Imagining a People: An Essay on the Possibility of Political Representation

NOTE: this piece was first published in the Summer 2021 edition of Ad Fontes.

Part 2

In the first installment of this essay, “The Return of the Vigilante,” I considered the paralyzing loss of faith in the possibility of political judgment that besets America today, and the consequent fragmentation of society into a kaleidoscope of private judgments intent on enacting justice. Such efforts are doomed, we saw with the aid of Christopher Nolan and Oliver O’Donovan, doomed to remain trapped within private construals of reality that, however idealistically they begin, become increasingly self-serving and self-deluded, ending as parodies of “blind justice” that are blind to the world around them.

To transcend private judgment, however, it is not enough to fall back on procedural forms that carry the legalistic stamp of legitimacy and due process. The Joker makes that clear enough, mocking the emptiness of Gotham’s high-minded but ineffectual courts of justice, unable even to sustain the modicum of order and security that is their poor substitute for authentic justice. These institutions, symbolized in Gotham’s “White Knight,” Harvey Dent, collapse back into the blind proceduralism of “Two-Face’s” private vendetta, and the empty facade of brute force built on public falsehood that Gordon propagates at the end of The Dark Knight. As The Dark Knight Rises begins, order and security have at last been secured in Gotham, but at the cost of a deep rift within society between the ins and the outs, the haves and the have-nots. There is still no true justice, and soon there will be no peace either.

Vigilante as Savior?

Again, O’Donovan puts his finger on the nub of the problem.

Official judgment serves the public order in this much stronger sense of acting on behalf of the public. . . To put our finger on this narrowly political role, we must single out its representative function: a political act with political authority occurs where not only the interests of the of the community are in play, but the agency of the community as well.[1]

Why can’t the vigilante secure public justice? Well, because he has not been authorized or recognized as an agent of the public; that is precisely what it means to be a vigilante. But what if the vigilante achieved such recognition, like a Cromwell or a Napoleon? The vigilante begins as mere private citizen, but under extraordinary circumstances, can emerge as the hero and savior of the republic–or end as an unprincipled tyrant.

This theme of extraordinary representation, offering a tantalizing possibility of salvation for Gotham, is explored in a fascinating conversation early on in The Dark Knight. Wayne’s date, Natascha, complains about that “the kind of city that idolizes a masked vigilante.” Dent replies, “Gotham’s proud of an ordinary man standing up for what’s right,” to which Natascha answers, “Gotham needs heroes like you—elected officials, not a man who thinks he’s above the law.” Wayne interjects, agreeing, “Exactly. Who appointed the Batman?” Harvey’s answer is intriguing: “We did. All of us who stood by and let scum take control of our city.” In other words, the abdication of the duly appointed authorities from executing the justice with which they have been tasked has left a void, in which the community’s agency devolves upon a private citizen of their own recognition. To Natascha’s complaint that such an appointment is an abandonment of the procedures of democracy, Harvey answers, “When their enemies were at the gate, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn’t considered an honor. It was considered public service.” Rachel objects, “And the last man they asked to protect the republic was named Caesar. He never gave up that power.” Harvey concedes, “Well, I guess you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Look, whoever the Batman is, he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life doing this. How could he? Batman’s looking for someone to take up his mantle.”

This conversation foreshadows many of the themes that will dominate the film and its sequel. We have a dark hint of Harvey’s willingness to suspend the ordinary rule of law in pursuit of justice, by which he ceases to be the hero and becomes the villain—though at the end, Batman quotes this line about himself, having taken Harvey’s villainy upon himself. But although this prospect of an extraordinarily appointed public representative has a dark side, it is not rejected entirely; Nolan dangles the possibility before us throughout the trilogy. If the role is to be legitimate, however, he must be a genuine agent of the city, filling a genuine void in which representative government has failed and the city is in dire need, and he must be ready to resign the role once the need is met. These conditions are at last met in The Dark Knight Rises.

