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Monday, March 7, 2011

Direct Democracy v. Representative Republic

At The Freestater Blog, Professor Todd Eberly of St. Mary's College writes of same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland. Some public officials, including Governor Martin O'Malley and De. Sam Arora, say that they want the people to decide. Eberly says that this attitude is not consistent with that of the Founders.
In Federalist 10 James Madison spoke of direct democracies as "spectacles of turbulence and contention." In a representative republic "the delegation of the government... to a small number of citizens elected by the rest..." These representatives, will "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."

Madison is telling us that in a representative republic we entrust our elected leaders to use their judgment when making decisions. It is not for them to place their fingers in the wind and vacillate with the ebb and flow of public opinion. It is for them to act based on their conception of what is best for community and country (or state).

None of this should be misconstrued as indicating that the voters have no say, of course they do. Madison wrote of this in Federalist 57, "Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it."

Here, Madison is telling us that those elected to lead are to exercise their judgment, to do what they think best, but to know that they will ultimately be held to account for their decisions via elections - that is when the people speak. Madison may have been writing about the US Congress specifically, but he was also writing of the concept of representation generally.