PRISM & the Third American Political Tradition

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Posted on June 12, 2013 by Ruth O’Brien

One of the themes of Out of Many, One: Obama and the 3rd American Political Tradition was that Obama relies on social technology to merge the public, the private, and the social spheres. Obama does not distinguish between these spheres; rather than having the state regulate society, or having society freed from state regulation, he advances a collaborative state and market and promotes a fully encompassing social sphere, or a collectivity. Unlike either the strong individual-rights (or civil-liberties) state or the strong welfare state, this third tradition is premised on forging alliances and on collective goodwill. Rather than operating in an absence of good faith and trust, with individuals suing to enforce their civil rights, Obama emphasizes human dignity and potential, not material potential, in a cosmopolitan collectivity of shared, yet shifting, alliances.

Well, all this broke down with PRISM.

Sure, there were earlier reports that this was happening, such as in Dana Priest and William Arkin’s excellent book Top Secret America. But who could have known the extent of it? Who could have known that all three branches of the federal government would cooperate when it came to asking Google, Facebook, and Apple, among others, to provide direct access to monitor all communication among all Americans?

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see

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