Trust Through Publicity?

Some Reflections and Research Perspectives on Political Discourse from the Enlightenment to the Twentieth Century


  • Dimitrij Owetschkin



power, distrust, trust, control, publicity, transparency, public sphere, political ideas, constitutional order


The relationship between political trust, the public sphere and transparency or pub- licity has thus far been analyzed mainly from the perspective of political philosophy and the political and social sciences. Within historical research, however, it is rarely discussed. This article combines systemic and historical approaches to this complex and ambivalent relationship and places it in the context of the development of public spheres. From the perspective of the history of ideas and discourses, the article argues that the emergence, shifts and ambivalences of political public spheres played a signif- icant role in the development of the relationship between trust and transparency in the modern age. Using examples from the epoch of the Enlightenment and liberalism, particularly with regard to constitutional debates in the nineteenth and twentieth cen- turies, the contradictory place of trust and control in publicity demands and the polit- ical discourse can be demonstrated. It becomes apparent that, in the development of constitutional democracy, an institutionalized distrust—among others, by means of publicity or transparency—established a basis whereon political trust could emerge. Thereby, a primarily problem-oriented, genetic perspective proves to be particularly fruitful in examining the relationship between political trust, publicity and transpar- ency, including its structural complexities and ambivalences.