virtual representation

Quick Reference

The essential idea of virtual representation is that one can be represented by a decision‐making process without being able to vote for those who make the decisions. That the disenfranchised were virtually represented in Parliament was an argument often put by opponents of franchise reform in England in the nineteenth century. Twentieth‐century social historians like E. P. Thompson have partly conceded this point by claiming that policy had to take some cognizance of the interests of the urban poor because of their capacity to riot, a form of anticipated reactions directly relevant to, for example, the Roman Empire, but also to the United States and United Kingdom in our own times in respect of people who do have the right to vote. Although the idea of virtual representation may seem paternalistic and undemocratic, it is perhaps the breadth of application rather than the concept itself which is offensive to modern susceptibilities: all modern societies accept it, in effect, in respect of children.


Subjects: Politics.

Reference entries