This article critically addresses the varied ways in which political parties can be said to represent. Three important ideal-typical modes of party representation are outlined: the popular, the statal, and the reflexive. Arguments are offered for countering the common view that, for example, popular modes are the most democratic, and statal modes the least democratic. Statal modes in particular are often taken to be an indicator of a decline in parties’ representative functions; however, shifting modes of party representation often have more to do with strategic choices and contextual pressures than democratic ideals. No one ideal-typical mode is intrinsically more democratic than others. Further, there is evidence that a new mode of party representation, the reflexive, may be emerging; parties may be transforming into something they never were in order to continue to do the things they have always sought to do. Whether democracy is unthinkable save for political parties is no longer the question we need to ask. Rather, we need to ask: what kinds of representative democracy are thinkable? And what forms of party claims, if any, are appropriate to them?
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