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Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges

Patti Tamara Lenard


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Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges

Patti Tamara Lenard

“Highly informative as well as rich in insightful contradictions, [Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges is] an invitation to endorse pluralism not as a final horizon or a political telos, but as a policy tool and a heuristic device with emancipatory powers.”


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Banning minarets by referendum in Switzerland, publicly burning Korans in the United States, prohibiting kirpans in public spaces in Canada—these are all examples of the rising backlash against diversity that is spreading across multicultural societies. Trust has always been precarious, and never more so than as a result of increased immigration. The number of religions, races, ethnicities, and cultures living together in democratic communities and governed by shared political institutions is rising. The failure to construct public policy to cope with this diversity—to ensure that trust can withstand the pressure that diversity can pose—is a failure of democracy. The threat to trust originates in the perception that the values and norms that should underpin a public culture are no longer truly shared. Therefore, societies must focus on building trust through a revitalized public culture. In Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges, Patti Tamara Lenard plots a course for this revitalization. She argues that trust is at the center of effective democratic politics, that increasing ethnocultural diversity as a result of immigration may generate distrust, and therefore that democratic communities must work to generate the conditions under which trust between newcomers and “native” citizens can be built, so that the quality of democracy is sustained.
“Highly informative as well as rich in insightful contradictions, [Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges is] an invitation to endorse pluralism not as a final horizon or a political telos, but as a policy tool and a heuristic device with emancipatory powers.”
“This is a well-written book. It presents an important argument and tackles a vast body of literature. It makes a significant contribution to ongoing debates in political theory about democracy and trust. And probably most important, it sets out a highly controversial argument in a convincing and measured way.”
“This is an important contribution to our thinking about a major issue for contemporary democratic politics. It draws on a broad array of literature, bringing together philosophy, sociology, political science, and political theory. Patti Tamara Lenard combines impressive powers of synthesis with a keen practical sense of the problems and dilemmas of trust.”

Patti Tamara Lenard is Assistant Professor of Ethics at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.



Introduction: Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges

1 Trust Defined

2 Trust as a Foundational Democratic Value

3 Distrust, Mistrust, and Democracy

4 Public Culture and Trust

5 Trust and Ethnocultural Diversity in Multicultural Democracies

6 Severely Divided Societies, Trust, and the Struggle for Democracy

7 Guiding Trust Building in Democracies

Conclusion: The Challenges of Multiculturalism?





Trust, Democracy, and Multicultural Challenges

No single incident prompted a British magazine cover to question whether Britain is “too diverse.” No individual moment in Dutch politics created an environment in which a new book about immigration to the Netherlands could plausibly be titled When Ways of Life Collide. No particular event prompted some Americans to wonder if, after all, they should adopt English as an official language so as to encourage a greater degree, and rate, of immigrant assimilation. Yet it is clear that tensions among religious and cultural minorities, as they struggle with whether to integrate (or not) into Western multicultural democracies, have been rising for several years.1 As this book will argue, these tensions and struggles can best be understood and evaluated through the lens of trust, distrust, and mistrust.

Such tensions were evident in recent scuffles over whether, for example, to allow Muslim girls to participate in a variety of sports events while wearing the Muslim headscarf. In early 2007, five Muslim girls wearing headscarves were forced to withdraw from a Canadian taekwondo tournament in response to a ruling by tournament officials that, since the hijab is not permitted according to World Taekwondo Federation rules, the girls could not compete while wearing one. Similarly, in Quebec, Muslim girls were forced to withdraw from a soccer competition—the hijab, officials said, was not permitted, according to a FIFA rule that bans equipment and clothing that are dangerous to oneself and others. In both cases, officials contended the rulings were made in the spirit of safety: even though tucked under a helmet in taekwondo, and even though FIFA’s own website depicts images of women players wearing the hijab, the danger that the hijab could become loose and then be yanked in such a way as to seriously injure the girls’ necks justified the ban. In both cases, advocates for the Muslim girls cried discrimination. A spokesperson for the Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations argued that “this recent fixation on the hijab is only serving to marginalize Muslim women who wish to participate in athletic activity.”2

