Democracy and Representation

Authored by: Takashi Shogimen

The Routledge Companion to Medieval Philosophy

Print publication date:  January  2021
Online publication date:  January  2021

Print ISBN: 9780415658270
eBook ISBN: 9781315709604
Adobe ISBN:


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In the third quarter of the twentieth century, Walter Ullmann, one of the leading authorities in medieval political thought, argued that the history of political thought in medieval Europe could be characterized as “a history of the conflicts between [the] two theories of government”: the descending and ascending theses of government. The descending thesis is the view that the source of power consists in a supreme being, namely God. God appointed his “vicar” on earth, who embodied the power of the divine origin. The ultimate foundation of power in this world is divine, and human beings have no power unless it is given “from above.” The ascending thesis, by contrast, is the view that the source of power consists in the people or the community. Ullmann observed that the idea which attributed the foundation of this worldly power to the people derived from the Germanic tradition, described by Tacitus. According to this thesis, no public power exists unless the people—or their popular assembly—elects a leader. Thus the ruler who is conferred power by the people is considered a representative of the community (Ullmann 1970: 12–13).

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