The Problem of Democratic Dirty Hands: Citizen Complicity, Responsibility, and Guilt

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This paper outlines and explores the problem of democratic dirty hands (DDH), the sui generis moral situation where democratic politicians justifiably violate both a cherished moral principle and the fundamental processes of democratic governance. Some recent contributions to the dirty-hands (DH) debate have argued that the principles of democratic governance render DDH impossible. The paper rejects this view as based on a misunderstanding of the minimal and necessary conditions for both DH and democratic overnance. However, DDH does raise interesting issues concerning the complicity of citizens with their politicians’ DH. Citizens are accessories to such acts and have a duty to contribute to the reparations for the victims of DDH. Furthermore, as citizens bear some responsibility for the moral violations that were done in their name, they properly ought to feel some of the moral pollution that these actions generated.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Monist
Issue number2
Early online date3 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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