The NSA and 'insurrectionists' vs 'institutionalists'


On Tuesday's NOW with Alex Wagner, Chris Hayes, host of msnbc's All In With Chris Hayes, joined the panel to discuss his theory of "insurrectionists vs institutionalists" in relation to the recent NSA spying controversy.

In his book, "The Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy," Hayes divides American thought leaders into two camps, arguing that figures like The New York Times' Paul Krugman and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are classic insurrectionists, distrustful of institutional hierarchies, while Krugman's colleague at The Times, David Brooks, serves as the model  institutionalist.

That prompted Alex to ask Hayes whether 29-year-old Edward Snowden was an insurrectionist bent on tearing down the system or an institutionalist looking to fix it.

"I think the most dangerous thing for authority are people who were once institutionalists who later became radicalized, and I think a lot of whistle-blowers are that," Hayes said.

"The entire national security state constructed post -9/11 has been shrouded behind secrecy, and because it's shrouded behind secrecy, people's opinions about how it functions and whether it's justifiable tend to fall along these polarized lines of how much you, by default, trust authority."

The panel also batted around Jeffrey Toobin's recent column in the New Yorker--an example of the institutionalist position--in which he argues that Snowden was neither a hero nor a whistle-blower.

Finally, Alex and Chris Hayes discussed the public's confusion over the surveillance issue as evidenced by a new Pew Research poll that shows Democrats and Republicans have essentially switched positions on the issue since Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush in the White House. In essence, members of the public appear more inclined to believe government surveillance was okay if it took place under the party to which they felt most closely aligned.

"People don't really have a lot of information to operate on," Hayes said. "And so what they do is they take cues from people they trust." It was easier for Democrats to be more skeptical of the national security state when they were not running it."