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Do national secrets negate the democratic status of a nation?

Can the populace be relied on to effectively make decisions without constantly being adequately informed?

  • Feb 15 2014: No.

    There is too much information involved in governing a country for any one person to see and assimilate it all. Therefore we must trust our leaders and those that are exposed to national secrets, and those they delegate to handle various pieces of the total picture. This trust is earned by having a need to know, being vetted through a security clearance process, and demonstrating personal responsibility. National secrets often have the potential to cause some people harm if our enemies chose to exploit the information. These people are trusting our leaders and those with similar knowledge with their lives.

    It is the responsibility of every citizen to be informed and voice an opinion through voting on issues that are general enough to be brought before the public for a vote. National security requires a functional and decisive team to act in behalf of the public, ultimately responsible to the leaders elected by the public. Part of team membership includes being a good steward of public trust and protecting national secrets.

    From wiki for Democracy:
    Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.

    I think we still meet this definition.
    • Feb 15 2014: Robert,
      I must ignore your 3rd paragraph from wiki, and your conclusion to which I disagree.
      Your first paragraph made a case for 'Non-Transparent Government's National SECRETS'.
      Your second paragraph made a case for "Citizen's Mandatory voting upon general issues". .
      Your second paragraph changed course --
      You continued with requirements that 'Non-Transparent Government's National SECURITY'.
      Team Members be responsible to Elected Leaders to protect 'Non-Transparent Government's
      National SECRETS'.
      Robert, you've written something close to what I read in a very old manifesto.

      Do national secrets negate the democratic status of a nation? Yes.

      Can the populace be relied on to effectively make decisions without constantly being
      adequately informed? No.
      • Feb 15 2014: Frank,

        The purpose of my third paragraph was to provide a definition of democracy that might be used as a check to see if we still met the definition of a democracy if we had national secrets. There are many definitions, so I just chose a common one.

        I have no change in position in the argument, but I agree with your answer 'No' to the last question. However, I see constantly informing the populace adequately enough to make an informed and timely decision as impossible, so I see the question as irrelevant.

        I am a bit curious about what we are defining here as National secrets. Are you including military movements and capabilities in this definition?
        • Feb 15 2014: Robert, I just spent 30 minutes writing my reply.
          I hit Submit. A note told me it didn't get submitted.

          I hit "select all" and hit copy. Then I deleted my work.
          Then I hit reply and this box came up and I hit paste.
          "verbiage" showed up, and is the only thing I have to offer.
          Sorry. I mighty even try again, when my fingers recover.
        • Feb 17 2014: Robert, You asked -
          "I am a bit curious about what we are defining here as National secrets.
          Are you including military movements and capabilities in this definition?"

          No Robert.
          We live in a most wicked world, and our leaders (yours and mine) are part
          of that world. They build engines and machines of mass destruction, and
          they destruct humans and the things that humans build. So it only makes
          sense to keep secrets about those things, and the innocent men, women,
          and wee babes, those children our leaders maim and kill with their mass
          destructors, non-stop, 24/7/365.

          I know you will nod or shake your head, and go on about your business.
          After all, it's not new. But know this Robert. There are some of us, out
          here in America, who do not take lightly what is happening to our nation.

          I hadn't decided to preach when I thought of answering.
          But it really feels good to be a Majority of One.
    • Feb 18 2014: Haven't you realize that voting is just a joke nowadays? You don't really get to chose your president, and you only have two parties who have been running the country since forever. When election comes you get two choices, either democrat or republican. It doesn't matter who the face of each a party is for the election, it's still the same teams behind each head, every time, for each election and Americans call it an election for the people by the people.

      The people you vote into power are just puppets for their parties. They provide entertainment for the people with each new face that gets elected, but the strings are being pulled by the two parties.
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    Feb 16 2014: I don't think so. There needs to be some classified information out of access of the general public. Such policy, IMO, do not hurt democratic principles in any way.
    In India we have right to information which allows any Indian citizen to seek any information related to public administration, national statistics, position of a matter with the Government subject to national secrecy on grounds of security and stability of the country. Any information sought, are required to be furnished on record failing which the nodal agency holding the information will be penalized.
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      Feb 16 2014: There is something similar in the United States, called the Freedom of Information Act under which people and organizations can demand access to materials. As in India, the key is what can be protected from release under arguments related to national security and privacy.
  • Feb 15 2014: Of course it hurts the democratic process, the question is, is there enough benefit for it to be a worthwhile tradeoff?