The Fragmented Polis

However, we must pause before examining this film, for the first two films suggest an additional reason why Batman cannot be a genuine political agent. And that is because Gotham must first be a genuine polis. If he is to act as the representative of “the people,” they must first be a people, and not merely a mass of individuals. This is yet another theme with which Nolan appears to be absorbed throughout the trilogy. Although Gotham City is ostensibly a city within the United States (a fictional New York City), it functions symbolically as its own political unit; the outside world plays almost no part until The Dark Knight Rises, and then it is only introduced in order to display its irrelevance and impotence, and refocus attention more sharply on the political identity of Gotham itself. Throughout, however, this focus serves to draw attention to the fact that Gotham fails miserably to be a political unit. A contrast with the film Spider-Man is instructive here. When the Green Goblin attacks Spider-Man, an ordinary citizen yells, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” and the crowd around him cheers. This is clearly the opposite of Gotham. Not only do they turn on Batman rather than rallying behind him when threatened, but more fundamentally, they do not constitute a community in the first place that could meaningfully adopt Batman as one of them.

The villains in each film recognize this political dysfunctionality and seek to exploit it, turning the already-divided city against itself. In Batman Begins, the strategy is to capitalize on the fear and suspicion the citizens already have of one another, and turn it into panic so that they have to do nothing but “stand back and watch Gotham tear itself apart”—and they succeed with one part of the city. In the Dark Knight, the Joker voices the same conviction: “They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see—I’ll show you . . . when the chips are down, these civilized people . . . they’ll eat each other.” He proceeds to try to make them do just that, first by threatening to blow up a hospital if they don’t kill Mr. Reese, and then by threatening to blow up two ferries—one full of ordinary citizens, the other of criminals under guard—if one doesn’t detonate the other first. In the first case, the people do go after Reese; in the second case, the Joker’s plan fails, but only because no one has the guts to do the dirty deed—the ordinary citizens vote overwhelmingly to blow up the ferry with the criminals, but ultimately do not. (There is a triple irony here: the people, contrary to the Joker’s predictions, establish a sufficient political identity to vote on the decision, but, in line with the Joker’s predictions, choose to turn on their fellow Gothamites—the criminals—but, in the end, are too politically impotent to carry through on the decision they have made.) In The Dark Knight Rises, these predictions finally come true, as Bane bursts into the city and proclaims a revolution in which the masses turn on the wealthy and powerful, and tear Gotham apart.

A passage from O’Donovan captures for us Gotham’s failure to become a people.

To see ourselves as a people is to grasp imaginatively a common good that unifies our overlapping and interlocking practical communications, and so to see ourselves as a single agency, the largest collective agency that we can practically conceive. A people is a complex of social constituents. . . To have identity as a people is to be able to conceive the whole that embraces these various constituents practically, as a coordinated agency. When it is no longer possible to discern the constituent elements within the whole, each with its stock of tradition, its reserve of memory, and its communal habits of practice, then the whole dissolves before our eyes. It also dissolves when it is no longer possible to think of these elements as acting, in some sense, together and for one another.[2]

At least three sources of Gotham’s disunity, its inability to operate as a polis, appear in the films, and each of the three offers a sobering picture of our own loss of peoplehood in contemporary America: the divide between rich and poor, the divide between “law-abiding citizens” and the incarcerated underclass, and the divide between governors and governed.

The first divide, a yawning inequality of wealth, haunts all three films. In each, we see glaring evidence that there are in fact two Gothams, a gilded upper layer, which insulates itself and seeks to remain completely out of touch, and a dark and dirty underworld, in which most citizens find themselves hopelessly stuck. Bruce Wayne’s parents, we are told, tried to take a lead in using their wealth to overcome the division, but could make little progress, and their own murder by a desperately hungry man on the streets appears to confirm their failure. We are told later that their murder finally galvanized the other wealthy Gothamites to take some action to improve conditions in the city, but it appears to have been a temporary reaction, stimulated by fear rather than genuine conviction. By the time of The Dark Knight Rises, the gap has become wider than ever, and most of the wealthy are completely apathetic about the plight of the underclass. Bane exploits this fact, attacking the Stock Exchange and declaring open class warfare. Selina Kyle speaks for the brewing revolution when she whispers in Wayne’s ear: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Pretty soon you’re going to wonder how you could ever live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Of course, the irony is that Wayne has all along been seeking to use his immense resources for the rest of Gotham; in this he is continuing the legacy of his parents. Indeed, it is at this point that the otherwise clashing vocations of Bruce Wayne and the Batman come together in their combined effort to make Gotham into a city that can stand on its own two feet: in The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne’s philanthropic efforts especially on behalf of an orphanage for boys are shown to play a decisive role in Gotham’s resurrection.

