…descending representation (II)


…cand am vazut ce succes a avut primul episod, m-am gandit ca, poate, n-ar trebui sa ma opresc aici.

Voi ati inceput!:) (si mai urmeaza:)

As a word, ‘representation’ comes from Latin (the Greeks had no word for ‘representation’), but its original meaning – to present someone or something absent – “had nothing to do with agency or government or any of the institutions of Roman life”.[i] “[I]ts real expansion begins in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the Pope and the cardinals are often said to represent the persons of Christ and the Apostles. The connotation is still neither of delegation nor of agency”.[ii] What Pitkin failed to observe is that the idea of representing ‘inferiors’ was yet to be discovered as well. By the sixteenth century ‘representation’ came to encompass representation of persons yet – the case of England aside – the classical ‘descending’ understanding of representation remained for more than a century unchallenged. One could represent only something of a superior or equal status, never the other way around.

In 16th and 17th century France, for example, one finds hundreds of instances where representation is mentioned: representations of God, of dreams, of incredible beauty, of heroic characters, of nature, of the loved ones, or of indescribable pains, but the representative had always a lower status than the represented. The original was always assumed to be superior to its re-presentative. The list of examples is too long to be exhausted here. Marc Vitruve Pollion talks in 1547 about “representer l’Harmonie celeste”;[iii] Joachim du Bellay in 1552 about “representer en ses vers tous les accidens divers de l’humaine tragedie” or “ung coeur vicieux”;[iv] the same year, Pierre de Ronsard asks “Morfée, s’ il te plaist de me representer Cette nuit ma Cassandre”;[v] in 1566 Louis des Masures claims “ces personnages donc, pour les cognoistre mieux, ay-je voulu ici representer aux yeux des benins spectateurs”;[vi] in 1607 Honoré d’Urfé wrote that  “L’estonnement de Bellinde ne se peut representer”;[vii] and so forth. In one single work from 1610, Pierre de Deimier uses the term ‘representation’ eighteen times yet nowhere the idea of representing individuals of an inferior condition is ever mentioned.[viii] As Nicot, Thresor de la langue francaise, specifies in 1606, there is only one conceivable way one could represent ‘lay individuals’ – and that is as a community (Representer la communauté des citoyens, Personam civitatis gerere). The king or his magistrates did represent the people or another specific community because as a body a community is always a whole of which the head is but a part. As I will show shortly, the story was different across the Channel.

Despite an excellent analysis of the concept of representation starting with Hobbes, Pitkin fails to consider the possibility that the English evolution of the concept remains for at least a couple of centuries peculiar to England and its colonies across the Atlantic. A possible explanation for this overlooking might be found in her interpretation of the somehow unsettling time-gap between the French and the English understandings of representation between the thirteen and the sixteenth century.

Not until the sixteenth century do we find an example of “represent” meaning “to take or fill the place of another (person), substitute for”; and not until 1595 is there an example of representing as “acting for someone as his authorized agent or deputy”. Did the development in the meaning of “represent” that took place in Latin in the thirteenth and early fourteenth century, and that was at least under way in French in the thirteenth century, really not take place in English until the sixteenth century?[ix]


Although Pitkin suggests a more mundane answer to this question (English was less used in legal, juristic, and political works than Latin and French until the sixteenth century), she is also entertaining the possibility that the French acquired an earlier understanding of representation as ‘representation of another person’, and by doing so they were the first ones to open new political, more modern venues for the concept. The diagnosis might be correct – with an amendment. As Pitkin’s own examples confirm, whenever ‘representation’ is used in early French as ‘representation of a person’, it is either “for the way in which a magistrate or attorney stands and acts for the community” or, for a single person but with a higher status – “a bailiff can be spoken of representing the person of his lord”.[x]

As a matter of fact, the 1690 French dictionary makes explicit this interpretation:


