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Political Representation

Classical Consent

An institutional arrangement that looks quite similar to modern representative democracy was established in Athens in 501 B.C.E. when Cleisthenes established the Council of Five Hundred, whose members were appointed in equal numbers from the ten tribes. The principle of sortition (lot) came to be central to the representative offices in Athens. This mechanism protected against the advantage the oligarchic elements enjoyed in elections, and kept representation democratic. The primary rational for the use of a system of representation was its usefulness for extending the reach of democracy over a community larger than could be governed through the direct participation of all. However this Athenian institution did not receive a contemporaneous theoretical advocacy to match its practical use. Among those theorists who did not simply disparage democracy (Aristotle stands out) the ideal polity was limited in size precisely by the requirements of direct participation in deliberative proceedings. The Roman assemblies, also apportioned on a tribal basis, did gradually become representative in fact, in that most citizens did not attend. No conceptual or legal recognition of this arrangement was put forth however. From ancient Greece to the eighteenth century, democratic regimes were always conceived of in terms of the "Athenian model" of a small community whose citizens participate directly in the government of affairs.

Election is an ancient custom, and early statements of electoral principle, such as that by Pliny the Younger (62–111), seem to imply a representative relation, "The emperor of all the people should be chosen by all the people" (imperator omnibus eligi debet ex omnibus). The practice of obtaining the consent of the "better part" of the people is referred to by Pope Celestine I (422–432), who states that "a bishop should not be given to those unwilling [to receive him]," and Pope Leo I (440–461) affirms that "He who governs all should be elected by all." Numerous instances of such electoral consent can be found throughout the first millennium, in ecclesiastical settings at least. In 1140 Gratian transmitted the Roman principle, which required such consent: "What touches all must be approved by all" (quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet). (A similar formulation, referring exclusively to private matters, is found as early as the Justinian Code of 531.)

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Planck mass to PositPolitical Representation - Classical Consent, Medieval Corporatism And The Origin Of Political Representation, Representing The Rights And Interests Of Individuals