Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Vicars of the People

A reminder that our civic responsibilities with regard to our representatives do not end at electing them:

When I possess a material good, I cannot give it to another without losing by the very fact my possession of it....But when it is a question of a moral or spiritual quality, such as a right is, I can invest another man with a right of mine without myself losing possession of it, if this man receives this right in a vicarious manner--as a vicar of myself. Then he is made into an image of myself, and it is in this capacity that he participates in the very same right which is mine by essence....The people are possessed of their right to govern themselves in an inherent and permanent manner. And the rulers, because they have been made into the vicars of the people, or into an image of them, are invested per participationem--to the extent of their powers--with the very same right and authority to govern which exists in the people per essentiam, as given them by the Author of nature and grounded upon His transcendent, uncreated authority. The people, by designating their representatives, do not lose or give up possession of their own authority to govern themselves and of their right to supreme autonomy.

Jacques Maritain, Man and the State, U of Chicago P (Chicago, 1998) 134-135.

In other words: by electing our representatives we have made them into instruments, so to speak, in our own self-governance. Democracy is not something exercised at elections; elections are just a choice of tools. Democracy, on the other hand, is the process of a people using such tools to set themselves in a good order. By electing, say, Obama, we as a people do not give Obama power in its own right; we invest him with part of our right of self-governance, hired him as our agent and representative. Now the real work of democracy begins.

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