Democratization: Theory and Experience

By Laurence Whitehead | Go to book overview
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4 On Accountability and Institutional Design

The idea of just designing a constitution and then putting it into practice . . . treats the whole affair as an engineering problem . . . (and so) is radically shallow.

(Hegel)

This chapter considers the theory and practices of 'accountability' that are associated with liberal constitutionalism, democracy, and especially with contemporary democratizations. This focus of interest directs attention to 'horizontal' and 'downward' forms of accountability, as opposed to accountability upwards (towards superiors). Constitution writing, and institutional design for new democracies, is a vast and growing field of enquiry that encompasses many key areas of political science and comparative politics. A single chapter cannot attempt to do justice to such rich scholarship and such diverse experience. Instead it concentrates on some core theoretical issues arising from the approach to democracy, democratization, and citizenship outlined in previous chapters. Once again it adopts a broad temporal and spatial perspective, with the result that a plurality of alternative approaches and possibilities are highlighted, and processes of accountability-building are presented as open-ended. This is somewhat in contrast to the more typical assumption that, if correctly written, a 'foundational' constitution should essentially settle most of the big questions in this area. This chapter argues that in fact it is possible to have both 'too much' accountability and also the 'wrong sort'. Given that the accountability experiences of new democracies are extremely diverse, and often quite unstable, criteria are required to select empirical evidence bearing on the overall argument. Bicameralism and impeachment have been selected for particular attention, both because of their theoretical significance and because they are relatively tractable, but understudied in comparative politics. Neither

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