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Democracy and Trust Claus Offe

It is hard to predict how future historians will characterize our era. Perhaps the end of the Cold War will be mentioned, although negative labels (such as also those of postmodernism or post-industrial society) are not very conducive to understanding. Globalization might also be considered something typical for our epoch even if it is mysterious how this term, which is so overloaded with diverse meanings, could ever capture the minds of the contemporaries so thoroughly. A more plausible characterization of the changes in the status of global society which took place in the fourth quarter of the twentieth century appears to be the reference to the triumphant transition to liberal democracy. This regime form has become the normal form of government. In 1974, scarcely 30 per cent of the existing states could qualify as democracies; today these comprise more than 60 per cent. This triumph of the liberal democratic form of political regime, unparalleled in terms of extent and duration, began in the context of world political events in the year 1973. The oil price crisis of that year, the de facto defeat of the USA in the Vietnam War, and the (for the time being) last military coup against a solidly established democracy in Chile on 11 September of the same year, are important threads in a tangle that made up the context of incipient change. The year 1974 marked the beginning of a wave of democratization in the Latin parts of Europe and South America, starting with the two pioneers Portugal and Greece. They were followed by Spain (in 1975) and then by no fewer than twelve Latin American states, beginning with Nicaragua (in 1978) and ending with the nearly (re-)democratized Chile (in 1990). Shortly before the Chilean transition was finalized, the wave of democratization continued, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall undermining the domain of state socialism and assisting the democratic movements everywhere in the region, first emanating from Poland and Hungary, in achieving a breakthrough in their attempts to overcome the old regime and to establish a capitalist economy, liberal democracy, and often (as in the Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, or Germany) the territorial reorganization of the political community and the extension of rights to segments of the population who were hitherto deprived of them. Today, all of the Central and East European states which once belonged to Comecon and the Warsaw Pact and whose capital cities are geographically located in Europe, are democracies even if the practical realization of this democracy may show deficiencies, the most serious of them probably in Belarus. Since then, the democratic wave has not only reached South Africa and Nigeria, but is moving towards Indonesia. Even those governments who defied democratization (most importantly the Peoples Republic of China on the one hand, and the Middle Eastern and North African states on the other), find themselves under national as well as international pressure to explain and justify themselves and to open up to first liberal and then also democratic standards and premises. At the same time, the minimal (if insufficient) definition of the term liberal democracy, namely the granting of human and citizens rights, has become the main political topic not only of national governments but also

A much shorter version of this article appeared in Die Zeit, 9 December 1999.

2 of supranational agencies as well as subnational and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). What distinguishes the results of this most recent democratic wave from earlier waves which led to the establishment of the old democracies? Three aspects appear to be important and allow generalization. Firstly, the old democracies were post-war democracies they resulted from (or were re-established in the late forties, as in the case of Germany and Austria as a result of) the military defeats ending the two World Wars. To be sure, the democratic wave of the fourth quarter was in some instances also triggered by wars (in the case of Greece in Cyprus, in the case of Russia in Afghanistan, in the case of Portugal in Angola, in that of Argentina on the Malvinas). But these were not World Wars; the influence of military factors was significantly smaller. The regime change in Central East Europe took place under comparatively civil conditions; as opposed to Latin American cases, the military took almost no reactionary initiative there to restore the old regime. Secondly, up to now, it was taken for granted (in spite of the significant Indian counterexample) that liberal democracies can only develop in advanced societies, and that it is in these that they also must develop. Certain modern social structures (e.g. an urban middle class, a literate population, the end of a phase of original accumulation and a bureaucratic rational state apparatus) are considered both necessary and sufficient prerequisites for democracy. Today, this structuralist view of democratic development is less plausible than it was 25 years ago. Democratic governments do not blossom out of mature structures. Rather, they are set in motion as a result of negotiation and decision making, as in the Spanish pattern of a pacted transition, and somewhat similarly after 1989, as in the postCommunist transitions negotiated