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Alfred de Grazia:

PUBLIC & REPUBLIC : Political Representation in America


Part  A


The chief problem of representation arises naturally out of the division of labor in society. As soon as certain individuals perform one set of tasks and other individuals perform habitually a different set of tasks, a specialization of functions arises which introduces a difference of viewpoint. But all the individuals concerned, especially if they live contiguous lives, have many other things in common which produce among them a sense of community. There is therefore in each individual a conflict between his specialized interests and his community interests, just as there is in the society a conflict between the self-centered parts and the widespread idea of a community.

A technique of representation is then employed to work the parts into the whole while doing justice to the social need of the parts. It must find a way of letting society have its cake and eat it too. For few save a few primitives and back-to-nature philosophers like Thoreau would have the courage to deny persistently the value of the division of labor, and on the other side the more specialized and independent a part of the society becomes, the more does the community rebel against its strangeness and unconformity.

The problem of reconciling unity and diversity is always present, therefore. Particular theories of representation must accept the fact and go on to several important steps. They must satisfy the demand for conformity and give to as many members of the society as possible a feeling of representation. They must then select certain specialized characteristics of the society which have some fundamental significance to the society and give such characteristics a pronounced place as values in the selection of political personnel and the making of rules governing the whole. The result of the operation of the selected, specialized parts of the society must be psychologically and technically pleasing. Successful representation, therefore, by its very nature must have disparate elements in it: one, for instance, to compose a settlement of the need for a community spirit throughout the society, and another to carry out specialized tasks of greater interest to parts of society than to the whole. One element may well be in "conflict" with another element, yet be necessary if the society is to function efficiently. Nevertheless, each disparate element must pass or satisfy the censor of the other disparate elements while performing its own tasks well.

Yet there is nothing incongruous in this. It merely recognizes that the feeling which creates the condition of representation is made up of different levels of consciousness. On one level, myth may be all-important; on another level, a compromise of groups may be openly proposed; on a third level, technical devices may be exploited to produce efficient interrelationships. A well-functioning plan of representation should provide the elements of each level with a technical means of arriving in a socially acceptable manner at a definable end; and the means ought not to contradict in a substantial manner the workings of the other disparate elements, even though the two means be ideologically contradictory.

If we then turn to the course of American thought on representation, we find that the concept of direct representation which overwhelmed the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century was well able to represent the idea of the community of equal men acting co-operatively to reach their common goals. It produced a maximum of expressive representation by (1) maximizing community or crowd influences in constituency construction, (2) requiring elections to be fought on vague issues with insubstantial referrents in order to gain majorities, (3) proceeding in theory directly from the mass to the act without the intervention of leadership or "channels," and (4) prolonging by its monopoly a confusion of expressive machinery with managerial machinery -- lacking, that is, honorary or permanent officials or an honorary monarch. It sacrificed efficiency and specialization to collective individuality. The massed public was everything.

It sufficed to correct many historical abuses against the individual and to direct a society in its communal, agricultural stage. The ills which befell it during its course have been described elsewhere. The significant fact here is that the idea of direct representation is still a powerful influence over the minds of many Americans. Its pervasiveness can cause the death of any additional schemes of representation which fail to take account of it and adjust to it in some fashion, either substantially or psychologically.

The idea of group representation implied in the Madisonian conception of mobile, voluntary, individualistic associations has not been equally reputable, but it can be used. One side of it is the grudging recognition accorded lobbies so long as they are "voluntary" associations and are not believed to force their membership along certain lines. Another side of it is proportional representation, which, again, concedes in theory a primary role to individuals.

The idea of forced representation of the individual through the involuntary group, though growing stronger in recent years, is still weak. It has had some small success under cover of the relatively little known administrative machinery of government.

The idea of specialized leadership, always popular with parts of America, is still weak, too. The direct representation idea has regarded with suspicion any attempts to make political leaders "different" from their electors, even though the gain by specialized education in government would go far toward offsetting the loss in conformance of the leaders to their electors. The idea of the elected executive has had a noteworthy and influential development since the late nineteenth century.

