POLS 1000 Chapter 1: POLS 1000 Introduction to Politics – Chapter 1
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POLS 1000 Introduction to Politics – Lecture Week 3
Readings: Chapter 1: Principles of Representative Government
• What we call representative democracy today comes from a system of institutions (established
during the English, American and French revolutions) that did not believe in a
democracy/government by the people, therefore such a thing never existed.
• Rousseau portrayed the English government of the 18th century as a form of slavery punctuated
by moments of liberty.
o He believed there a huge gap between a free people making its own laws and a people
electing representative to make laws for it.
• Madison and Sieyes contrasted representative government and democracy in similar terms.
o Madison often contrasted the “democracy” of the city-states of Antiquity, where a “small
number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person”, with the
modern republic based on representation.
▪ He believed these societies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and
▪ He called his form of government a “republic”, which was a form of democracy,
but it was not a pure democracy. He believed within a true democracy lied true
▪ He viewed representation as a way to refine the public views by passing them
through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best
perceive the true interest of their country.
▪ Madison believed that the public’s voice would be best represented through a
single individual for it would be in the public’s best interest than to have the
people represent themselves.
• Sieyes stressed that there was a huge difference between a democracy, in which citizens make the
laws themselves and a representative system of government, in which the citizens entrust the
exercise of their power to an elective representative.
o He argued that the people in a country that is not a democracy may only speak and may
only act through its representatives.
• Certain institutional choices made by the founders of representative government have virtually
never been questioned.
o Although, we have certainly seen growth, these founders are still in force in the systems
which we refer to as representative democracies today.
• Principles of representative government – concrete constitutional arrangements that were
invented at a particular point in history that have been observable as simultaneously present in all
governments described as representative.
o Britain/US; these arrangements have been in place since the beginning.
o France; occasionally abolished, all revoked since government changed completely,
regime ceased to be representative.
o Many other countries; these arrangements were never put in place
• The meaning of the representative government has undoubtedly evolved.
o The modern meaning and the 18th century meaning also share the notions of political
equality among citizens and the power of the people.
o Today those notions form elements of the democratic idea, and so they did then.
• When looking at the difference between representative and direct democracy, we implicitly
define the former as an indirect form of government by the people, and make the presence of
persons acting on behalf of the people the criterion separating the two varieties of democracy.
o However, the line between direct and indirect government is quite blurred.
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