Représenter – tenir la place de quelqu’un, avoir en main son autorité. Le pope représente Dieu sur la terre. Les Ambassadeurs représente le Prince. Le Magistrates représente le Roy. On dit aussi dans la cérémonie du Sacre, un tel Seigneur représentais le Duc de Normandie, le Comte de Champagne. On dit aussi dans les successions qu’un petit-fils représente son père décédé pour venire partager avec ses oncles a la succession d’un ayeul[xi]


In 1694, the first Dictionaire de l’Academie francaise offers a similar definition:


 On dit, que Les Ambassadeurs representent les Souverains qui les envoyent, pour dire, que Par leur caractere, ils sont revestus en quelque façon de la dignité & des prerogatives de ceux de la part desquels ils sont envoyez. Ce qui rendoit cette assemblée encore plus illustre, c’estoit le grand nombre des Ambassadeurs qui representoient les plus grands Rois de la Chrestienté. les Ambassadeurs ont caractere pour representer leur maistre. On dit aussi, qu’Un Viceroy, qu’un Gouverneur de Province represente le Roy, le Prince dont il a pouvoir.[xii]



This type of representation remains a ‘descending’ one – the person to be represented is of a higher status, i.e., authority than the ‘representative’ – never the other way around. Among other things, this has important consequences when representation comes to the question of accountability. For according to this classic understanding, the representatives – elected, selected, or simply acknowledged as such – were accountable to and foremost to the higher authority they were designated to represent: God, the king, the princes, a certain community, or even the populus. If they failed their mission of representation, it was because they have failed to properly represent this higher principle or authority, not the individuals.[xiii] Except for the high-ranking officials sending out their representatives, the individuals who have chosen, designated, or accepted a representative (say, a member of the parliament, a bishop, the pope, etc.) did not grant nor create any authority in the process. Their authority was not delegated ‘bottom-up’ but ‘top-down’, with consequences that will become obvious in time.

2. The Dialectic of the Individual

Any discussion about political representation, i.e., about the relationship between individuals and the political sphere, ought to clarify the understanding of the very concept of ‘individual’. Contrary to the previously general agreed upon opinion according to which the question of ‘individuality’ is essentially a modern one, many historians acknowledge today that around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the issue had already started to be framed in ways that can be regarded as frontrunners of the contemporary perspective. If for previous scholars, such as Jacob Burckhardt or Otto von Gierke, during the Middle Ages man was known solely in terms of collectivity (race, corporation, family, people, and the like) and the ‘true’ personality remained ‘the group’ until the Italian Renaissance – a perspective that will decisively influence the work of historians and sociologists of the twentieth century – contemporary scholars beg to differ.[xiv]

To their merit, the American historians were the pioneers of this unorthodox interpretation of the Mid Ages. Back in the 1920s, Charles Homer Haskins was the first one to talk (although with little impact) about the “Renaissance of twelfth century” and in an essay published in 1972 Colin Morris considers the period between 1050-1200, the time of “a rediscovery of the individual”.[xv] Their works will be re-evaluated by the end of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the twenty-first one, when the body of evidence became impressive.

Twelfth-century theological and philosophical texts had already emphasized a kind of ethical personalism by focusing on the sphere of private, individual intention behind acts. As Peter Abelard had proclaimed early in the twelfth century, it was the moral value of a person’s intentions that gave value to his acts rather than their consequences. Out of this concern for private intention arose the expanded practice of private confession as stipulated in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.[xvi]


The evidence of a rational individual, morally responsible for his or her acts kept pilling up.

[i] Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel, The Concept of Representation, LA: University of California Press, (1967, 241).

[ii] Pitkin, Hanna, The Concept of Representation, 241 – emphasis added.

[iii] “representing the heavenly Harmony” – Pollion, Marc Vitruve [1547], Architecture ou Art de bien bastir, 74

[iv] “representing in his verses all the divers accidents of the human tragedy”; “a vicious heart” –  Du Bellay, Joachim, 1522-1560. [1552], Oeuvre de l’ invention de l’ autheur (Bordas, Paris), Ed. D. Aris et F. Joubokovsky, 42, 101.