This fixation on the hijab has also propelled Lisa Valentine to a certain kind of fame. Valentine, who accompanied her nephew as he appeared to defend himself against a traffic citation, was prevented from entering a Georgia courtroom because she refused to remove her headscarf. She was charged with contempt of court on the grounds that court regulations prohibited the wearing of head coverings of any kind, and was ordered to spend ten days in jail as a consequence (she did not ultimately do jail time). In response to the incident, Valentine reports that she felt “stripped of my civil, my human rights.”3 Faiza Silmi felt similarly when her application for French citizenship was denied on the grounds that her form of dress—in particular, the niqab, a face-covering veil that, in the words of the French minister for urban affairs (herself a practicing Muslim), is best described as a “prison” or a “straightjacket”—displayed her apparent commitment to a radical form of Islam that is incompatible with broader French republican ideals. She was therefore denied French citizenship on the grounds of “insufficient assimilation” into France. In an interview, Silmi asked the broader French public, the majority of whom claimed to support the court’s decision, about her right to religious freedom: “Yes, I am a practicing Muslim, I am orthodox. But is that not my right?”4 The appeals court concluded that she was not in fact entitled to this right, or at least that if she was, it didn’t protect her from the requirement that her manner of public dress reflect a more obvious assimilation into French norms and values.

As these examples illustrate, whether the practices of religious and cultural minorities should be accommodated in liberal democracies is a source of ongoing public debate. These issues are only likely to increase as global migration, and the consequent diversity of liberal democracies, increases; they are issues that liberal democracies must face as they develop and modify the conditions under which increasingly diverse communities can live together peacefully, that is, under conditions of inclusive and generalized trust. Trust, I will argue, is of central importance in generating an inclusive, participatory, and efficient democratic politics, not least in situations where cultural practices are contested. Without trust, cultural and religious minorities will increasingly be the victims of discrimination, and so will fail to extend fellow citizens and political authorities the trust that is essential to securing stable multicultural democracies over time. Moreover, in the absence of trust between members of cultural minorities and cultural majorities, the majority may remain unwilling to consider the merits of permitting or banning contested practices, and legitimate compromise may never be reached. The discrimination faced by cultural minorities is often a consequence of a lack of trust in one direction, that is, from majority to minority; the consequence of this discrimination is equally a lack of trust in the other direction, that is, from minority to majority.

Across Western democracies, Muslims are increasingly singled out for challenging the models of accommodation and assimilation traditionally adopted in Western democratic communities.5 To take one emblematic example, in an attempt to forestall demands to accommodate in the first place, a small town in Quebec declared a set of rules, or “standards,” by which potential immigrants to their town must abide. Public stoning of women is not permitted, nor is burning them alive or throwing acid on them. In explanation, a Hérouxville city councilor noted that the standards were not adopted in the face of an influx of immigrants—Hérouxville’s thirteen thousand residents include, thus far, only one Caribbean family and a Haitian boy adopted by a local couple. Rather, he explained, the standards are essential because “we have to ensure that people who settle here are happy . . . we are not racists. We invite people from all nationalities, all languages, all sexual orientations, whatever, to come live with us, but we want them to know ahead of time how we live.”6 Muslim leaders across Canada were unsurprisingly incensed by the news of these standards. Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, expressed anger: “I was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of false stereotypes and ignorance about Islam and our religion.”7 Measures like these, which deliberately portray false stereotypes and conjure up dangers that do not exist, are unfortunately increasingly widespread. As of March 2011, for example, thirteen American states have introduced or passed bills aimed at explicitly or implicitly protecting against the alleged incursion of Sharia law in American courts. According to a Texas state representative, women in the United States should fear “creeping sharia law” that threatens to strip them of their rights. The worry, apparently, is that courts will be asked in their rulings to respect Sharia rather than American law.8

In both cases Muslims are predictably and rightly outraged, not from the suggestion that newcomers should expect to integrate into a national culture, and not from the suggestion that newcomers should be subject to the legal authority of the state they join, but rather from a public portrayal of a deliberately insulting and inaccurate account of Islam, an account that the vast majority of Muslims would not recognize as their own. Portraying Islam as a threat that we must guard against inevitably creates an environment in which trust between newcomers and the host society will prove difficult to build.

