Democracy Beyond Disclosure: Secrecy, Transparency, and the Logic of Self-Government
Bruno, Jonathan Richard
MetadataShow full item record
Abstract"Transparency" is the constant refrain of democratic politics, a promised aid to accountability and integrity in public life. Secrecy is stigmatized as a work of corruption, tolerable (if at all) by a compromise of democratic principles. My dissertation challenges both ideas. It argues that secrecy and transparency are best understood as complementary, not contradictory, practices. And it develops a normative account of liberal democratic politics in which (qualified) duties of transparency coexist with (qualified) permissions to act behind closed doors.
The project begins with some history. I show that the language of transparency gained currency only in the last quarter century, and explain how its proximate sources promote three dubious assumptions—that disclosure should in principle be maximized, that it prevents misrule more or less automatically, and that its value is either instrumental, or rooted in a reductive notion of democracy as the rule of popular opinion.
Against these assumptions, I sketch an alternative account of liberal democracy centered on the logics of representation, liberty, and equality. These three "logics of self-government" give rise to duties of transparency binding on public and private actors alike. Such obligations have bite, I argue, but they are not all-encompassing. Indeed, the same ideals of representation, liberty, and equality license concealment in a range of important contexts, including deliberation and dissent. Having made this case, I go on to explain how secrecy and transparency can form a "democratic dyad," deepening rather than undermining the project of self-rule.
Lastly, I address the limits of conventional transparency practices. Taken alone, disclosure is subject to a range of pitfalls, often failing to produce the results promised in transparency’s name. While my non-instrumental case for openness is not destabilized by this analysis, it does suggest that mandating disclosure is rarely enough. I therefore propose a series of adversarial practices to facilitate the checking of unjustifiable secrecy, and highlight the critical role of interpretation in efforts to make power intelligible. In the end, my dissertation offers a novel defense of secrecy and transparency that highlights rather than minimizes the hard work of political engagement.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:37944996
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
Contact administrator regarding this item (to report mistakes or request changes)