Is it still possible to preserve secrecy today?

This is the question that has just fallen in the Sciences Po 2021 common competition. More precisely, the title was

In light of your experiences and readings, do you think it is still possible to preserve secrecy today?

So the first part of the question was a reminder of the importance of mobilizing knowledge, gained through experience or more likely through your revisions. It is therefore a useful incentive to build your essays with “solid ground” as we call it in our Method in Contemporary Issues article.

There were many possible outlines, and what we present here is only one of many possible ways to deal with the topic. Let us add that this question was basically similar to one of our mock exam on secrecy, “Is it still possible to have a private life?”This is why we find it interesting to refer to some of the proposals you may have made to enrich and diversify the correction.

But for the moment, let us move on to the correction:

The correction Academics in Politics: is it still possible to preserve the secret today?

Hook: there is no shortage of examples with all the scandals surrounding privacy on the internet. To be more original and to go directly into politics, we have chosen to talk about the WikiLeaks scandal, in order to show that even the States have difficulty preserving secrecy today.

Counterpoint: to confront this example, we would have recalled that the citizen is not in a position to know many of the secrets of States, particularly in the field of foreign affairs. The ultimate secret being perhaps the code of the nuclear bomb?


“Is it” → the classic format of a “yes or no” type subject;
“yet” → this word yet necessarily gives rise to a presupposition. In this case, the question takes for granted that the secret could be preserved before.
“possible” → on this kind of word, this is the time to make the question play, replacing in the draft with “necessary,” “allowed,” “materially possible”, etc.
“to preserve” → again, there is the presupposition that the secret can be preserved. Some would say that everything comes out in the end, but the question does not go that way. Moreover, there is a positive connotation: one preserves what is good (this is in line with Marie’s reflection in the comments on the perception of secrecy in her II.)
“the secret” → Definitions of the Secret
“today” → the temporal framework is given, one is not interested in what was done before, but only in the present (although the past can enlighten the present)

Paradox: the secret was perceived as an advantage for those who knew about it. Yet today, there is a tension between those who claim to make secrets fall, and those who want to keep them. Secrecy thus seems to become a weapon, which crystallizes a struggle for influence, on the one hand, towards the outside (international relations for example), but also towards the inside (State/citizen), and on many other levels: example parents/children, company/competitors, etc.

Issue: to what extent is secrecy, as a new object of the struggle of influence, a resource that can be safeguarded from external ambitions?

See also Alistair’s question that pinpoints the problem that we liked in the comments, which we will have to extend to secrecy in general (rather than privacy, which therefore concerns the citizen specifically).

Plan: We have chosen a dialectical outline (that of the Old Philosopher), rather classical, by varying the scales in the sub-parts.

I. Secrecy has become a powerful resource

A. As a state secret (State-State)
B. As power over citizens (State-citizen)
C. As an advantage over the other (citizen-citizen)

II. Secrecy is a coveted, and therefore threatened, war treasure
A. Secret services and intelligence services (State-State)
B. Privacy and liberties threatened in the name of security (citizen state)
C. The digital age makes the lives of citizens public (citizen-citizen).

III. As with weapons, the use of secrecy must be avoided and framed when necessary.
A. International conventions and agreements that frame secrecy (State-State)
B. The importance of a separation of powers at the top of the state to prevent abuse (citizen state)
C. The need to educate oneself on good practices to maintain control of one’s data (citizen-citizen)

Your correction: is it still possible to preserve secrecy today?

  • What outline did you adopt?
  • What problem did you find?
  • What hook did you use?
  • What references made you rely on?
  • Are you satisfied with your work?

Also tell us on the practical side, how did this event go for you from a material standpoint?

  • Did you notice any dysfunctions during the test, where you bothered by the late posting of the questions, for example?
  • We are not linked to the Réseau Sciences Po, but what message would you send about the organization of this competition?
  • What do you think of the conditions in which you took the exam?

We will perhaps make a selection of some of your comments to complete this correction, in order to help future Sciences Po candidates who will take the exam. We can already mention the very interesting ideas developed in two comments of the training subject that we had proposed to you: these are the references used by Mina (in particular De la liberté des Anciens comparée à celle des Modernes by Benjamin Constant), as well as the two outlines suggested by Anna which offer many leads, in particular on the aspect of new technologies. Here are also the correction to the Marseille study.

→ Correction on the Revolutions

12 thoughts on “Is it still possible to preserve secrecy today?

