Digby had a typically thoughtful post last night in which she used Chris Hayes’ distinction between “institutionalists” and “insurrectionists” among elite opinion leaders to explain the varying reactions to the revelations about the NSA’s surveillance program. She knows which camp she falls into:

I’ve been skeptical of government power for decades. But that’s a function of my age as much as anything — I came of age during Watergate and I’m not sure I ever fully developed trust in any institution except the press and even that has been eroded over the past couple of decades. But as Hayes outlined in his book — and has been proven over and over again in my opinion — our institutions are failing more than ever, even to the extent that the people running them aren’t capable of protecting the system that benefits them. (See: Wall Street.) So I’m obviously an insurrectionist.

This “insurrectionist” camp, of course, is sharply divided between those whose mistrust of government institutions is conditioned, and often overridden, by recognition of government’s role in restraining or counteracting the power of private institutions, and those who think government is the only problem. And “institutionalists” are also divided according to their relative attitudes towards different types of institutions.

During this week of major civil rights commemorations, it’s rather important to recognize that big, centralized government institutions played a pretty important role in vindicating basic individual rights not that terribly long ago (even as the same Johnson administration and Democratic-controlled Congress were also semi-secretly beginning to escalate a calamitous war in Vietnam). And I’m sure Digby would be the first to acknowledge that her mistrust of government is trumped by her mistrust of private health insurance companies the role of both in providing health care.

So I’m not sure how useful the institutionalist/insurrectionist distinction really is, other than as a guide to gut reactions towards revelations of questionable exercises of government power, and towards those who expose them. In the end, those who believe in collective action on behalf of the common good, and those who view collective action as slavery, cannot long co-exist in any “camp.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.