Dalrymple on the Totalitarianism of Wikileaks

At City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple puts his finger  exactly on something I’ve been groping to express about Wikileaks: 

It is not, of course, that revelations of secrets are always unwelcome or ethically unjustified. It is not a new insight that power is likely to be abused and can only be held in check by a countervailing power, often that of public exposure. But WikiLeaks goes far beyond the need to expose wrongdoing, or supposed wrongdoing: it is unwittingly doing the work of totalitarianism.

The idea behind WikiLeaks is that life should be an open book, that everything that is said and done should be immediately revealed to everybody, that there should be no secret agreements, deeds, or conversations. In the fanatically puritanical view of WikiLeaks, no one and no organization should have anything to hide. It is scarcely worth arguing against such a childish view of life.

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. 

As I put it to a friend who was enthusing about the great service these leaks provided to transparency, “Do you feel that way about your bank information and your PIN code?”

The hypocrisy and double-standard of journalists, in particular, who fail to understand why the government must sometimes protect its sources of information is mind-blowing. Journalists, of all people, should understand this better than anyone else. Many sources would lose their jobs, their reputations, their liberty or their lives for talking to journalists on the record. If the people who spoke to us didn’t think we could keep their names out of the story, they would never open their mouths again. Would that make the world more transparent? 

The only way you could argue that this logic doesn’t also apply to the US government is by assuming that all journalists only have good intentions and do only good things–all the time–and the US government only has bad intentions and does only bad things–all the time. This appears to be the justification offered by the Guardian, but I suppose that’s to be expected.