Edward Snowden and the Critique of Violence

In his 1921 essay "Critique of Violence" Walter Benjamin speculated that labor might challenge the state's monopoly on violence. Falguni Sheth argues that Edward Snowden represents a new form of challenge to the state monopoly on violence.

Snowden’s crime, if you will, was that he disrupted the state’s ability to protect its monopoly of violence by exposing its widespread surveillance activities. He did this despite the widely claimed fears of interested parties that doing so would “undermine national security,” and in the face of the state’s insistence that these activities are justified and justifiably secret. In this sense, the fact that he challenged the prerogatives of the state itself makes his alleged crime so much more transgressive than, for example, merely lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction, starting a war with a random nation in which tens of thousands die, or torturing rendered persons. None of these latter crimes are a threat to the state itself, and for that reason may be readily forgiven and forgotten. Manning and Snowden are, however, “great criminals” in that their actions embarrassed and undermined state power. They can never be forgiven or forgotten.

via www.salon.com

Sheth makes imaginative use of Benjamin's essay, but his use of the term "violence" is rather loosely, so it's not clear to if Snowden merely reminds us that the U.S. government has a monopoly on violence or if Snowden represents a true, that is to say transformative, challenge to state power. I think Benjamin would have preferred more collective action to sustain the transformation.

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