The second divide, between the citizenry and the criminals, is dramatized in the ferry dilemma that the Joker creates. On the one hand, you have “innocent” ordinary citizens, on the other, people who “made their choices. They chose to murder and steal”—criminals who are now serving their time in crowded and frightening prisons. The citizens have little sympathy for these men; they certainly feel no sense of camaraderie with them as fellow Gothamites, as they vote by a nearly two-to-one margin to detonate them. In the other boat, however, one of the criminals persuades his guard to hand him the detonator, implying that he will use it, as the guard wants to but dares not, to blow up the other boat, but then throws it out the window. Clearly not all of these criminals, at any rate, have lost their humanity. However, Gotham does not learn the lesson. At the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, we learn that their response to Dent’s “murder” was simply to lock away more Gothamites in prison, and for longer. The “Dent Act” has shut away hundreds and taken away any opportunity for parole. The city is not interested in reconciliation or restoration, but instead perpetuates an “us versus them” mentality. The result, we learn, is that crime has not been abolished, but merely driven out of sight, underground. Gotham is soon brought to regret its unwillingness to try to reintegrate criminals into society. When Bane declares his revolution, he begins it by breaking open the main prison, which he identifies as a symbol of oppression. The freed prisoners stream out and lead other violent-minded Gothamites in a murderous rampage, and even set up a “court,” a mockery of justice that sentences without trial anyone who is wealthy or an agent of the law to death.

This last point leads us to the third great rift in Gotham’s society, which prevents it from being a genuine political community: the rift between the governors and the governed. This is the most decisive of all, for if the people see their authorities not as representatives but as oppressors, then the political unit has broken down. Throughout the first two films, the governing structures of Gotham suffer from a crisis of legitimacy (hence Dent’s recognition that Batman has been “appointed” by the people to fill the void of leadership). The ranks of law enforcement are rife with corruption from top to bottom, and its leadership seems to suffer from warped priorities—more eager to protect their own image and jurisdiction than to fight crime. Thus their first instinct in Batman Begins, when Batman catches Falcone for them and gets them the evidence they need to prosecute, is to go after Batman, not Falcone—“No one takes the law into their own hands in my city,” the police commissioner growls. In The Dark Knight, there is a temporary truce, it seems, but the police force quickly shows itself more eager than anyone to get rid of Batman when he becomes a liability—“No more dead cops!” This obsession is taken to the point of absurdity in The Dark Knight Rises when Gordon’s lieutenant calls off the police from chasing Bane and his thugs and tasks them all to capture Batman instead, because of the personal glory such a capture would bring him. Moreover, there is a mutual suspicion between police and populace, which the Scarecrow’s hallucinogens succeed in escalating to the point of open conflict in Batman Begins, and which results, in The Dark Knight Rises, in law enforcement personnel being considered public enemies in Gotham after Bane’s revolution.

So it is that at the end of The Dark Knight, and the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, the most fundamental untruth that Gotham has told is not about Batman, but about itself. O’Donovan tells us, “As well as appropriate predication, however, true description implies a reflexive contextualization. A further truth comes into the picture, which is the truth about the community that judges; and only by taking that truth into account can we attain a satisfactory discrimination of innocence and guilt” (19). The ugly truth about Gotham, which the Joker unmasks, is the same as the ugly truth about Rome that Augustine unmasks in his famous City of God Bk. 19: It cannot be a commonwealth, a people, for a people is defined as “a gathered multitude united by consent to ius [right, or justice] and common interest” or as “a gathered multitude of rational beings united by agreeing to share the things they love.” There is no commitment to justice in Gotham, nor any unity around a sense of common interest, nor a common object of love that serves to orient them. It is merely a collection of individuals, ready to “eat each other” when the chips are down.

Learning to Speak the Truth

At the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham has limped along for eight years as a people-in-name-only, a facade represented by an ideal, held together by a shallow faith in a pseudo-hero. Only when this facade is unmasked by Bane does Gotham have one last chance of becoming a true polis, in which the public exercise of judgment according to truth is a real possibility.

