The Pathos of Politics – Accountability


Defects drive evolution, whether biological, technological, or political. While the corruptibility of the human beast has enthralled political philosophers, the descent of polity has always pivoted on accountability.

Political systems are ultimately built upon a gyre of trust. A leader is responsible for the well-being of constituents to a socially acceptable degree. Citizens trust their political leadership to look after their needs during exigencies.

Accountability has always been the benchmark by which political systems are calibrated. However divine the right a ruler may claim, he sits upon a shaky throne if the needs of his subjects suffer owing to royal negligence.

Ultimately, leadership is a code word for resource procurement. Leaders are supposed to be providers, at least in the sense of affording provision. History has repeatedly shown that the surest formula for revolt is a mounting local body count, whether by war or famine.

Modern political systems are based upon accountability. The concept of checks and balances is a thought experiment in this direction.

The bedrock of democracy is liability. Granting people the power to cast political leaders aside on a periodic whim is an attempt at accountability.

Despotism and democracy sit at the opposite ends of the theoretical spectrum with regard to accountability. In either, accountability invariably weighs in, albeit much differently.

A despot is immediately answerable to no one. Yet, over time, autocracy is practically circumscribed by its obligation to those who could readily depose a despot. Effective political power in a dictatorship is limited to an elite group. Overturning a tyrant is an exercise by those with ineffective political power, at least until the next regime settles in, or the extant one recovers from the civil war (historically, few do).

In a democracy, accountability is diffused to everyone who has suffrage. The practical effect has been emasculation, in that being answerable morphed into a popularity contest, where decision makers – voters – are readily deceived: a lamentable situation apparent in democracies today.

The consequence of democracy has been to concentrate power into the hands of those who can manipulate public opinion. This dilution of accountability through concentration of economic power has corroded the vitality, viability, and legitimacy of every democracy.

A benevolent sovereign beats mob rule. The difficulty is getting the right tyrant.