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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies
Edited by Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond and Marc F Plattner

(London: Lynne Rienner, 1999)
395pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 47.95; ISBN 1-55587-773-7. Pb.: 19.95; ISBN 1-55587-774-4. Distributed by Eurospan



The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies, which grew out of the Third Vienna Dialogue on Democracy in 1997, is a rather dense, scholarly book aimed at those working in the field of accountability, rather than the curious lay person. The book is divided into six parts: Part 1 deals with the conceptual and normative issues of accountability while Parts 2 through 5 apply accountability to specific areas of state and non-state actors. Part 6 is a very brief conclusion.

Part 1 is a little difficult to follow: it deals with the philosophy of accountability and gives the reader the feeling of being in the middle of a circle of academics who know each other's work very well but who do not include you in the conversation. I longed to stop the authors and say 'talk to me! What does accountability mean to someone outside of your circle?'

What follows from Part 2 is an attempt to answer that plea. Various elements of civil society (electoral administration, judicial systems, corruption control and central banks) in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Far East are examined for their successes and failures in applying the principles of accountability which the book defines as 'the continuing concern for checks and oversight, for surveillance and institutional constraints on the exercise of power' (p. 13).

The book is as notable for its omissions as its inclusions: I found it a bit odd that there was nothing about the role of the legislative branch of government and its role in accountability. Nor could I find anything about the role of the police or armed forces. Aren't these aspects of civil society also accountable as per the definition above? No state can divorce control of the judiciary and electoral processes from control of the military. And what about the role of the media in reporting adherence to or violation of accountability? I would have liked to have seen a section on how inter-state accountability works. Lastly, there is no mention of the relationship between state accountability and private enterprise.

That said, it is difficult to be critical of so worthy and comprehensive a book. The bibliography is extensive and cites sources in English, French, Spanish, Russian and German. I would recommend this book as an excellent resource for someone who is interested in learning more about the issues and principles of accountability.


Sidonie Resseguier de Miremont



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