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Consent Does Not Determine Justice

The saying goes that the just powers of a government derive from the consent of the governed.

That, not to put too fine a point on it, is complete poppycock.

A just power is an exercise of government authority which one is morally required to obey. "Give unto Caesar" is an archtypical example for Christians. One is morally required to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. One cannot excuse onesself from this moral requirement by claiming that Caesar's powers do not as an historical matter derive from the consent of the governed.

Under the hood the 'consent of the governed' narrative is designed to replace the natural law with consent: to equate what is good with what is willed. It is of a piece with the modern revolt against God and nature.

Comments (55)

Consent doesn't make morality. But ignoring consent makes tyranny.

...ignoring consent makes tyranny.

That isn't entirely clear to me. In fact I tend to think that we have the opposite problem now: a veritable tyranny of consent.

It is the basic nature - purpose even - of government to make people do things (or not do things), whether they consent to it or not. Certainly ignoring what is in fact good for the individual and the community leads to tyranny, and it is good to be reluctant, sparing, and judicious in the application of the blunt coercive force of government. But any connection to 'consent' is at best tenuous, indeed is mediated through what is good; and it is always a mistake in my view to substitute human will where we really mean 'good'.

You do not cease to be a tyrant simply because you impose on others something you think is good.

"...the just powers of a government derive from the consent of the governed."

Busing, abortion, free trade treaties, school prayer, eminent domain, urban renewal, gay marriage, and a host of other issues and social projects have all been inflicted against the wishes of the majority of Americans, at the time the outcome was decided, often by unelected officials. And, when was the last time we declared war before entering one?

Where's the consent in all of this, beyond the July 4th rhetoric we all like to console ourselves with?

"One is morally required to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."

The problem is; now, both sides of the coin bare Ceasar's image, leading to monotonously predictable, one-sided outcomes.

You do not cease to be a tyrant simply because you impose on others something you think is good.

Right. It has to be actually good.

Right. It has to be actually good.

A tin-pot delusional psycho giving "orders" does not become good government merely because he happens to give good orders. He must have authority as well. The authority does not come to him by his giving good orders.

I think the point Michael is making is that in order for a command to be binding, it must be both a just command, and it be from one who has the right to give orders. You can't determine who has the right to give orders - who does constitute the government properly speaking, without looking at consent by people, at least in the long run.

People giving consent to a specific law does not make a law just. So legitimacy does not come from consent alone. But people giving consent to a specific form of government (one which is one of the several forms acceptable under natural law) is one of the necessary pre-conditions of what makes that government really and legitimately the government. And that is a necessary pre-condition of that government's laws being binding - of actually having the nature of law instead of some tin-pot psycho's delusional ramblings.

The purpose of the 'consent of the governed' trope is as a pretext for withdrawing consent. It rests a right of rebellion in the will, as opposed to the common good as mediated through the just war doctrine.

It isn't an accident that those who believe that the just powers of government derive from consent tend to believe that democracy is the only just form of governance. The two are mutually reinforcing: democracy is the liturgy, consent of the governed -- which is to say pro-choice - the doctrine.

Also, it isn't true that it is morally licit to disobey Caesar merely on the pretext that one has not consented to his governance. It may indeed at times be obligatory to disobey Caesar; but not on those terms. When Caesar gives a just command, compliance is morally obligatory.

While I agree with the general point that 'consent' is a piece of modern politico-theological mythology, intended to replace substantive goods, or even the Good, as the foundation of legitimacy with a purely formalist willing, I wonder whether there isn't more here. For one thing, the Good is never instantiated immediately in history; it is always mediated through concrete circumstances of historical development, culture, tradition, reflection, religion, and so forth. The Good, that is, is realized through the mediation of a host of particular and contingent circumstances, and is conditioned by and towards those circumstances; the Good, one might say, is either approximated, more or less adequately, by particular cultures, or itself underdetermines its own concrete historical expression. This, ultimately, because men are finite, composite beings enmeshed in history, for which no singular, fully articulated expression of the Good can be sufficient; the general principles of the natural law must be specified in relation to contingent and variable circumstances.

If, then, a particular nation, for whatever reason, possesses a constitutional form enshrining some mode of popular consent, separation of powers, or a subsidiarist hierarchy of authorities - and I presuppose that such things can be justified variously; one could justify them by relating them to the Good, and to concrete goods, arguing that they can function as brakes upon concentrations of power, and as preconditions of the goods of self-government and community; there is no necessity of justifying them by means of an elaborate mythology of consent - it does not suffice to render an act or imposition of authority legitimate that the substance thereof conforms to the Good. It will also be necessary that the mode or manner of its imposition conform to the procedural mechanisms established by a particular society for the regulation of political affairs and the pursuit of the common good.

