble tradition of civil disobedience by revealing what he asserts is illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency.
“I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945,” the former security contractor pronounced from his Russian limbo last week. “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.