"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 pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased 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."
Edmund Burke (via azspot)
I have always been of two minds regarding the competing views of how representatives should vote; should they simply channel the opinions of their constituents, or vote according to their own personal conscience? What specifically is it that they owe their constituents? Can it not be said that their constituents were voting for the conscience and judgment of their representative, insomuch as it matches their own?
As I have gotten older, I have grown to distrust populism, and openly discourage the fetishizing of referenda as the purest means of governance. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the people can be and often are wrong on big questions. This can be due to any number of factors, but more importantly, someone who argues that “the will of the people” must be respected will then have to concede being unjustified in their own beliefs when the majority of people happen to be of a different opinion. And if our Constitutional Democracy does anything, it seeks to balance Individual Liberty with the mutual responsibilities of citizenship.
To this end, it seems to make more sense to cast one’s vote, in larger part, for the conscience of a representative; and not simply for someone who will serve as a conduit for the collective will of the constituency. Indeed, given the diversity of opinion in even solidly blue/red districts, it would be impossible for any representative to do this without alienating at least a sizable plurality of their constituents.
In addition to all this, one must also consider the idea that quality should win over quantity when it comes to reasoned beliefs. When Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967, the majority of people still very much disapproved of inter-racial marriage. Yet I don’t think anyone today respects the ethical foundation upon which those beliefs rested. It was a few enlightened, well educated individuals within the legal community who dissected the logic upon which those beliefs rested. If we had simply let “the will of the people” dictate the laws of the time, then the ignorant and backwards beliefs of the majority of people at the time would have allowed unjust laws to perpetuate. Against these backdrops, one finds arguments for Populism to be found verily wanting, and Burke would’ve certainly agreed.