Accountability and Democracy: The Pitfalls and Promise of Popular Control

Accountability and Democracy: The Pitfalls and Promise of Popular Control

Accountability and Democracy: The Pitfalls and Promise of Popular Control

Accountability and Democracy: The Pitfalls and Promise of Popular Control


Few political concepts are as emblematic of our era as democratic accountability. In a time of political and economic turmoil, in which global forces have destabilized conventional relations of political authority, democratic accountability has come to symbolize both what is absent and what is desired in our polity. Situated at the intersection of democratic theory and international studies,Accountability and Democracyprovides an in-depth critical analysis of accountability. Through an engagement with several key democratic traditions, both ancient and modern, the book paints a rich picture of democratic accountability as a multi-dimensional concept harboring competing imperatives and diverse instantiations.

Contrary to dominant views that emphasize discipline and control, Craig Borowiak offers an original and refreshing view of democratic accountability as a source of mutuality, participation, and political transformation. He both creatively engages conventional electoral models of accountability and moves beyond them by situating democratic accountability within more deliberative, participatory and agonistic contexts. Provocatively, the book also challenges deep-seated understandings of democratic accountability as an expression of popular sovereignty. Borowiak instead argues that accountable governance is incompatible with all claims to ultimate authority, regardless of whether they refer to the demos, the state, or cosmopolitan public law. Rather than conceiving of democratic accountability as a way to legitimize a secure and sovereign political order, the book contends that destabilization and democratic insurgence are indispensable and often neglected facets of democratic accountability practices. For contemporary scholars, practitioners and activists grappling with the challenge of building democratic legitimacy into world politics, the book urges greater reflexivity and nuance in how democratic accountability is evoked and implemented. It offers insights into the myriad ways democratic accountability has been thwarted in the past, while also cultivating a sense of expanded possibility for how it might be conceived for the present.


Gover nance without accountability is tyranny. Few principles are as central to democracy as this. It is an idea that runs throughout the history of democratic thought as a way to differentiate democracy from rival regime forms: in democracy, governors are supposed to be accountable to the governed.

In many respects, democratic accountability has come to symbolize both the democratic aspirations and the democratic dysfunctions of our times. On one hand, democratic accountability has never been so widely accepted as a standard of political legitimacy. the expectation that governments will be answerable to citizens is a virtual sine qua non of international recognition. the language of democratic accountability seduces with its intonations of participation and democratic self-determination. It charms with its promise of justice and retribution. It sets one dreaming of an end to abusive power and of incentive structures that channel public energies toward the public good. On the other hand, democratic un accountability has become an important measure of democratic dysfunction. Thus, we hear of democratic deficits when bureaucracies become too removed from channels of political answerability, when international institutions become too distant from citizens and stakeholders, or when legacies of authoritarianism and corruption distort electoral accountability.

Despite its normative importance in contemporary politics, democratic accountability has not been well developed conceptually. Mainstream news media may be filled with sound bites of political adversaries smearing one another with accusations of unaccountability, but the conditions for realizing democratic accountability are seldom specified beyond partisan exhortations to vote one way or another. in academic scholarship, references to democratic accountability recur throughout the canon of democratic theory, yet the concept has rarely been the subject matter of sustained theorizing. When discussed, it has more often than not been relegated to a supporting role behind other key terms such as representation, inclusion, and participation. This has begun to change. Studies of democratic accountability are now emerging in . . .

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