Faced with these historical condition and with the inescapable mechanical-social problems of a theory of representation, an observer might still find ample room for a more rewarding representative structure. The representation of the expressive needs of the community is better provided for under traditional direct representation than under any of the other schemes. But the evidence of recent years shows that too many Americans no longer find solace in the traditional system and that even the expressive role of that system has been markedly reduced, apart from its legislative role. The cure for this may not lie in an evangelistic recruiting of personnel for unused machinery, or in a frenzied defense of the old representation simply because new plans of group and proportional representation seem to be at odds ideologically with the expressive mission of the old majority-geographic system. It would perhaps be more intelligent to determine whether the expressive representation obtained under the old system might not be made more effective if skillful interest representation were substituted for the inadequate organization of interests.

Both Dewey and Durkheim give hope that the positive side of the Jeffersonian public is best promoted when the public's subgroups have meaningful roles to play. While it is true that the community as a whole is sometimes hurt by interest representation, such representation might be worked into areas where the need for technical competence is at a maximum, and where the need for constantly expressing the "will" of the majority through gesture and deed is not great, Provision for this latter need might then be left to the traditional representative devices. The necessity for action can hardly be denied. The hearings and monographs of the Temporary National Economic Committee before World War II are full of dire predictions about the effects of increasing uncontrolled and unresponsible power in the national corporate economy, and the lack of integrated treatment of the resulting problems. One need not agree with so-called "trust-busting" to be in accord with these findings. In fact, the need is so great that any serious attempt to reintroduce functional representation in the Federal government such as occurred under the N.I.R.A. would probably bring far-reaching consequences. Again, it is entirely possible that such a proposal as the one advanced in Senator O'Mahoney's bill to control the issuance of certificates to corporations, trade associations, and labor unions in interstate commerce would produce a commission whose powers would expand enormously.[1] For it would be possible and perhaps necessary to compartmentalize the corporations along functional lines; the "Bureau of Corporations" might develop a "Division of Steel Products," a "Maritime Division," etc. The labor unions might gain representation with their respective functional business opposites in the ever-increasing charter requirements which would result. And finally, such an agency might consult, perhaps even obey, the new corporate groups on broad problems affecting a whole industry.

Historically, changes in the ways and means of representation have often resulted without premeditation. We should not be misled by the fact that in recent years only a few proposed devices of representation, such as proportional representation and bicameralism, have been widely discussed and deliberated upon. Rather, we should remember such instances as the comprehensive changes that came over the English representative system by imperceptible degrees; the way in which egalitarian democracy in America wiped out much of the logic of bicameralism by providing an identical electorate for both houses; the rise of an industrial federalism in America, and the growth of "the Third House of Congress." Thus, out of a federal "corporation registration" law might come, in the long run, the same situation that would result if, by the consent of the forty-eight states, an additional forty-eight seats were provided in the national Senate for functional groups -- such as the marine industry, the auto industry, and the paper industry. A conscious, planned scheme, such as the later, would probably present, from the standpoint of election administration, hardly more difficulties of electoral qualifications and occupational "residence" than the geographical constituencies offer today. Yet it would be impossible, without prolonged study, to predict which plan, the informal growth or the purposive legislation, holds the greater promise for those who would have more integrated pluralism in American government.

It would be foolish, therefore, to disregard the rise of new ideas of representation, even though their origins seem odd and the devices they employ are not labeled clearly as representative mechanisms. Several important tendencies of representation can be seen in recent years, each of which has possibilities of expansion at the expense of the form and substance of the idea of direct representation in the area of governmental administration. This has been accomplished by reducing the sphere of theoretical competence of the whole electorate to the more central representative offices, and by building up a distinction between policy-formation and policy execution which is valid for working purposes. The increasing importance of the elected executive means that the office on which community sentiment is generally focused is converting that advantage into a more efficient administration of the national interest.

In the second place, the idea of "expert leadership," even with reference to elective representation, seems to have received more favorable public attention in recent years. This affects the fundamental constituent-representative relationship and is a most complex trend to measure. The independence of the representative comes from many causes, and the idea of "expert leadership" must exclude the type of independence which proceeds from the ignorance of the electorate or the blind faith which results from the insecurity of the electorate, although such conditions may indirectly lead to a greater idea of expert representation in the refusal of the electors to delude themselves. They must realize that the idea of direct representation pursued to extremity is antagonistic to the idea of specialized competence, and they must believe that they are not violating their individuality or the idea of equality when they seek what they think of as unusual qualities in candidates and tolerate considerable independence in those candidates after election.

