Template:Mergeto Template:Politics "Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that power is exercised. This theory of "consent" is historically contrasted to the divine right of kings and has often been invoked against the legitimacy of colonialism. A key question is whether the unanimous consent of the governed is required; if so, this would imply the right of secession for those who do not want to be governed by a particular collective.
In the United StatesEdit
Using thinking similar to that of English political scientist John Locke, the founders of the United States believed in a state built upon the consent of "free and equal" citizens; a state otherwise conceived would lack legitimacy and legal authority. This was expressed, among other places, The 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and in the Virginia Bill of Rights, especially Section 6, quoted below:
That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, the attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the public good."
Although the Continental Congress at the outset of the American Revolution had no explicit legal authority to govern, it assumed all the functions of a national government, such as appointing ambassadors, signing treaties, raising armies, appointing generals, obtaining loans from Europe, issuing paper money (called "Continentals"), and disbursing funds. The Congress had no authority to levy taxes, and was required to request money, supplies, and troops from the states to support the war effort. Individual states frequently ignored these requests. According to the Cyclopædia of Political Science. New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co., 1899, commenting on the source of the Congress' power:
The appointment of the delegates to both these congresses was generally by popular conventions, though in some instances by state assemblies. But in neither case can the appointing body be considered the original depositary of the power by which the delegates acted; for the conventions were either self-appointed "committees of safety" or hastily assembled popular gatherings, including but a small fraction of the population to be represented, and the state assemblies had no right to surrender to another body one atom of the power which had been granted to them, or to create a new power which should govern the people without their will. The source of the powers of congress is to be sought solely in the acquiescence of the people, without which every congressional resolution, with or without the benediction of popular conventions or state legislatures, would have been a mere brutum fulmen; and, as the congress unquestionably exercised national powers, operating over the whole country, the conclusion is inevitable that the will of the whole people is the source of national government in the United States, even from its first imperfect appearance in the second continental congress...
See also Edit
- John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, chapter 8 section 95 (1690)
- Etienne de La Boétie, Discourse of Voluntary Servitude
- David Hume, Of the Original Contract
- Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997 (in which he argues, against a theory of the consent of the governed, in favour of a theory of the lack of explicit rebellion; following a Popperian view on falsifiability, Pettit considers that as consent of the governed is always implicitly supposed, thus trapping the social contract in a vicious circle, it should be replaced by the lack of explicit rebellion.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right (1762)