Monday, June 17, 2013

Brooks needs a history lesson or two (right-to-privacy edition)

I make it a point to read David Brooks only very irregularly (i.e., as seldom as possible). But Corey Robin's interesting piece "David Brooks: The Last Stalinist" reminded me of something -- or rather, a  comment attached to Robin's post was the reminder.

Brooks thinks Snowden is a result of an 'atomized' society and that someone with firmer social ties to community, family, etc., would not have acted as Snowden did. But there's a different way of looking at it: Snowden sees himself, I'm sure, as acting to protect, among other things, the right to privacy, and that right -- and here's the point I'm getting to -- has its origins, as far as U.S. law is concerned, in the late nineteenth century, before the 'atomization' Brooks so deplores had become a major trend. It goes back to Warren and Brandeis's famous 1890 law review article in which they said that privacy is the right to be let alone. One can quibble, I suppose, about whether or how deeply the NSA surveillance programs invade that right, but I still think Brooks should devote a column to Warren and Brandeis. If nothing else, it would be a welcome break from the stale Tocqueville, warmed-over Robert Nisbet, and whatever else Brooks usually serves up.

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