My considered opinion, for example, is that justice itself underdetermines the question of whether child rapists should be subject to capital punishment. Assuming, however, that justice obligates us to exempt such persons from the capital sanction, it still does not follow that it is licit for the nation's highest judicial body to proscribe the imposition of that sanction in the several states, torturing legal precedent and obviating the very federal system that the Constitution was intended to enshrine. That is to state that it is not sufficient to do the right thing; one must do the right thing in the right manner.

I agree, Maximos. Process and form of government aren't everything, but they aren't nothing.

"When Caesar gives a just command, compliance is morally obligatory."

Caesar has commanded;
National Guard members to the streets of Baghdad
Inner-city poor to reside in cityscapes designed by Le Corbusier
Families to send their kids across county lines to mega-schools
Landlords to rent to same-sex couples
Pharmacists to dispense abortifacients
Residential neighborhoods to accomodate strip-malls and strip-clubs
Homeowners to abandon their properties to private developers

Are any of these commands, just? Given the level of compliance, we can either conclude; yes, or, marvel at the level of docility attained by a people who have relegated God to a very remote sphere in their lives.

- there is no necessity of justifying them by means of an elaborate mythology of consent -

Oh, I quite agree. There may well be quite compelling prudential reasons for certain forms of rule in certain times and places. For example, though I definitely have monarchist sympathies I think it would be grossly imprudent to attempt some fast-track monarchical rule in the United States. Even in the case of a monarchy there should of prudential necessity be many checks and balances: while I am by no means an adherent to some mythology of the American founders, I do recognize the great practical wisdom of separation of powers, which I think of as a form of 'horizontal' subsidiarity, in addition to the vertical subsidiarity we call 'federalism'. I very much support a 're-complexification' of our politics in the form of poll taxes, senators elected by state legislatures, and other restrictions and restructurings of the franchise. In the very long term - centuries - I would not be at all averse to a trajectory to some form of monarchy, and I think the gradual restoration of some traditional aristocratic connections to power - hereditary powers, powers derived from land ownership, etc - are all things that are healthy in appropriate dosages. Mostly it is the anathemetization of such things by the civic religion, as distinct from their actual instantiation, which is at issue.

I think that makes me a small-r republican.

More proximately, at at the top of every ballot there should be the motto 'the just powers of government derive from the common good which government serves', and under that should be the caption 'consent is not justice', or something; something to break the back of this pernicious doctrine.

Practices are one thing, and always fall under prudence; but the pro-choice doctrine must be destroyed utterly.

there is no necessity of justifying them by means of an elaborate mythology of consent

It only appears as mythology when viewed as a perspective from long after the initial consent it given.

When a nation topples an existing political order because it is a tyranny (say when the Cambodians got rid of Pol Pot), there is, for that moment, no government in existence. Therrefore, there is, for that moment, nothing

(that is, no formed body) that commands political asset under the natural law. (The common good still commands asset, but only generically, not toward any specific form or specific law-giver). The only way you can go from having NOTHING which commands assent, to having SOMETHING which commands assent, is by people deciding (by ones, and then tens, hundreds, and thousands) to go along with X proposal. This process is called consent. It does not have to be strictly democratic - historically if often is not. Often as not, in history, it has resulted in a monarchy or aristocracy.

it does not suffice to render an act or imposition of authority legitimate that the substance thereof conforms to the Good. It will also be necessary that the mode or manner of its imposition conform to the procedural mechanisms established by a particular society for the regulation of political affairs and the pursuit of the common good.

Exactly. But when a society has overthrown the former "procedure mechanisms" as being inhabited by tyranny, they must form a new government without such mechanisms. This can only be done with consent in some form or another.

This can only be done with consent in some form or another.

That is at best just a factual statement about contingent historical causes though, not a moral statement justifying specific powers. (That is if one buys into the notion that every post-revolution circumstance is in fact a tabula rasa, which I do not). People in that situation, or any situation, are as capable of making unjust choices as just ones. It is not this spin on 'consenting' - a spin which by the way applies to every polity ever, and so does not distinguish just ones from unjust ones - which justifies particular powers or structures, at all.