In response to the apparent integration challenges posed by Muslim newcomers, many European nations have moved toward adopting more robust citizenship integration regimes.9 For example, the Netherlands has been at the center of controversy in its attempts to implement a civic integration regime that includes two citizenship tests, one of which must be passed prior to immigration, solely for immigrants hailing from non-Western countries. This first test demands the prior viewing of a video titled “Coming to the Netherlands,” which controversially includes images of homosexual men kissing and female nudity, both of which are offensive to members of the Muslim faith. Those who defend it suggest that the capacity of individuals to pass the test is important to Dutch society: “it is in the interest of Dutch society” that newcomers successfully pass this test, said immigration minister Rita Verdonk.10 Yet advocates on behalf of immigrants object that the test is discriminatory and, moreover, deliberately offensive. It is clearly targeted at Muslims who, some Dutch believe, are increasingly demonstrating that they are unable to adopt the secular norms that characterize Dutch society. Says a community activist who hails from Turkey: “They [Dutch officials] know that according to Islam, nudity and homosexuality are taboo. They know the feelings of Muslims on this subject. So, indirectly, they are saying that we are not welcome.”11 It is not that receiving countries are obligated to throw down a welcome mat in order to ensure that newcomers feel comfortable in their new environment, yet the apparently deliberate attempts to insult and offend newcomers do set a tone suggesting that newcomers can expect derision and rejection of customs associated with their religious and cultural communities, and that until these customs are discarded, newcomers will not be extended the trust that ought to flow between members of a democratic political community.12

The tensions reflected in the incidents reported above are not isolated to immigrant groups, nor are they restricted to Muslims. The support extended to the standards by some Québécois—one supporter of Hérouxville’s standards announced “at last, someone is standing up [to religious and cultural groups] instead of prostrating themselves like certain ministers, judges, executives, and companies”13—is motivated by the same worries that are offered to justify a series of anti-Hispanic measures adopted across the United States. A recent law passed in Arizona bans the teaching of ethnic studies on the grounds that these classes discourage the integration of Hispanic students into the wider American society and encourages them instead to “resent or hate other races.”14 Several small towns in the United States have banned the flying of foreign flags; others have required that any public display of a foreign flag be accompanied by an even larger American flag. A member of the town board in one of these communities explained: “All of the illegal alien protestors are waving Mexican flags, and we just got tired of it. . . . This is the United States, and the Stars and Stripes should fly supreme.”15

Attempts to formally deny the right of governments to provide services to citizens in languages other than English are ongoing. In 2009, for example, residents of Nashville, Tennessee, where 14 percent of the population does not speak English at home, just barely (by 53–47 percent) voted against a proposition that would have banned the provision of services to residents in languages other than English. At its best, the movement for the proposition highlights the importance of learning English as a path to full integration. At its worst, however, it translates into a virulent racism against immigrants who apparently display an unwillingness to learn English, a racism that is justified by their apparent threat to American public culture more broadly. Permitting, indeed encouraging, public officials to provide essential information in languages other than English, say these advocates, encourages fractionalization and ghettoization and therefore prevents the emergence of a cohesive American identity. Instead, English should be adopted as a national language as a first step toward ensuring that newcomers cannot resist integration by conducting their lives wholly in their native language. Similarly across Europe, political actors are focusing on the linguistic competence of newcomers, who must increasingly pass challenging language tests to acquire citizenship and, in some cases, the right to enter the territory as a legal migrant in the first place.16

