Comenius University in Bratislava
Institute of European Studies and International Relations
Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences
The Political Representation: Meanings and Implications
Political Representation: Past, Present, and Future
Khaliun Magsarjav European Studies II
Today, in countries which choose representative democracy as a form of state, ordinary citizens have the right to one man-one vote and thus they, in regular elections, vote for a political candidate or a political party which they want to be their own representative. This form of state is called ‘representative democracy’ or ‘modern constitutional representative government’ or political representation in general. Nowadays, the legitimacy and authority of the representative government is regarded as resulting from its being an expression of the will of the people. However, this expression as the source of the legitimate authorization for public acts is indirect: citizens transfer it to their representatives as intermediaries. The representatives as intermediaries are those who make the people’s will present on its behalf. Thus, political representation has its theoretical scheme two political actors: the citizens or the people and the representative. This scheme of political representation which looks simple actually has many political implications for political actors and processes. My final paper is concerned with exploring what the modern terminology of political representation means and what implications it involves.
As Hanna F. Pitkin, Allen P. Griffiths show, the conceptual analysis of the idea of representation, or the distinction between the several senses of representation, is very helpful for avoiding equivocations in the word ‘representation’. Griffiths posits four senses of representation. The first is descriptive representation, in which one person represents another by being sufficiently like him or her. The second is symbolic representation, in which persons can represent or embody traditions and spirits of things without having any particular personal qualities: so the flag represents the state, even though the flag itself does not connote the character of the state. Third, ascriptive representation, like the relation between the member of parliament and his or her constituents, means to represent in the sense that what the representative does or decides commits those he or she represents. Fourth, members of parliament may always concern themselves with the interests of their own electors against any other interests. This is representation of interests (Griffiths, pp. 188-190).
The distinctions between these four senses of representation provide us with a starting point for understanding what representation means. There is a certain idea common to the various senses of the term representation: a reflection of something in the place of that thing. The common idea of representation applies within the political sphere in the sense that the basic scheme of political representation is the notion of one person standing in place of another for the performance of public acts. The eighteenth and the nineteenth century European thinkers, Edmund Burke and Jeremy Bentham, contributed to the establishment of the theorization of political representation as a dominant political practice. They, albeit with different emphases and arguments, were interested in how it is appropriate or possible for the people to pursue their interests in a society, and how representative government must work to be a government for the well-being of all people. To address these issues, they investigated who was to be the representative, who was to be the represented and how their relationship was to be established and maintained.
I will start with Burke’s view of politics or government, a starting point from which...
Bibliography: Bentham, J. ‘Constitutional Code’ in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. F. Rosen and J. H. Burns (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983)
Burke, E. Writings and Speeches, ed. L. G. Mitchell, Vol. 8 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997)
Burke, E. The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, ed. W. King and F. Laurence (London: Rivington, 1826-7)
Griffiths, A. P. (1960) “How Can One Person Represent Another?” Aristotelian Society, Supplementary
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