  1. Hello, Do you know if we can have the notes of the essays? Thank you for your advice, I was taken to Sciences Po Strasbourg! Cordially

    1. Hello, Indeed, you can have your essay notes. For this, you must contact the Sciences Po directly. Sciences Po Toulouse organized the competition this year (see comment below), so we advise you to contact them first. Congratulations on your admission! Good day, The Academics in Politics team

  2. Hello, I would like to know if it is possible to obtain the corrected or at least our note of this test? Thanks in advance

    1. Good morning, This will be possible, by addressing you directly to the IEP. We advise you to send your request directly to Sciences Po Toulouse, which is organizing the competition for this year 2021: Sciences Po Toulouse – 05 61 11 18 49 / 02 87 – Good luck, The Academics in Politics team

  3. Good morning! Having taken the question of secrecy, I fear that I have made an off-topic, especially since my copy is only 2 pages long on the computer… I have treated the question in an “individual” way. Here is my introduction: “Hush! It’s a secret”… This sentence, which may at first seem banal, accompanied me throughout my childhood. Illustrating the importance of not revealing everything, it demonstrates the importance of secrecy. From the Latin “secretum”, this designates what is hidden from others, by a person or by a group of people sharing the same secret. It thus promotes the existence of a private space, unknown to others and in which its preservation can be guaranteed at first sight. However, the appearance of many social or even technological factors contributes to its discovery. The current challenge is to keep the secret, secret. Can we still ensure its protection? Isn’t it in danger of partially or even totally disappearing, giving way to a society without secrets? We will see first of all that today it is quite possible to hide a secret. Then, we will see that it is threatened, increasing the risk of its disappearance. In the first part, I spoke about the persistence of the development of the inner self, of the psychic development (with the internalization from childhood of the preservation of secrecy) and of the struggle for the protection of private life (with the laws that promote its preservation ex: medical secrecy) My second part concerns the threat concerning the protection of secrecy, namely digital, the development of social relations (willingness to confide, confession, etc.) and finally I have no been able to deal only very briefly with the desire for transparency (six lines), for example in a democracy. I made the choice to remain clear, to vary my points of view, without developing them too much. What do you think?

  4. Hello I find that your reformulation of the question (“How has the secret become a new theater of the struggle for influence between a plurality of actors who seek to keep their secret by withdrawing that of others?”) transforms the primary meaning of the question. Your problem rather responds to a subject of the type: “Is the secret an instrument of power?” For the 2021 topic, I would have rephrased as follows: To what extent is it possible to re-sacralizes secrecy in a society of transparency? What do you think? Good day

    1. Hello Pierre, Thank you for your very relevant comment, so much so that we have rectified our proposal to make it more clear and fair. Your problem is also interesting, and we also see that it is identical to the proposal for correction to which you give the link in your other comment. We will reference these suggestions. Good day,

  5. Good morning! Here is the outline and the introduction that I used, at the time it seemed pretty good to me, I’m waiting to read it again with a clear head to be sure :). Regarding the test, I’m not going to lie by saying that the late posting of the exam questions did not put a little stress on me haha “All personal existence is based on secrecy, and perhaps this is in partly on this that the civilized man gets so worked up for the secrecy of the private life to be respected” affirms Anton Chekhov, a Russian writer of the XIXth century, in his short story entitled The Lady with the little dog published in 1899. Anton Chekhov insists here on the importance of secrecy in society, that is to say all the manifestations irreducible to Man and which must not be brought to the knowledge of others, particularly in the field of private life . Also, it seems that it is still possible to preserve and protect the secret today. Indeed, secrecy is present on several scales, whether on a personal scale through the unconscious and private life, as Chekhov points out, or on a more global scale with the notion of secrecy-defense, which qualifies information concerning State security and to which only a limited number of people have access. However, secrecy and its legitimacy are threatened by transparency, which becomes an injunction that is difficult to oppose. For example, this is required in the political field in the name of democracy so that citizens can exercise their rights and freedoms without any information asymmetry. Therefore, we find that the problem lies in determining to what extent is it possible to maintain secrecy in our current societies. In what situations is this legitimate? Under what conditions should transparency be preferred to secrecy or vice versa? To answer these questions, we will first study how secrecy is essential to the functioning of society, then we will look at the demand for transparency which is increasingly present in our current societies. I/ Secrecy essential to the functioning of society A/ State secrecy → reason of State ⇒ Machiavelli, the Prince → secret-defense B/ Secrecy synonymous with privacy: a fundamental right for the citizen → life privacy enshrined in numerous legal texts (UDHR, civil code, constitution) → a need for citizens to exercise their citizenship, e.g. freedom of opinion ⇒ voting II/ An ever-increasing demand for transparency A/ A demand for transparency in the political field in the name of democracy → the Constitution = rules of democratic transparency with the 5 tools → knowledge accessible to all ⇒ role of a transparency = media or citizens or institutions, fight against obscurantism since the French revolution. B/ A demand for transparency in the social and economic field → social ⇒ the revelation of the secret and therefore transparency strengthens social groups → economic ⇒ demand for transparency between the producer and the consumer more and more important ex: consumers want to know where their products come from, how they were transformed and their impact on the environment in cosmetics request transparency to know if the products are vegan or cruelty free for example

    1. Hello, this outline seemed to me indeed suitable I took almost exactly the same but with different examples (I focused my essay much more on the news I hope it will not lack legal knowledge.. .) 🙂

        1. THANKS! In fact the same ideas often come up but there was an infinite possibility of plan, examples and ideas I think!

    2. Hello Zélie, thank you very much for your comment. Your hook is really original and interesting.

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