As life in the 21st century gets loopier and loopier, the truly deranged come out of the woodwork, passing themselves off as benefactors of mankind, candidates for sainthood, etc. Maybe—who knows—candidates for another Pulitzer Prize: something The New York Times hardly needs, but self-inflicted moral grandeur can do odd things to you.
The New York Times' official rationale for publishing "a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years," is the public's supposed "right to know what is being done in their name" by their diplomats.
The cables being made public in serial fashion—not just in the Times but in several left-wing European publications—"tell the unvarnished story," the Times says, "of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations—and, in some cases, duplicity—of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid."
We the people, on the Times' showing, need to know. Everybody, it seems, needs to know The Truth. Let it all hang out. Let freedom ring and Satan take the hindmost. Blah, blah, blah.
I think many of us, if the real truth be told, have never heard such exalted bullcorn—such self-serving claptrap.
America's allegedly greatest newspaper, far from further entrenching the Right to Know, serves notice of just how daft we all must have gotten while no one was looking.
The Australian whose WikiLeaks website obtained and volunteered to share the secret documents is nutty as a fruitcake, not least in his anti-Americanism. The editors who are publishing the documents—including those at The New York Times—are likewise nutty.
Hillary Clinton bromidically suggests that spilling the beans on American opinions of foreign leaders, and on American concerns about Iran and nuclear weapons, won't destroy our foreign relationships. She could be right. She could be wrong. The real point is elsewhere. It takes the form of a question: What have we come to when morally disconnected folk inside and outside the great communication media of our day put on Olympian airs—as if human restraints had nothing to do with them. As if their instincts alone were sovereign; their understandings of What We All Need, whether we know it or not, enjoyed divine status. The editors of the Times know what's good for us. Just ask 'em.
The Times' daftness—its moral blindness to consequences—in some ways emblemizes the age. We don't have to live by common sense anymore. Rational behavior isn't required of supposedly civilized people. You can thumb your nose at antiquated notions of prudence and restraint and good will. What's all that as against the people's right to be told ... by YOU?
Whether or not foreign policy damage results from WikiLeaks' information dump, with The New York Times as partner, is only partly the point. The larger point—at least it seems so to me—is the larger disposition our era shows for plain, old-fashioned irrationality.
Don't worry about whether something you want to do might harm someone, possibly many people; just think about what YOU hope will come of it. You—wonderful you. Isn't that the modern spirit?
Civilized people aren't supposed to buy into this trumpery. Civilized people are supposed to look before they leap, most particularly when their arms are wrapped around other people's necks.
Yes, of course, WikiLeaks' stolen cables would have gotten out in Europe and elsewhere even had the editors of The New York Times scornfully refused to be used. Can't the editors nonetheless see? Sane people don't do irrational things, whether others do them or not. Rational people weigh consequences. It makes one wonder to whom the immediate future belongs—rational people or the likes of Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and the nitwits of North Korea.
A troubling piece of counsel comes to mind, from the formless past: Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. We may live to find out whether it's true.
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William Murchison is a corresponding editor of Chronicles and the author of The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson (ISI) and Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity. William Murchison, syndicated columnist and longtime commentator on religious, cultural, and political affairs, has contributed to many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and First Things.