Harsanyi on the Electoral College

A.C. Gleason
3 min readMar 22, 2019

This is just a short recommendation post.

First if you’ve never heard of “The Daily Signal” then you need to check it out. They’re a conservative media outlet which produces one of the best daily podcasts out there.

Their written content is also excellent, which brings me to the real occasion for this post. Today David Harsanyi, a Senior Editor at The Federalist, wrote an excellent piece for “The Daily Signal” on the leftist struggle with the electoral college.

If you pay attention to anything I say on my various podcasts it should be clear that I’m not a big fan of democracy. At least not direct or procedural democracy. And so this post by Harsanyi was like reading my own thoughts beautifully written back to me.

Edmund Burke made the distinction between good (representative) democracy and the bad kind crystal clear within the English Parliamentary system. He famously argued that the job of an MP was that of a trustee or steward of his constituents. Today most Americans reject this model without ever even encountering it. The model we tend to take as basic is that our elected officials represent us as a delegate. In other words they are merely our Vox in the government. We have delegated to them the task of speaking for us.

On both the trustee and delegate model the elected official is a servant, they work for their constituents. The difference is that the Burkian model is truly Democratic because the trustee is not in government to represent the opinions of his constituents. He is there to actually serve the best interests of his constituents. All his constituents. And he will be accountable for his actions to all his constituents if he fails to serve their best interests.

Whereas the delegate model (or the Rousseaun model) is actually a form of what Tocqueville, John Calhoun, and many other conservative thinkers have called democratic tyranny. Because a delegate has no autonomy. A delegate relays a message and nothing more. That means a delegate only represents the people who voted them into office. As Harsanyi Brilliantly points out in his trademark laconic style:

“Fact: We always “count” every vote, but “every vote” never counts. It might come as a surprise to many Americans that their losing ballots don’t count in elections, which is why we disperse power in this country — to protect political and geographical minorities.”

The only votes that matter in a procedural democracy are the winning votes. Minorities simply don’t matter in direct democracy. Because, to put it in Rousseaun language, the delegate’s job is not to do their own will but to discern the mythical “will of the people”. This also means that the delegate model removes accountability from elected officials. They are doing the will of the people. So if they do a bad job it means the people are to blame.

But besides the fact that the people simply don’t always know what their best interests are, and besides the fact that the delegate model is inherently tyrannical, and besides the fact that this model actually removes accountability from public servants there is an even deeper and far more troubling theological reason for rejecting this approach to democracy.

Jesus famously said “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was the heavenly delegate sent to earth to relay His Father’s message to Israel.

The Rousseaun model literally follows this paradigm by deifying the PEOPLE, turning them into God and the public servant into Jesus. Once we see this it becomes clear why Obama and Trump have both been treated as Messiahs. But the idolatry is not truly located in either of these presidents, rather the idolatry is actually located in the narcissism of the public itself.

The Burkian model flips this script putting humanity back into proper order. The job of the people’s trustee is still similar to Jesus on this account because according to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is our trustee before God. He represents us to the Father as an interceding priest. He does what is best for us even when we don’t know what to do. He serves us.

In conclusion Representative democracy is superior in every way. Two harrumphs for Harsanyi. The only problem now is figuring out how to turn more electoral college members into faithless voters…