Interview with Dr. Riccardo Pelizzo on his book “The Culture of Accountability. A Democratic Virtue”25.11.2022
We are happy to announce that Riccardo Pelizzo, NU GSPP Associate Professor & Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Gianfranco Pasquino, Italian political scientist and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Bologna recently co-published the book titled “The Culture of Accountability. A Democratic Virtue.”
We asked a couple of questions from Dr. Pelizzo about the book and the process of writing. Please enjoy the interview.
What inspired you to write this book?
Pasquino and I believe that (political) accountability is important and we wanted to understand why in some countries (Denmark, New Zealand) there is more (political) accountability than in others (Eritrea, Uzbekistan). In doing so we tried to understand the many complex ways in which institutional, political, historical and cultural factors promote or prevent the accountability of the political system.
I see that you wrote many books in political science. What was different in writing a book this time?
There are some differences between this book and my previous ones. The first and most obvious one is that this book is more interesting (at least for me) as it allowed me to go beyond my political science training. I tried to track how the notion of accountability emerged in the Mediterranean civilizations, how this notion changed over time, and in order to do so, however briefly, I had to rely on a wide variety of sources including philosophical ones. Because while it is true, to some extent, as Schedler who is an Austrian political scientist best known for his work on electoral authoritarianism has claimed, that political scientists have only recently discovered accountability, the notion of accountability has been around for thousands of years – during which it has been linked, obviously, to administrative practices, to governance, but also to various philosophical debates or issues from free will to theodicy.
But the real difference is that writing this book has been a very enjoyable process.
Could you describe the writing process of your book?
2018 was the year that led to the start of this project. I was reading and taking notes but I wasn’t sure what would be the best way forward. One thing, that I was sure about, was that I didn’t want to repeat something that I had already done. As the Covid-19 pandemic struck I started writing what eventually became Chapter 5. I wrote it thinking that I had found something interesting to say and, once the chapter was finalized, I sent it to Pasquino and colleagues here in GSPP. I also sent it to some friends in the US who teach in various universities. I asked them if I write something like this, will you, as political philosophers, have much to object. The feedback that I received was very positive. Then I thought I might have not made a huge mistake and this was worth doing it. This is how I built that part.
Could you explain accountability in plain language?
The book is on political accountability. This means that governments, elected officials, political parties need to disclose what they do in office and that the voters or other institutions may reward them or punish them for what they did in office. Voters reward a party, by voting for it, while they punish it by voting for someone else. In a parliamentary system parliaments can punish a government by issuing motions of censure, by voting against the government on a vote of confidence, or by issuing a motion of no confidence -ultimately forcing a government to step down.
As someone from Italy, please tell us about political accountability in Italy.
In Italy accountability is relatively good because we have strong institutions so they keep the executive accountable. For instance, we have a parliamentary form of government which means that if the parliament is not happy with what the government is doing, it can always vote the government out of the office.
If you look at the Italian political history from 1994 onward the coalition that won election was never able to win the following election. The Italian voters always thought that they wanted someone else to run the country. We have a relatively good level of accountability at the government level. If we look at the accountability at the individual level, at the individual members of the parliament, the situation becomes more complicated. One of the problems in this respect is that candidates did not always run in the same district in two consecutive election and this has undermined the ability of the voters to keep the elected officials accountable.
How Catholicism affected accountability in Italy?
In the book, we say that superficially we believe that Christian or Catholic countries have a higher level of accountability than countries in which the majority of the population holds different religious beliefs. The key point that we make in Chapters 5-7 is that when we look at other cultural factors, the importance of religion disappears completely. We don’t say that religion is a cultural aspect that is responsible for accountability, we make exactly the opposite claim.
Could you please elaborate on philosophical sources you relied upon when writing your book?
One question that has historically been of interest to theologians and philosophers is why there is evil in the world. This question fascinated philosophers from Plotinus (who is the best known Neo-Platonic philosopher) to Leibniz who was a German philosopher. If we assume that the god is a perfect being, eternal, almighty, all-knowing and good, why would such a good creator create a world where there is evil? Leibniz’s answer, eventually mocked by Voltaire in Candide (1758) was that God is perfect but whatever God creates cannot be as perfect as God himself. Many centuries before, Augustine who was a North African bishop and a great Neoplatonic philosopher was providing a different answer: the only reason why there has to be imperfection in the world is to give human beings the freedom to choose between good and evil. Individuals are then rewarded or punished for their deeds – which means that it is a religion of accountability.
From what I understood, the accountability has existed for a long time in communities or groups of people who tried to govern themselves. Is this what you are trying to say in your book?
Yes, absolutely. Actually, we didn’t include in the book, but I am fully convinced that accountability also exists in non-democratic political systems. The way in which this kind of accountability is ensured is different from what it is in democracy.
If you are interested in the book, please read more about it here.
Furthermore, you can access Chapter 1 of this book in PDF format as Open Access from the individual product page at www.routledge.com.