Political Representation
Al Katz, State University of New York, Buffalo
Copyright 1983. All rights Reserved.
Digital Release copyright 1998.

The world in which we live holds to the common belief that it is possible for one person to speak for another.
This essay is an attempt to explore the mysteries of this faith.
I. Orientation
II. In the Beginning: Hobbes
III. In the Old Days
The Source
The Flow
The Terminus
IV. History
V. Today
The Voter
The Politician
The Corporate-State  
VI. Dispersion
Notes and ‘Sources’


VII. Corruption, Immunity, Discretion
VIII. State, Corporation, Union  


Some years ago Charles Laughton was on tour giving performances that consisted of dramatic readings from a variety of sources. The stage was barren save for a simple table upon which lay an open book. Laughton had a remarkable power to transpose, transfix and transport without benefit of prop, costume or colleague. Between reading he would chat about something small; tell a story or share a bit of gossip. During one such interlude he confessed that he was not actually reading from the book before him which we assumed to be his script. He gave reason for his reliance on memory in the form of the following story: Charles Boyer was in a play cast as a character who was required, at one point, to read from a book. During a performance of the play Boyer opened the book at the proper time and glanced down at it in the manner required by the dramatic situation. At an instant his eye caught the word he was speaking and his memory vanished. The stage was silent.

I. Orientation

Representation is superfluous and impossible under two hypothetical polar circumstances. The first assumes a primal and totally ungoverned community in which all human beings are self generating, independent, and act within an immediacy that is both spacial and temporal: the will is articulated here and now. In this condition of multiplicity and absolute difference the response to the questions "Says who" and "Is this part of your job?" is simply: 'I say, and I have no job. ' The second imagines a collection of automata evacuated of will and functioning as mere conduits through which pass the voice of a ruler, demon or God whose will is thus postponed and extended. In this condition of singularity and similarity the interrogatory must be satisfied by a peremptory response: 'The Other says so, and everything is part of my job.'

These two constructions of fantasy suggest that representation is a tactic in the management of difference. It appears, that is, wherever difference must be denied or overcome. It does not create difference, nor does it cure or mend by substituting similarity in the place where difference dominated. Rather, representation heals by a movement of supplemental fracture; by installing dualism where there had been mere difference. Dualism rehabilitates difference because it divides in another way or at another level. In private law, for example, every client is different according to the character of her legal involvement as well as in her capacity or ability to manage the resolution of her legal affairs. The introduction of legal counsel is intended to alleviate the strain on the principle of legal equality created by this difference among a primary clientele, but the presence of legal counsel supplements the simple difference among clientele with a complex difference: the primary legal actor is no longer the client but the lawyer, and the lawyer does not always act for this client but may appear for other clients or even speak for herself. Precisely because the lawyer is never identified, in the strict sense, with her client legal representation supplements an original simple difference by arrangements which multiply and diversify differences. In politics, by contrast, majoritarianism repairs a diffusion of will or desire within a given multiplicity. It cannot be understood as a merely practical technique since, as a practical matter, the ultimate choice could be given to the tallest individuals, or the smartest or the cutest or the elders of the group. Majoritarianism elects to have the multiplicity speak with the voice of its major-part, and in doing so it substitutes a part-whole difference for the primary difference that frustrated unanimity. Majoritarianism does not simplify this original difference by introducing similarity but adds another dimension of difference since the 'major part' may not be identified, in the strict sense, either with the units of the original multiplicity or with the whole. Majoritarianism inserts a double dualism in the place of an intransigent multiplicity: a dualism of majority-minority, and a dualism of part-whole. It is in this sense that representation is a tactic that manages difference by supplementation.

As the two polar constructs suggest, the tactic for managing difference may not simply reduce quantity or redesign the boundaries of units and clusters. The tactic must focus on difference as a specific problematic of presence along four distinct frontiers: presence as an ontology, a situs, a relative tangibility and a labile temporality. Representation is addressed to Being and its absence; to here rather than there; to the palpable and concrete marked off from the ideal and abstract; to a now that is not then. Representation installs being in the place of absence; proximates that which is otherwise distant; concretizes the abstract; revives the past. Through representation gods may speak, the dead dispose of their property and the perpetually comatose claim their right to die with dignity; through representation incarcerated madmen appear in court, Iowa farmers protect parity pricing without leaving the barn and starvation sheds a tear half-way around the world; through representation patriotism becomes a flag, liberty a bell and the torments of guilt 'Hamlet'; through representation yesterday's sentence is today's execution, the intensity of 1917 brings the blood to boil and contracts made in the state of nature control our destiny.

If we pose representation as a tactic engaged to manage difference as a problematic of presence we have no reason to expect all times and places attempting to deny or overcome the same form of difference, or to have done so in precisely the same fashion. Representation understood as a tactic thus permits a focus on continuities and ruptures otherwise forbidden by the historical contingency of language and the structures of Truth. This is not the opening of a trans-historical 'method' but an expansion of gaze and a deepening of curiosity. However,, the story outlined in the text that follows is not organized around this tactical relation of representation to difference and presence in order to stay closer to the discourse in which it is currently enclosed. But it will be far more interesting if this general thesis is retained as a shadow following the
movements of the curious historical figures dominating the analysis. In any event, techniques that determine the tone or character of the difference rehabilitated by representation may be suggested. There are four:

Difference may be simultaneously affirmed and elided by an endowment that has the quality, in the particular context, of a surplusage that swells the body it inhabits. The classical instance of this technique is the priesthood. The immediate effect of this status is to intensify the difference between priests and those who are not by shrinking the gap otherwise existing between mortals and the holiness towards which they turn.

The difference between ideas and things, as well as that persisting between ideas and their expression, is produced and undermined by a technique of creative reflection according to which ideas are produced in the reflection of things, or are apparently assimilated to the mode of their expression. Perhaps the best example of this is the perpetually disturbing question of the representative as an independent being.

Absolute difference may be undermined, softened or relativized by means of a transmission between two or more entities, and this transmission takes the form of an exchange mediated by a currency. In the modern period, for example, ‘interests’ will provide the currency for transmission between people and their representatives.

Difference is managed by an organization and distribution of functions within a structure. The meaning of different activities is given in the interplay of total structure and particular function. Within a structured division of labor officers with certain functions enclose and subsume the whole and in this sense represent it.

At least tentatively, these are the techniques through which representation is used to manage difference as a problematic of presence..







©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)