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Andreas Schedler: Basic Democratic Trust

With this Working Paper focusing on the increasing prevalence of polarization in democratic systems by Andreas Schedler, lead researcher of our De- and Re-Democratization (DRD) Workgroup, the CEU DI Working Papers series has officially been launched.  

The series showcases research-in-progress on the challenges democracy faces across the globe today. This research engages in deep and sustained scientific investigation to create new knowledge. The series communicates research findings to policy-makers and other stakeholders engaged in the global discourse on democracy. The ultimate goal is to promote the success and sustainability of democracies worldwide. The Managing Editor of the CEU DI Working Paper Series is Oliver Garner.


Processes of polarization induce political adversaries to fear the worst of each other: electoral fraud, abuse of power, political violence, the corruption of justice... In the comparative study of democracy, we have no vocabulary to describe such threat perceptions. To fill the conceptual void, I introduce the notion of “basic democratic trust” and its opposite: fear of democratic enemies (“enemyopia”).

The former denotes the confidence that political actors have in the democratic reliability of their political adversaries as well as public officials, the latter their conviction that others are willing to subvert democracy. To carve out the concept, I map the domains of political trust along two dimensions – procedures (democratic norms) and substance (policy decisions) – and clarify its twin opposites – distrust (within cooperative relations) and “enemyopia” (within hostile relations).

This conceptual map allows us to resolve the longstanding “paradox” that democracy needs both trust and distrust. Outside the domain of democratic ground rules, the role of trust is contingent; within, its dissolution threatens to dissolve the very bounds of democracy.

Download the paper via the link below.

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