In many ways, The Dark Knight Rises hearkens back more to Batman Begins than to its immediate predecessor. Bane comes seeking again the eschatological justice that the League of Shadows had sought, to destroy a city that is corrupt beyond saving. In doing so, he represents himself as one ready to tell the truth about Gotham, as the city’s authorities have not been willing to. He reads aloud to the people the speech that Gordon has written, but could not bring himself to deliver, telling the people of Gotham the truth about Harvey Dent. In so doing, he demonstrates the folly of thinking that Gotham’s peace could be secured by a lie, for the truth will always come out in the end, and rarely at the time or in the way of our choosing. But as we have seen, this eschatological judgment is not judgment according to truth, because it is “summary justice,” undiscriminating, unmerciful justice that denies the possibility of redemption. In one of the many Christological resonances in the trilogy, we find that it is by taking this eschatological judgment upon himself—going through the death and descent into Hell that Bane has in store for Gotham, and returning from it—that Batman averts such judgment from Gotham and re-establishes the possibility of provisional political justice.

The first step toward this possibility is for a community to learn to speak the truth about itself. This step is ironically provided by Bane, whose judgment visited upon Gotham comes with the awful twist that before destroying the city, he will pretend to give it new life. In mockery of the sham commonwealth that Gotham had been, he forges the city into a parody of a polis. First he formalizes Gotham’s isolation from the wider world (which we remarked upon previously), forcing it to become an autonomous political unit, which cannot hope for any outside help. He declares to them the truth that has been hidden from them, decrying as “oppression” the so-called “justice” founded on falsehood, and promising to liberate the city. He frees all the prisoners and announces their re-entry into the broader society, thus tearing down one of the barriers that Gotham had erected between groups of citizens. He offers to the city the opportunity to cleanse itself from its injustices by erecting a mock court of justice that deals out summary execution to the wealthy and powerful oppressors. Of course, none of this can create a true commonwealth, since none of the schisms that formerly divided Gotham have been truly healed; the balance of power has just been reversed. The poor, the convicts, the citizenry have been turned against the rich, the judges, and the police. No genuine unity is achieved, and certainly no concept of the common good stands at the center of the new regime.

However, in a way, Bane’s revolution does provide the catalyst that will help Gotham become a people. The moment of crisis, the absence of any outside help, forces Gotham to realize that they will need to band together and depend on one another. But significantly, they are unable to do so on their own; they need a symbol, a representative—they need the Batman.

Again, O’Donovan elucidates what is going on:

When we recognize a political authority summoning us to act together in defense of the common good, we recognize ourselves. We conceive ourselves as a ‘people,’ a community constituted by participation in the common good. On the relation between the ‘people’ and the authority that summons it, hangs the delicate question of political representation.[3]

There is a paradox here, which Nolan’s films explore. To become a people, Gotham must recognize a political authority, a representative. But to have a legitimate representative, she must first be a people. This is one of the fundamental ambiguities in political theory: how can authority arise except as delegated from a political community? But how can a political community exist except as a body under authority?

Some traditions of political theory, to be sure, have insisted that the political authority logically precedes the political unit, that the sovereign summons his people into being as a polis. O’Donovan critiques this tradition, saying,

Political authority does not ‘make’ a people; it ‘finds’ it. The governing state-structure serves the defense of something other than itself. The point of the state is not to defend the state but the people. The people, the subject of the common good, must be imagined apart from its political and juridical arrangements if either people or state is to be imagined properly at all. Otherwise the juridical unity of the state is simply imposition, not protection.[4]

However, he critiques equally the liberal understanding that authority is simply a creation of the people, that we come together and make a covenant to be a people, and only then appoint for ourselves authorities to act on our behalf. In a way, Bane’s parody of a politically-united Gotham is a form of both errors. Bane is clearly a dictator, a warlord who controls Gotham with a private army and the threat of mass destruction. He is the sovereign, who makes Gotham a city as his city, summoning into being a political unit merely as a product of his own sovereignty. On the other hand, Bane pretends at any rate merely to announce a revolution, to empower the people to come together and form their own government, and to stand back in the shadows while they do so. His sovereignty is largely invisible, lurking behind the facade of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

O’Donovan describes the relation between the people and the representative in far more mysterious terms, saying,

