Basic Democratic Trust

CEU Democracy Institute Working Papers No. 1, 2023

39 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2023

See all articles by Andreas Schedler

Andreas Schedler

Central European University (CEU) - Democracy Institute

Date Written: January 9, 2023


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.

Keywords: trust, distrust, democracy, democratic norms, democratic compliance

Suggested Citation

Schedler, Andreas, Basic Democratic Trust (January 9, 2023). CEU Democracy Institute Working Papers No. 1, 2023, Available at SSRN: or

Andreas Schedler (Contact Author)

Central European University (CEU) - Democracy Institute ( email )


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