Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Democratic Secrecy: A Philosophical Study of the Role of Secrecy in Democratic Governance

The starting hypothesis of the project is that secrecy is not always inimical to democratic governance as conventional wisdom has it.

2015 - 2020
Dorota Mokrosinska
European Research Council - ERC Starting Grant European Research Council - ERC Starting Grant

Whereas the importance of transparency seems undisputed, many feel that complete transparency would undermine effective functioning of governments, and that some degree of secrecy is needed. Take the public responses to the Wikileaks disclosures: many of the disclosures were assessed favorably, but few people defended the idea of total transparency that inspired them.

If both complete secrecy and complete transparency are to be rejected, what ratio of secrecy and transparency in democratic politics should we seek? For example, does democratic commitment to transparency require that classified intelligence programs or closed-door political bargaining be abolished? Democratic theory leaves such questions unanswered. This project develops a theory of democratic secrecy centered around two theses:

  1. Secrecy in exercising executive and legislative power can be democratically authorized;
  2. Secrecy protects the integrity of democratic decision-making processes;

To complement the theory, the project develops:

  1. Criteria for establishing which trade-offs between claims of transparency and those of secrecy in politics are acceptable, and which are not;
  2. Criteria for political accountability with regard to wielding political secrets;
  3. Criteria for assessing responsibility for unauthorized disclosures by civil servants and the media.
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