[v] “Morphee, if you like to represent me this night mine Cassandre” – Ronsard, Pierre de, 1524-1585. [1552], Les Amours (Classiques Garnier, Paris), Ed. Henri et Catherine Weber, 144.

[vi] “these characters than, for knowing them better, I wanting to represent here for the eyes of the benign spectators” – Des Masures, Louis, 1523?-1574. [1566], Epistres au seigneur Lebrun (Ed. Ch. Comte. Cornely et Cie, 1907, 8.)

[vii] “the astonishment of Bellinde cannot be represented” – Urfé, Honoré d’, 1567-1625. [1607], L’Astrée. T. 1, 396.

[viii] Deimier, Pierre de, ca. 1570-ca. 1618. [1610], L’Académie de l’art poétique (Paris, J. de Bordeaulx, 1610.)

[ix] Pitkin, The Concept of Representation, 243.

[x] Pitkin, The Concept of Representation, 242-3 – emphasis added.

[xi]  “Representing – keeping somebody else’s place, having his authority in your hands. The Pope represents God on earth. The Ambassadors represent the Prince. The Magistrates represent the King. It is also said in the ceremony of the Sacre that certain Lord represented the Duke of Normandy, the Comte de Champagne. It is also said during the successions, that a grandson represents his dead father when he comes to divide with his uncles in the succession of an elder”.

[xii] “It is also said that the Ambassadors represent the Sovereigns who send them, for saying that according to their character, they assume in certain ways the dignity & the prerogatives of those in the name of whom they are sent. What made that assembly even more illustrious was the huge number of Ambassadors who represented the grandest Kings of Christianity. The Ambassadors have the character to represent their master. It is also said that a Viceroy, a Governor of a Province represent the King, the Prince from whom he has the power.”

[xiii] Voegelin, Eric, The New Science of Politics, University of Chicago Press, (1952) talks about the “transcendental” type of sense of representation, the sense in which a society is or can be “the representative of something beyond itself, of a transcendent reality”, “a transcendent truth” – pp. 54, 75. Yet, as it will become clear further, there are differences between Vogelin’s transcendental representation and the interpretation that I propose. In his account “a society must articulate itself by producing a representative that will act for it” (p.41).

[xiv] Burkhardt, Jacob, Civilisation de la Renaissance en Italie, tr. fr., Paris: Livre de Poche, (1966, 157); Gierke, Otto von, Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht, vl I; Rechtsgeschichte der deutschen Genossenschaft, Weidmannsche Buchhandlung (1868) – quoted in Anthony Black , “The individual and society” in The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 350 – c. 1450, J. H. Burns (ed.), Cambridge University Press (1991).

[xv] Haskins, Charles H., The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, New York, 1927 (1964). Morris, Colin The Discovery of the Individual (1972), quoted in L’Individu au Moyen Age: Individuation et individualization avant la modernite, Sous la direction de Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak et Dominique Iogna-Prat, Aubier, Edition Flammarion, (2005, 11).

[xvi] Coleman, Janet, “The Individual and the Medieval State” in The Individual in Political Theory and Practice, ed. Janet Coleman, European Science Foundation: Clarendon Press, (1996, 16).

