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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America



A century and more have passed since the Age of Jackson. The principles of direct democracy have meanwhile undergone drastic transformations. The Civil War destroyed not only the southern Confederacy but also any contribution the south might make to a spirit of national unity for a time to come. In the same years American industry and transportation began further to segmentalize the national interest into special economic interests. Greater and more diverse immigration compounded the cultural differentiation of the American people. The forcible reduction of the southern cast system presented the nation with a large group of Negroes who could not be ignored but must be represented in some fashion.

The United State after the Civil War had so much changed in its economic, communicative, ethnic, and cultural composition that a readjustment in ideas of representation was inherently necessary and practically inevitable. The usual disparity between men's wishes and uncontrolled events brought a slow change in ideas, yet a number of rapid practical adjustments. In representation, as in other areas of social action, the past ruled the idea while the person ruled the practice.

The material of representation since the Civil War breaks into three broad group which form the basis of the three chapters that follow. First of all, the direct-representation forces which so distinguished the antebellum age, rushing full of vigor into post-bellum world, encountered head-on the effect of the new civilization. How they tried to overrun their obstacles, avoid them and channel around them, forms the substance of this chapter. Secondly, a minority developed tendencies that we may call "enlightened individualism." These men were not partial to the majority, nor were they aristo-democratic, nor determined economically, religiously, or socially. Rather they fixed on the idea of creating the good society through the employment of individual, positive reason. Sometimes an element of philosophical individualistic idealism, as of the Transcendental school, enter into and influence their considerations of the problem of representation. Finally, individualism lost its grip on a part of American thought which premised new ideas of representation on what were apparently inevitable social trends towards pluralism, interest power-cluster, and a corporation-dominated society.

The advocate of direct representation still tends to denigrate and reduce the government in order to respect the majority principle, and to" present" himself before society. The enlightened individualist is trying to master society by application of the principle of science and by isolated individual virtue. To him "liberty and justice for all" individuals means for each and every one, not merely for some major number. The constitutional pluralist seeks to rearrange the representative organization of society to allow for the fixed representation of interests according to the Madisonian "fact of life," and to allow for the promotion of specific social value apart from the individual person who may separately posses such values.

Of the three forces, that most indigenous to American life and buried most deeply in the American spirit was the ideas of direct representation. If any conception of the problem could have succeeded during the past century, this idea would have been the triumphal one. Instead, ideas of direct representation had not a moment of peace during the years to follow.[1] They struggled in certain directions but there is much evidence to show that those directions hardly coincided with the directions of the many social forces beyond their control. Sometimes the direct democrats hewed to the line of the antebellum generation: they tried to introduce their ideas of representation into all political institution and into the political parties as well. At other times, they resorted in their extremity to democratic atavism: a return to personal mass government would purify the political soul of the nation; referendum and recall would bring back the ancient community. The twentieth century public-opinion poll gave them new hope. Sometimes in despair of reform, they abandoned the state and raised the appeal for anarchism or anarchic syndicalism, where representation of the people came by nature rather than through devices.

But many others, too, looked at the unprepossessing world outside, examined their own standard of living, and came to the conclusion that there must be a hidden process of direct democracy which was working by automatic rules. This, with the reason of natural things behind it, would produce the best government yet witnessed by mortal eyes. It has been left to these others to explain how the representation which was brought about historically under the psychology of direct democracy could provide more and better representation for a greater number of people than representation springing from divergent way of looking at society. This chapter is devoted to describing these various aspects of the direct representation idea.

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