Even if we stipulated an Enlightenment tabula rasa creation ex nihilo by man of a brand new polity, it does not follow that the justice of the powers so instantiated derives from consent. It doesn't.

I wouldn't demur from any of that, although I find it well nigh impossible to envision a restoration of any elements of aristocratic authority, aristocratic power being predicated upon hereditary property and the association of the nobility with particular places and peoples. Globalization more or less abolishes the significance of 'old money', displacing it by encouraging, and then valorizing, the new wealth, and the possessors thereof, thrown up by its processes of destructive creation; in fact, as an archetypal elite/system formation, globalization as a process of the alteration of our economic and political structures - of the conversion of the nation-state into an instrument of newer political and economic sovereignties - and its elites are mutually dependent. Since most of these processes and policies are subversive of the interests and goods of particular, rooted peoples, globalization and aristocracy are manifestly mutually exclusive.

Would anyone desire that Ted Turner, Bill Gates, George Soros, and legions of nameless investment bankers be invested with explicit, hereditary political authority? The mere thought is so disquieting I'll need a drink to steady by nerves. Succinctly, if monarchy and aristocracy are commendable, this is one more reason globalization is not.

To illustrate:

Suppose Bob Torquemada happens to be one of the few last men standing after nuclear war. His merry band of men consent to a government with the express powers to engage in cannibalism and torture, including eating the weak, etc.

Across the ridge, Fred Francis and his merry band develop and consent to a system of just rules for their little village.

Clearly some of the powers of these nascent polities are just, and some not. And the justice (or lack thereof) of these powers has nothing whatsoever to do with consent.

"Would anyone desire that Ted Turner, Bill Gates, George Soros, and legions of nameless investment bankers be invested with explicit, hereditary political authority? The mere thought is so disquieting I'll need a drink to steady by nerves."

:-) I like that line.

I think one interesting point here is that no one is saying anything about necessary vs. sufficient conditions. It's dead-level _obvious_ that consent of the governed is not a sufficient condition for the policies enacted to be just. Multiplied examples of this are almost unnecessary, because that's so obvious. What's more controversial is the claim that no sort of "consent of the governed" is even necessary as a minimal condition for policies to be just.

We may perhaps be dealing with and juggling several different senses of "justice." For example: Suppose that you've had a hereditary absolute monarchy in Zippyland for hundreds of years, and Zippy and his descendents have ruled there benignly for all this time. It seems intuitively right to say that their policies may be entirely just even though there is no mechanism whatsoever like voting for obtaining the consent of the governed for any particular policy. Nor am I inclined to accept the usual argument that the governed consent just because they don't engage in armed insurrection and overthrow Zippy XIV from his throne. I might be inclined to say that there is a real danger in investing that much power in one fallen man, but as a contingent matter, it's possible that Zippy XIV could be an entirely just ruler.

But suppose, on the other hand, that we are instead talking about America, set up in its original nature as a republic with separation of powers, and suppose that Jones becomes a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Suppose that he starts striking down state laws all over the place because they are, in his opinion, unjust, without the slightest excuse in the text of the Constitution or federal law. Suppose that in the melee, he actually happens to strike down some state law that is, in fact, unjust, though not contrary to any provision of the federal law that Jones is empowered to apply. Now we get to Maximos's statement that you have to do the right thing in the right manner. Might not Jones's ukase be just1 but not just2?

I might be inclined to say that there is a real danger in investing that much power in one fallen man, but as a contingent matter, it's possible that Zippy XIV could be an entirely just ruler.

Precisely -- as a matter of prudence, given the realities of succession (and even alzheimers for that matter), there is certainly danger. I'm also inclined to be concerned about the justice of that circumstance, depending on how we define it in its details, not because of consent, but because of a lack of subsidiarity. Of course to justify armed revolt against the monarch would require full satisfaction of the just war doctrine, not merely worries over imprudence or even outright unjust rule, etc.

And yes, it is certainly true that 'accidentally happens to have a just outcome' also does not in itself justify a particular exercise of government power. A just exercise of government power is both extrinsically and intrinsically ordered toward the good of the community and its individual members. (One may still be required to go along with the result though, in addition to doing other things, again depending on circumstances).

Thanks for this post Zippy. As a member in good standing of neocon club, I was previously inclined to read a sentence like "just powers of a government derive from the consent of the governed" without really thinking about its implications. You have "opened my eyes" to the problems inherent in equating "consent" with "justice".

