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The Quality of Democracy: The Ambiguous Virtues of Accountability
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When Terry Karl and I were searching for the most generic definition of “modern representative political democracy,” we hit upon the concept of accountability. We wanted a definition that was not dependent upon a specific institution or set of institutions, that was not uniquely liberal or excessively defensive in its presumptions, that was neither exclusively procedural nor substantive in its content, and that could travel well across world cultural regions. None of those in widespread use in the burgeoning literature on democratization fit our, admittedly demanding, bill of particulars, especially not the so-called Schumpeterian definition or the many versions derived from it. All of these focused too single-mindedly on the regular conduct of elections that (allegedly) offered citizens a choice between alternative set of rulers (with no attention to the relations of citizens and rulers leading up to the holding of such presumably “free and fair” elections or to those prevailing after such episodic events). Indeed, many of the more theoretically inclined scholars who relied on such a definition seemed embarrassed in doing so and excused themselves by arguing that, even though elections are not the only manifestation of democracy, they were easy to measure (even to dichotomize!) and/or that alternative, so-called substantive definitions of “it” were subject to partisan manipulation. Terry and I were all too aware that some accountability; indeed, it gives them greater legitimacy when they have to act against immediate popular opinion.

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