16 Responses to “…descending representation (II)”

  1. Ca sa nu stricam traditia acestor colocvii 2.0 🙂 tot eu sunt printre primii care comenteaza.
    Mi se pare ca in cultura constitutionalista contemporana – aici m-as pricepe putin daca ma-ncordez sa mi-aduc aminte de cursul de Constitutional – s-a pastrat ideea de „inferioritate” a reprezentantului; in fond, la fiecare ciclu electoral, reprezentatul il re-deleaga sau nu pe reprezentant.
    As zice ca nici de jure nu s-a pierdut primatul superioritatii absolute a reprezentatului – referendumul e exemplul clasic de primus inter pares in materie de acte constitutionale cu putere deplina; prea injuratul (si dezamagitorul, dupa mine) Basescu a continuat sa fie presedinte cu mai mult mult curaj dupa ce un referendum al reprezentatilor l-a salvat de suspendarea reprezentantilor.
    De altfel, ministru vine, se pare, tot din franceza Evului Mediu – ministre insemnand parca, tot din scoala incerc sa-mi aduc aminte, cel care face ceva ce serveste unui interes public.
    Cred ca e nimerit sa spunem – mai ales Fumi care are o prestanta si un respect de comentator politic bine castigate in timp 🙂 – si mai tare aceste lucruri, in special clasei politice romanesti, plina de reprezentanti care-si exerseaza ipocrit, doar in campania electorala, cu lacrimi de piele de crocodil Vuitton, menirea de a reprezenta „poporul”.

  2. 2 fumurescu

    …traiane, ma incolacisi:) e , deci, reprezentantul ‘superior’ sau ‘inferior’?!? Ca-mi pare mie, te cam contrazici de la primul paragraf la al doilea…
    (ministru vine din latina – de acolo a ajuns in franceza – si da, inseamna, basic, „servitor”, mai exact ‘servitorul preotului’ – interesant nu?:) (nu ma pot abtine:)
    Referendumul vine tot de la francezi – si tot de la obsesia lor cu democratia directa. De aia americanii nu au referendum!
    Asta e de discutat, indiscutabil:)

  3. 🙂 Nu, mai, zic acelasi lucru de la-nceput la sfarsit.
    SI anume ca superioritatea reprezentatului s-a pastrat astfel: referendumul (ca act politic al reprezentatului) e superior oricarui act al reprezentantului; de asemenea, alegerle sunt in continuare manifestarea de vointa suprema a reprezentatilor care isi „sanctioneaza” astfel reprezentantii.
    Deci ca sensul originar al inferioritatii reprezentantului s-a pastrat pana azi.
    Quod erat demonstrandum 🙂
    probabil ca dihotomia reprezentant/reprezentat e mai greu de citit cu fontu’ asta mic al tau si te-ai incurcat :); ai putea sa-l dai mai mare.
    Si daca referendumul vine de la francezi, el a facut scoala si epoca si glorie in zona cantoanelor – insa nu stiu daca cele de limba franceza l-au „promovat” (e de cercetat prin istoria lor.

  4. 4 fumurescu

    aha. Bon, ma lamurisi – scuze:) De acord, atunci.

  5. 5 C.

    off topic: ce am dedus din discursul lui basescu in parlament: ca vrea sa o puna de un referendum deodata cu alegerile prezidentiale.

  6. 6 fumurescu

    @ C. – care to develop?:) Ca din ce vad eu pana acum prin ziare n-a prins nimeni ideea asta… Despre ce referendum ar fi vorba?!?

  7. 7 C.

    Nu ai vazut discursul presedintelui de marti seara? Iaca’ci:

    1. Reforma Constituţională, necesară pentru trecerea la parlament unicameral, clarificarea relaţiilor dintre puterile statului, pentru stabilirea mecanismelor de deblocare a crizelor politice, pentru clarificarea calităţii de mediator a preşedintelui între puterile statului, dar şi între puterile statului şi societate.

    Astea toate necesita modificarea Constitutiei. Se pune de un stat prezidential cu un Parlament decorativ?
    Uite si explicatia servita pentru parlamentul unicameral:
    „Stimaţi membri ai Parlamentului, aş vrea să vă dau o explicaţie legată de parlamentul unicameral. Odată cu intrarea în vigoare a Tratatului de la Lisabona, practic, România va mai avea o Cameră la Bruxelles şi Strasbourg. Pentru că Parlamentul de la Strasbourg, Bruxelles, depinde unde îşi ţine şedinţele, devine coparticipant la executarea puterii alături de Consiliul European şi de Comisia Europeană, ceea ce înseamnă că foarte frecvent, sau de fiecare dată, conform Tratatului, ori de câte ori va trebui adoptată o decizie a Parlamentului European va trebui consultat Parlamentul naţional, ceea ce implică un parteneriat între Parlamentul de la Bucureşti şi Parlamentul European.”

