What America means, the Bradley Manning edition

Quinn Norton's long essay in Medium called Bradley Manning and the Two Americas that investigates the question of American power in the age of Bradley Manning and his legal martyrdom. It's a very good piece, and it lays out the collision of the idea of America as an imperial bureaucracy and America as a revolutionary democratic experiment, and shows how that collision has been in play through leaks since Ellsberg.

To one side, Manning’s release of classified material into the public purview is a declaration of the people’s right to know, and an angry comment on how the world is run behind closed doors. To the other, it represents a force threatening to undermine the system that holds America together.

If you see America as a place within borders, a bureaucratic and imperial government that acts on behalf of its 350 million people, if you see America as its edifices, its mandarins, the careful and massive institutions that have built our cities and vast physical culture, the harsh treatment of Manning for defying that institution makes sense, even if it was, at times, brutal.

But if you see America as an idea, and a revolutionary one in its day, that not only could a person decide her fate but that the body of people could act together as a great leader might lead — and that this is a better way to be — Manning didn’t betray that America.

The second America doesn’t have that name anymore. It morphed and grew just as the first, promulgated for a moment from the east side of the mid-North American continent, but going on to become a sense of democracy, the rights of man. It merged with the other spirits born of the Enlightenment and became the force behind science, technology, free speech, and populist will.

Then the ideas of self-determination and the freedom to know blossomed as they never had before in the dying days of the 20th century. The second America became a strange and amorphous transnational creature. It became networked.

Bradley Manning and the Two Americas [Quinn Norton/Medium]

(via Making Light)