Government accountability is an idea that draws bipartisan support: calls for more transparency and oversight of politicians and bureaucracies go over well with voters. But what about oversight of the people who put them in office? Democracies give power to the people — does anyone hold the people responsible for this power?
Not really, and that has long been a problem. Since its beginning in ancient Greece, democracy has faced a crisis of legitimacy when the people have not been held accountable for their exercise of sovereignty, allowing elites to dismiss democracy as mob rule. Today, defending our democracy begins with taking responsibility for votes cast at the ballot box each year.
Those discontented with democracy in Classical Athens certainly thought that the people, demos in Greek, did not often take responsibility for their exercise of power, or kratos (the two words from which we get demokratia — “people power”). As a consequence, many of the most famous and influential ancient sources on Greek politics can be read as decidedly anti-democratic.