However, I tend to think of the long sweep of history as NOT being congenial to the notion that the following idea will give you more justice than a representative democracy:

"In the very long term - centuries - I would not be at all averse to a trajectory to some form of monarchy, and I think the gradual restoration of some traditional aristocratic connections to power - hereditary powers, powers derived from land ownership, etc - are all things that are healthy in appropriate dosages."

Probably the one place this worked out well is England/Great Britain, although even there once capitalism came along then it was Parliment that had to kick the monarchy kicking and screaming to enact just policies (and yes, I know Maximos will disagree but I actually think capitalism is a necessary condition of just government). I think you might also make a case for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italian city-states. More recently I might even throw in Franco's Spain and all the other 20th Century dictators who tried to save their people from Communism (e.g. the Greek junta, South Korea's military government, Pinochet's Chile, etc.) But in many, many other places and times it seems to me that monarchy (and/or dictatorship) and aristocracy have led to a lot more injustice than not. But I suppose this is an argument for another day.

Zippy, Kevin:

If you (generic "you") are an American, you have consented to live under a particular form of majority rule, one that proceeds according to a system of checks and balances. You have consented to submit to the will of the majority, even when your side is not the majority. The majority's will is sometimes determined by popular vote, sometimes not. That is, sometimes we speak for ourselves directly; sometimes our representatives speak for us, whether they do so in the legislature or on the bench.

As long as you remain here and enjoy the benefits of the system, you are consenting to it, and it is not tyranny. The fact that you do not leave indicates your continued consent, even if given grudgingly. You do not leave because you make an ongoing cost/benefit analysis that says the opportunity costs for leaving are not worth the benefits to be gained by doing so. You are not coerced. You assess your options and make a choice. You elect to stay. You consent. Whether what the system yields is moral or not is a different question.

This has nothing to do with Torquemada, or any of the red herrings brought up in comments posted above. Nor is it the result of modern secularization. It's at least as old as 1 Samuel 8.

Jeff:
But in many, many other places and times it seems to me that monarchy (and/or dictatorship) and aristocracy have led to a lot more injustice than not.

I agree. On the other hand democracy has not been kind either -- as always, depending on who you are. The abortion holocaust in particular is unprecedented in its scale. One way in which I am very sympathetic to libertarianism is in appreciating the dangers of governance gone wrong, or intentionally abused, in general - no matter what its particular form. That is part of why I think both 'horizontal' subsidiarity (separation of powers) and 'vertical' subsidiarity (federalism) are important practical structures. But with all due respect to Winston Churchill I think it may be a mistake to dogmatically declare democracy the victor in a contest of least-evil.

Michael:
I really have no sympathy whatsoever for the notion that failure to go into a self-imposed exile from one's country of birth constitutes consent to whatever the authorities decide to do. None at all.

Michael,
"You have consented to submit to the will of the majority, even when your side is not the majority."

Indeed, and until the construction of my Papist state* is completed (the hired help, in accord with Rerum Novarum, all belong to a very strong guild) in a sunny, verdant climate of undiscovered wine-fields, I will continue to suffer endless defeat. However, my objection to the current political arrangement rests on the following;
1)shouldn't decisions sometimes be arrived at, as advertised, by the majority? In the cases cited above, most involve strong majorities whose will was thwarted by faceless, unknown officials.

2)Whatever happened to the "Spirit of '76"? How many times will families and entire communities be turned upside-down by social engineers and profiteers before someone musters a response a little stronger than a discarded petition?

3) Checks and balances. Is Caesar sufficiently hemmed in? Or, is he unsated and just getting started.

4) Is genuine self-government possible in a post-Christian culture?

* Yes, you will not only be welcomed, you will rejoice at life in our happy shire!

Jeff, while we are destined to disagree as to the status and pertinence of capitalism to justice, suffice it to state that it is the worst sort of progressivist, Whiggish anachronism to pronounce all historical governments and societies prior to its advent unjust, or unjust in direct proportion to the absence of capitalist practices.

Kevin:

(1) shouldn't decisions sometimes be arrived at, as advertised, by the majority?

Do you really feel that decisions arrived at by the majority are actually (morally) correct ones?

Does the commoner possess enough knowledge and wisdom to know just what is a correct decision?

While we should be wary of tyrants who dare rule the land according to their will, we should also fear the same from the mob!

