Is It Wrong to Publish and Read the Journals of the Dead?

Is It Wrong to Publish and Read the Journals of the Dead?

Is it wrong to publish someone's diary after they die?

I started reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius recently which is a series of personal notes of the Roman Emporer written to himself.

About 30 pages in it hit me that reading his personal writings are not only subjectively wrong but go against all of the personal beliefs of Aurelius laid out in the very writings.

I write and journal to myself every day and certainly feel a "WTF" moment when I see someone snooping my journals.

I did some Googling and surprisingly there's not much discussion or debate on this beyond one interesting discussion board from 2012.

Which I find peculiar.

If you consider the audience that would be reading Meditations or per se a similar work such as Anne Frank's Diary, you are likely dealing with curious, people looking to be humbled. The great value adds and lures to journals is their raw authenticity, usually, to the adversity of life.

Hearing how bad it was for other people or how they humbled themselves through challenges helps us reflect, see things differently and ultimately come away more grateful and considerate.

Considering those motives, how does cracking into someone's journal validate that?

While people will read journals for other reasons, most people are looking to grow themselves at the expense of someone else's privacy.

Is our own personal growth really the bar for breaking our morals?

A very relevant thought from Aurelius I found in the first 30 pages:

"Sins out of desire are worse than sins committed out of anger"

This was actually Aurelius quoting another man, but the point is, breaking our moral code to read someone's private journal is not a decision made in the passion of anger or pain. It is a nonchalant, "I am at the bookstore and will pick this up," kind of decision, which is a low bar for breaking respect and privacy.

I really want to finish Meditations. It's one of the most timeless pieces of work and clearly, I've enjoyed it so far. But having read the first 30 pages, I realized Aurelius would never read someone else's journal. But it's his writing that has made me so passionate about not reading more of his writing.

An interesting paradox.

Does the respect towards someone dead matter less?

When Anne Frank passed away her close family gave explicit instruction to never publish her journal. It was published anyway. Her Uncle edited the transcript and took out a variety of sexual fantasies that Anne Frank had left behind in hope that she would retain some degree of respect from the invasive dissection of her 14-year old thoughts that was to come.

Unfortunately, after her Uncle's death, the sexual fantasies were added and published.

One of the fundamental issues with publishing someone's journal is that someone is profiting. There is an incentive to break personal morality at the hand of personal gain.

For lots of people, with this in their mind, they can sleep at night.

Just made 10 million off of Anne Frank? "Don't mind if I do."

That adds an additional level of complexity to this. You buy the book and are not even paying the deceased journalist, but instead handing profits to a publishing company further incentivizing them to crack into private journals.


Any historian or preserver of time would argue the point that the net good of having these journals as publish artifacts for growth outweighs the net loss in morality.

You have millions of people humbled by these journals when the majority of them do not even recognize they are invading someone's journal, to them it is a book.

It's a fair argument, and a discussion I would be open to. I am a history buff but I am also a writer.

What would the world be without Meditations by Aurelius?

It is truly one of the most sacred writings we have. 

But what about the journals of Caesar or Hitler? I am sure they existed. They might be gone now, never published and we are content with life as is.

If we are doing as well without the journals of other greats, why do we need the ones we have?

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