Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 385–404 | Cite as

Shared Public Culture: A Reliable Source of Trust

  • Patti Tamara Lenard


Trust is a central element of any well-functioning democracy, and the fact that it is widely reported to be on the wane is a worrisome phenomenon of contemporary politics. It is therefore critical that political and social philosophers focus on efforts by which to rebuild trust relations. I argue that a shared public culture is up to the task of trust-building, for three reasons. First, a shared public culture gives citizens an insight into the motivations that inspire fellow citizens to action. Second, a shared public culture serves to generate both positive and negative sanctions, an understanding of which helps citizens to predict how their fellow citizens will behave. Third, a shared public culture generates a sense that we belong together. There are, of course, many communities that can reasonably be interpreted as having a shared public culture, even though they are characterized by low levels of trust. This observation leads me to suggest two features that a shared public culture must have in order to facilitate the emergence of trust relations: citizens must be willing to cooperate and they must be willing to submit to common institutions that will be responsible for coordinating this large-scale cooperation. If these conditions are fulfilled, a shared public culture will serve as a reliable source of trust relations.


trust public culture democracy cooperation David Miller Arash Abizadeh 



I would like to thank David Miller. Zofia Stemplowska, and Jacob J. Krich, Avia Pasternak, the members of the Nuffield Political Theory Workshop, as well as the two anonymous reviewers for this journal for helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patti Tamara Lenard
    • 1
  1. 1.Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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