I think a lot of this alleged controversy over whether or not Edward Snowden is a traitor or “patriot” derives from confusion over what America actually is.

The problem is that we do not have a sufficiently strong concept of the State vs the Government.

The Government is just the “revolving” political apparatus and is mostly irrelevant except when it screws up; it is personified by “Uncle Sam”.

The State, however, is a much slipperier concept: approximately it is the intellectual “durable goods;” the permanent values, culture and indicia above the grind of temporal politics and Governmentality. The parts of America you would talk about if challenged to defend it.

This is personified by the now obscure figure of “Columbia,” the goddess of liberty. I think it is very telling we have almost forgotten about her: today only her name lives in echoes like “Columbia University”, “Columbia River” and so on. As a result, the Government and State have become incredibly confused and intermingled in the public mind.

Snowden hurt the Government Apparatus, that is unquestionable, at least in the short term. But the real question is did he hurt the State? That will take decades to fully answer.