Table of Contents 

PC.GIF     PC.GIF    

Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  E


The actual pattern of representation emerging from American history has not lacked defenders. Adam Smith and James Madison would undoubtedly view its flexibility with indulgence. Practical politicians are used to it and expound its virtues, real and assumed. But the most sophisticated presentation of the case for representation by process of the free political market is to be found in the scattered writings of T.V. Smith.[44] In a short article on "Custom, Gossip, Legislation," the main points are present.

The legislator knows whereof he speaks, when he says that legislation based upon scientific knowledge is mostly myth. "But why not reform?" the scientist queries. "Why not build upon our knowledge instead of upon custom and gossip?" The Legislator replies: "What knowledge?"

For the knowledge on which legislation is based is often of a most relative sort. Also, it contains elements which are intrinsic, not to the object studied, but to many other political considerations.

The predicament of the legislator is that every vote is a dozen votes upon as many issues wrapped up together, tied in a verbal package, and given a single number of this bill or that. To decide what issue of the many hidden in each bill one wants to vote upon is delicate but to make certain that the vote will be actually on that rather than upon another issue is indelicate presumption.

Compromise permeates politics.

Legislatures are the readiest exemplars of the process of compromise. This is a humble but honorable view of the democratic process. Nothing is to be gained by not being realistic.. Legislation is, as William James suggested of democracy as such, a business in which you do something, then wait to see who hollers, and then relieve the hollering as best you can to see who else hollers.

The election process is symbolic and psychological in meaning, rather than a device for the purpose of instructing delegates. In The Legislative Way of Life, Smith writes: "Such an education in tolerance and generosity enables the politician at his best to fulfill in the legislature the duty which democracy imposes."[45] It prepares him to represent not a special interest, but a manageable combination. "The moral function of the legislator is to preserve the peace by constructing a justice against the joint recalcitrance of equally good citizens," he declares in another place.[46] Thus the whole process of representation becomes an acting out of a play in which the actors are independent within the limits of the stage, the setting, and the changing tastes of the audience.[47] Their role is meaningful but it has no direct connection with the ticket the audience fills for admission.[48]

In the Promise of American Politics, [49] Professor (and Senator) Smith contrasts his theory of democratic representation with those of the Fascists and Communists. The Fascists and other philosophical idealists claim that a "real will" must be represented over and above the idea which each man has of his own good.[50] The Communists, though allowing plural values on a cultural level, insist on unity in economics and basic political matters. Smith feels that the cultural differences which the Russian system of representation allows, and certain aspects of functional or vocational representation which many democratic theorists have urged and which the Soviet system has encouraged, could be applied in democratic systems with good results.

However, democratic governments have rested so long on systems of territorial or geographic representation that they perhaps would not long survive a complete change in their anatomy. The territorial system, furthermore, fosters the spirit of the whole as against its parts, and at the same time it provides a measure of interest (including economic) representation."The democratic way is the path of compromise achieved through intelligence," and territorial representation best promotes such compromise.[51] Proportional representation would tend to unite advantages of both functional and geographic systems, Smith believes, though again it should not obliterate the old ways. It "would automatically adjust the conflict between functionalism and regionalism by permitting effectively to operate at election whatever resolution this conflict had reached in the mind of each voter."[52] One man should count for one and no more, according to professor Smith, and each man best knows what is best for him. Accordingly, proportional representation, which, as we shall see in the next chapter, generally implied a rational good for society, is for Smith primarily a means of compromising relative values.

T.V. Smith cannot be said to give a completely additive theory of representation; his theory is not the calculating machine of the "practical" politician. If it so seems, it is because he is interpreting and following closely the pragmatic philosophy of the "rational act."[53] Briefly, as the critics of William James and John Dewey so well know," rational" behavior must be pitched to ends which are parts of the act rather than to remote ideals. The "good" goals are one step ahead of the acts that attain them, and, in consequence, it may often seem that the one-step lead is lost and that there is left simply a blind opportunism aimed only at keeping the activity in motion. How often the practical politician, like other men of affairs, must falter into sheer opportunism is too well known to the casual observer to bear further discussion. The contrary vice - the panting pursuit of the infinite on earth, by fair means or foul - is as common and deserves to be mentioned with the vice of opportunism.

PC.GIF     PC.GIF    

 Table of Contents