at round tables. Liberal-democratic governments develop as a result of negotiations often in the form of a compromise between the negotiating partners, both of whom have sometimes regarded the agreement on liberal-democratic institutions and guarantees as their respective secondbest, not their most preferred solution. Advanced socioeconomic environments are neither a sufficient nor a necessary factor concerning the liberal-democratic outcome of such state building and constitution making negotiations. One characteristic became dominant in these cases which already emerged in the post World War II democracies after 1945: the negotiations concerning the establishment of democracies as well as the implementation of the relevant decisions do not only involve players in important positions within a given society, but also a number of governmental and non-governmental, national or supranational external agents. Their area of activity has, in the jargon of political science, been termed conditionalist or PPD (for promoting and protecting democracy). Old democracies have played an active role in starting new ones. This was the case because it is of vital interest for old democracies, especially with regard to security concerns and trade policies, that their post-authoritarian geographical neighbours also establish a liberal-democratic form of government. Thirdly, for the regime type which has been negotiated, decided upon and institutionalized in a number of varieties, qualifying descriptors have become largely useless. We are talking about liberal democracy, pure and simple. More or less dubious ideological qualifiers attached such as socialist, social, bourgeois, protected, controlled, formal democracy have gone out of fashion, so to speak. Democracies are institutional forms of political life, which do not contain more, and certainly not less, than a guarantee of temporary political authority granted to a representative government which obtained this authority through fair electoral competition based upon equal participatory rights of the (adult) citizenry. Furthermore, this governing authority is constrained by a division of powers,

3 a bill of rights, and the rule of law. What the actual outcomes of this regime are in terms of concrete policies, what the composition of political parties is, how many citizens do actually participate in the democratic political process these and many other questions are not the defining features of any particular sort of democracy, as they are not to be answered by the act of founding a regime form. The only precondition worth keeping in mind is that in order to have a democracy, one needs a state first. It follows that all democracies are in some way successor regimes, following upon an authoritarian, racist, totalitarian, theocratic, dynastic, or colonial form of rule. It is an entirely empirical question, not to be predetermined by conceptual engineering, what kind of policies, as well as cultural or economic context conditions, will turn out to be conducive to the durability, irreversibility, and hence consolidation of a liberal democratic regime once it is established. Liberal democracies may or may not attain this condition of consolidation. They do so only if proponents and supporters of democracy manage to establish the regime and its principles in the hearts and minds of people as an intrinsically worthwhile and irreversible arrangement, as opposed to a shaky and precarious temporary compromise. To sum it up, one could say that new democracies develop peacefully and not as a result of great military events. They develop voluntaristically and are not determined by social and economic structures or dynamics. And to a great extent (i.e., apart from the basic tenet of equal political rights and liberties and the accountability of political authority) they are not based on any ideological arrangements but more on state technicalities (Max Weber). It is precisely the stigma which has been attached to the Weimar Republic and its constitution by its leftist critics, i.e. it being a constitution without decision (with regard to a particular economic order and value system) which the new democracies are embodying as a virtue. But if the democratic form of government is ideologically so colorless, what could be the reason for so many agents in so many countries to try to build it up? The answer is: the introduction of democracy is the means to rid societies of unjust and oppressive forms of political rule. This answer is so overwhelmingly evident and persuasive that the question is seldom asked: What is democracy good for, once the old regime is irrevocably defeated? But what other and additional purposes does democracy serve than to accomplish that defeat? What else could be said in favour of democracy after the phase of democratization lies behind us? What motivates not only the establishment but the continued existence of a democracy, and the adherence of people to its rules? If one agrees on a liberal democracy, i.e. a term that has been stripped of all concrete ideas of progress and a desirable social order (and democrats can not agree on anything but this thin version of democracy!), then it becomes difficult to specify any desirable outcome for the sake of which democracy might be deemed a necessary instrument. To be sure: there is one single piece of empirical evidence that provides compelling reason why a democratic system