The debates about reasonable accommodation of immigrant minorities, about whether to adopt English-only regulations, and about the value of citizenship tests in Europe stem from the absence of trust—a trust that should, in principle, emerge from shared values and norms, and that must underpin democratic, multicultural nations. The concern is that the trust necessary to sustain a commitment to shared democratic institutions, and to the cooperation and reciprocity that they secure, is under threat in the presence of ethnocultural diversity. In the face of increases in ethnocultural diversity (and, in some cases, of increases in the salience of ethnocultural diversity that has been present over a long period of time), diversity that brings new norms and values along with it, the worry is that the trust that is essential to well-functioning democratic communities is at risk.17 When officials ban headscarves from sports environments, and so prevent the participation of Muslim girls, members of the Muslim community take them to be making spurious claims about safety that veil an unstated discrimination against and hostility toward—in other words, distrust of—Muslims. Newcomers interpret newly implemented citizenship tests, which target those from non-Western communities, as statements of distrust. They are forced to overcome additional obstacles to attain citizenship status, a status that, moreover, no longer easily translates into perceived trustworthiness.

The worries that motivate these actions are not necessarily stated in terms of trust, of course. Yet the central thesis of this book is that these conflicts and tensions are, at their heart, about trust. Once we reevaluate these conflicts in terms of trust among citizens who are largely strangers to each other, we can begin to see what is necessary to reduce tensions among them. Trust in a democratic society principally arises from shared norms and values, I shall argue, and when these shared norms and values appear to be under threat, trust is likewise under threat. My claim is not that shared norms and values are the only source of trust; rather, my claim is that it is the main source of widespread trust in democratic communities. Where it is perceived to be the case that these shared norms and values are at risk—as in conditions in which ethnocultural diversity is made salient as a marker of difference—so too is the trust that ought to derive from them. When nonimmigrant citizens suggest that the values held by newcomers are incompatible with integration, they are suggesting that newcomers are therefore unable or unwilling to adopt the set of values on which the trust “around here” is based.

One issue that ethnocultural diversity in contemporary multicultural democracies makes plain is that we have long been complacent in assuming that shared values and norms necessarily give rise to trust. The hyperbole that surrounds recent public proclamations of the “death of” or the “failure of” or the “backlash against” multiculturalism highlights that it is now essential to determine which among these values and norms must be shared in order for trust to emerge.18 It is no longer sufficient that we proclaim the importance of shared norms and values as the source of trust—it is clear enough that not all norms and values must be shared among citizens in order for them to trust one another. As John Rawls has said, contemporary democratic communities are characterized by the “fact of pluralism”; the challenge, therefore, is to articulate a public culture that respects this fact of pluralism while at the same time offers the resources that are essential to underpin a democratic community.19 This book takes up the challenge by identifying when, how, and why shared values, norms, and beliefs matter to sustain a public culture, which in turn is the major source of trust relations.

Why a Book About Trust?

Why, one might ask, is it important to recharacterize democratic relations—and the stresses upon them as a result of ethnocultural diversity—in terms of trust? Why is it important to offer an account of multicultural democracy in terms of trust in addition to or rather than simply in terms of justice or equality or liberty? The reason is this: trust is the fundamental, foundational quality of an effective, well-functioning democracy. For reasons that will be elaborated in later chapters, democracies rely first and foremost on trust relations that extend between citizens and between citizens and their representatives. As Daniel Weinstock suggests, “well-functioning liberal democracies provide people with reasons not to withdraw their support from common institutions . . . [and] what is required in order to increase the likelihood that citizens will not withdraw their allegiance and support from common institutions is not so much a shared identity as trust.”20 It is of course true that perpetual injustices or inequalities will tend to dampen or break trust relations. Yet without trust, there will be no collectively felt motivation to erase or rectify existing inequalities and injustices in the first place.21 Trust, in other words, underpins the motivation needed to make attempts at removing injustices and easing inequalities. It is therefore the first, essential element of any properly functioning democratic community.

