Edited by Padideh Ala’i and Robert G. Vaughn
Chapter 10: The history of government transparency
Transparency in government is a relatively recent phenomenon, although secrecy and transparency are but two sides of the same coin, especially when it comes to the tendency of governments not to share information with those who are governed, a propensity that is multi-faceted and strong. On one side of this coin – government secrecy – are such things as “national security classification,” “official secrets,” the “state secrets privilege,” and the like. In non-democratic forms of government, which was the only type of government that existed until about 250 years ago, a better way of describing it would be as “the status quo,” or “just how things were.” Until very recently in history, the ordinary relationship between governors and the governed included little if any official disclosure of information – and certainly no disclosure as of “right.” In considering transparency in government one must view it as a modern exception to government secrecy and understand it in relation to the fundamental nature of “secrecy” itself. Secrecy is inherent in human nature. Put any three people together and it is likely that sooner or later, for one reason or another, two of them will be keeping a secret from the third. Within families, there are all sorts of reasons for which secrets are kept, most often between parent and child, out of natural feelings of protectiveness and paternalism.
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