should be preferred. This reason had been offered in 1795 by Kant, and has since been affirmed: democracies do not wage war against their likewise democratic neighbours. Of course, today it is possible to force non-democratic countries such as Iraq (in other ways than through their transformation into a democracy) to abstain from initiating wars (including offensive wars against parts of their own population, as in Kosovo). There is another reason for justifying democracy in terms of its empirical outcomes. This has been demonstrated by Amartya Sen, the winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, who found that in democracies there are no economic catastrophes such as great famines which have affected millions of people in the Soviet Union as well as in China (but not in democratic India!). Again, it could be argued that democracy is today not a necessary but just a sufficient

4 condition for people not to face mass starvation. Starvation can also be stopped by international food aid! Who would propose to postpone such aid until the time African dictatorial regimes, for instance, have eventually turned into democracies? Also, we would like to know why democracy is a preferable regime form in general, not just in Third World countries threatened by famines. Apart from this, evidence of some positive function of the democratic regime form, which applies to all democracies and only to democracies, is surprisingly difficult to come by. The experience of the intrinsic use value of democratic institutions and processes does not appear to be sufficiently widely and evenly shared to motivate peoples endogenous support for, and adherence to, this regime form and to inculcate the virtue of a democratic constitutional patriotism. In particular, it is not true that democracies necessarily contribute to growth and economic efficiency. As Przeworski and his collaborators have just demonstrated, per capita output is higher in democracies than in non-democracies, but that may be due to lower population growth that is characteristic of democracies, not higher economic growth. It is also not true that democracies fulfil requirements of social justice always better than all non-democracies. Democracies do not by themselves cause an effective and corruptionfree public administration and political lite. They do not always contribute to furthering citizens preparedness to participate in (or their abilities for competent judgement on) public affairs. And they are not always more capable than non-democracies in containing the potential for criminal violence of a political or non-political nature. Perhaps the worst news in this context is that (new) democracies do not show some natural tendency to fully redeem their own principles and promises by consistently overcoming temporary infantile disorders and achieving a level of institutional consolidation and robustness. All democracies are in the end helpless when facing the danger to selfdestruction through legal (electoral, majoritarian) democratic means. The new (semi)democracies of the South and the East often show democratization processes which stagnate or get stuck. Evidence is accumulating for democratization processes to develop incompletely and remain permanently deficient. Liberties, equal participation rights, and accountability of rulers are and remain often more a facade than a reality. Political scientists have responded to such evidence with new concepts and diagnoses. We speak of disenchantment, disaffection, and dissatisfaction that voters in new as well as in old democracies express concerning the democratic regime. We also observe the reality of stagnating semi-democracies e.g. democracies where accountability is limited by reserved domains (e.g. regarding the military) or which in other of their operative realities remain delegative, hybrid, electoral, or deficient. The positive valuation of democracy on the part of citizens does not come automatically with the institutional realities of democracy, as the appetite may come with the eating, and particularly so if there is not much to eat. After the restoration of democracy in Argentina, opponents of the democratic government of President Alfonsn coined the slogan you cannot eat human rights!. When the transition to democracy is not accompanied by an economic miracle (as it was the case in West Germany after the restoration of democracy in the fifties), but by poor rates of economic growth and increasing inequality (as is the case in many of the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe), a widely held intrinsic valuation of the democratic regime form does not come easily. Under these circumstances it might seem a consoling thought that the new liberal democracy which has been brought into being by the demands voiced (and resistance offered to its authoritarian predecessor) by millions of people must continue to have strong support after the definitive demise of the old regime. Could it be that it was not so much the citizens desire to actually live under democratic conditions which provoked the transition, but the