A review of contemporary political philosophy might appear to indicate that trust is of little interest to those among us who are concerned with the central aspects of democratic politics: trust is conspicuously absent as an issue in contemporary analytic philosophy. Only a few recent attempts to make sense of trust have appeared in the literature, and they have not been accompanied by an effort to account for its overwhelming absence as a key concept in political theory. In spite of its relative absence in contemporary political philosophy, however, it is a frequent topic of discussion in the history of political philosophy.22 Moreover, historically, political philosophers have observed the relevance of trust or distrust to human relations in general and political relations in particular. Thomas Hobbes famously suggested that we can explain the state of nature as a state of war in part because of what he terms “diffidence,” that is, the natural distrust that we feel toward others. Any promise or agreement made on trust is effectively invalid in the state of nature: “covenants of mutuall trust, where there is a feare of not performance on either part, are invalid.”23 We need a central authority of some kind, he argued, to create the conditions under which this distrust can be mitigated. In a recent analysis of Hobbes’s conception of trust, Danielle Allen observes that Hobbes was well aware that securing the conditions under which trust is possible is an ongoing task, since “it is impossible ever to generate bonds of trust so firm that perpetual stability is assured.”24

John Locke offered an alternative account of the role that trust plays in the political environment. He suggested that we ought to view the government itself as a kind of trust. The legislature, he wrote, acts “pursuant to their [the citizens’] trust”; the boundaries of its legitimate actions fall squarely within what it has been entrusted to do (Locke’s well-known view is that government is trusted in particular with protecting the people’s natural right to property).25 This understanding of trust—that trust, when extended, gives others some discretion to act in our best interests—features again in Edmund Burke’s distinction between the political representative as trustee and the political representative as delegate. It is the former, a trusted representative, who is offered the discretion necessary to act in the best interests of constituents in a flexible manner. A representative who is treated as a mere delegate has not yet attained the trust of his or her constituents.26

Skeptics might nevertheless point out that historically, trust has neatly coexisted with rampant inequalities and injustices. They might point to instances in which serfs trusted their feudal lords in spite of the injustices that sustained the feudal system. They might point to instances in which wives trusted their husbands in spite of a patriarchal, sexist environment in which gender inequalities prevailed. What these supposedly countervailing examples illustrate, however, is that inequalities and injustices prevail in a climate of trust only so long as they are not widely perceived as such. Once a spade is called a spade—once the inequalities and injustices come to be thought of as inequalities and injustices—the trust with which they have coexisted will either dissipate or, in the best of circumstances, support and motivate the willingness to change. Trust, as we shall see over the course of this book, is fostered only in environments in which it is extended and reciprocated on a regular basis.

Yet, skeptics might continue, historical and contemporary democratic countries illustrate that even democracy can be sustained in the face of great inequalities and injustices. While ideal democratic theory tells us that justice and equality are the sine qua non of democratic communities, reality shows us that democratic environments can be more or less just and more or less equal. Ongoing democratic audits, for example, are able to measure democracy along certain scales, according to which some countries are more just and more equal, and therefore more democratic, than others. Even so, I will argue, democratic environments simply cannot sustain themselves without trust; trust is essential to solving dilemmas of injustice and inequality that are still a regular part of democratic political life. I will argue that without at least minimal trust relations, dilemmas of injustice and inequality will necessarily remain unresolved. Without minimal trust relations—and even in the case of merely minimal trust relations—a democracy at best will limp along, unable to provide the standard benefits we attribute to democratic political arrangements, and at worst will break apart.

