News & Features » Miscellany

So What's New?

Rosie Right

With all the excitement about e-sites and technology, we sometimes tend to think that we invented the wheel. When Rosie wrote last week about the overuse of the word virtual in our discussions of cybernetics she marveled at the new technological definition of the word in the current dictionaries.

An e-mail from a reader suggested, "You might want to mention that virtual representation was one of the concepts that helped spur the American Revolution. The British argued that the colonies didn't need members of Parliament because they were virtually represented by the MPs elected by constituencies in Britain." Our correspondent is correct. This concept was discussed with great heat during the American Revolution. When the colonists complained about the Stamp Act and about "taxation without representation," the British responded that the Americans were "virtually" represented in Parliament.

According to an interesting little pamphlet by Gordon S. Wood that was published in 1969 for the Jamestown Foundation by the University Press of Virginia, the British told the colonists that "Americans, like all Englishmen who subscribed to 'the principles of our Constitution,' were comprehended by acts of Parliament through a system of virtual representation, however 'imaginary' and however incomprehensible to 'common Sense' this conception of representation may have been." One Thomas Whateley wrote that, in fact, all British subjects were really in the same situation: "none are actually, all are virtually represented."

Wood tells us: "The representatives were independent members free to deliberate and decide by their own consciences what was good for the country, both because a single autonomous public interest was presumed to exist and because the representatives, as the Commons of England, contained all of the people's power and were considered to be the very persons of the people they represented."

The Americans after defeating the British didn't forget virtual representation, but they changed their position a bit; they seemed to like the concept that "certain people from the society if their interests were identical with the rest, could justly speak for the whole ..." The previous problem with virtual representation had been with the idea that the British members of Parliament did not come from a society that had substantial interests in common with the colonists.

So much for Rosie's idea that the computer nerds invented the term virtual.

Political Redundancy: The current political buzz phrase seems to be negative attack (something supposedly to be avoided). A reader asks," What would be a positive attack?"

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (355-9089) or e-mail (

Add a comment