The Precarity of Critique: Cultures of Mistrust and the Refusal of Justification

  • Daniel Witte Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study “Law as Culture”; Department for Political Sciences and Sociology, University of Bonn


The paper reflects on recent developments towards authoritarianism and right-wing populism that have become apparent in a number of Western societies and aims at pinpointing possible cultural foundations for this trend. Using the example of the German PEGIDA movement and the wider milieu in which it is embedded, it identifies and describes a rapidly spreading culture of mistrust and discusses some of its political and epistemological implications. In a second step, the paper draws on Luc Boltanski’s theory of justification in order to attain a better understanding of this political movement’s specificities. It is argued that it is a quasi-violent refusal of justification which is constitutive for the movement in question, thereby transcending the reach of Boltanski’s framework to some extent. In a third step, a closer look is taken at the epistemological paradox that results from the fact that a number of the PEGIDA movement’s
crucial points of criticism are effectively shared by a larger part of the overall population, raising severe problems for the question of sociological critique. The paper utilizes ideas by Bruno Latour in order to illuminate this paradox further and examine its consequences. It closes with remarks on the possibility to “reassemble” trust and critique as crucial but contested – and, hence, precarious – foundations of modern society.
Keywords: mistrust, distrust, trust, paranoia, right-wing populism, PEGIDA, justification, critique, Luc Boltanski, Bruno Latour


mistrust, distrust, trust, paranoia, right-wing populism, PEGIDA, justification, critique, Luc Boltanski, Bruno Latour


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How to Cite
WITTE, Daniel. The Precarity of Critique: Cultures of Mistrust and the Refusal of Justification. Filozofija i društvo / Philosophy and Society, [S.l.], v. 28, n. 2, p. 231-249, july 2017. ISSN 2334-8577. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 26 sep. 2017. doi: