Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 489–504 | Cite as

Authenticity in Political Discourse



Judith Shklar, David Runciman, and others argue against what they see as excessive criticism of political hypocrisy. Such arguments often assume that communicating in an authentic manner is an impossible political ideal. This article challenges the characterization of authenticity as an unrealistic ideal and makes the case that its value can be grounded in a certain political realism sensitive to the threats posed by representative democracy. First, by analyzing authenticity’s demands for political discourse, I show that authenticity has greater flexibility than many assume in accommodating practices common to politics, such as deception, concealment, and persuasion through rhetoric. Second, I argue that a concern for authenticity in political discourse represents a virtue, not a distraction, for representative democracy. Authenticity takes on heightened importance when the public seeks information on how representatives will act in contexts where the public is absent and unable to influence decisions. Furthermore, given the psychological mechanisms behind hypocrisy, public criticism is a sensible response for trying to limit political hypocrisy. From the perspective of democratic theory and psychology, the public has compelling reasons to value authenticity in political discourse.


Authenticity Hypocrisy Representation Democracy Rhetoric Deception 



I would like to thank Bryan Garsten, Mark Landau, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback that helped improve earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Political Science DepartmentYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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