Pro: The principle of consent provides a universal standard for evaluating the legitimacy of political regimes.
Contra: The theory of property doesn’t make much sense.
The idea that government should be based on the consent of the governed stems from the idea that human beings are free. Because freedom is foundational, freely given consent is the only thing that could legitimize political rule. That we are free, and have rights, are natural facts about human beings, not statuses conferred by governments or societies. Even governments that do not acknowledge human rights, therefore, can be criticized for their refusal to do so.
The principle of consent says that someone may do something to you only if they have your permission to do so. Express consent is freely, knowingly, openly, and explicitly given. But most people have not expressly consented to their government, from which it would appear to follow that no government is legitimate. Locke’s solution to this problem is his doctrine of tacit consent: merely by living in a society, he says, people are implicitly or tacitly consenting to its laws.
This might be taken to imply that “consent” means something like “not unwilling.” Is that robust enough for something as important as political legitimacy? If I visit Cuba, I am presumably not unwilling to obey its laws. Does that mean I regard Communism as a legitimate form of government? Continue reading