However careful one ought to be not to indulge in exaggerated conceptualism—an approach which easily degenerates into mere terminological exercise—a number of political terms in constant use have meanings which call for clarification. The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to two such terms: election and appointment. We use them regularly in teaching, observation and summing-up of institutions as if they were antonyms, without really bothering to determine wherein the supposed antithesis lies. Of course, neither term denotes an a priori category; both are names for historically evolved procedures, with many variations resulting from attempts to adjust them to preconceived ideas or to environmental factors. But even with full allowance for these variations, and with due regard for every-day common usage, certain discrepancies remain in our use of them which make for unclear thinking.
To give a few instances: a chairman of a company (in the United States, the chairman of the board) is “elected” by the board's members. The same group of persons, sitting in the same capacity, may go through exactly the same motions when selecting a branch manager, and yet we think of him as “appointed.” And is the company's managing director (in American parlance, the corporation president) “appointed” or “elected”? Or to turn to the field which is nearer to reader and writer alike, the field of assigning people to functions of a public, more particularly of a political, nature: is a cabinet in France under the fourth Republic or in Israel “elected” because it does not assume its functions unless and until the legislature has confirmed it by vote? Is a non-political public office to be considered “elective,” if the assignment of the office-holder is made in the final count by a group of persons deciding by unanimous concurrence or by vote? No one will question this statement in the case of judges elected by popular vote; but what about certain judges as well as the General commanding-in-chief in Switzerland, who are “elected” by the Swiss Federal Assembly? And what about civil servants or holders of other public offices whose selection was decided upon, in whole or in part, by a selection board or by some similar collective group? Somehow we think of such office-holders as appointive, despite the procedure of election which took place in their cases.