What Is a Representative Government?
If you've ever spent any time studying the development of the United States, you probably know that the transition from British rule to American rule was a difficult and complicated process. As colonial Americans grew increasingly frustrated with the largely absent British government in the decades leading up to the revolution, they began to protest the imposition of British laws through rallying cries like, 'No taxation without representation!' This was one of the more common slogans from that era, it was intended to express frustration with the fact that they were being forced to pay British taxes but felt as though they had no voice in Britain's representative government.
A representative government is a type of government comprised of politicians who represent certain individuals or groups. In most cases, these representatives are voted for by citizens through a democratic process. The US Congress and British Parliament, for example, are both representative governments because the politicians represent people from different parts of the country in the political arena.
How Do Representative Governments Work?
Representative governments are the cornerstone of democratic political systems because they allow citizens to decide who will speak and act on their behalf in the larger government. In the United States, for example, the legislative branch of the government (Congress) is comprised entirely of elected officials who are responsible for representing the citizens from their states. This type of government allows for each state to be equally and adequately represented in the federal government, which theoretically makes everyone's voices heard.
While US Congress is a common example of representative governments, most Western democratic countries have some variation of this style. In Germany, for example, the Bundestag is the branch of the German government that is responsible for representing the citizens in the larger governmental body. Like the US Congress, members of the Bundestag are primarily responsible for meeting with their constituents, which is just a fancy name for the people whom they represent, and addressing their concerns, answering their questions, and bringing their issues before the national government.
Because they speak for the people, the most important aspect of any member of a representative government is that they are accessible to the people whom they represent. This allows them to be of direct service to citizens and ensures that they are intimately familiar with the issues and suggestions that they address in the larger government.
Benefits of Representative Governments
The most important benefit of a representative government is that individual citizens, or groups of citizens, are given a voice in their national political system. In the United States, for example, citizens of each state can access their representative and make their opinions and wants known to the representative, who will then do their part to address these issues in the national political arena. If you think back to the earlier example of 'no taxation without representation,' you can see the significance of representative government in the larger democratic system. Because Americans pay taxes to the government, they expect that some of those taxes will beUSed in ways that benefit the state or country. In this case, the person elected to be representative is there to argue on their behalf and ensure that this relationship between taxation and representation works as is intended.
Challenges of Representative Governments
In theory, representative governments are the best way to ensure that all citizens are represented in a political arena; however, it doesn't always work out as planned. Each group or territory has a limited number of elected officials representing them, which makes it impossible to represent everyone in that group equally. For example, in Congress, each state has two senators and a small number of state representatives that speak for the residents of their state. Because they are elected officials, this means that they aren't truly representing everyone but are instead representing the majority voters. In the US, people have begun to protest the over-representation of certain interests.
Another significant challenge is the availability and ease of access that citizens have to their representatives. In Germany, for example, many citizens have complained over the last several years because they are unable to meet or speak with their representative. Because it is the primary responsibility of representatives to speak and act on behalf of their constituents, they cannot possibly be fulfilling this responsibility if they don't actually hear what citizens have to say.
In democratic political systems, a representative government is comprised of elected officials who speak and act on behalf of the constituents from their districts. In the US Congress or German Bundestag, for example, these elected officials are expected to meet or speak with the citizens whom they represent and take their issues, complaints, or requests before the larger governmental body. Among the benefits of such a system, having an elected official in the political process ensures that citizens have a voice in their national government and that their interests will be represented on issues, such as taxation.
Although representative government is a cornerstone of democratic political systems, in recent years, these systems have become increasingly dysfunctional. In the United States, for example, many representatives have reached a point at which they represent the views of certain people, while ignoring the desires and opinions of others in their district. Meanwhile, Germans have complained that their representatives have become more difficult to get in touch with, which suggests that the people are not being adequately represented.
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