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When Representation Fails

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Schäfer, A. (2019). When Representation Fails. Talk presented at Scholar in Residence Lectures Series 2019. Köln. 2019-11-26.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-8835-4
The focus of the second lecture is on the concept of representation and on empirical data that measures opinion differences between elites and different groups of citizens. Representation means acting on behalf of the represented in a manner responsive to them (Pitkin). Parliamentarians are neither mere delegates who simply put into action their constituents’ preferences nor trustees who can act totally independently of citizens’ preferences. While they are free in each individual decision that they make, they still have to explain and justify their choices—in particular, if those decisions diverge from citizens’ demands in crucial areas or over an extended period of time. Following the theoretical discussion, Schäfer looks at the gap between decision-makers’ and citizens’ preferences and discusses potential explanations. In his series of three lectures, Armin Schäfer wants to assess and explain why there is a crisis of democracy. Following the rise of populist parties, many observers have painted a dark picture of the state of democracy. Not a few of them recommend less democracy as a reaction to these trends. If voters turn towards parties that challenge liberal democracy, so the logic goes, then one has to minimize their influence on political decisions. Against these claims to save democracy from its citizens, he aims to defend democracy and democratic equality. If democracy does not work the way it is supposed to, one should seek ways to improve it rather than blaming those who are disappointed and feel poorly represented. Doing so means asking how substantive and descriptive representation are linked and how many decisions can be delegated to non-majoritarian institutions without hollowing out democracy itself.