    Tare, nu?

  8. 8 C.

    pt conformitate, discursul complet (ma rog, transcrierea) e aici:


  9. 9 C.

    In plus presedintele a mai subliniat ca – citez din memorie – ca uninominalul care s-a aplicat e „perfectibil” si trebuie aleasa o formula mai clara „Cred că o formă mai clară de vot uninominal se dovedeşte necesară.”. Ce o fi vrut sa zica… Dar a explicat:

    Votul uninominal este însă doar fundaţia – pe care am susţinut-o – pentru reformarea clasei politice româneşti. Nu trebuie să ne oprim la fundaţie. De aceea, vă reamintesc faptul că reforma clasei politice româneşti nu poate ocoli Parlamentul. Reformarea Parlamentului trebuie să fie următorul pas pe drumul reformării clasei politice.

    sublinierea mea – inca o trimitere la „reformarea parlamentului” – o mare prioritate a acestor vremuri! asa zic si eu, dar cred ca nu ne gandim la acelasi lucru…

  10. 10 fumurescu

    @ C. – multzam, again – ti-am mai multumit si dincolo:) De acord ca ideile astea cu vot uninominal pur si dur + parlament unicameral sunt ingrijoratoare pentru felul in care gandeste omul (da’ poate se mai schimba, ca s-a mai schimbat el si cand cu, pardon, comunismul). Dar referendum acum nu poate sa faca – n-are cum, ca nu i-l voteaza nimeni…

  11. 11 fumurescu

    PS S-ar putea sa vin in octombrie la conferinta de la UBB – FSE – e cineva prin zona?:)

  12. 12 C.

    PS S-ar putea sa vin in octombrie la conferinta de la UBB – FSE – e cineva prin zona?:)

    Super! Eu sunt.

  13. 13 tincq

    Aline, ce tot o dai cu o sa-i treaca! (ma refer la basescu) O uita un pic si cand gaseste momentul oportun o plaseaza din nou! Marturisesc ca nu inteleg de ce ii tot acorzi atatea circumstante atenuante… poate te explici

  14. 14 fumurescu

    @ tinca – pai ar fi mai multe motive. Uite unul simplu: cand Antonescu e de acord cu Iliescu, Vantu cu Voiculescu si Voiculescu, pardon, cu Patriciu, cand oameni, chipurile, de orientari atat de diferite par a nu mai avea alt scop in viata decat distrugerea – cu orice pret – a lui Basescu, inclin sa cred ca a varat batzul in musuroi si am tendinta de a tine cu iepurasul…
    Asta nu inseamna ca ii trec cu vederea defectele sau ca-i cautzionez greselile – dupa cum se poate lesne constata. Nu-mi place sa gandesc in alb si negru, m-am obisnuit cu nuantele, ce mai pot sa si fac?:)

  15. 15 tinca

    pai ca sa nuantam si mai tare.. poate ca si motivele celor sus numiti sunt felurite, scopul doar ce-i anima…
    in rest, oricum in romania nu se face decat politica tribala… de genul tu cu tine tii? ( cu care partid, aka: cu care lider; aka „da’ tu de-a cui esti?”… ).. si asta mi se pare cel mai tragic, ca discutam persoanele si nu problemele. cat despre reinnoirea clasei politice… si delegarea ei sa vorbeasca despre probleme si nu despre ea insasi… iata o chestiune de-a dreptul de estetica moderna…

  16. 16 fumurescu

    @ tinca – fara sa vrei devenisi political theorist:) E unu’ – Frank Ankersmit – care sustine ceea ce, inteleg, sustii si tu – ca, adicatelea, reprezentarea e „estetica” asa ca n-are, vezi Doamne, de-a face cu moralitatea: politica nu i-morala, e a-morala. E „estetica”. Beg to differ:)

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