Aristocles,
I'm not a populist and don't think the ballot box a likely palce for discovering the truth. However, for the past 40 years or so, the "commoners" have displayed far more moral and common sense than our elites. As for worries about the tyranny of the mob, sheep-like submission to any indignity or injustice is far more prevalent and damaging. Should things get ugly in the future, we will rue the strange complacency that marked our response to a series of swindles and deceptions that we allowed both parties to perform.

A just power is an exercise of government authority which one is morally required to obey.

Going back to the original post, it occurs to me that this is an interesting statement. Could there never be an unjust government exercise of authority that one was morally required to obey? I suppose it depends, again, on how one defines 'justice' and on a possible ambiguity there. Suppose that a government enacts confiscatory levels of taxation with the explicit intent of bringing ruin upon a particular class of people--the ancient aristocracy, for example. It seems to me fairly evident that this policy is unjust. Yet it does not seem to me self-evidently to follow that the aristocrat in question is permitted to engage in civil disobedience. Perhaps he is obliged to render the iniquitous taxation to the government while at the same time being allowed to protest, "This is unjust." Surely there are situations like that. It seems to me that it would take very little ingenuity to imagine laws that are in one obvious sense _wrong_, _unjust_, but which a good citizen must nonetheless acquiesce in. The easiest examples seem to me to be those of excessive or bizarre regulation, confiscation of property, or very high rates of taxation. Or, to take a different example, there is the use of tax money for evil purposes--by Caesar to fund the gladiatorial games, for example, or by the U.S. government to fund Planned Parenthood. What they are doing in those cases is obviously unjust, both in the sense of doing evil and in the sense of taking money by the power they possess as government agents in order to finance the doing of evil. But it does not seem to me to follow that tax evasion is morally licit. (St. Paul apparently doesn't think so.)

So it's not clear to me that a just exercise of power by the government is to be absolutely _identified with_ an exercise of power with which we are obligated as citizens to cooperate. We may in one sense be obligated to obey the government even when it is acting unjustly.

I'm not sure how this affects the issue of consent of the governed, though.

As long as you remain here and enjoy the benefits of the system, you are consenting to it, and it is not tyranny.

I think this is entirely false as silence is not consent. It is similar to saying to conservatives that not voting in the presidential election is a vote for Obama. Instead, in order to vote for Obama one has to actually vote for Obama and in the same manner, in order to give consent, one has to actually express his agreement. The implication here is that anyone who remains in the United States is formally cooperating with abortion. I think that is nonsense.

Interesting comment, Lydia. It certainly makes sense that there is some 'hysteresis' in here, that is, some region where the government official is objectively doing moral wrong in asserting a certain power in a certain manner, yet the citizen would do objective wrong in disobeying that assertion. We do have a tendency to want to close the gap; but if the gap is natural, an objective part of reality, it isn't going to close for us in principle, though we may be able to close it as a practical matter through various checks and balances.

As far as if or where that connects to the idea of the justice of all government powers deriving from the consent of the governed, that is, of those government powers not deriving from consent being necessarily unjust on that basis under some theory of consent, I don't see offhand how it would.

As long as you remain here and enjoy the benefits of the system, you are consenting to it, and it is not tyranny.
I think this is entirely false as silence is not consent.
Indeed. And not only that: 'remain here' isn't even silence, let alone consent.

You elect to stay. You consent.

Yes, all those Russians who stayed in-country under Stalinist rule consented to it. I wonder if that includes the ones who were slaughtered.

Yes, all those Russians who stayed in-country under Stalinist rule consented to it. I wonder if that includes the ones who were slaughtered.

Considering the right to emmigrate was suppressed, then no. If someone is imprisoned, then doubly no.

"You have a right to emigrate, therefore you consent to everything done by the authorities here" remains a non sequitur deep in the moronic territories of the land of syllogism, from which it will never emigrate.

And you're an idiot too. If you would cut the reductionist bullshit, an actual conversation might be possible. Instead you feel the need to defend an idiotic reduction like claiming since someone remained by force within a certain geographic boundry, they must have consented to whoever administers it.

...an idiotic reduction like claiming since someone remained by force within a certain geographic boundry, they must have consented to whoever administers it.

Even absent force, there are those who will nevertheless remain, not due to consent, mind you, but simply because there is no other alternative.

I don't think you know what you're talking about, Mr. Forrest. Zippy is decidedly not claiming that "since someone remained by force within a certain geographic boundry [sic], they must have consented to whoever administers it."

But whatever you think he said, there is no cause for personal imprecations and profanity. We value you as a commenter, but that sort of stuff has to stop, now.