    That answer to that particular question is squarely on a case by case basis.
    For example, covert operations cannot be run at all if the public is aware of them, and the military cannot successfully operate at all, either offensively or defensively, without operational security.
    On the other hand, secret keeping can easily deteriorate to officials covering their mistakes under the guise of "national security". The better designed secret keeping systems usually have some independent semi-internal control for exactly this reason.
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    Feb 20 2014: Secrets are as essential to our freedom and security as the voting process itself. Without secrets there could be no negotiation of any issue. There could be no security for anything or anyone. Secrecy does not negate democracy, it makes it viable. Secrets protect our democracy. Yes, there is a need for oversight and check and balance.

    I am absolutely certain everyone who responded to this question has at least one secret they don't want revealed. Does that negate them as a person or just make them normal? Nations must protect their assets, people and sovereignty with secrets. It is just the normal way of things.
  • Feb 18 2014: If we lived in a society where corrupt politics and hypocritical foreign policy did not exist then our governments would have nothing to hide and would give us access to all information without hesitation. However we are all aware that our governments and third party associations work in secret because they wish to be corrupt and they choose to build relationships with their own populations and foreign governments based on control, a wish to colonise and sanction other countries illegally/immorally and a greater wish to push forward and realise certain agendas that don't have the peoples interests at heart. Our governments have big skeletons to hide, and we should know about them, but the reason why we don't is because they are classified as national secrets. Anything that requires to be a national secret will mostly be illegal, corrupt and not in the general publics interest. It's simple bad politics = national secrets. You can say it's for our protection, but they do more harm than good. We need more whistleblowers.
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    Feb 18 2014: All nations, like families, should have closely guarded secrets. It is not neccessary that citizens know the details of governance before they can make informed decisions. The challenge here is having the kind of leaders with intergrity who would not hide under 'national security' to do evil; and would provide all needed and important information pertaining to citizens welfare.

    State secrets are not evil; evil leaders make it seem like it.
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    Feb 16 2014: Michelle, The answer is a absolute maybe. First I shoud explain that I am retired military and from industry. I would say that there are some things I would not want to share with everyone. I would not want the "enemy" to know my schedule and route of troop or supply movements ... strategic planning ... all of my capabilities ... and so forth ..

    However, I feel there is a deeper question here. That there are some things like above we could probally agree on .. but what you are refering to are intentional lies and decieving the people.

    I will use a common fact we all have heard of .... "If you like your insurance you can keep it" was dubbed the lie of the year. Everyone involved knew from 2008 that this was not true. By keeping all of the issues secret the whole plan is now suspect ... and we feel like we have been had for a political cause.

    We at one time could depend on media to seek the truth and provide the facts .... no more.

    We are told that the unemployment rate is 6.8% when simple math from the national debit clock shows it to be over 20%.

    Even a democratic senate could not defend the Secretary of States actions in Bengahzi ... but secrets still exist in the event. Why .... politics.

    In summary: If there is no transparency then decisions would be made without all of the information true ... but even now when we know we are being lied to and the President of the country states he will by pass the Constitution to do what ever he wants ... Refuses to enforce federal immigration laws required in his oath of office ... where is the outcry?

    The common argument is that all politicians lie ... so that makes it alright?????

    What negates the democratic status is that we knowingly allow it to happen and to continue to happen.

    Even a child knows we cannot buy something if we do not have the money .... $16 trillion in debit and climbing. Yet no outcry.

    Reality is forever .. dreams are fleeting.

  • Feb 15 2014: If we look at the History of "National Secrets" , it is rather depressing. As Goering said at his Nuremberg trial, you can get away with anything whatever.f you use National Security as an excuse. And if you look at the details of just what were considered to be important "Secrets" in the past , most of them were really trivial, often merely a covering up ot Official misconduct, as in the Dreyfus case in France. Or the Snowden case currently. As a general rule, I propose that no government secrets are important enough to generate the always oppressive regime that such "secrets" enable and promote. I would be interested in hearing anyone come up with a counter example. Examples of Secrets: how the Maginot Line was constructed. The US Battleship strategy of 1941. The Norden bombsight. The US possession of Manuals for the use of the Kalashnikov rifle. during the Cold War.
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      Feb 15 2014: I wonder, should our enemies know where we keep all of our atomic bombs? Is it wise that we publish every computer exploit that can compromise EVERY computer in the world? Yes, even the one with your bank account on it. Should we publish how to make ricin or anthrax in your kitchen? Should our friends or enemies know our full military capability, strength, location and weaknesses?

