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Democratic Politics and the Circles of Trust

La politique démocratique et les cercles de la confiance


Trust and democracy appear to be linked in a self-reinforcing circle whereby higher levels of trust are conducive to more desirable forms of democracy, and democratic institutions preserve trust relationships and allow them to thrive. However, the relationship between trust and democracy is less straightforward than it seems. Firstly, some have denounced a progressive decline of social and political trust in some democratic countries. Secondly, and more importantly, democracy and vertical trust, which is trust in political institutions and government, might be inherently at odds, insofar as liberal and republican traditions alike claim that citizens should distrust their rulers. At the same time, it is not clear how citizens can be considered co-authors of the laws (which seems a distinctive trait of a democratic regime) when their only role in the decision making is indirect and when they ought to distrust those who exercise that role directly. This chapter addresses two related questions. The first one concerns whether citizen trust in representatives is warranted. While this is, to a large extent, an empirical question, I argue that there are sound theoretical reasons for being sceptical about vertical trust in representatives. The second question examines what ensues from the fact that citizen trust in representatives is often unwarranted. In the following section, I briefly introduce the concept of trust with which I work. The third section applies this concept to political representation and explains why vertical trust in representatives is hardly justified. The fourth section illustrates the delegate solution and raises three objections against it. This proposal is not only unfeasible, as it has been argued, but also undesirable because it is based on a mischaracterisation of the representative process. The fifth section identifies two circles of trust, namely two self-reinforcing mechanisms that generate trust, and contends that we should not relinquish the language of trust because it serves to express public recognition of representatives’ discretionary power and citizens’ vulnerability under representative democracies. A language of trust is compat- ible with mistrust, which demands a certain degree of oversight of representatives’ activities, or so I claim. The final section wraps up the argument and concludes.
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hal-03547036 , version 1 (28-01-2022)




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Chiara Destri. Democratic Politics and the Circles of Trust. Raquel Barradas de Freitas; Sergio Lo Iacono. Trust Matters: Cross-Disciplinary Essays, Bloomsbury Publishing, pp.97-119, 2021, 9781509935253. ⟨hal-03547036⟩
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