since the Enlightenment, the delicate question of the relationship of trust between power and citizens

History of a notion. “I would like to be able in some way to make my soul transparent to the eyes of the reader”, writes Jean-Jacques Rousseau in book IV of Confessions. It was indeed at the heart of the aptly named Enlightenment that a desire for transparency manifested itself in an unprecedented way, whether it was a question of showing as closely as possible the solitary consciousness of a writer or of giving an account of the exercise of power over citizens.

These wishes can only resonate with our present and its injunctions for greater visibility – think of the creation in 2013 of the High Authority for the transparency of public life, the fears that arise in the face of the opaque composition. new vaccines or the rise of applications like Yuka which deciphers and “scans” our food.

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From the Latin verb transpicio, meaning “to see through”, transparency firstly designates the “Property that a body or an environment has of letting light rays pass”, and therefore to be able to scrutinize it in its entirety, according to the definition of the National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources. For the Larousse dictionary, it is in a second step that this substantive comes to signify the “Perfect accessibility of information in areas which concern public opinion”or to be accountable – if not accountable – about the use of personal data or the management of public funds.

At the twilight of the French monarchy, the right to make public the cogs of power and its too well-kept secrets asserted itself from the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. This requirement is in fact present in Article 15, which sounds like a warning and a rejection of past practices: “Society has the right to hold any public official to account for his administration. “

This unveiling of the democratic process will not cease to be formulated throughout the century – and even beyond from the pen of politicians like Benjamin Constant. “We do not ward off dangers by hiding them from view, he wrote in 1815 in his Principles of policy. They increase, on the contrary, by the night with which they are surrounded. “

Accumulation of laws

In France, it is especially at the end of the XXe century that the term “transparency” becomes omnipresent, constituting one of the major objectives of a policy carried out in order to acquire, even to restore, the “confidence” of the citizens towards their representatives, to use the word which permeates the speeches of many elected officials. The law then takes hold of the notion of transparency through a series of laws governing the political sphere.

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