Trust and Political Process Theory

Ely put ‘Distrust’ in the title of his book. But his theory is equally one of trust: using distrust to delimit when courts should intervene in democratic processes is, for Ely, just the flipside of saying that they should trust them the rest of the time. When we adapt process theory for global use, this part needs to be generalized too. Doing so, however, means confronting a complexity. Ely focused on policing existing democratic processes in a US context where they are (comparatively) established. He did not consider the task of establishing processes in the first place, a problem that arises everywhere but is acute in emerging systems. Doing that can mean showing trust, even in imperfect processes, when that is a better way to build them. That complicates ‘better safe than sorry’ arguments for precautionary intervention. But it refines, in a vital way, our understanding of when democratic processes are ‘worthy of trust’.