Universiteit Leiden

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WAFL talk: In Defense of State Secrecy

  • Paul Frissen
Wednesday 8 June 2016
Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden
Staff Common Room 1.22

WAFL (World Affairs Forum Leiden)

WAFL (World Affairs Forum Leiden) is the Philosophy Institute's forum for philosophically-inflected discussion of current affairs. 

Civil liberty rests upon the right to have secrets. Paradoxically in defending and protecting this liberty the state necessarily has to act secretly in order to prevent both internal and external enemies  to undermine democracy and the rule of law. Transparency therefore can never be complete, although it is an essential instrument for democratic control. The desire for transparency runs the risk of being totalitarian, indifferent  whether it comes from the NSA , WikiLeaks or Greenpeace.

In Dutch political and administrative practice transparency runs the risk of becoming either  ritualistic, focusing on private expenditures by politicians, or bureaucratic, creating exhaustive procedures of control and accountability. At the same time the welfare state, particularly at the local level, is increasingly threatening the right to secrecy of citizens dependent on government services. Checks and balances in these domains are far weaker than in the domain of secret services.

About Paul Frissen
Paul Frissen is Dean and chairman of the board of the Netherlands School of Public Administration (NSOB) in The Hague and professor of Public Administration at Tilburg University. His books all address philosophical questions concerning the state, particularly in the Netherlands. He wrote on the obsession with equality (De staat van verschil. Kritiek van de gelijkheid, 2007),on political leadership, elitism and aristocracy (Gevaar verplicht. Over de noodzaak van aristocratische politiek, 2010), on tragedy and fatalism ( De fatale staat. Over de politiek noodzakelijke verzoening met tragiek, 2013), on secrecy and transparancy (Het geheim van de laatste staat. Kritiek van de transparantie, 2016).

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