Authenticity in Political Discourse

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (2):489-504 (2016)
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Judith Shklar, David Runciman, and others argue against what they see as excessive criticism of political hypocrisy. Such arguments often assume that communicating in an authentic manner is an impossible political ideal. This article challenges the characterization of authenticity as an unrealistic ideal and makes the case that its value can be grounded in a certain political realism sensitive to the threats posed by representative democracy. First, by analyzing authenticity’s demands for political discourse, I show that authenticity has greater flexibility than many assume in accommodating practices common to politics, such as deception, concealment, and persuasion through rhetoric. Second, I argue that a concern for authenticity in political discourse represents a virtue, not a distraction, for representative democracy. Authenticity takes on heightened importance when the public seeks information on how representatives will act in contexts where the public is absent and unable to influence decisions. Furthermore, given the psychological mechanisms behind hypocrisy, public criticism is a sensible response for trying to limit political hypocrisy. From the perspective of democratic theory and psychology, the public has compelling reasons to value authenticity in political discourse
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