      Niavete isn't a bad thing of itself but it can destroy a nation.
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    Feb 18 2014: It seems that, more often than not, secrets are all about shame and advantages. The shame of social embarrassment if others knew about the secret thing and the social and economic advantages inherent in having information that others lack.

    Neither case can be deemed beneficial or healthy within the community context since shame is a debilitating and marginalizing experience and those who seek advantages over others invariably create resentment and even conflict.

    It is only in the competitive arena that secrets thrive making competition the antithesis of a healthy and functional society. More often that not, what governments want to keep secret from its citizens is evidence of the misdeeds, failings, incompetence and criminal malfeasance of those holding public office. So yes, when the secrets are not in the public interest - and what that public interest might be is debatable - but simply in the interest of those in office they definitely negate the democratic process.
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    Feb 18 2014: If something is a secret in a place the size and scope of a nation it is generally irrelevant with exceptions for the spy agencies which don't care about status as much as perpetuating their usefulness. Take the recent exposure of two million "secret" documents for instance. An obvious ploy for some unknown and not worth knowing reason. Who can dissect and interpret two million documents as a means to "unravel the secrets" of a nation? Here's a real secret: while we screw around with spying and secrets and war there is a growing segment of the population that will live in perpetual poverty, major cities that will go bankrupt, and there are simple things we can do to fix these issues assuming they will be recognized. Put the NSA on that, maybe. Not working on those issues is the true damage to patriotism and a reflection of an increasing American pastime of projecting our problems onto instances of behavior control of others as we feel increasingly removed from the control of our own lives.

    Here's another issue with "democratic" which may make the issue more clear. When elected officials oversee agencies with employees that are 99% perpetual and only a few appointed by the elected officials there is no real representation in those agencies. Oversight is what you rely on. The issue then becomes who has the authority of oversight and are they using it wisely? As a side issue, the power of any authority is the power of the individuals lending theirs to the authority. If that same authority cannot be taken back if we find it abused then authority has evolved into tyranny.
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    Feb 18 2014: National secrets shouldn't be told no and it doesn't negate the status of a nation, rather protect. However, I think because political truth is unattainable any which way you look at it, I'm not sure the public can ever be adequatley informed.

    I think there is such thing as an acceptable lie and an unacceptable one. An unacceptable lie would be when Tony Blair (UK Primeminister a few years back) told the public that the secret services had told him that Iraq had chemical weapons that could be launched in 45 minutes, when the secret services had not told him that.Blair knew he was lying; the lie lead us into war and had huge consequences.

    An acceptable lie might be if the politician truely thought they were telling the truth and later the information they were given turned out to be wrong. However, politicians very rarely take ownus for this and they should just step and say, I'm sorry, I got it wrong. I think society would be much more trusting of politicians if so. This is partly to do with the media seizing stories and making mountains out of mole hills.

    There are two talks worth listening to about this:
    1. Lies Lies Lies - the truth about political dishonesty by The Institute of Art and Ideas:
    2. Neither Confirm Nor Deny by Radiolab:
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    Feb 17 2014: /
    In short, yes. What is negated is the sovereignty of the people. I would say that that is key with respect to the democratic status of a nation. This is a complex question only because it relies on philosophic first principles. The populace, the people, the governed, they are the power source of a representative republic.

    I take a very narrow view of politics in that I have never heard a satisfactory justification for waging any war, much less for funding a standing military costing 12 times more than any other. When I'm asked what liberty is worth, I immediately wonder what a child's health or education is worth. I can't help it. I'm a hopelessly sentimental teacher. When people say I should follow the leader and pledge allegiance I can't help wondering whether they've done their book report on "1984."

    A man's home is his castle. That's a good idea. The 4th amendment is nice, especially the part about being secure in one's personal effects. I like that too. Can't help it.

    Can the populace be relied on? Well I'm part of the populace and I was not reliable enough to stop the first preemptive invasion by a democracy in history. I will try to be more reliable in the future. Uh... during the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act I was studying for an Algebra test. As I say I will try to be more reliable in the future.

    My apologies for any harm done from my negligence.

