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 Nordic Party Members: Linkages in Troubled Times, Edited by Marie Demker, Knut Heidar, and Karina Kosiara-Pedersen

Sincerity in Politics: How Much Is Too Much?

Civil Society
 
European Union
 
Political Participation
 
Political Theory
 
Referendums and Initiatives
 
Communication
 
Ethics
 
Theoretical
 
Presenter
Sorin Baiasu
Keele University
Authors
Sorin Baiasu
Keele University

Abstract
Shortly before the UK EU Membership Referendum, together with several academics, I signed an open letter entitled “Both Remain and Leave are propagating falsehoods at public expense” (published in The Telegraph on 16 June 2016). The letter began with the following claim: “A referendum result is democratically legitimate only if voters can make an informed decision. Yet the level of misinformation in the current campaign is so great that democratic legitimacy is called into question”. The assumption here seems to have been that misinformation undermines democratic legitimacy, since democratically legitimate decisions are informed decisions. One way in which we can support this assumption is through a strong Kantian commitment to sincerity. Especially in his late essay ‘On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy’, Kant seems to endorse an unconditional prohibition against lying, even lying to a murderer who asked us whether a friend of ours whom he is pursuing has taken refuge in our house. Yet, according to Kant, there are already two limitations on the strong commitment to sincerity. First, the sincerity requirement is limited by the condition that the agent be forced to communicate. Secondly, the sincerity requirement is limited by the condition that, by avoiding any untruthful declarations (and, hence, also misinformation), we do not undermine a basic epistemic condition for legitimate adjudication of conflicts. I have already discussed these two conditions elsewhere. My aim here is to examine a third limitation, which seems directly relevant for a case like the UK EU membership referendum. Thus, on this argument (offered by the late Glen Newey in his “Political Lying: A Defense” - 1997), citizens might explicitly condone a group’s use of dissimulation (from time to time), where this secured or was likely to secure public benefits, such as national security or economic stability.
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