Democracy confronts diversity: Descriptive representation in victorian britain

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Today political theorists and the public generally often associate descriptive representation with democracy. However, in Victorian Britain supporters of descriptive representation tended to be arrayed against democracy. The impression that democracy was incompatible with descriptive representation and a set of related values, primary among which was deliberation, formed one of the great obstacles which democratic theory faced in this period. These values belonged to a traditional theory of representation which held that Parliament ought to be a mirror of the nation in its diversity and which judged democracy, in contrast, to be an illiberal mode of regulating the franchise because it risked handing the representation wholly to one part or class within society. In response to this school of thought, democratic theory developed two conflicting responses: first, that democracy could accommodate social and ideological diversity; second, that democracy was irreconcilable with the goal of mirroring diversity, but that nevertheless democracy had to be preferred on grounds of fairness and non-arbitrariness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-257
Number of pages28
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Deliberation
  • Democracy
  • Diversity
  • Parliament
  • Representation
  • Victorian political theory


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