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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  D


But it may be asked,"What of the vast number of Americans who never formed part of the insurgent movements? What ideas of representation did they hold?" Some held to ideas which can be called "enlightened individualism" and which will be discussed in the next chapter. Other were employing or developing pluralistic ideas of representation which are reserved for discussion in the succeeding chapter. But it is true that another large group lived among the activated devices of direct representation, accepted those practices, and believed that in them could be found a high degree of representation as compared with the alternative systems.

The members if this large group differed from the pure type of the direct democrat in that they were not constantly striving to push the direct representative ideas to its ultimate conclusion They were content with the practices already established by a previous generation of direct democrats and sought to justify the extent of representation that could be evolved, given their contemporary system.

They did not deny that the majority had strong claims on the whole body politic. Nor did they deny, on the other hand, that specific interest and minorities at times had claims superseding even the claims of the majority. Rather, they believed that under the American system of representation both might be reconciled.

The majority could be disposed of through analysis of politics. This showed that, in most political issues, the majority was a myth. Ignorance, lack of concern, lack of participation, lack of communication among the members of the majority meant that in most legislative matters the majority had no will that was ascertainable. It could not be expressed in law until major changes had been made.

In place of the will of the majority was substituted a more flexible idea, that of compromise among opposing or potentially opposing groups arranged in one or several of the many ways of accomplishing political "deals." The end result of the process of bargaining would be a condition not wholly approached by any grouping but one reasonably satisfactory to the majority.

The principle of political compromise was useful in inhibiting class struggle. The representation of classes may be accomplished, but that representation is, and ought to be, incomplete. To destroy one class in order to raise up another class is unjust and may even be an impossible burden for any system of representation. Of what utility is it, it could be asked, to possess an idea of representation, if what is required is the complete subjection of a minor interest to a major one? The nature of politics is the reconciliation of opposing forces on a basis acceptable to all, not on a monopolistic basis pleasing to the larger interest. This is accomplished under the majority representation system by watering-down extreme demands and playing one interest off against another. The majority principle succeeds primarily because there is no majority. No legislation can exist by itself; it is all pat of a continuous compromising process which bodes ill for the exclusive representation of any single part and well for the orderliness of society as a whole.

But even if society were not regarded as crystallizing into classes and it were not desirable to represent these classes in the government, the critics of direct representation claimed that there were still many other unsolidified groupings, interests. and factions which perverted the unitary theory of representation. Why not bring them into the open rather than leave them as they were, hidden, subversive and powerfully represented out of proportion to their importance?

The answer here lay partially in Madison's defense of the constitutional system. Madison conceived of society as a group of interests in a state of flux, but designed a system of representation that would admit interests not as groups but only as temporarily effective influences. There is no reason to go beyond Madison in this respect; the introduction of universal suffrage and the increasing effects of the Industrial Revolution further diversified society, but that meant simply that more than any single group might put away a disproportionate share of the fodder.

The lobby, it is true, had regrettable aspects, but incorporating the lobbies into a form of representation would not solve the problem of representing the multitude of interests. There were too many interests to be represented, Their manner of selection would be impossible to determine, their permanent representation would be undesirable in a period of changing economy, and their joint stubbornness would not assist in the continual spirit of compromise needed for legislating. If left to themselves - subject to regulation by registration, accounting, etc. - they would be under the supervision of the public eye and would be so competitive amongst themselves that they would defeat whatever component in each others purpose might not be consonant with the public interest.

While America has divergent national and religious groups scattered throughout the country and in some cases concentrated in certain sections of the large cities, she has not had, with the exception of the Negro, great difficulty in reconciling the groups to working with each other in politics. Unlike some European countries, political groupings have not formed around cultural differences to the exclusion of social and economic differences. A defense of the established devices of representation would emphasize that under the majority, geographical, and issueless party system prevailing, cultural exclusiveness cannot succeed in politics. To create the majority, all groups of the population are needed, and their favor is courted. Political discussion is therefore rarely pitched on the level of cultural bias. Rather all groups are equally respected in public discourse. In those situations where a particular nationality or religion is concentrated, flattery of the dominant groups is not achieved at the expense of the minor group.

On the other hand, the resulting character of representation is not so desiccated as to be meaningless. In making up the slate of candidates, the political parties generally select representation of the various cultural groups to round out a complete presentation to the electorate. The sensitivities of cultural groupings are thus respected in the final representation, but are controlled by the political party to restrain excesses of enthusiasm by the representatives of any particular group.

