Constituting the Polis

Craig T. Borowiak

in Accountability and Democracy

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199778256
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919086 | DOI:
Constituting the Polis

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This chapter turns to the participatory democracy of ancient Athens to summon alternative possibilities for realizing democratic accountability in contemporary life. For the Athenians, democratic accountability was valuable not only for negative, protective reasons relating to the corruptibility of citizens and the tendency of officials to subvert the public good. It also played a vital role in generating political community and, thereby, in the constitution of the public good. Virtually every male citizen served in public office at some time. And everyone who served in public office faced public accountability proceedings before, during, and after their term in office. Gaps existed between rulers and the ruled such that public power could be abused, but those gaps were mobilized to spread both accountability and power among citizens. Entering into public view and being held publicly accountable were part of the process through which citizens were gathered together and related to one another as political equals in what Hannah Arendt called a “common world.” Such an understanding of mutual accountability as constitutive of community offers an instructive contrast to shallower treatments of accountability within recent debates.

Keywords: participatory democracy; ancient Athens; mutual accountability; community; common world; public

Chapter.  8940 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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