Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics

By Ananta Ch. Sukla | Go to book overview

3

Political and Historical Representation

F. R. ANKERSMIT


INTRODUCTION

We describe our political system as “representative democracies.” “Democracy,” in the sense of government by the people, was already found in classical Athens. But classical democracy was direct democracy, and direct democracy left no room for (political) representation (this is precisely what so many people, such as Hannah Arendt, always found so extremely attractive in the Greek polis). (Political) representation, on the other hand, is a medieval notion. One may think here of the assemblies of the three estates that were sometimes summoned by the king, and in which the nobility, the clergy, and the third estate were represented. And this certainly was not an early medieval tryout of any form of democracy. Hence, democracy has no intrinsic link with representation, and representation has no intrinsic link with democracy. The miracle of contemporary parliamentary representative democracy is that it nevertheless succeeded in combining these two completely different concepts in an extremely fruitful and creative way. Consequently, representative democracy as we know it is the result of this most unlikely marriage of Athens and the Middle Ages. And this observation invites the then obvious question of how these two notions of democracy and of representation had best be related. Because there is no necessary connection between the two of them, we have to develop an answer to that question independently of what democracy was in Athens and of what representation was in the Middle Ages. In order to develop such an answer, I start with a few remarks about the notion of representation. This may clarify our conception of representative democracy.


REPRESENTATION

In its aesthetic context the notion of representation implies two major theories: the resemblance theory and the substitution theory. According to the former

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