5 manifest inability of the respective old regime to keep its head above water and to motivate the compliance of its people? Seen in this light, the driving force of the transition might have been not so much the wish to live under a democratic regime but the crisis and ultimate breakdown of authoritarianism which leaves no other exit option than the democratic one. Is democracy a mere default condition after the decay of various forms of authoritarianism? Winston Churchill has often been quoted in this context: Democracy is the worst of all forms of government except for all those that have been tried so far. There are many reasons why military dictatorship and state socialism, with theocratic, sultanistic, dynastic, authoritarian, dictatorial, imperial, racist or party monopolist types of government cannot survive in modern societies (or in those societies which cannot possibly isolate themselves from the political modernization taking place in neighbouring countries). Nobody is simply able any more to muster plausible reasons why a certain category of persons (such as clerics, functionaries, generals, successors to the throne) should have more rights or better competency to pass judgement on public affairs than anyone else. Moreover, authoritarian regimes are not only rejected by growing numbers within their own populations but are often also avoided by investors. They are typically unable to understand the causes of their own malaise and to learn from such understanding. And even if they were able to diagnose themselves, authoritarian regimes are often not in a position to open up in time and take the risk of power sharing and coalition building. They break because they cannot bend. Then, after the institutional ruins have then been removed, there remains no other alternative but to resort to the only option left according to Churchills rule of subtraction. All this, however, speaks against the old regime, and not necessarily and with equal strength for the new democracy. Democracy is what comes into existence when the rival old regime becomes obsolete. The breakdown of these unacceptable forms of government therefore only leads to democratization, and not automatically to a consolidated democracy. The new regime is established in antithesis to the old regime, but not for the sake of its intrinsic value. Liberation does not imply durable liberty. A necessary pre-condition for the durability of the new democratic regime is its capacity to effectively present itself to its citizens in terms of three temporal references: the past, the present, and the future. Let me elaborate. With regard to the past, the new regime will have to establish an antithetical relationship towards the old bad regime with is perpetrators, victims and resistance fighters, its atrocities and failures, and to entrench this antithesis in the collective consciousness of the population. It must establish its superiority in retrospective terms: We are not like them! (Vaclav Havel). The people will then know about the kind of setback they would have to be aware of and which are the better principles to be held up. The second front is that of a present antagonism between the new regime and currently existing alternatives to the new system, e.g. the universe of the not-yet-democracies. In this way, the Cold War offered the Western democracies a very welcome opportunity to idealize themselves in contrast to the other side and to highlight both their own economic and moral superiority. But these useful counter-realities seem to be in the process of fading away. (This is true at least as long as we in Europe and the North Atlantic region resist the temptation to sharpen the profile of western identity through opposing it to the Islamic world.) Finally, on a third front, the antagonism between the present and the future is being focused upon. This perspective invokes the projects that we have not yet been able to accomplish, but can and will achieve as part of a credible program of liberation or social and economic progress, the feasibility of which hinges upon the liberal democratic regime form. Thus democracies need to justify themselves as a plausible institutional medium of intended

6 and desirable social change. It is in particular this latter aspect, the future oriented temporal referent, but also the ones related to the past and the present, in which the claim of democracy to be demonstrably better than its alternative regime forms often suffers from a shortage of compelling evidence. How, then, does an encompassing consensus among the population of a country emerge to consider democracy as a fixed and irreversible commitment? How can I be sure that tomorrow everyone else will still adhere to democratic rights, rules, and principles? Because if I cannot be sure of that, why should I then observe the rules myself? Democracies (as opposed to, say, theocratic regimes) are manmade par excellence; they are therefore perceived as contingent, as they are not immune from the possibility of being violated or even destroyed through human action. New democracies exhibit this problem with paradigmatic clarity, a problem which is only hidden in latency in the old democracies. The problem of democracy arises from a simple initial condition: we cannot choose our fellow citizens. We can elect representatives, but not the electorate. Yet so much depends on what everyone else is likely to do, as (only) in democracies everyone else is the collective co-author of the law and as such endowed with rights that are equal to my own. Why should I trust those co-authors, i.e. take for granted their overall benign intentions or competent judgement? This question is more acute in the new democracies than in old ones, as in the former