The people is imaginatively envisaged when and as its common good is in need of defense. The idea of the people and the idea of the authority that summons it to defend its common good arise together. . . . In awakening our sense of ourselves as a people, political authority simultaneously awakens us to itself. We become aware of an authority that commands us, not abstractly but in a concrete form, as ‘our’ government. . . . The representative bears the people’s image, makes the people visible and tangible, to itself and to others. Yet the representative does not bring the people into existence, but simply makes it appear.[5]

One could ask for no better summary of the narrative of The Dark Night Rises. Batman summons Gotham to rise to defend the common good, but not on the basis of a prior authority by which he can command their obedience; rather, to be effective, his summons must coincide with Gotham’s awakening to see itself as a people called to take action, and its awakening to see itself in the Batman. Central to this awakening is the reconciliation that must occur if Gotham is to transcend its earlier divisions and achieve unity. Accordingly, we find that on Batman’s return, he receives the recognition and support of those who had earlier opposed him, so that united behind him, they abandon their earlier differences. The police, jealous and suspicious of the powers of a mere citizen, and tempted to use their power against him rather than against injustice, rally behind him and show their willingness to fight and die on behalf of the city; thus they remove from themselves the stigma of all their earlier corruption, inaction, and distorted priorities, which have dogged them all throughout the trilogy. The poor, jealous of the privilege of people like Bruce Wayne, recognize that it is possible to use wealth and power for good—this is signified perhaps through the disadvantaged orphans who show their loyalty to the Batman, but also through Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman; though she is never called that in the film), who spends the first half of the film openly despising the fat cat upper class of Gotham, only to gradually come to respect Bruce/Batman (she is one of the few who learns his true identity) and eventually to fight alongside him. Her role, however, is doubly significant, for she serves as a representative of the criminal underclass that has been divided against the rest of Gotham, a situation only exacerbated, as we have seen, by the Dent Act. Her regret about the cycle of crime she has become trapped in, and her quest for a “clean start,” serves as a reminder that not all convicts are in jail because they are hopelessly evil. Many are desperate for a chance to start afresh, to regain legitimacy in the eyes of the world, to be reconciled to the rest of society; it is precisely this, of course, that the Dent Act has categorically denied to Gotham’s criminals, generating the pent-up resentment that Bane exploits. Kyle’s climactic decision to throw in her lot in with Batman, and with him, with the Gotham that has never had any use for her, the Gotham with which she has no reason to feel solidarity, tells us that the Dent Act and Bane’s revolution are not the only paths; reconciliation is possible, new life is possible.

Awakening to One Another

But let us return to O’Donovan. He describes as a “false turn” the early modern idea

that representation is founded in the will. It is founded in the imagination. That the representative may act for us, and we in him, it is necessary that we see ourselves in him. Representation is a case of symbolization; the representative ‘stands for’ our consciousness of our common association. . . . through this particular actor we recognize ourselves as summoned to a collective action. It is an affective as well as a cognitive movement. Political recognition is like the recognition we accord to a face or form, the recognition of Gestalt, grasped at once in a moment of acknowledgement and welcome. Underlying many ancient political conceptions, there is a visual aesthetic. The language of light, radiance, and display permeates classical political symbolism, in notions such as ‘splendor,’ ‘magnificence,’ ‘glory.’ These elicit something akin to erotic fascination.[6]

Batman’s “theatricality,” then, his visual aesthetic, is not merely incidental. It is part of his projection of Batman as a symbol. He must be more than a mere man, for a man is mortal. He must become “a symbol, a legend,” immortal. But not for himself, for personal glory—as Alfred frequently worries that he is being tempted by—but for Gotham. Gotham cannot see herself in a mere man, for a political representative must be more than a mere man; the symbol of representation must be immortal as the body politic is to be immortal. This is why Batman refuses recognition at the end, why he must remain hidden, although Gordon insists that the people must know who their savior is. No, that would defeat the point, for that would distract Gotham’s attention from what the Batman is meant to be—everyman. Batman replies to Gordon, “A hero can be anyone….A man doing something as simple and reassuring as puting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended,” alluding to the scene at the beginning of Batman Begins when the junior police officer Gordon comforts the young Bruce after his parents’ murder. The point is for the people of Gotham to awaken to the possibility of acting for one another, working together for the common good; the Batman is not a savior from outside, but merely they themselves writ large, and his vocation—the enactment of justice with mercy—is their vocation. By his self-offering on behalf of the people, Batman becomes a genuine representative, and by their recognition of him, and of themselves, they become a genuine polis, capable of enacting the limited, provisional justice that political authority is to serve. So we are to hope, at any rate, in that crucial final scene in which the statue of the Batman—not a man but a symbol—is unveiled in City Hall, symbolizing the city’s fresh start.

