Must Democratic Leaders Necessarily be Hypocrites?

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Kane, John
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Julie Wilson

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2005
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University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

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Democratic openness fosters truth-telling as a public value rather than secrecy or double-dealing. Yet democracies typically distrust their political leaders, having a tendency to regard them as shifty with regard to motives and slippery with regard to morals. Valuing truth and honesty in government, democrats too often suspect they are being dealt lies and half-truths. Yet there are some lies that democrats will tolerate from their leaders and others they will not. This paper will argue that the tensions produced in democratic leadership by the fact (rather than the fiction) of popular sovereignty explains both the tendency toward leadership hypocrisy and the manner in which democrats distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable lies. In democracies, rather than the people fearing the ruler, rulers must fear the people who can ultimately displace them. As always in situations of authority, the awed leader must often tell the sovereign what it wants to hear rather than the unpalatable truth, producing a perennial temptation toward hypocrisy. Similarly, the lies that democrats really care about are those whose tendency or intention is to usurp or undermine their sovereignty.

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Australasian Political Studies Association Conference (APSA) 2005

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