Further to yesterday’s post, I must add a speech of Edmund Burke’s about the virtues of representative democracy. Born in Ireland and later moving to Great Britain, he was a controversial and independent-minded politician. This speech was made on 3 November 1774; he lost his seat in 1780.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable.Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Emphasis mine and the rest here. You can read more about Edmund Burke at The History Guide and Wikipedia. Here’s a list of quotes of his you may find familiar and of interest. He seems a clever and wordy man.
I wanted to include it because it furthers my ideas of presence, power, persistence and difference as expressed in that post.
It’s not enough for a representative to make their votes according to polls of their constituents. They were elected in order to exercise the right to democratic participation on behalf of their constituents who cannot do this practically. Having been entrusted with that privilege, they need to exercise their experience, judgement, intellect and thought to ensure they serve their constituents as best they may. This is simply not going to happen if one is acting on the (percieved) opinions of others. As humans, we highly value and indeed often define ourselves in terms of our autonomy and capacity for reasonable thought. Politicians should do their best to exercise these qualities for the benefit of the people whose lives they’re meant to be improving.
I think Australian politicians should be allowed to practice this more without damage to their ability to do their jobs. Also, I think it’s a principle that the individual can put in place in one’s everyday life in a way. It’s easy enough to take ethical and behavioural cues from mentors or political figures or heroes of some sort. It’s so important to constantly question these figures and their ideas. I find that re-revaluating my ideas every so often beneficial. I have a tendency to take on the ideas of others which both doesn’t work for me and leads to my resentment of them.
This is a matter of integrity. It’s about being able to truly examine oneself. It’s also about making one’s contribution to others and society. You’re unique for a reason. Celebrate yourself and foster your development.