Res Publica

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 109–131 | Cite as

Reflections on a Crisis: Political Disenchantment, Moral Desolation, and Political Integrity

  • Demetris Tillyris


Declining levels of political trust and voter turnout, the shift towards populist politics marked by appeals to ‘the people’ and a rejection of ‘politics-as-usual’, are just some of the commonly cited manifestations of our culture of political disaffection. Democratic politics, it is argued, is in crisis. Whilst considerable energy has been expended on the task of lamenting the status of our politics and pondering over recommendations to tackle this perceived crisis, amid this raft of complaints and solutions lurks confusion. This paper seeks to explore the neglected question of what the precise nature of the crisis with which we are confronted involves, and, in so doing, to go some way towards untangling our confusion. Taking my cue from Machiavelli and his value-pluralist heirs, I argue that there is a rift between a morally admirable and a virtuous political life. Failure to appreciate this possibility causes narrations of crisis to misconstrue the moral messiness of politics in ways that lead us to misunderstand how we should respond to disenchantment. Specifically, I suggest that: (i) we think that there is a moral crisis in politics because we have an unsatisfactorily idealistic understanding of political integrity in the first place; and (ii) it is a mistake to imagine that the moral purification of politics is possible or desirable. Put simply, our crisis is not moral per se but primarily philosophical in nature: it relates to the very concepts we employ—the qualities of character and context we presuppose whilst pondering over political integrity.


Political disenchantment Moral crisis Political integrity Machiavelli Value pluralism Moral conflict 



Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the 2015 Ethics in Political Participation Workshop (Loughborough University), the 2016 Conference for Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics (CIAP; University of Leeds), and the CCCU Politics and International Relations Research Seminar Series (Canterbury Christ Church University). I would like to thank the participants of these conferences and workshops—in particular, Ben Saunders, Andre Barrinha, Gisli Vogler, Yuri van Hoef, Laura Cashman, and Phil Parvin—for their encouragement and fruitful suggestions. I am also extremely grateful to the editors of Res Publica and the two anonymous reviewers for their support and constructive comments. Finally, many thanks should go to Phil Parvin for inviting me to the Ethics in Political Participation Workshop and for the time and energy he invested in putting this special issue together.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Politics and International Relations, School of Psychology, Politics and SociologyCanterbury Christ Church UniversityCanterburyUK

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