From the foregoing we obtain a theory of “consent of the governed.”

If I obey a certain law L because I think it good and socially virtuous, then I ipso facto extend consent to be governed by L. If, however, I despise L as harmful and unjust but, recognizing the reality of the government’s power, obey solely out of servile fear of getting caught and punished for breaking it, then I thereby withdraw consent.

The power remains, yet might diminishes.

Various “sovereign citizens” fail to grasp this distinction: between might and power. Withdrawing personal consent chips away at might, but not immediately at power. The “sovereign citizens” are being foolish and imprudent challenging the state so brazenly.

Now the government does many things in our mixed economy. It is possible that I like the fact that the government does A, B, and C but not that it does X, Y, and Z. Yet it appears that I must consent or fail to consent to the whole of “government.” The virtue of this solution is that it allows me to treat some laws as bad, and obey out of a desire not to get into trouble, and so fail to consent to them; and other laws as good and consider obeying them to be a moral imperative. In such a case consent is partial and properly granular.

Further, suppose I support the idea that local government should build city roads. The roads are financed by a car tax equal to $50 / year. I may think that the amount of the tax is too high. I am then essentially splitting the tax into two parts: I pay $20 according to morality and $30 to avoid getting punished: another aspect of granularity and proper distinctions.

It may be objected: Doesn’t this prove too much, namely that consent can be withdrawn even if I have no means of changing the law? If the law is made by an absolute monarch, and I pay the tax purely for prudential reasons, then what is it to the monarch? What does he care how the money comes in? Well, a revolution is always possible, even if there is no institutional means of adjusting the law to suit the majority.

The problem with fear is that it is highly unpleasant and presents a conspicuous incentive to those afflicted with this emotion to change the law. Sufficient discontent among the populace can so undermine the might of the state that the state will lose its power, as well.

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