I finally got around to reading “Representation and Randomness,” a collection of papers that appeared in the most recent issue of the journal Constellations (volume 17, number 3, September 2010). One paper in that collection, by Alex Zakaras, has already gotten some attention here, but I thought it worth adding some comments on the entire collection.
Philip Pettit’s “Representation, Responsive and Indicative” distinguishes (obviously) between responsive and indicative representation. A responsive representative does what I want because I can direct the representative to do what I want. An indicative representative does what I want because the representative is chosen in such a way that the representative does what I would have done were I present. In Pettit’s words, “In responsive representation, the fact that I am of a certain mind offers reason for expecting that my deputy will be of the same mind…In indicative representation things are exactly the other way around. The fact that my proxy is of a certain mind offers reason for expecting that I will be of the same mind…” (p. 427). Sortition can select indicative representatives, whereas election is supposed to select responsive representatives. But both are legitimate forms of representation, and we might find appropriate uses for each of them.
The distinction Pettit draws makes a lot of sense. He makes two rather odd moves, however. First, he insists that one person represents another only if the latter has in some way authorized or given permission for the former to do so. It’s understandable why he would make this move; we don’t want to think that just anyone on the street who resembles me can claim to be “representing” me just because they are like me in many respects. But this causes a major problem for sortition. After all, I don’t get to authorize randomly-selected officials, because nobody does. Pettit tries to get around this by claiming that I can authorize the random selection process itself, but this just brings up all the bizarre and tortured arguments that plague the social contract tradition (tacit consent, etc.). Let’s face it—most of the time, most people haven’t authorized a darn thing about our political system, and they never will. And so any theory that requires them to do so before you can have legitimate representation is just a non-starter. This is not to say there aren’t good reasons to have the kind of authorization that results via elections, at least some of the time; it’s just a mistake to act, as Pettit does, like consent is the sin qua non of representation.
Second, Pettit argues that “once we have the notion of indicative representation on hand, we can see familiar, unelected bodies and authorities as indicatively representative and so possessing, democratic credentials in their own right” (p. 431). Pettit apparently thinks that electoral commissioners, federal reserve bankers, and even whistle-blowers ought to be regarded as indicative representatives of the public. This seems completely unjustified on Pettit’s own argument. These various “representatives” are not descriptively representative at all. Indeed, there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Federal Reserve does, or is supposed to do, what “the public” would do if it made the decision directly. Pettit tries to defend this idea by pointing out that such bureaucratic officials are supposed to represent the “public interest”—that is, that such officials are supposed to make the kind of decisions we’d like to make were we making the decision directly (p. 431). But if that’s all it takes to be an indicative representative, then it seems vacuously true that all representatives should be indicative.
I can’t see any advantage to working so hard to make Alan Greenspan et al. into representatives of the people comparable to juries in terms of the functions they serve. Pettit has sometimes been accused of being a rousing and militant civic republican whose institutional proposals are barely distinguishable from those of run-of-the-mill liberal thinkers. I fear that something like that may be taking place here.
Hmmm…it turns out that I have much more to say about the Constellations papers than I initially thought. And so I’m going to break up my comments into a few postings. Keep an eye out for the others.
Filed under: Sortition |