Acting Through Others: Kant and the Exercise View of Representation

Public Reason 1 (1):9-26 (2009)


Democratic theorists are usually dismissive about the idea that citizens act “through” their representatives and often hold persons to exercise true political agency only at intervals in elections. Yet, if we want to understand representative government as a proper form of democracy and not just a periodical selection of elites, continuous popular agency must be a feature of representation. This article explores the Kantian attempt to justify that people can act “through” representatives. I call this the “exercise view” of representation and defend its superiority to the “opportunity view,” which I attribute to Locke. It is superior because it has a robust conception of rationality and collective action, allowing us to understand how representation can mediate public reason.

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