Monday, March 22, 2010

To Lead or to Follow?

Yesterday, President Obama's healthcare legislation passed Congress, despite its apparent unpopularity with most American voters. This fact brings up the interesting question of whether, in a democracy, elected representatives should simply follow the wishes or their constituents or whether they should decide how to vote without regard to public opinion.

The former theory of representation is known as the "delegate" theory and was famously championed in American history by the Anti-Federalists during the debate about ratification of the Constitution. The latter theory is called the "trustee" theory of representation and was adovocated by Edmund Burke (pictured above), the 18th-century Irish-born British statesmen who sympathized with the American Revolutionaries and who is seen as the godfather of modern conservatism.

Though the delegate theory is more often associated with the American Left and the trustee theory with the Right, in the case of the health care debate, it seems that the two ends of the American political spectrum may be favoring the opposite theory this time around.

Have your students discuss which theory of representation is better for democracy.

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