Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hubert Védrine on WikiLeaks: "Masked Totalitarianism"

Hubert Védrine, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed a view Wednesday on the radio platform France Inter that examines some of the philosophy surrounding the latest scandal from the WikiLeaks website. The latest in a stream of highly controversial leaks that signals a new breed of information-age security threats, WikiLeaks disseminated some 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables to the public, setting off a public-relations firestorm for both U.S. and foreign governments and diplomacy bodies worldwide.

The following are selected translated excerpts from Védrine's characteristically ascerbic tongue, which I recognize (full disclosure) from my tenure as one of his interns. His commentary on vaguely-defined values such as transparency and the civilizational aspects of the information age merit reflection.

HV: "We live in a society that thinks that transparency is good in and of itself, without limits or rules, contrary to the fundamental principles of modern society..."

PC: "Do you think [leading newspapers] shouldn't have [published the WikiLeaks contents]?

HV: "The written press is in such a state that they couldn't resist... I don't think they should have not done so, but they might have put things in a different light... We've got a definition of "transparency" that is in fact a form a masked totalitarianism."


PC: "Given what we've seen through WikiLeaks, can we assume that diplomacy is the art of dissimulation, or hypocrisy?"

HV: "No! It's like in a family: you don't talk about the same things in front of the children as in front of the grand-parents... That's what social life is founded on."


HV: "We have to get over maintaining this Western arrogance, whether it's in these diplomatic documents, or in the commentary made elsewhere, because we are no longer the masters of the world... We are no longer the masters of the world, we Westerners, even when we think we are a moral superpower, like the Europeans believe, even when the Americans think they have a military superiority that entitles them to control everything--no. We are in a multipolar world, we face emerging countries who no longer tolerate our telling them what to do on technological, juridical, economic, monetary, even in terms of values. I'm not saying we should launch new values, because I'm just as attached [to Western values] as you are... For WikiLeaks to pass through the prominent newspapers, to render its methods honorable in the name of transparency, it's a sort of laundering... What we need is not a WikiLeaks debate in diplomatic terms, but one of deontology, and on civility in digitized society."

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