The preceding paragraph is not meant to be apocalyptic, especially since one theme of this book is that the threat to multicultural democracies, created as a result of certain forms of ethnocultural diversity, can be managed with the right kinds of policies. The argument here is manifestly not that multicultural democracies are on the brink of breakup, although chapter 6 engages with severely divided democracies in which the threat of breakup is real. Rather, the argument is a less fateful—but equally provocative—one: the benefits we attribute to democratic institutions are at risk under conditions of ethnocultural diversity, and this is because of the ways in which ethnocultural diversity places stress on the trust relations on which democracies rely. The spirit in which this book is written is one of realism—many previous accounts of multiculturalism have been blithely optimistic with respect to the ease of integration over time. Yet the book is motivated equally by a deep commitment to the benefits of multiculturalism, as well as to the view that citizens of different races, ethnocultural groups, and religions can and will live together in a flourishing democratic environment.

This book intends to accomplish three broad tasks. The first defends the argument that democracies rely heavily on widespread, extended trust relations. In order to do this, some preliminary analytic work is essential, and this is accomplished in the first chapter of the book. The first chapter tackles the concept of trust itself—it is critical to begin with a clear sense of the way in which the term “trust” is defined and used through the book. The chapter will highlight the relational aspect of trust—namely, that it is a term that describes relations between people, rather than the interactions between people and institutions. The chapter will, equally, emphasize that there are both attitudinal—we might say psychological or dispositional—and behavioral elements to trust; in other words, in order to count as a trusting person, an actor must do something and must do it with a particular attitude. The behavior must reflect a willingness to place oneself in a position of vulnerability with respect to others. This willingness to place oneself in a position of vulnerability is connected to another central element of trust, namely, a willingness to do so only under the condition that we believe that others bear us good will, or at least do not bear us ill will. Finally, having evaluated—whether consciously or unconsciously—a situation as one in which trust is warranted, that is, that one is indeed willing to place oneself in a position of vulnerability, the belief or attitude that motivated trusting behavior will prove to be resistant to evidence.

In order to articulate the concept of trust that is at the heart of this book, chapter 1 also evaluates the techniques employed to evaluate trust. In part because trust is relatively underexplored in contemporary political theory, and in part because it is heavily explored in social science disciplines more generally, the book relies on some of the insights developed from within the social science scholarship. The social science literature relies on a range of strategies, all of which will generate important insights that help to bolster the arguments that make up the core of this book and that serve to motivate its central questions. It is no longer surprising—though it remains an issue of deep concern—to read of surveys detailing the decline of trust across Western multicultural democracies. Before relying on these reports, however, it is critical that we examine the information that they purport to communicate, as well as the conclusions that we can and should draw from it.

With these preliminary evaluative tasks completed, we can turn to the central argument of the book, namely, that trust is the foundational element of democratic communities. Citizens of democratic communities extend trust and display trustworthiness as a matter of course. I will argue in chapter 2 that the voluntary compliance on which democracies rely depends on the willingness of citizens to extend and reciprocate trust on a regular basis. It is sometimes argued that the benefits attributed to democracy stem from several commitments—to protect the equality of all citizens, to secure the stability of democratic institutions, to ensure that peace and security prevails, to provide for the basic needs of all, and so on—all of which depend on the existence of sanctions that reward certain behaviors and punish others. But it is a mistake to attribute these benefits exclusively to an effective system of rewards and punishments—rather, these benefits are provided in large part by the willing compliance of citizens in schemes that produce them. One essential feature of democratic communities is, in fact, that they choose against putting their limited resources toward enforcing compliance—to the extent that they put their limited resources toward the enforcement of compliance, they are constrained from providing a greater set of benefits that rely on voluntary rather than forced compliance.