The film, to be sure, does not end without ambiguity. Are public structures of judgment really capable of sustaining truth and justice? John Blake (a.k.a. Robin) seems not to think so, at any rate, resigning the police force in disillusionment about the inauthenticity of Gotham’s power structures, and the injustice in the fact that they do not know their liberator. It is hinted at the end that he will take up the Batman’s role, that an agent of justice outside its public structures will still be called for. Although the police force has redeemed itself by the end of The Dark Knight Rises, we are still shown at the end how unreliable and unjust the appointed guardians of public safety can be, when American troops fire upon Blake to keep him from bringing the orphan boys out of the city to safety—significantly, it is at this moment that Blake throws away his badge. Nor is it clear whether Batman’s faked death and hidden identity do not perhaps just constitute another lie on which justice is to be built. Certainly no one could accuse Christopher Nolan of being a Pollyanna optimist. Batman may have redeemed Gotham, but even renewed, it remains fallible, imperfect, and often unjust.


Still, if there is any lessoned to be gleaned from Nolan’s saga, it is that it is only by reconciling ourselves anew to the radical imperfectibility of human justice–yet without yielding to cynicism and disaffection–can we recover the possibility of politics, of justice, of peoplehood. As we reflect on these questions in the long shadow of the events of January 6, it is worth remembering that that dark day was also the Feast of Epiphany, the day when Christians celebrate the unveiling of Christ as the light of the world, the desire of nations. It is because of Epiphany that we can remember that the justice we enact itself lies under judgment; that we can afford to see through a glass darkly, and to behold the oppressions under the sun, because they do not have the final say. We can bear the torture of uncertainty knowing that he who has suffered in our place will not leave us there forever. We can repress our rage in the face of miscarried justice knowing that the Judge unjustly judged in our place will in his own time render a just verdict. And we can entrust our political fate to a human representative precisely because we know that our eternal fate has been entrusted to human representative who stands for us before the throne.

The long shadow of Christendom is in danger of giving way either to the perpetual gloom of a politics without purpose or the false radiance of a politics-as-savior, a politics bright enough to lay bare every falsehood and right every wrong. We must resist both. Having chastened our expectations and adjusted our eyes to the half-light of earthly judgment, we must reject the lure of the vigilante and recognize ourselves anew as called to collective action. The time is indeed out of joint, but thankfully it does not fall to each of us to set it right. “All we have to decide,” as Gandalf famously admonished Frodo, “is what to do with the time that is given to us.”[7] “It is not our part to master all the tides of this world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”[8]

Dr. Bradford Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is the Founder and President of the Davenant Institute. He also works as a Senior Fellow of the Edmund Burke Foundation. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, SC, with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

  1. O’Donovan, Oliver. The Ways of Judgment: The Bampton Lectures, 2003. Wm.
  2. O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 150
  3. O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 149.
  4. O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 154.
  5. O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 154, 157.
  6. O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment, 161. O’Donovan adds, in words well worth pondering: “The affective dimension is entirely absent from official theories of representation in the modern West. The understanding of ceremonial recognition was lost to Western political philosophy at the point where God was lost to it; for it is essentially an acknowledgment of providence. The representative is recognized because he is there; God ‘raises up’ leaders of the peoples. That God does so with patient regularity is no reason to suppress our wonder at it, let alone imagine that we ourselves arranged for it to happen… [Contractarianism] dispensed with the moment of recognition, conceiving the representative relation as achieved by a once–for–all act of the human will. The point was to establish lawful and binding authority for all existing political orders, deriving them from a supposed contractual agreement in the past, just as the divine–right theory, of which it was a mirror–image, sought to derive them from a past act of God. Once conceived as a purely contractual status, representation lost touch with the moment of collective self–discovery, reflected in the person of its representative, dawns on its recognition.”
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring, ch. 2, “The Shadow of the Past.”
  8. The Return of the King, ch. 9, “The Last Debate.”


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