New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This paper defends a new and aggressive version of the agency model of accountability. It argues that officials and representatives in a democracy have an obligation to make available to citizens full information about what they have been doing. It is not permissible for them to sit back and see if the citizens can find out for themselves what they have been doing, any more than such a posture would be admissible in a commercial agent such as a realtor or an accountant. The paper also does several other things: (1) it develops a contrast between agent-accountability and forensic-accountability; (2) it distinguishes between political uses of "agency" and political uses of "trust" in political theory; (3) it develops a layered account of the principals in the democratic relation of agent-accountability, rejecting the reidentification of "the people"; (4) it develops an account of the relation between accountability and elections, emphasizing that elections play an important role in the fair settlement among principals as to how they should deal with their agents; (5) it shows that Burkeian representation is not incompatible with agent-accountability; and (6) it uses the notion of agent-accountability to illuminate the distinction between non-democratic and democratic republics.

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accountability, agency, Burke, democracy, elections, representation, republic, transparency, trust