chapter  14
18 Pages

Can the Confucian way lead us out of the paradox of trust in democracy?

Introduction Democracy and trust have an uneasy relationship. Trust is regarded as a generic social building block of collective action for civil society and democracy. It is particularly critical to governance in the modern world of increasing pluralism and diversity. Effective democracy, a government wherein people can come together to resolve pressing issues, may well depend upon the social bonds of trust. But ironically, modern democracy is founded on a basic distrust of the natural impulse of human nature and is characterized by all kinds of institutional safeguards to monitor trust and to guarantee social cooperation among agents who are presumed to be primarily self-directed and motivated only by selfinterest. As Sztompka (1999) observes, the fundamental premise of democracy is the suspicion of all authority. Most of the principles constitutive of the democratic order assume the institutionalization of distrust. For example, the principle of periodic elections and terms of office; the principle of division of powers, checks and balances; the principle of the rule of law; and the principles of constitutionalism, judicial review and due process are all meant to provide insurance and protection against the abuse of power and the negligence of duty and to serve as a disincentive for those who would contemplate breaches of trust. The outcome is a kind of overinstitutionalization of distrust which ultimately threatens to erode autonomy and to undermine trust itself. This has resulted in a ‘deficit of trust’ in liberal democracy. It poses a paradoxical relationship between trust and democracy in modern governance. The distrust raises the challenge that institutions in a democracy do not only represent and regulate different interests; they must also and more fundamentally be able to nurture and preserve the predisposition to trust among citizens to provide the foundation for civic virtues and a rule of law to support harmony in democratic governance. Does governance for harmony require trust in government? Is democracy conducive to trust? Does culture matter? Where should we locate the moral foundations of trust? How do we cultivate trust, and how do we avoid abuse of trust and abuse by trust in governance? Is there a way out of the paradox of trust in democracy to realize the ideal of harmony? These are the questions I intend to explore in this chapter. I will examine both Western and Chinese Confucian per-

spectives on the foundation of trust. I will assess their significance and limitations in contributing to our understanding of the nature of trust, the cultivation of trust, the prevention of the abuse of trust and the possibility of a way out of the paradox of trust in democratic governance.