Democracy & Elections

Chatter: Secrecy and Transparency in Early America, with Katlyn Carter

David Priess, Katlyn Carter, Jen Patja
Thursday, December 21, 2023, 8:00 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Modern representative democracy was born in darkness. Transparency in representative bodies can spur unintended consequences for freedom, while secrecy in those bodies can lead to optimal outcomes for the public.

These are uncomfortable truths that emerge from the history of the US and French revolutionary experiences. Many of our governance challenges today, from malign misinformation to persistent leaks to skepticism toward authority, derive in part from the fact that fundamental issues about how to manage openness in a representative deomcracy remain unresolved.

David Priess chatted with Katlyn Carter, assistant professor of history at Notre Dame and author of the new book Democracy in Darkness: Secrecy and Transparency in the Age of Revolutions, about the concepts of reflective representation and insulated representation, how to understand and research the will of the people, the Continental Congress's secrecy, the closed-door policy of the Constitutional Convention, the consequences of its secrecy for the doctrine of originalism, the crucial cases of the Jay Treaty and the Alien and Sedition Acts, James Madison's evolving views about representation and openness, the difficult realization that open dialogue and debate do not always lead to truth, and Thomas Jefferson's complicated legacy.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad.

David Priess is Director of Intelligence at Bedrock Learning, Inc. and a Senior Fellow at the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. He served during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations as a CIA officer and has written two books: “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about the top-secret President’s Daily Brief, and "How To Get Rid of a President," describing the ways American presidents have left office.
Katlyn Carter is a political and intellectual historian of the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, specializing in the American and French Revolutions. Her first book, "Democracy in Darkness: Secrecy and Transparency in the Age of Revolutions," explores how decisions and debates about the place of secrecy in politics during the Age of Revolutions shaped representative democracy
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

Subscribe to Lawfare