The New International Encyclopædia/Representation

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REPRESENTATION (Lat. repræsentatio, from repræsentare, to represent, from re-, back again, anew + præsentare, to present, from præsens, present, pres. part, of præesse, to be at hand, to be before, from præ before + esse, to be). In political science, the agency through which the collective will of the people is exercised. In the city States of Greece and Italy, where pure democracies prevailed, all the citizens, in theory at least, attended the public assemblies. The comparatively small geographical area of the city State and the relatively small number of persons vested with the full rights of citizenship made it possible to govern without resort to the agency of representation. Besides, government was a simple matter then as compared with the government of a modern community, and hence the body of citizens meeting at intervals could without difficulty frame the few police regulations that were necessary and administer justice among the inhabitants. The agency of representation was first extensively employed by the Church in the ecumenical councils which it called from time to time, and this may have led to its more general employment for purposes of civil government. The idea of political representation, like many other political institutions, was a contribution of the Teutonic nations, by whom it was employed in a rude way in their popular assemblies. The first European legislature founded on the principle of representation was the Parliament of England. (See Parliament.) In 1302 Philip the Fair, King of France, summoned representatives of the three estates, nobility, clergy, and commons, to form the States-General (q.v.). In Aragon the Cortes (q.v.) acquired a very important share in the government, and grew to be powerful enough to impose its will upon the monarch. In other countries of Europe about the same time national representative bodies were summoned by royal authority. The mediæval idea of representation was representation of classes and interests rather than of numbers, which is the basis of the modern idea. Each order had its own representatives, who sat apart and carried on their work independently, one class thus being able to neutralize the action of the others. A distinction was made in England between rural and urban constituencies, each having its own representatives, and this is still perpetuated.

With regard to the principle of representation it may be said that the civilized nations have reached a consensus that the distribution of representatives, in one branch of the legislature at least, should be on the basis of the whole population, though some regard is frequently paid to permanent administrative or local divisions, partly for historical reasons and partly as a concession to local consciousness. Thus it is a common provision in national constitutions that each State or other division shall have at least one representative in the national legislature, although on the basis of population alone it would not be so entitled. (See section on Government, under the various countries.) In the upper chambers of lawmaking bodies throughout the world there is considerable diversity in the principle of representation. See Legislature.

As regards the relation of the representative to his constituency, a popular view is that the representative is the mouthpiece of his constituency and subject to their instructions. According to this view he has no independent judgment, and cannot follow the convictions which he may have reached from the most exhaustive study and reflection, if the will of his constituency be otherwise. Moreover, their own local interests are to be preferred to those of the country at large, and it is his first and foremost duty to champion those interests in preference to the national interests. A sounder view regards the representative as the interpreter of the common consciousness of right and reason. According to this view the representative is not bound by the will of his constituency, but by research and reason endeavors to discover what the general good requires. The question has been much discussed as to whether a system of representation based on mere numbers is an ideal one or even a just one. By many it is contended that an equitable system of representation would take into consideration various interests, economic, industrial, social, and religious as well as political. They insist that provision should be made for special representation of such classes as free-traders, single-tax adherents, labor organizations, civic federations, business leagues, chambers of commerce, the advocates of temperance and prohibition, socialists, etc. The tremendous tendency toward class differentiation and the growing popularity of independent movements in politics, it is said, make a reform of the present system of representation highly desirable so as to harmonize conflicting interests, to enable each class to show the people what its interests are, and to defend them against attack.

By the present system, the political party having a minority of voters in a given electoral district is generally unrepresented in the government, notwithstanding the fact that its numerical strength may lack but a few votes of equaling the party which secures the entire representation. As a result of this system, it frequently happens that the minority party in a State is inadequately represented in the State legislature or in Congress. To remedy these inequalities various methods have been proposed, and in some cases attempted. Of the more important of these the first to be mentioned is the so-called ‘limited vote,’ according to which each voter in an electoral area is allowed to vote for a certain number of the candidates, usually one less than the number to be elected, so that if three members are to be elected from the district the minority is reasonably sure of electing one member. This method may be employed only in elections in which three or more representatives are to be chosen from the district. The chief objection to this method is that it does not allow the minority party proportional representation, but only limited representation. Moreover, it allows representation only to a very large minority and makes no provision for third parties and independent movements. Another method is the so-called ‘cumulative vote,’ which allows the elector as many votes as there are representatives to be chosen from the district, and which permits him to distribute them among the different candidates as he pleases, or cumulate them on one or more candidates. The advantage of this method over the first mentioned is that it enables a small minority to elect at least one member by cumulating their votes. Since 1870 it has been employed in Illinois for the election of representatives in the Legislature. The chief objection to this method is that it frequently involves a waste of votes, since a popular candidate may receive many more votes than actually necessary to elect him. As a result of this it may happen that the minority party actually succeeds in electing two representatives out of three.

What is known as the Hare or Andræ system, so called because proposed by an Englishman named Hare, and introduced into Denmark by Andræ, provides for the election of representatives by general ticket, and allows each elector to vote for one candidate or for a limited number, but permits him to indicate his second and third choices, etc. The total number of votes cast is divided by the number of representatives to be chosen, and the quotient is taken as the amount necessary to elect any candidate. In counting the ballots only the first choices are counted, and as soon as a candidate has received a number of votes equal to the electoral quotient he is declared elected, and no more votes are counted for him. The remaining ballots which designate him as first choice are then counted for the candidate having second choice, and so on down the list until the necessary number of persons have been declared elected. Under this system the waste of votes is insignificant, but its complexity is an objection, and the element of chance enters into the scheme. Finally there is the ‘free list’ system, according to which a certain number of voters may nominate a number of candidates not exceeding the number of places to be filled. Each voter casts as many votes as there are representatives to be chosen, distributing them at will, but not cumulating them on any one candidate. The number of votes necessary to elect is determined by dividing the total vote cast by the number of places to be filled. The total vote cast by each party is then divided by the electoral quotient and the result is the number of representatives to which each party is entitled. Any deficiency is supplied from those parties having the largest fractional quotas. This plan possesses the advantage of economy and secures proportional representation.