Citizenfour is a Real Life “John Galt”
Watching Citizenfour in its HBO premiere Monday evening, a day after it won the Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary, leaves me with the perception that I haven’t watched a documentary but a work of dramatic fiction.
This is not to criticize documentarian Laura Poitras for deliberately slanting coverage of her subject, Edward Snowden, toward the sympathetic. She’s entitled to an editorial point of view.
Edward Snowden. From Citizenfour
by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films
The trouble is with Edward Snowden, himself, as much in this film as in Brian Williams’ NBC interview with Snowden that aired in May 2014.
Edward Snowden explains his actions in terms common to fictional heroes, and when non-controversial characters like these are found in real life they’re usually decorated military, police, or firemen.
What makes Edward Snowden come across as a fictional character is that he as an individual – with no institutional backing – took unilateral action with global consequences and justifed his actions on moral grounds. In real life when this happens it’s usually a terrorist – a bomber, assassin, or violent psychopath – pitting his moral claims against a society he sees as wrong. But Edward Snowden is not a nut job, rather a sane and reasonable man who found himself with an unique opportunity to act against grand institutional criminality that he saw could not be corrected within an existing institutional framework.
That makes Edward Snowden the rarest of real-life characters: a noble and effective revolutionary.
In real life it’s exceptionally uncommon to find a man like Edward Snowden, facing felony charges of violating espionage laws, and living a relatively low-profile life in exile.
Edward Snowden reminds me of no fictional character so much as Ayn Rand’s John Galt in her novel Atlas Shrugged, an engineer who decides to sabotage a state growing toward totalitarianism, by first withdrawing his personal sanction then convincing others of talent and expertise to do likewise.
But Edward Snowden is not a fictional character out of Atlas Shrugged … or my own novel and movie about a current-day rebellion against the United States government, Alongside Night. He’s a real-life current day American Revolutionary in the direct tradition of the Founding Fathers.
Edward Joseph Snowden seems to be aware of his place in history. Reacting to Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris’s joke about treason directly after Citizenfour won its Oscar, Snowden quoted Patrick Henry: “If this be treason, make the most of it.”
Patrick Henry made that statement in 1765, eight years before the Boston Tea Party, ten years before Paul Revere’s ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and 11 years before the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence triggering the American Revolutionary War.
Make no mistake: if America is not to degrade into totalitarian fascism then Edward Snowden is a harbinger of a re-upped American Revolution. His explanation in support of his having revealed what he regards as unconstitutional criminal acts by the United States government is based on the same principles as the Declaration of Independence’s explanations for refusing to obey the laws of Britain’s king and parliament.
Snowden is a hero to me because I share with him the libertarian values of the American Revolution and do not see anything short of a revolutionary refusal to abide violation of fundamental human rights under color of law as a remedy.
I don’t know what’s more frightening: that we have a real-life John Galt declaring in our own time the reasons for rebellion against a burgeoning American tyranny that betrays its Enlightenment foundations … or that we need one.
J. Neil Schulman discusses the legality, morality, and purposes of Edward Snowden’s revelations of classified government documents regarding massive government spying on American citizens in the radio podcast The Real Side with Joe Messina interview J Neil Schulman (December 16, 2014)
J Neil Schulman is the author of 12 books, including three novels, and a Twilight Zone writer. He’s writer/producer/director of the near-future suspense feature film Alongside Night (out in a limited release), which he adapted from his 1979 award-winning novel of the same name. The Prometheus Hall of Fame novel was endorsed by Nobel-laureate Milton Friedman, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess, and Dr. Ron Paul http://alongsidenightmovie.com