17/08/2012 07:58 BST | Updated 16/10/2012 06:12 BST

Julian Assange: God's Lonely Man

The fate of Julian Assange now hinges on the British government's willingness to either uphold or flout international law. In the immediate aftermath of Ecuador's decision to grant the Wikileaks founder political asylum, Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, has come out in condemnation of the Ecuadorian government's decision and has stated that Assange will not be allowed to leave the country. In turn Ecuador had accused the British authorities of threatening to storm the embassy by force in order to effect Assange's arrest and extradition to Sweden, where the Swedish authorities wish to question him on allegations of sexual offences.

The legitimate fear that Sweden will extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for revealing US classified information in a series of Wikileaks reports, lies at the heart of the current diplomatic imbroglio and is now the subject of heightened tension between the British Government and Ecuador, which has called on the support of its Latin American neighbours via the Organisation of American States (OAS) for the stance it has taken in offering asylum to the editor-in-chief and founder of Wikileaks.

No one denies that allegations of sexual offences are serious and should never be downplayed. However, the context and circumstances of these particular allegations cannot be ignored. Julian Assange and Wikileaks succeeded in rattling the foundations of the most powerful country the world has ever known to an extent no army or rival military power ever has or would dare attempt. For far too long we have learned to live with and accept terms such a 'national security', 'classified' and 'not for disclosure' as part and parcel of the vocabulary of our so-called democratic system. The exercise and functions of power have hitherto remained an abstraction, so far removed from our daily lives and therefore our power to influence or shape that we have become apathetic to their consequences.

Wikileaks managed to puncture this apathy for a brief period and in response Assange has been hounded, vilified, and demonised by those exposed and humiliated by his actions. And not only him. Bradley Manning, accused of passing classified information to Wikileaks while deployed in Baghdad as an intelligence analyst with the US Army, is currently awaiting trial on a number of charges including 'aiding the enemy'. This is a capital offense, though prosecutors have stated that they would not be seeking the death penalty in Manning's case.

Campaigners have accused the US military of cruel and unusual punishment over the conditions under which Manning has been held since his arrest back in 2010, which they allege is in a state of de facto solitary confinement.

It was the American novelist, Thomas Wolfe, who coined the phrase 'God's Lonely Man'. It is the title of an essay he wrote in which he argued that loneliness is the universal yet unspoken fate of all in society. He wrote:

"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness,far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence."

The theme of the isolation and the loneliness of the individual in society is one that has been explored continuously. In literature Albert Camus' seminal work The Stranger, also titled The Outsider (1942), describes the alienation of the novel's protagonist Meursault before, during and after he kills a man in self defence. In first person narrative, the reader is introduced to Meursault being notified of his mother's death. He attends the wake but refuses to view the body when offered the chance. Later he attends the funeral, but does so absent of any of the conventional emotions associated with bereavement. When standing trial for killing the man in self defence, he likewise betrays no emotion, as if passively accepting his fate.

Meursault's crime in the eyes of society isn't so much that he killed a man, but that he demonstrated no emotion or remorse either in the aftermath or before when attending to his mother's death. This lack of emotion bespeaks a refusal to conform, an abnormality, thus marking him out as a threat to the system and its moral verities.

Taken in context then, Julian Assange has provided the world with a glimpse of an empire in decline. More, he has provided it with a warning of the grim consequences if, like Camus's Mersault, it remains passive in the face of the crimes and violations of human rights it commits on a daily basis in a desperate and cynical attempt to maintain its fading hegemony.

This is why at this moment, sitting in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London contemplating his fate, the founder of Wikileaks is indeed God's Lonely Man.

God help him.