Guizot is writing at a time when all of Europe is trying to develop representative government. Some places are failing, and some are failing miserably. During this time, Guizot sees that England almost has a real representative government. He wonders what it is about England that is enabling it to succeed in a representative government when the other countries in Europe are failing. In order to complete this study, Guizot looks at two things: representation and why the history of a political government is important to understand it.
Guizot wants to discover the meaning of the word “representation” as applied to the government of a community. He rejects the notion that “representation” can have a definition that is separate from the facts which surround the desire to define it. In this case, Guizot wants to define representation based in the surroundings of a representative system of government – The creation of Parliament in the English system.
Guizot says that the definition of representation, actually a doctrine of representation, is philosophical. He says that the doctrine starts from the principle that “Truth, reason, and justice – in one word, the divine law – alone possess rightful power (p295).” Guizot goes on to state that the way a society perceives this divine law, based on all the history it has gone through, creates “just ideas” within a society. These just ideas accompany loyal wills. However, just ideas and loyal wills are dispersed throughout society unequally. The distribution is based on the attributes of the individual. Each individual will have part of the just idea and loyal will within them.
Therefore, the concern of the society should be to collect all the fragments of just ideas and loyal wills and bring them into a whole and constitute a government. For Guizot, this is representation. It is the means to arrive at a government which will be legitimate. In order for this government to be legitimate it must subject itself to the reason of the individuals (meaning the decision of the individuals who have part of the just ideas and loyal will within them), over and over again. The process is never complete, but continues for as long as the government continues to be legitimate.
Guizot believes that representation cannot be understood in a country without also understanding the history of a country. Remember that Guizot believes in representation as a doctrine, a process – not simply some ideal. Earlier in his book Guizot stated that all fact, all history, is important to understand what comes next and that nothing happens in a vacuum. This means that, for Guizot, the formation of a representative government in a country cannot be understood without understanding the facts and the history in the country. Unlike Rousseau and others, Guizot does not place the start of a government, even a representative government, in the middle of a forest without any preconceived ideas or needs. Instead, Guizot starts from the notion that each man is not completely open to their own will, but instead recognizes that there are several laws – he calls them divine laws – that must be obeyed regardless. Guizot classifies these laws a truth, justice and morality.
For Guizot, representation is examined, for its definition, when it came into being – at the establishment of the English Parliament. For Guizot, the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the English Parliament – the abuse of charters by the king – helps shape the form of representation that England ends up with, and can offer clues as to how others can get it as close to “correct” as England has done.
England has a history of having small towns/localities. Therefore, when the House of Commons, one of the three parts of the English representative government and the lower house in the English Parliament, came into being, it brought with it the “small town” representatives. There are advantages to having a small area which a person must represent. Guizot states that the representatives of the people must consistently justify themselves and that election, publicity and responsibility (the three institutions which allow individuals to reason whether the people they have chosen as representatives should still remain their representatives) are easier to achieve in a smaller population and geographical area. The small towns of England have this in their advantage. In small towns, so the stereotype goes, people know each other, talk to each other and can trust/verify the activities of other members of the town. If a small town’s representative was to do something against what the small town wanted, publicity would easily bring it to the attention of the town members. Bringing things to the attention of the town members increases in difficulty as the town grows. California’s system of having only 40 state senators for the whole population is opposite of Guizot’s ideal situation. The larger the area, the harder it is to have open elections, responsibility, and the harder it is to publicize information about the representative and what they are doing. For Guizot, size matters.
England maintained this history of having small groups of people choose their own representatives from the first time they were asked to send representatives to the King. The King asked for representatives from the cities, the small closely-knit communities, to advise him along with the barons when it seemed as if the cities might gain too much power. By bringing in local representatives to advise him, along with the traditional nobility advisors, the King founded the basis for the three-part division of power in England: The monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
This three-part division of power arose in England because of the great inequalities of economics and power among the nobility and the commoners, and even among the various factions of nobility. For Guizot it is this three-sided balance of power, and how it came about, that makes England the example for representative government. Although Guizot does acknowledge that representative government doesn’t have to be structured exactly like England, but that there should be three sides to the power struggle so that one side cannot overwhelm the others. Whether a representative government ends up like England or with another system will largely, according to Guizot, be based in the historical influence of the actual country.
Guizot uses the history of England to say that representation is a continuing process. For Guizot, this process, representation, isn’t simply an ideal; it is a constantly occurring justification of the legitimacy of the government and is aimed at bringing together everyone in the interests of just ideals. England happened upon many of these things by chance, simply because its history influenced events; like the King inviting representatives from the city (precursor to the House of Commons) to advise him. Facts in context make history, and since England is the closest thing to a true representative government Guizot can observe, Guizot uses England’s facts, its history, to explain the doctrine of representation and the relationship of representation to history and representative government.