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    Feb 16 2014: Prior to the Iraq invasion Prime-Minister Tony Blair informed us (in the U.K) that weapons of mass destruction were only "40 minutes" away; and a very high-ranking USA official produced a reconnaissance photo (on BBC News) pointing to some dots on the photo saying this is where the WMD were stored. Senior politicians and generals said the war would be over in a few weeks (or was it months - I don't recall exactly). Such was our information.

    2 million UK citizens (whether they believed the information or not) marched in protest against getting involved in a war, and were totally ignored by Tony Blair. And we went to war creating a big, big mess.

    If you are running a "big organisation" such as a whole country, you have to delegate (elect those who govern) - and trust those in power to govern wisely. This is part of the basis of running a big organisation democratically. This IS the democratic decision-making process on behalf of the country as a whole; you can't have a referendum on every topic, but something as big as going to war would probably warrant it.

    The democratic status of a nation is based on being able to trust elected representatives to act wisely, not necessarily on how much information the populace is fed.
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      Feb 17 2014: You have a fine point Joshua. In 1970, Indira Gandhi waited for months before getting involved in a conventional war with Pakistan over Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan). Records later revealed that she delayed it with great annoyance of military experts, sustaining cost of feeding millions of refugees from Bangladesh for years and losing sleep trying to explain her and India's position to foreign heads of state. Later on when she was asked about the procrastination, she replied that she actually wanted to make sure that another unnecessary war was not dumped on Indian people.
    • Feb 17 2014: Joshua

      I like a notion that you sort of expressed:
      The status of a individual is based on being able to trust them to act wisely, not necessarily on how much information they been fed.

      Pabitra, thanks for your comment and bringing Joshua post to the recently updated...

      Procrastinating the fighting to ensure the other gets credited for starting it can be a good strategy... maybe the fighting that be won without having to throw a single blow...
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    Feb 16 2014: There might be sometimes negations between the two. But like in many other cases in our life, also in democracy you need sometimes to compromise on the account of democracy. In life nothing is always ideal or completely perfect. There are various type of forces acting in different directions in our lives and we as supposedly intelligent beings need to use our rational judgment in order to know how, when and to what extent make the compromises in order to achieve the goals we pursue.

    If we agree that in the case of democracy, our common goal is to preserve the democracy and to protect it from the forces who aim to jeopardize the democracy or the democratic nation by exploiting the democratic values against that very democracy, then sometimes the democracy requires to take certain measures (like national secrets) to fight against those hostile forces and such measures might sometimes negate the democratic ideals.

    We as citizens in democracy, who care about democratic values, need to define for ourselves certain principle which would guide us in our fight against the anti-democratic or the malicious forces which aim to harm the democracy or the democratic values. The suggested principle is quite simple and also moral. It would say that democracy and its benefits ARE only for those who respect the democratic core values. For those who exempt themselves from respecting the core democratic ideals, they would be exempted by the same democracy from the democracy’s benefits and rights. For them, different set of standards would be applied and those standards would be the same ones like they themselves apply against the democracy.
    • Feb 16 2014: Yubal,

      Indeed there are various type of forces acting in and inviting us to follow diverse directions in our lives and we as conscient free beings get to choose which to support! Actually we are forced to support everything while free to choose how to support each thing.

      Some of the forces aim to jeopardize the way by exploiting the way against that very way, thus the way requires to take certain measures to work with those hostile forces in such a way as to undermine the underminers using such ways for the better ways and change the jeopardizers into converted allies that help guard the way. Implement measures that always reaffirm the better way and its ideals. To use a metaphor I like quite a bit... when invited to a fight respond with a graceful dance that guides everyone's moves into the dance. (and neither forfeits the fight nor gets into it)

      beings need to use their judgments in order to know how, when and to what extent to act in order to achieve the goals worthwhile pursuing. As you sort of mentioned we need to define for ourselves certain principle which would guide us in our activities ... and we also need to implement such principles and values into our activities to protect from malicious forces and to guide every force towards beneficial outcomes and values.
  • Feb 16 2014: Every act of government that any single citizen disagrees with "negates the democratic process" to some extent. The issue is whether or not a specific act does so "too much". How much is "too much"? Ask 300,000,000 Americans, get 300,000,000,000 answers.
    • Feb 16 2014: So that means that for every american we get 1000 answers rather than just one simple one...
      Yea the issue is whether or not a specific act does cross the line a bit 'too much'.
      How much is "too much"?
      Well that would depend on the particular issue and act.
      The fact that a single citizen disagrees with some governmental action may or may imply a negation/validation of the democratic process.... that would depend on the particular issue and act.

