Much, perhaps most, of the public controversy about representative institutions in the nation-state has revolved around the question of who should be represented in the legislative assembly. There are, however, problems of conceptual interest about the slightly different question of what should be, or what is, represented. Until the second half of the eighteenth century this was hardly an important question, since it was generally agreed that the function of political representatives was to defend the material interests of the propertied groups for whom they spoke, such as the landowners, the merchants and the clergy. With the extension of representative government in the past two hundred years the question has become important, however, and the various answers to it will be discussed in this chapter and the next under the following headings: (a) the representation of personal interests; (b) the representation of class interests; (c) the representation of sectional interests; (d) the representation of opinions; and (e) the representation of political parties.
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