The second task of the book is to illustrate the nature of distrust and mistrust and the dangers associated with the erosion of trust in a democratic environment. This task can be thought of as a corollary of the first. If trust is essential to the benefits of a democracy that can rely on widespread compliance with shared norms and laws, then the emergence of distrust erodes the ability of a democracy to rely on this compliance. The benefits that are provided from within a democracy characterized by widespread trust relations are therefore at risk. There are many sources of distrust, and sociological research has illustrated many of them in considerable detail. Eric Uslaner, for example, convincingly argues that widespread income inequality is negatively correlated with trust. He suggests not only that pronounced income inequality is correlated with the emergence of distrust, but also that pronounced income inequality—because it is correlated with a decline in trust—erodes the motivation to enact the social justice policies that might serve to alleviate income inequality (and so perhaps revitalize trust).27 Mark Warren concentrates on the negative effect of widespread corruption on trust relations. It is not surprising to learn that the belief that widespread corruption exists negatively affects trust relations.28 Whatever the cause of the distrust, however, chapter 3 intends to make clear the dimensions along which distrust is a problem for democracy. Here I argue against suggestions, which emerge in part from the game theory tradition that is canvassed in chapter 1, that distrust might well be reinterpreted as essential to democracy. Any interpretation that places distrust rather than trust at the center of democracy is profoundly mistaken.

In order to make sense of these apparently contradictory claims—my own, that trust is an essential component of democracy, and that of others, that distrust is an essential component of democracy—I shall distinguish between the two concepts mentioned above, distrust and mistrust, which are often confused in this debate. This distinction will prove central to the arguments that underpin the second half of the book. Whereas distrust is a solid and stable attitude that prevents opportunities for extending and rewarding trust to emerge in the first place, mistrust is a more precarious and unstable attitude; crucially, whereas distrust is largely insensitive to new information indicating the value of extending and rewarding trust, mistrust is malleable and can therefore shift considerably in response to new information. In order to develop a clearer understanding of the relationship of new information to attitudes that signal the absence of trust, then, we will need to assess the relationship between evidence and trust, mistrust and distrust. Trusters and distrusters maintain trusting or distrusting attitudes for an extended period of time in the face of evidence suggesting they should do otherwise; these attitudes are fundamentally evidence resistant. As we shall see in chapters 5 and 6, the failure of trust and distrust to respond to evidence poses challenges in communities divided by ethnocultural diversity.

As the opening examples were meant to illustrate, this book concentrates on the precise mechanisms by which ethnocultural diversity can lead to the erosion of trust relations. The argument is this: under certain conditions, ethnocultural diversity can generate the sense that the public culture—that is, the shared ethos that characterizes a political community and encompasses its values and norms—is no longer shared. Chapter 4 will illustrate that trust emerges from a sense of shared norms and values; if ethnocultural diversity threatens the sense that shared norms and values are widespread, it threatens trust relations as well. Whether it is the actual erosion of shared values and norms or the perception of erosion that matters is an issue that will be dealt with as well.

The concept of a public culture is controversial, however, and requires some defending.29 Any multicultural democracy (indeed, any nonmulticultural democracy as well) requires an inclusive source of trust, and the main thesis of chapter 4 is that a public culture can be such a source. According to the public culture argument, democratic institutions function best when they find support among a population united by a public culture. This argument is of course the subject of a great many critiques, and this chapter will argue against them. More important, the chapter will rearticulate the concept of a public culture in such a way that it can, without illegitimate prejudice against newcomers, provide a cohesive, nonexclusive, and morally legitimate way to bind citizens in the relations of trust that are essential to well-functioning democracies.

This is an especially important task since most of us now live in political communities that are rightly defined by the term “multicultural.” With only a few exceptions, states are heterogeneous, comprising a range of ethnicities, religions, cultural groups, and sub-state national groups. By accepting multiculturalism as a fact, we are acknowledging the need to take seriously that cultural group members feel loyalty toward and solidarity with fellow group members, and that they may feel the bonds that join them as immutable and enduring; this is the case even though there is considerable evidence that cultures are constantly changing in response to many things, including internal tensions, external pressures, and interactions with other cultural groups. As a consequence, the bonds that group members feel, the nature of these bonds, and the obligations that attend these bonds are fluid and constantly in flux. Together, these two observations—that members of cultural groups often feel loyalty toward each other and that they often feel these bonds as enduring—give rise to two further observations that motivate the analysis in chapter 4. First, although it is true that “people identify and empathize more easily with those with whom they have more in common than with those with whom they have less in common,”30 it is equally true that how we determine with whom we share values and beliefs is not fixed, but is instead malleable over time. Second, even as we may advocate multicultural policies, in doing so we must be careful to reject a reified concept of the culture that defines minority groups. Cultures (whether minority or majority) are amorphous and flexible; while individuals are influenced by their experiences within them, they are equally capable of reflection on the positive and negative aspects of their culture. In other words, we must be sensitive to the influence that culture has on people’s formative experiences, without taking culture as entirely determinative of their values and behaviors.31 These groups, the boundaries of which often overlap and are so difficult (if not impossible) to discern, have different views of what constitutes the good life and how this good life should be obtained. In the ideal, all of these groups nevertheless (I hope) share a set of common values and norms, at both the social and political levels, that enable long-term cooperation for the benefit of all. Yet as I shall suggest, there is a strong correlation between diversity and weakened trust relations within a population.

