In class this week we had the pleasure of reading both an attempted mainstreamed academic piece by James Morone, “The Democratic Wish”, and the more fiery pamphlet “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. Both works had to do, at least in part, with the idea of representation. Morone’s Democratic Wish centered around dread and yearn. The dread of a powerful federal government, and the yearning for a more representative one. People call for the government to be “taken back” to the people. The cause of this being the people’s great fear of a large, powerful government. I believe this comes largely from our relatively fresh heritage and our veneration of the Founding Fathers. Americans today still have images of King George dancing in their heads which leads to a greater suspicion of their government, which may or may not be warranted.
For the Civic Republican Thomas Paine, representation meant his idealized Congress, which consisted of “Let(ing) each colony be divided into six, eight, or ten, convenient districts, each district to send a proper number of delegates to Congress, so that each colony send at least thirty. The whole number in Congress will be least 390” (For the record, that is 1 representative for every 6410 people (as per the U.S. Census Bureau 1776 pop. count estimate)). His argument being that with more representatives, the reflection of popular will and common good would be greater reflected in the democratic body. One representative should, in theory, be able to represent a smaller number of people in a “better” more reflective manner because there are less interest for that representative to consider when crafting bills and casting votes. Paine also believed that these representatives would be delegates and not trustees of their people. A delegate being someone who puts the common good and his constituents’ wishes against his own personal beliefs and goals.
Ultimately, I think it’s incorrect to assume more representatives leads to a more representative political body. By introducing more representatives more competing, irreconcilable interest are introduced. Unlike Paine’s idealism about the representative nature of politicians, everyone knows about career politicians, and those who have infused a large amount of “trustee” philosophy into their time in government. I believe this is in part caused by the sheer number of politicians. They can “slip through the cracks” of needing to represent the will of their constituents through the sheer number of bills and committees they have a hand in.
Compounding this problem of increased “cooks in the kitchen” is the second and third stages of “The Democratic Wish”. People have a call to action and then cement this renewed interest via new governmental institutions. These new institutions move the people further from their representatives by moving the power of representation and action from the politicians voted into office by the people, to the bureaucrats designed to write the policy. To Paine’s credit, he could have never foreseen the government growing to have so many unelected members wielding so much power.With more institutions and bureaucracy we get into what another political theorist, Hannah Arendt and her “Rule Of Nobody”. In essence, with a large bureaucracy (or as I’m arguing, more by proxy representatives) no one is left to blame for a specific policy implementation. Because duties and responsibilities become passed around and written with what seems to be no overarching goal, the voters cannot see who is responsible for the outcome. With less representatives, America would have the ability to see who is responsible for the laws passed. The American people would also be able to better witness to who is being a delegate or trustee. Americans would be able to vote out or vote in politicians who more closely represent them because Americans would be able to pin policy to politician, something difficult to do in a large bureaucracy.
However, what I’m not advocating is a “smaller government” in the sense of power. This is an element where I agree with Morone. He somewhat ridicules the fear of a powerful government, it is an inevitability, especially, I believe with more representatives involved. I am advocating a smaller number of actors to utilize power. If less power is what the voters want, they will have less people to replace and more direct observability of what the voter may see as “power abuse”. Therefore, smaller number of representatives, as opposed to Paine’s suggestion, would allow for better representation because: Voters would know who is implementing what, reduction in the number of trustees because of this direct ability to observe, and less bureaucratic muddling of the goals the voters wish to have.