For a conservative who seeks to conserve the tradition of constitutional liberty bequeathed to Americans by their Founders, the spectacle of self-sworn apostles of liberty in the so-called “conservative” media calling for Edward Snowden’s head on a platter is a painful one to behold. Yet neither is this sight particularly gratifying to those of us who prize sober thinking, for the logic underwriting these calls is as woeful as the rhetoric is irrational.
If, as Snowden (to say nothing of legions of other Americans) believes, the NSA has acted unconstitutionally, this means that it has acted illegally, for the Constitution is the fundamental law of the land. Those (including sympathizers like Rand Paul) who think that Snowden should be punished for “violating” his contractual obligations as a government employee speak nonsense, for no employee, in any profession, is legally bound to perpetrate, either directly or obliquely, an illegality. It is exactly and only because Snowden believed that the NSA was acting illegally (unconstitutionally) that he blew the whistle in the first place.
To accuse him of being a traitor or criminal is to beg the question here.
To the objection that no federal court that has looked at the NSA’s methods have yet found them to be in circumvention of the Constitution, we need only note that the objection boils down to this: the federal government has declared that the federal government is acting constitutionally.
The objectors should take our reply for what it’s worth as they ponder that the federal courts have also declared the constitutional rights of slave masters to their slaves, women to abortion on demand, and state governments to force racial segregation.
This notion that Snowden is a “traitor” is also puzzling. Who did he betray, and how did he betray them?
Millions upon millions of American citizens not only don’t feel betrayed by Snowden; they regard him as a hero for bringing to their attention something to which they would have otherwise remained oblivious. Yet let’s set this aside and assume that Snowden’s detractors mean to say that he betrayed his country by weakening the government’s ability to keep Americans safe. This notion is deeply problematic in its own right.
It’s not clear how Snowden could have compromised the government’s ability to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, for the very idea is inconsistent with Snowden’s enemies’ contention that the NSA is constitutionally sound. In other words, if, as they maintain, there is nothing in the least bit either morally or legally objectionable about the NSA, then the latter should be able to keep right on course.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at email@example.com or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.