When Paranoid Rhetoric and Falsehoods Prevail, Public Trust Crumbles

A Government That Undercuts Peoples' Faith May Undermine Its Own Legitimacy

“Nothing is more surprising,” wrote David Hume in his 1758 First Principles of Government, than “the easiness with which the many are governed by the few.”

What explains this surprising easiness? Trust is at the heart of the answer. Hume believed that since the people always outnumber their leaders (and thus retain the power of “force”), the legitimacy of all government rests merely “on opinion.” Governments exist solely because “the many” trust the government to serve their needs. Once government loses the trust of “the many,” then they will refuse …

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For thousands of years, rhetoric, the art of persuasion, was a core area of study in our schools. And rightly so. It was widely accepted that speaking and persuasion together …