      I do think that some acts of government and individuals "negates the democratic process" to some extent and need to be changed to ensure the better ways to act by individuals and governments.
      • Feb 16 2014: Of course, a government that is that restricted won't be able to "help" people so much. "If nanny must take care of us, then nanny must know best." The more we insist that government "help" people, the more power government will have to abuse its citizens.
        • Feb 16 2014: In the last days I had the idea that we need to shift towards resolving issue amongst siblings rather than resort to authoritative intervention involving 'grownups' ... partially because them grownups seem to have remained within the spoiled brats phase of development... some even have gotten romantically involved with the nanny producing codependent dynamics... requiring something similar to national secrets status... with a bit of blackmail sideline business ...

          evidently this negate the independent democratic status of the estate affairs... though I am sure many will look the other way to maintain decorum and their jobs...
  • Feb 16 2014: Michelle Gardner,

    From a perspective : we be here to learn to effectively make decisions without constantly being adequately informed!

    The story-line that one need to be adequately informed to effectively make decisions sidelines the lessons to be learned!

    Can the populace be relied on to effectively make decisions?
    Can the individual be relied on to effectively make decisions?
    Can the system be relied on to effectively make decisions?

    I been on many conversation where I been ask to provide the evidence only to see the evidence presented rejected rather than embraced! National secrets can be used for all sort of endeavors including maintaining the delusion of control in an out of control system that just isn't working and needs fixing. The thing is that admitting the truth of the matter is rather hard for some folks to swallow. Of course individuals and groups need to learn how to effectively make decisions knowing that they just can't know for sure if they have been adequately informed! Actually knowing that some are working to misinform them while some are working to inform them, the thing is that none knows for sure who is actually telling the truth and who be telling lies. So on what shall individuals societies systems rely ? Keep in mind that individuals can misinform individuals and relaying on what one knows can be misleading for one may still need to learn a thing or two. The same could apply to systems and groups where the system and group filter/interpret the information according to this or that system/group/individual preference. It's an interesting conundrum; sometimes we just need to do what ought to be done as it ought to be done when it ought to be done. Accepting the fact we may never know nor need not know who lied or which was the lie. In fact we could care less about that, for what we be interested on is knowing with certainty the right path to follow and following it. That can be done with or without knowing the lie, by knowing the way.
  • Feb 16 2014: Jim G. It is not necessary to publish everything under the sun. And if you don't , that in itself does not constitute a Regime based on "Secrecy". If it is not too insulting a question,, what nation was ever destroyed by Naivete? But perhaps that is too unfair, and profound a question.. I'm just thinking: yes, the US was naive about invadaing Iraq. Yes, we were naive in thinking that the WTC was destroyed by a few "Terrorists", Yes, we were naive to get involved in WW1, believing that the Germans were actually at fault for it., etc, etc.
  • Feb 15 2014: These geeks in our Government are fear mongers, make mountain from molehill and go to war that have proved valueless and stupid in the rear view.

    If our leaders do not think our privacy is our national character then they should change and say very clearly we are like communist and authoritarian Governments. We do what feel good to leader and secures their current and future positions.

    Let us cut the crap that Muslims wants to kill us. We started killing them first, we started dictating them what we will accept. We make alliances with devils because we were worried about other devils like China and Russia.

    May be we should be like them. At least give me honesty. What you believe , say and do has to have some consistency. Then I can at least feel informed. Do not tell me lied where I feel used, abused and manipulated. In Iran people know they have religious rule that has veto over democratic structure. Every one know it. In USA Obama says one think about our liberty, our honesty, our being United, our being peaceful, our being good guys and act like at best reformed gangster. He finds out he can talk but cannot lead, he can bash but cannot convince, he can be for racial harmony but will not tell young black men to stop violence, stop robbing stores, stop killing.

    He implied by his behavior that blacks are being discriminated. However what he says about Iran and Afghanistan is we want to eliminate them because we fear. If Their fear causes us to go after them, black young men's fear causes other to avoid them. This does not happen to Indians and Chinese and Koreans and Japanese and Indonesians and Philippins.

    But he is not the only one but he is head honcho now. Both parties and their leaders treat people like insects. In order to help us they have to take away our freedom, our desires, our citizenship. We are just puppets in their world not to be valued and manipulated. People trat their dog better.