Third, the use of voluntary constituencies, despite many recent attacks against the very idea of proportional representation, can be employed to advantage under certain conditions. This may be necessary where interests cannot be fixed; some form of fixed-interest representation may cover a large part of the members in a given sphere, but when no organized group covers a large remainder it seems just that this remainder be allowed to form voluntary constituencies.[2] Voluntary constituencies may also be used within a system of fixed-interest representation to bring out the growth of minorities and to prevent petrifaction of the fixed system. Its use is feasible where the sum total of decisions possible to a given sovereignty or quasi-sovereignty can hardly destroy the basic consensus available. For example, homogeneous or "one-party" states and cities might well use systems of proportional representation. Or its use may be feasible where the sum total of decisions allowed to the representative body composed of voluntary constituencies is less than that possessed by the whole sovereignty or quasi-sovereignty and where, therefore, the basic consensus is unlikely to be violated. An example of this would be a state legislature, or city council, or a jurisdiction in which the executive is very strong.

Fourth, and finally, fixed-interest representation suggests advantages when certain groups are habitually and patently opposed to each other but must be reconciled if particular areas of government are to operate effectively. Then the groups will be placated and reconciled on their own responsibility and their memberships must face squarely the fact that their representative participated in the decision. The use of interest representation ought always to be considered, too, from the standpoint of the feeling of contentment which may be reasonably expected to follow the participation of a functional group in the legislative process.

The idea of direct representation has thrived in the more simple types of political societies, and survives in all complex societies as a picture of life which outlasts social change. In periods of crisis, the picture may become sharply focused, accentuating the community features in society at the expense of the specialized features. It is doubtful whether there is an accrual of social advantage when attempts to adjust the interrelationships of the parts are abandoned in order to exaggerate further the picture of the whole. Indeed, the excesses of the latter picture may be a result of the disorganization of the specialized social groups. The idea of direct representation, therefore, can be said to defeat itself when it makes exclusive claims over the whole field of representation, and when it attempts to deny new influences in areas where its own ineptitude is apparent and where a general negligence is encountered.

The basic merit of direct representation is that it presents to the society the feeling of the general community, but without the means of focusing on national objects such representation is useless. Executive representation provides the focusing, both expressionistic and active, in the form of planning and administering. Proportional representation can brace up an apathetic condition of the constituency, but an overdose of it may be fatal. Thus enlightened individualism has come to the aid of direct democracy. Pluralism must furnish the morale, stimulus, and initiative of the many groups with their concentrated interests if the foundations of the general sentiment are to remain healthy. What must be sought here is the careful, studied tailoring of each major group-governmental relationship, to determine the respective proportions of corporation or administrative pluralism that will fit it.

Changes in the characteristics and desires of the public and its members promote changes in devices to assure representation. Whatever the opinion of contemporaries to the contrary, representative devices have resulted in relatively few cases in the adequate fulfillment of the demand for representation. To a large extent, this has been brought about by the usual difficulties of a social movement that has much heart but little head. To a smaller extent, it has been caused by political leaders -- among them statesmen and scholars -- who had neither the free minds nor the scientific abilities to direct and properly adjust a new equilibrium of social forces by representative devices. Often, these leaders have only mirrored the mass or group beliefs or have merely fallen into step with the accepted dogmas about representation. Even full rationality, however, could have produced little but intelligent hunches.

Political science today has more resources at its disposal. Conceivably, that part of the study of representation that calls for the scientific exploration of the condition of representation and the calculation of the expected consequences of introducing a change in representative devices on behalf of some value -- be it the family, the national interest, the common man or the owners of industry -- can offer better results today. In all fairness to the way things happen in politics, however, it must be pointed out that this contribution of an improved science will for some time remain slight. Social forces, in their massive complexity, will call out the general orders, and they cannot be hurried. Political science and enlightened statesmanship can disseminate some information and some direction. They can, following the broad statement of principles above, work out, in a particular case where a change in representation is occurring, a specific diagnosis and a specific prescription.

Our study of many ideas of representation shows that both the public and its leaders -- political and intellectual -- are prone to apply wholesale remedies. If a majority election is good at all, it must be good for everything, they believe. If proportional representation can work in Cincinnati, it can work in the National Congress. If a client can instruct his lawyer, then a constituency can instruct its representative.

Imitation, formalism, exaggeration, and conformity have ruled the history of representation. The only antidote to these dread social diseases -- in the field of representation as in all of social life -- is the flexible and imaginative prescription of the appropriate remedies in the particular context. The best method for determining the nature of such remedies is the collaboration of associated social scientists under political direction for the correction of a unique condition.

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