I may indeed be an idiot; nevertheless, and independently, the notion that failure to emigrate implies consent is an idiotic notion. Perhaps I recognize its idiocy through family resemblance.

In New Jersey a bond referendum to raise money for a stem-cell research facility was handily defeated. The next day the Governor said he would ignore the wishes of the majority and proceed with the scheme, despite a burgeoning state deficit. The choices for the opposition are now a) move /emigrate
b) hope the state goes bankrupt c) engage in some form of civil disobedience d) open another summer ale and wonder what elections in Russia are like.

Consent of the government seems like a fine theory. Just don't see it put to practice all that much. Assuming Obama wins, many of his young supporters are going to grow prematurely cynical when they find we are still in Iraq 3 years later. While misery loves company, such a development is only going to increase the crisis of legitimacy our public institutions are facing. That can't, at least short-term, be good for anyone.

Assuming Obama wins, many of his young supporters are going to grow prematurely cynical when they find we are still in Iraq 3 years later. While misery loves company, such a development is only going to increase the crisis of legitimacy our public institutions are facing. That can't, at least short-term, be good for anyone.


If Obama wins, wouldn't that be due to majority support?

Why, then, would there be the issue of legitimacy?


The only failure here, if anything, is the failure to act by those who were content enough to allow such a win to occur by failing to contribute to Obama's defeat by casting a vote against his presidency.

Obama's voteers will have won, just like the anti-embroyo research voters won in N.J., and still not have affected policy. Hence the cyncism and resulting crisis of legitimacy. These are not infrequent, isolated aberrations, as the examples on; busing, gay marriage, eminent domain, urban renewal, et al, indicate. Fact is it's fairly routine; consent of the governed has become a hollow slogan learned in dumbed down civics classes.

Sorry, A-man, but McCain is an unbridled hawk on the wrong side of the culture of death - civilization of love divide, and unable to win my vote.

I think, Kevin, that you may be overlooking the manner in which the 'consent of the governed' meme is in conflict with itself.

The reason modern courts have decided in favor of 'more rights' is precisely because they don't want the majority lording it over the minority without the minority's consent. The consent liturgy is not a matter of straightforward 'majority rules'. The 'democracy' part of the liturgy putatively assures that everyone has equal political power, that is, that each person's consent is formally represented in the process in equal measure. But that political power is still limited inasmuch as it is not permitted to violate the equal rights of all persons, against their consent. Thus everyone has an equal right to vote, but that equal right to vote does not impose on the equal right of gays to do whatever they want to sexually and legally on equal grounds with what normal people get to do sexually and legally.

Both the hyperdemocratic and hyperjudicial processes we see at work are natural outcomes of the embrace of the doctrine that legitimacy arises from consent.

Zippy,
Well said and I understand your point, but if we're going to go back to first causes, then it won't end with the liturgy of consent. Instead we'll be returning to the Enlightenment and the brass-knuckles brawl that always follows.

Besides, I think your explanation somehow incomplete. It explains the culture war issues, but not others. Using the referendum in NJ as an example, there were no aggrieved victims demanding the sacrifice of embryo's for their ailments. You had some shady bio-tech operators lustily grabbing state funds. They lost the vote, but won the funding anyways. Same with eminent domain cases and the urban renewal scams that were inflicted on minorities during the 60's.

Something more is behind it. Maybe, we've entered a phase of decline where simple, raw state power is all that matters. I'm not sure.

I think your explanation somehow incomplete. It explains the culture war issues, but not others.

Well, I'm not so much trying to explain everything as I am to point out a particular very widespread and basic error, an error with pernicious and widespread consequences -- consequences which include men of good will unwittingly disarming themselves in the struggle against wickedness by adopting the 'consent' doctrine. In other words, I am not trying to comprehensively answer the question posed by this blog, but merely to give a particular answer with respect to something particularly important.

It seems to me that the idea of consent comes from the myth that man is born free and independent and then opts into society for his own benefit. In reality, man is born into society. Humans are naturally social beings, not islands. The combination of the myth of consent and the reality that man is naturally social, leads to the absurdity that not packing up and leaving your country of birth is consent (if consent justifies the social order, then it has to be).

"...consequences which include men of good will unwittingly disarming themselves in the struggle against wickedness by adopting the 'consent' doctrine."

That aspect is very troubling and I'm not sure where we find the antidote. I have little desire to entertain the quixotic restoration of a governmental form that lacks roots in the American experience. A crisis of legitimacy coupled with a drastic alteration in the "American way of life" due to economic crisis, could leave our Managerial class out of power.

