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Democracy and Deceit: Regulating Appearances of Corruption


  • I am grateful to Peter Euben, Emily Hoechst, Dennis Thompson, Andrew Tucker, and the anonymous referees for this journal for their comments and suggestions. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2003 American Political Science Association Meetings, Philadelphia, and the 2004 Society for Applied Philosophy meeting, Manchester, United Kingdom. Research for this article was supported by the Center for Democracy and the Third Sector, Georgetown University.

Mark E. Warren is Harold and Dorie Merilees Professor for the Study of Democracy, Department of Political Science, C472-1866 Main Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1 (


While corruption has long been recognized as an appropriate object of regulation, concern with appearances of corruption is of recent origin, coinciding with declining trust in government in the mid- to late-1960s. The reasoning that would support regulations of appearances, however, remains flawed, as it depends upon a “public trust” model of public service that is incomplete and often misplaced when applied to political representatives. The justification for regulating appearances is unambiguous, however, from the perspective of democratic theory. Democratic institutions of representation depend upon the integrity of appearances, not simply because they are an indication of whether political representatives are upholding their public trust, but because they provide the means through which citizens can judge whether, in particular instances, their trust is warranted. Representatives, institutions, and ethics that fail to support public confidence in appearances disempower citizens by denying them the means for inclusion in public judgments. These failures amount to a corruption of democratic processes.