The concept of trust covers a wide spectrum of subjects. It governs interpersonal relations – what they are, what they can be, how they emerge, what they consist of, and how they can be disturbed or broken. Trust also exists between people and institutions, as well as in people’s very ideas about the stability of their society. If one associates trust with the belief that social relations will somehow persist come what may, then trust is about the interaction between individuals and groups with the environment they live in. To have trust in this sense is to have an idea of “what to do next.” Accordingly, mistrust is not the opposite of trust; it is a strategy of orientation in an environment that is regarded as more or less trustworthy. Even when you choose to mistrust, trust is given, because you can still act. Historically speaking, the relationship between trust and mistrust is constantly fluctuating, and these developments are one way of describing cultural change.
Jan Philipp Reemtsma is founder and head of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung). He has published widely on topics as varied as eighteenth-century German literature, violence, torture, the Second World War, and Mohammed Ali. His works include More Than a Champion (1998), Mord am Strand (1998), Im Keller (1997; engl.: In the Cellar, 1999), Verbrechensopfer (2002), Folter im Rechtsstaat (2005), and Über Arno Schmidt (2006). Vertrauen und Gewalt (2008), a sweeping study on trust and its relationship to violence in the modern age, will appear in English translation next spring with Princeton University Press.