Parrhesia, the Greeks, and WikiLeaks

A philosophy professor ties it all together:

On March 10, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley committed the sin of speaking frankly. During a talk at MIT, he was asked by a researcher to explain the treatment of Bradley Manning. Though he did not think Manning’s treatment amounted to torture, as the questioner had alleged, and though he thought the commander at Quantico was acting within his legal authority, Crowley nevertheless saidthat the conditions of Manning’s detention were “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.” Three days later, Crowley was out of a job.

As a philosopher, I found his remarks fascinating. The ancient Greeks had a term for Crowley’s actions. They called it parrhesia, the ability to speak one’s mind even when doing so involves social risk. Crowley’s remarks were striking because parrhesia is rarely practiced in American politics, and almost never practiced, at least on the record, by government spokesmen. I wanted to know more about what Crowley had done, so I arranged to meet him for lunch in Washington.

More here.

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