communicative understanding between citizens as well as experience of the desirability of democratic institutions has not (yet) become part of the habits of the heart and mind of citizens (Alexis de Tocqueville). For that, too much fear, hatred, resentment, and suspicion are typically widespread among populations of new democracies, which is easily understandable given the fact that, by definition, many of their citizens have quite recently been the agents, supporters, and perpetrators of the old regime that has just been superseded by the new democracy. Throughout the transition from an old to a new regime, we encounter a rift: the rift between the previous power holders, who are now reduced to the status of being just citizens, and the alleged or real victims of the old regime, who now are elevated to the status of full citizenship. What could motivate me (standing on either side of this front) to trust the intentions and capabilities of the others? In the case of Germany, this distrustful question does not only arise within the new Lnder (the former East German state), but also (and in both directions) between the people of East and West Germany. The risk that citizens perceive what has been decided by (or in the name of) other citizens as manifestations of some tyranny of the majority is endemic to democracies as a possibility. But this risk often becomes manifest in new democracies (as well as in democracies with large migrant minorities or deep ethnic cleavages). Even worse: I am not only at the mercy of everyone else (within the limits, to be sure, of the bill of rights) I am not even in a position to talk to everyone else. I cannot actually converse with my fellow citizens (or at best with just an irrelevantly small portion of them). As a rule, I can at best talk to their representative speakers; and to these it is usually my speakers who do the talking. But not for all citizens and issues are representative speakers in place, and even then deliberation and bargaining may not materialize. Only under favorable circumstances will the mass media, academia, or religious institutions conduct vicarious discourses in which every voice can be heard and no voice or issue is silenced by bias and distortion. Chances are rather that post-modern societies disintegrate into countless disjointed issue communities whose members distrust or at best ignore each other, at least as long as they do not engage in the speechless communication of violence. It seems symptomatic that in the discourses and research priorities of international social science the concept of trust, as well as the examination of the relationship between

7 democracy and trust, has markedly increased during the nineties. This discourse does not only concern the more traditional question of how much trust populations extend to their political lites. This subject is fraught with bad news anyway. Rather, it is the horizontal question whether citizens trust their fellow citizens (i.e. meet them with a generalized and sufficiently robust presumption of well-meaning and ability to pass competent judgement). Although one might presume that in a democracy any horizontal trust among citizens is unnecessary as there are institutions (rights, courts, power limiting checks and balances) which if need be protect me against evil and unreasonable actions of my fellow citizens. But this would be an overly optimistic misconception. Because these institutions themselves are only as reliable to the extent that they have clearly become a respectable certainty for everyone else. If they enjoy this respectability, they create the trust which binds people together who are otherwise strangers. The institutions of a liberal democracy the public informed by the media, periodical elections, competition between parties, governmental responsibility, independence of the courts can all be seen as precautions resulting from institutionalized distrust. They exist in order to ensure that infringements of rights and norms of truthfulness will not remain undisclosed. The trust which citizens have in the political lite and their strange fellow citizens, is established when these institutional mechanisms are perceived to function undisturbed, yet still generate the negative evidence (at least most of the time) that nothing occurs which could warrant generalized distrust on the part of the citizenry. Distrust results if rules are violated and such violations are not seen to be reliably detected, sanctioned, and corrected. Distrust will also spread if stated political goals are being consistently missed. For dispositions for trusting are undermined when incompetent and ineffective government agents appear to be avoiding or mishandling evident problems. Citizens, as observers of this kind of state failure and policy ineffectiveness, may come to suspect as a result that political leaders and representative agents lack the serious intention or/and the capability to initiate reform and political change. Either of these two causes for distrust violation of rules and failure to meet stated and significant objectives is typically responded to by political lites by recourse to the antidote of what (in international relations) is termed trust building measures, often of a populist and personalistic style of staging political life. Yet such strategies of building trust are essentially double edged. On the one hand, they may well generate some