Absent that painful upheaval, I'm afraid we'll quietly follow our European cousins and slowly sleep walk to our grave. I guess my best hope lies in a completely unforeseen event or personality (how probable was the emergence of Joan of Arc in 15th Century France?)providing the basis for our nation's renewal.

I have little desire to entertain the quixotic restoration of a governmental form that lacks roots in the American experience.

I think that is right, FWIW. Wherever we go, we are going to go there from here. With apologies to Yogi Berra, the place where you start is at the starting line. But we cannot take that to imply (to be clear, I don't suggest that you are implying) that we can willfully continue in an error so terrifically destructive once it has been identified and made explicit.

Zippy,
Tell us why you stay, and tell us why your staying is not consent.

Kevin,
I did not argue that silence was consent.

I argued that the ongoing choice to remain, the ongoing rejection of all other options on the basis of a continual cost/benefit analysis, was a choice, was consent to (in the case of the US and other similar nations) a system of majority rule.

So, I make the same request of you that I make of Zippy:
Tell me why you stay, and tell me why your staying is not consent.

In other words, I think you and Zippy practice one polity and preach another.

Zippy,
Your words: "I really have no sympathy whatsoever for the notion that failure to go into a self-imposed exile from one's country of birth constitutes consent to whatever the authorities decide to do. None at all."

Please do read more carefully. I did not say that when you remain here you consent to everything done by the authorities. I said that by remaining here you consent to a system of majority rule, even when your side is not the majority. By saying that your side is not the majority, I am presupposing your dissent. I am not saying that you assent to whatever the authorities do. You assent to the system of majority rule, even though you do not agree with every outcome it yields.

Given the predictably erratic nature of political and judicial decisions in a fallen world, that result (dissent from the majority on any particular issue or series of issues) is likely to occur often for all concerned, whether they are left or right, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, religious or secular.

Yet they -- and you -- continue to stay. They -- and you -- have their reasons for doing so. I'm interested to hear yours. I'm interested because I have yet to hear one (in this forum or another) that was not the result of an ongoing cost/benefit analysis that says, in effect, "This is my best option, the one to which I consent." I'm trying to find out if you argue against consent of the governed while still practicing it yourself. Are you, in fact, living at odds with your own view? If so, why? Hence my question to you in the earlier post.

Just to be clear about the frame of reference: I'd have supposed that it was obvious I was talking about modern western-style democracies and not talking about places like the former Soviet Union or present-day North Korea. (That's why I distanced my remarks from the Torquemada reference.) But by assuming they could distinguish between consensual systems involving options and choices, on the one hand, and totalitarian ones that do not, on the other, I was paying some readers a compliment they did not deserve. Now the context is clear -- or ought to be.

I have yet to hear one (in this forum or another) that was not the result of an ongoing cost/benefit analysis that says, in effect, "This is my best option, the one to which I consent."
I was born here. In fact, I'm a distant relation of Betsy Ross. My grandfather used to play cards with Harry Truman. Nobody on earth has superior claim to be an American than I do. It does not follow that I consent to anything at all in particular about how the government is presently structured, run, etc. If I had consented to any of that, I would be aware of having done so. My claim is by blood and soil. 'The market is everything' globalist suggestions that simply by being somewhere a person 'consents' to anything at all about the current governance of that somewhere is twaddle. It is such a terrible argument that I don't understand why people make it. They must think that it carries some kind of polemical punch, I suppose, but I can't imagine why.

Michael,
"I did not argue that silence was consent."

I never claimed that you did. The concept of "silent assent" is usually put forth by bureaucrats after they quietly ram through a project or program; "the time to voice your objection to our passing out condoms in elementary school was at the committee meeting 6 months ago."

"In other words, I think you and Zippy practice one polity and preach another."

Actually, Michael that same charge could be leveled at defenders of the status quo. I've raised specific examples of the democratic process being thwarted; binding referendum results ignored by states, courts illegally taking over the executive administrative functions in states, legislative leaders violating state law in order to suppress a popular referendum, to name but three. Your response has been - still forthcoming - I guess.

I don't have a polity I can propose as an alternative to what has become of this one. That doesn't mean I endorse it by default, or that it's defenders are relieved of the burden to explain the wide chasm that exists between theory and practice, reality and rhetoric.

My staying here means my affections for people and places trump those more ephemeral concerns, like the political regime du jour.

