, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 777-790
Date: 03 Oct 2012

Dirty Hands and the Complicity of the Democratic Public

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Abstract

The alleged problem of the dirty hands of politicians has been much discussed since Michael Walzer’s original piece (Walzer 1974). The discussion has concerned the precise nature of the problem or sought to dissolve the apparent paradox. However there has been little discussion of the putative complicity, and thus also dirtying of hands, of a democratic public that authorizes politicians to act in its name. This article outlines the sense in which politicians do get dirty hands and the degree to which a democratic public may also get dirty hands. It separates the questions of secrecy, authorisation, and wrongfulness in order to spell out the extent of public complicity. Finally it addresses the ways in which those who do and those who do not acknowledge the problem of dirty hands erroneously discount or deny the problem of complicity by an appeal to the nature of democracy, a putatively essential need for political openness or to the scope of ideal theory.