trust and credibility for political lites. But on the other hand, they may positively breed cynicism, as they visibly take a strategic or manipulative approach to what in essence cannot be accomplished through purposive action of lites: the trust of citizens something which must be earned, but cannot be fabricated! The American political scientist Anne Saadah has recently published a Study on relations of trust in united Germany (Germanys Second Chance. Trust, Justice, and Democratization, Cambridge, Mass., 1999) in which she advocates a distinction that could similarly apply to an examination of internal relations in other new democracies. On the one hand, she describes a personalistic method of building trust within deeply divided new democracies which relies on collective learning processes, consensus building, uncovering and admitting the truth, communicative confrontations and possibly the judicial resolution of a dark past and the lasting conflicts inherited from it, and finally reconciliation which would eradicate the grounds for continuing distrust. Here, the focus is on the political past and the catharsis achieved through stigmatizing past guilt and failure, and the collective memory of suffering and resistance a process of social and moral integration of new democracies which has been the remarkable achievement of Bishop Tutu in South Africa with his Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here, the substance and criteria for a society wide moral

8 minimum are established and promulgated through a society wide process of moral and political reorientation. On the other hand, Saadah describes an institutional strategy of integration. This approach relies on an initial period of communicative silence (as the German author Hermann Lbbe has famously put it) regarding a shared and painful past. Instead of cathartic remembering, institutions are established which above the level of finding out the truth about personal responsibility and subsequent reconciliation are designed to make sure that a repetition of the conflicts and failures of the past can never occur. This institutional (as opposed to personal) method of resolving problems of coming to terms with the past has the (apparent) advantage of shaping future developments rather than simply overcoming a troubled past by uncovering, remembering, and evaluating it in moral terms. After 1945, Germany chose the institutional method of building trust: the institutions of the Nazi regime were banned but its agents and participants were spared (and even put to use in the process of post-war reconstruction). The mirror image of this approach was employed in the GDR after 1989: the former state party was permitted to continue as an institution (after it changed its name), but at the same time perpetrators were punished (if, in the eyes of victims and opposition activists of the old regime disappointingly mildly so) through means of criminal and other justice, while some of the victims and opposition activists to the old regime were honored and recognized. The political integration of the post-authoritarian society can thus start with people and their moral reeducation. Or it can begin with institutions, i.e. rights and rules which are trusted to shape future developments and the value orientations of future actors. (Arguably, the only remaining option is a populist approach. Populist lites invoke widely shared ideas around formally non-political themes [e.g. values such as decency, righteousness, strength of character] or identity [e.g. ethnic and patriotic attachments]. These are offered by populist politicians as a unifying bond which is thought to bridge the distance between citizens as well as the distance between common people and political leaders.) Neither the form of integration that builds on cathartic remembering nor the one that relies on new institutions capacity for moral reorientation can by itself achieve integration and trust building in new democracies. The measure of a successful integration, or the creation of the social basis of the new regime, would be the enduring self acceptance of the political community and all its members. The mark of such integration is when political conflict is carried out among opponents (which respect and take for granted each others commitment to the democratic institutional order), rather than among proponents of that order and its suspected enemies. Whether this can be achieved depends on the moral credibility of the new democratic institutions, i.e. their capacity to provide evidence of their conduciveness to principles of truth and fairness. Institutions which credibly embody these two commitments can actually motivate citizens and their lites to comply with democratic institutions. If institutions governing public and political life can, in the eyes of the citizens, be relied upon as mechanisms of good government, i.e. as mechanisms to uncover lies, to enforce contracts and rights, to fight corruption and to effectively respond to needs and emergencies, the individual citizen will have no reason to approach categories of fellow citizens with generalized suspicion and distrust. Building and maintaining institutions which generate this credit of good government, is the problem of consolidating democracy which remains to be tackled even after the problem of democratization (or the transition to the democratic regime form) has long been solved.