What’s Really Wrong with WikiLeaks

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Theodore Dalrymple offers his unusual take on what’s really wrong with WikiLeaks:

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. An Iron Curtain could descend, not just on Eastern Europe, but over the whole world. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people would say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.

The dissolution of the distinction between the private and public spheres was one of the great aims of totalitarianism. Opening and reading other people’s e-mails is not different in principle from opening and reading other people’s letters. In effect, WikiLeaks has assumed the role of censor to the world, a role that requires an astonishing moral grandiosity and arrogance to have assumed. Even if some evils are exposed by it, or some necessary truths aired, the end does not justify the means.


  1. Kalim Kassam says:

    This total-transparency-society is not the articulated view of Wikileaks (a misperception I once shared). While Dalrymple has a great critique of that idea, I think he’s incorrect to attribute it to Wikileaks. This article should probably be about Facebook.

  2. Isegoria says:

    What is the stated goal of Wikileaks? (I haven’t been following too carefully.)

  3. Kalim Kassam says:

    Assange, the public face of the organization, likes to repeat that transparency is the means while the end is justice. The idea is to reform the policies of governments around the world in the direction of less corruption and oppression and more democracy and human rights by providing a safe and secure outlet for whistleblowers and leakers to expose secrets whose revelation would change opinions of the public and other actors. Most of their activities over the years fit well with this mission, but the fit is not as clear to me with the recent leaking of the diplomatic cables. One suggestion popularized by this blogger, and based on some of Assange’s writings, is that Assange has the view that by compromising the ability of the “invisible government” ensconced in USG to communicate internally, it will turn to blunter means, “heightening the contradictions” of the system and leading to it’s collapse.

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