Schlueter finds problems with the “pernicious” sense of social contract theories which require explicit consent or contract:

Political authority requires either unanimous consent or less than unanimous consent. If it requires unanimous consent, then in fact there is no political authority because each individual simply does what he wants to do.

If it requires less than unanimous consent, then some individuals are empowered to rule others against their consent, and thus consent theory violates its own moral requirement.

… then two historical problems appear. First, what political authority can point to such a moment of unanimous consent at its foundation? (And is every existing political authority that cannot do so therefore unjust?)

Second, how could the unanimous consent of one generation (assuming this is possible) bind another without once again violating its own moral requirement? (35)

Tacit consent to the state allegedly given by residing on the territory ruled by it is unsatisfactory for other compelling reasons. For example:

It is by no means clear that someone who merely acquiesces to political authority is thereby morally obliged to obey it, especially when the costs of emigration — one’s family, friends, language, property, life — are high, as they usually are.

We may acquiesce to a robber at gunpoint when the cost of resistance is high, but this does not mean we acknowledge his authority. (35)

It might be worth saying a few words on decentralization. Our author writes: “The principle of subsidiarity is a profoundly conservative principle and more useful than ‘decentralization,’ which is only negative in form and does not distinguish those cases when decentralization is a threat to liberty and human flourishing.” (29)

The argument for decentralization in the abstract does not depend on the idea that every concrete secession is good for liberty. Rather, it has 2 general effects. First, it increases competition between polities, thus providing people with more and cheaper exit options. The costs of moving from Kent to Akron are smaller than the costs of moving from Ohio to California which in turn are smaller than the costs of moving from America to Mexico.

Second, it tends to internalize government errors. In a town, a few mistakes by the city council, and the respectable burghers composing it will find themselves ruling a ghost town, with people having fled from oppression, high taxes, or hostile business environment. Their own property values will plummet. This understanding supplies a potent incentive for them to keep government small and efficient. On the other hand, even most horrifying blunders of the US federal government do not cause mass exodus and seem to result in no repercussions for the lawmen. I bet if the feds dropped a nuclear bomb on Los Angeles, even then Americans would continue to worship the damn flag.

Again, libertarians may look askance on state governments, but unlike the federal government, Ohio cannot go to war or print its own paper money; its taxes are much smaller than federal taxes (and some states don’t tax income at all); its regulations are less restrictive; it cannot impose trade barriers such as tariffs; and so on. The main reason for these blessings is that Ohio competes with the other 49 states for citizens and businesses.

Subsidiary regards vertical hierarchical delegations of authority; decentralization regards horizontal competition between entities. Both seem nicely complementary. Private business firms and organizations are at the bottom of the hierarchy, and the subsidiary principle, when rightly understood, recommends that almost the entirety of all production be performed by them rather than by higher entities like city or state governments. Laissez-faire economy is its direct consequence. Decentralization agrees, especially in a global economy with millions of competing companies.

Again, subsidiary suggests that a state-level solution is usually preferable to a federal-level solution. Decentralization supplies a reason for it, namely that states (and much more, cities) are “laboratories of democracy” where it is more practical for people to “vote with their feet,” i.e., revolt against bad policies by moving out.

Picking up, what follows is a standard defense of the state as (1) beneficial and (2) inevitable / necessary. But if that’s how it is, then why invoke consent at all? What does it matter if the citizens do or do not consent to good, i.e., Schlueter-approved, government? It seems that they need to obey this government whether they like it or not.

There is a two-fold irrelevance of consent.

First, consent cannot be valuable to Schlueter in his capacity as philosopher-king, since anyone who opposes him is by the fact of resisting “good government” a pervert or traitor.

And if traitors are to be shot, then clearly there is no consenting going on; one either obeys or dies.

Second, it is true that in practice, an unpopular government cannot endure in the long run. But a thing like the President’s “approval rating” is an inextricably collective measure. Consent cannot be valuable to any individual Smith the citizen, either, because Smith is powerless by himself, as one man among a hundred million, to influence or threaten the regime, indeed despite the fact that “ideas have consequences.” (Note in this connection the important distinction between power and might. Might and Consent.)

Schlueter goes on:

The reason (most) Americans recognize the legitimacy of American political authority over them and not, say, French political authority, is because

(1) it is effective (more or less) in securing their “safety and happiness” (to quote the Declaration of Independence) and

(2) because it is theirs by history, tradition, and fact. (37)

(1) is debatable; in fact, it seems to be the main issue of this book. Schlueter cannot just broadcast the conclusion; he has to prove it.

(2) asks, essentially, “If you are looking for a government to trust, why not this one?” That’s a good point: “my” government might indeed be preferable to the faraway French government. But only under the assumption that I’m eager to trust some government, and a more radical than I anarcho-capitalist might refuse to grant this premise.


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