The Quality of Democracy: The Ambiguous Virtues of Accountability

Issue Date October 2004
Volume 15
Issue 4
Page Numbers 47-60
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In the last ten years there has been a veritable explosion of scholarly concern with the notion of political accountability. Predictably, once a concept has been identified and accorded sufficient theoretical or practical priority, analysts focus more critical attention upon its meaning(s) and begin to try to measure it empirically. In this paper, I first try to elaborate the intrinsically ambiguous, not to say contradictory, elements that are contained within the concept of accountability. Then, I make a few suggestions about measuring it in the broader context of assessing the quality of democracy. Obviously, this entails the (disputable) hypothesis that the more politically accountable that rulers are to citizens, the higher will be the quality (or, better, the qualities) of democracy. It also follows that the better that representatives/politicians are at their ambiguous role in intermediating between citizens and rulers, the higher will be the qualities of democracy.

About the Author

Philippe C. Schmitter, professor emeritus in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, previously taught at the University of Chicago and Stanford University. He is the coeditor (with Guillermo O’Donnell and Laurence Whitehead) of the seminal four-volume series Transitions from Authoritarian Rule.

View all work by Philippe C. Schmitter