Friday 3 December 2010


There has been a lot of fuss in the last few days about the communications between US government agencies that have been disclosed by Wikileaks, and that remain to be disclosed. I have no idea whether disclosure of any of the documents will in fact cause serious harm, but there is a light side to this. Those in government are shown to be sometimes rude, sometimes devious and sometimes foolish. We always knew that this was so, but the provision of concrete examples gets us excited.

Some unidentified, but presumably amply insulted, government apparently told the US, "Don't worry, you should see what we say about you". This reminds me of something that Bertrand Russell said, in The Conquest of Happiness (pages 76-77 of the Routledge Classics reprint). He wondered what would happen if we could all see one another's thoughts. He supposed that most friendships would end immediately. But after a little while, we would find life without friends intolerable, and would get back together again, on a new basis of honesty. We may hope, if perhaps not expect, that the same will happen in the diplomatic community.

Meanwhile, the most laughable, and most arrogant, response has come from the French government. Here are some words of François Baroin, on behalf of that government:

"Moi j’ai toujours pensé qu’une société transparente, c’était une société totalitaire."


No, M. Baroin. Only transparency can keep politicians in the service of the people, instead of the other way round. Privacy for people in general may help to keep totalitarians at bay. But those who have got themselves into positions in government need to work in the daylight (apart from a few security operations that really do need to be covert, and even they should be disclosed after the event). Otherwise, the governors will dig themselves in and do as they please.