I take consent to be an act of the will. Remaining in the particular place I was born is not an act. To say that remaining here is the equivalent to consent is to confuse actions and non-actions.

Kevin,

Your words: "I take consent to be an act of the will. Remaining in the particular place I was born is not an act. To say that remaining here is the equivalent to consent is to confuse actions and non-actions."

There are both mental and physical actions. Staying entails both, and both entail consent (in this case to a self-selected course of action). Neither choosing to stay nor acting on that choice by staying are merely passive. Thinking and choosing can be very hard work, and they are mental actions. Or, put differently, you get up every morning (I assume) and go to work, or to some other activity when you could have chosen to take up actions to go elsewhere, to Switzerland perhaps, or to acquire another citizenship. But you do not. For many reasons, you elect to continue on your present course of action here. That's choosing; that's doing. You could opt out of the system you descry, but you do not. As I will explain in the final paragraph below, I am in the same boat, and I make the same choice.

Zippy,
I honestly cannot see how your reasons for staying do not entail choice and (therefore) general consent with regard to the American system of majority rule and its attendant principle of the consent of the governed. As I just wrote to Kevin above, you could opt out of the system you descry, but you do not. You stay when you could leave. But for various reasons you choose not to go. Your reasons and explanations seem perfectly sensible to me. I applaud them. After all, I make the same sort of choice you do: Regardless of what I think needs fixing here, I think the system is good enough to continue to live my life under it, even when it yields results I do not like or employs principles from which I strongly dissent. But how your articulated reasons for staying do anything but demonstrate your continued consent to stay and not to go elsewhere, I do not know. Further, you pay taxes that support the system. You also exploit the system's benefits continually in countless ways. Your continued life choices indicate that you are continually consenting to the consent of the governed even while you say you don't like the concept.

Or, said differently, if you don't like baseball, that's fine. If you think the strike zone should be larger, that's fine too. You might be exactly right. But if baseball is so bad that you have some moral or principled objection to it, then play some other game. But don't say you are not consenting to playing baseball while you continue to play it day in and day out, especially when there's a football game, a basketball game, a soccer match, a golf course, and a bicycle race available to you. Participate in one of the others, if you like. The choice is yours and you make it every day. Your choice on the political front is no different. You consent to the consent of the governed even while you say you do not. What you say and how you live are at odds with one another.

BTW, Kevin and Zippy, I am in exactly the same boat. I strongly oppose abortion. But that said, I consent to live in a system wherein some portion of my tax money pays for or supports abortion. Whether I oppose abortion or not, I am consenting to live under a system that funds it. I can leave and go to another country where the system is different, but I do not. For various reasons, I choose to stay -- and I do stay. I try to offset my contribution to this abortion-supporting system by doing more to combat the evil than I do to support it with my taxes. To date, I know of four persons who did not have an abortion because of something I published or something I said. But whatever else I say about this system, I consent to live in it, even though some of my money supports abortion. So do you.

Correction:
I typed "Kevin" and should have typed "Kurt." Kevin did not write the words attributed to him. Mea culpa.

Michael:
If you genuinely cannot distinguish between being born somewhere and consenting to a particular structure of rule in that somewhere, there probably isn't anything else I can say.

The discourse does demonstrate rather vividly the entanglement of the structure of democracy with the doctrine of consent though. I've said before that it is possible in principle to have democratic governance without adopting the false 'legitimacy comes from consent' doctrine. In short, there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with voting in a modern democracy (though I don't, precisely because I explicitly withold my consent from the doctrine of consent, and for other reasons). But one can see that the liturgy and the doctrine do share a close connection.

Baseball is a frivolous game, it is not the soil of one's birth, and therefore it makes a particularly inapt analogy. In general, 'home' is not an arbitrary choice made by the free and equal new man from a marketplace of available choices.

Indeed from my point of view it is morally wrong to abandon one's country unless one must do so for some very compelling reason. A man has natural law duties by birth to his family, and also to his country. If we insist on comparing emigration and staying put under a rubric of consent, I am more sympathetic to an argument that emigration is consent to the state of things at home: it is effectively the abandonment of home. I still would not accept the argument: retreat is not 'consent' to being conquered. But I am at least slightly more amenable to saying that retreat is consent than I am to saying that standing firm is consent.

However, even if I granted that retreat is kind of consent, that still doesn't justify the invasion. The connection between consent and legitimacy is a chimera.

Answer this question

Does our system of justice put too much power in the hands of unelected officials?


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