The major parties are more careful in respecting and positioning minor grouping than the insurgent and radical parties, who without hope of achieving a majority, but with the expectation of gathering strength for an ideal, frequently nominate candidates whose characteristics - personal, religious, national, or racial - are not "typical" of the accepted standards of "eligibility." Established direct representation tends to maximize the correspondence of characteristics between representation and represented, but a the same time does allow some "prepositional representation" of the different groups composing the electorate.

Sections caused concern to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, but sectionalism was not worked into the construction of constituencies. Madison and Hamilton hoped that peaceful conciliation and arbitration between the landed and commercial interests might be accomplished by the middle group of professional people. Still although representation of state sovereignties (the controversy of the large state versus the small state) complicated the making of the Constitution, genuine sectionalism, based on economic and social difference, endangered its ratification. In reviewing the events that led to the Civil War and its disastrous consequences for the South, it seems doubtful whether constituencies arranged by section could have done as much to avert the catastrophe as the relatively neutral system of representation then existing. As it was, even under this relatively neutral system in the Senate and House, the fundamental conflict was fully expounded and finally turned out of the chambers to be resolved by battle. The coincidence between state representation in the federal government and sectional difference was, in fact, close enough to divide the government. The forces of economic and social development, enlarging the difference between the northern and southern constituencies, changed the meaning of representation in the south from a right of participating to a right of nullification. Thus the path of representation tends always to lead to the idea of sovereignty and self-determination. Format representation by major sections tends to smooth the path, our defenders of the established system would argue.

The partial meaning of the Senate is still sectional. The West, as compared to the Northeast, is over-represented. Yet most of the geometrically-cut-out territories had hardly a history of sovereignty before admission to the Union. They were and are simply favored districts, distorting the theory of the representation of equal proportions of population. After the sectional controversy before the Civil war, when the issue of slavery in the territories played a large part in the admission of new states to the union, the violence of debate over new states diminished. Congress balked for some time at admitting New Mexico. whose cultural and racial composition was much different from that of the rest of the land, and Utah, where a little-understood religion predominated. In the case of the remaining new states, favorable action was opposed by only mild objection from the eastern states to the disproportionate representation, Apart from the point that East-West needs were complementary to a large extent, another reason explained the ease with which the union was expanded. The politically adept class in the territories was likely to be on familiar terms with the mining and railroading interests, who were also entrenched in the politics of the East. Not only was there a correspondence of elites in the new and old regions, but such groups possessed a strong lobbying representation to care for their interests apart from their traditional representation by elected representatives.

Although the earliest struggles over appointment in America were often between developed rural against undeveloped rural, the struggles in the last century have been rural against urban. When more than a few people have the right to elect a representative, apportionment is necessary, unless the representative be chosen from the whole society, as in the case of the American President.

Apportionment, which comes on response to the demand to treat with local interests as well as with the interests of the whole society, is a numerical treatment of the society which has come to be based on the theory of equality of participation, interest, and aptitude. Apportionment inclines towards neutrality when its bases are equality of population for each district and purely geometric designations of district boundaries.[42] Several state constitutions, by providing for representation of political units - townships, towns, or counties - have entrenched the rural populations in the legislatures to the disadvantages of the urban sections. In effect this is gerrymandering; in principle it is a sort of federalism, as its origin in Rhode island and Connecticut evidences.

Problems of apportionment also arise as the population increases or declines in particular constituencies. Vested party and personal interests often cause neglect in restoring the pure mathematical quality of constituencies, but in America the rural areas of the state have been the principle opponents of the mathematical, periodic apportionment of districts. Although almost all state constitutions, true to the doctrines of their rationalistic creators, require apportionment every ten years or less, the dates of the last apportionments in over a third of the states range from one to two generations back.[43] Meanwhile, the increasing population of the cities is not represented by personnel in the state legislatures proportional to its numbers. New York City, with 59.3 per cent of the population of the state, controls 44.6 per cent of the membership of the house and 47 per cent of the membership of the Senate

This lack of consistency is felt in the absence of "proper " urban majorities on the floor of the legislatures. Urban deficiency is apparent also in the management of the state parties. For voting rights are proportioned to legislative seat-holdings and therefore rural party leaders have disproportionate control over the party conduct and platform. Such conditions have often been justified by rural spokesmen, and remembering Jefferson's agrarianism and its tremendous influence on American popular thought, it is expecting too much to anticipate a withdrawal of rural principles for the sake of an abstract theory of districting. But here again is a condition of representation reflecting differentiation of interest provided for in fact if not in theory. The United States Senate, which was not created to represent the country areas, has become a stronghold of rural representation.

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