There is nothing inherent in the presence of ethnocultural diversity that makes it generate tension in the public culture’s ability to act as a reliable source of trust. Yet there is considerable evidence that under certain conditions the presence of ethnocultural diversity makes trusting relations between citizens more difficult. Robert Putnam, for example, has recently suggested that ethnocultural diversity breeds mistrust among a population: “the bottom line is that there are special challenges posed to building social capital [one key component of which is trust, in Putnam’s account] by ethnic diversity.”32 In chapter 5, the relationship between ethnocultural diversity and the decline of trust is accounted for as follows. An increase in ethnocultural diversity is accompanied by an increase in the diversity of norms and values within a community (and sometimes merely the perception that such an increase in the diversity of norms and values has taken place). As citizens of a shared community, we therefore are (or perceive ourselves to be) less able to count on others to behave in ways that we can predict and understand. At worst, we no longer feel that we are part of a genuinely shared community at all, since nothing recognizable appears shared among us.

Before turning to the final task of this book—an articulation of the strategies and mechanisms we ought to employ to strengthen, repair, and rebuild trust relations—I turn to an evaluation of trust relations in communities that are not properly described as multicultural, but instead are better described as severely divided along ethnocultural lines. The chapter may appear to take us off course, but its objective is to show that severe divisions of the kind that characterize Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and so on, are at their base also divisions that pertain to trust relations. In these kinds of societies the challenges for building, or rebuilding, flourishing democratic relations appear to be more difficult than they do in the multicultural democracies that are the main focus of this book. Yet, I shall suggest, the divisions that persist in severely divided societies can best be understood in terms of trust relations or the lack thereof. The weakened trust relations that characterize ethnoculturally diverse societies will here be distinguished from the distrust that characterizes severely divided societies; the discussion will illustrate that trust and distrust exist on a kind of continuum, and that we can describe communities as more or less trusting and more or less distrusting.

After a thorough examination of the centrality of trust relations to democratic success, and the dangers posed by ethnocultural diversity to trust relations in a democratic environment, the book concludes with an account of how these damaged relations can be repaired. The final chapter concentrates on the principles and strategies that should guide us in our efforts to rebuild trust relations. The principles are drawn, in part, from the literature on deliberative democracy—a literature that remains ambivalent with respect to the relationship between trust and deliberation—and, in part, from the literature on cooperation building that characterizes scholarship on conflict resolution in severely divided societies. Taken together, these literatures can guide us in producing a set of general trust-building principles that, if deployed in public policy, will serve to resolve the dilemmas of trust that characterize contemporary democratic communities. In a high trust environment, it is the public culture that serves as a source of trust; the public culture works to reduce the sense of vulnerability that we feel in extending and reciprocating trust. Thus, rebuilding trust relations requires that we identify mechanisms by which we can mimic the trust-building role played by the public culture. The objective is, similarly, to reduce the vulnerability that is inherent to trust, and thus to create the conditions under which trust can emerge. By way of conclusion, I shall suggest that among many other policies, well-designed multicultural policies can contribute to reducing this vulnerability.

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