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Your consent doesn’t matter

February 22, 2012

Library of Congress


I’m developing this idea, but I wanted to post a rough sketch on here regardless. I think consent as a tool against political institutions could not be more useless or irrelevant.

Locke structured his defense of a limited, liberal government on the basis of consent (Sections 87 to 89 prove relevant). Without consent, Locke cannot move individuals out of the state of nature and cannot justify the establishment of a commonwealth.

Lysander Spooner dismissed Locke’s telling because he saw tacit consent and the social contract as ridiculous (and rightly so) and without binding power (No Treason, NT.6.2.10). David Hume compares the social contract to impression, and John Stuart Mill sees it as a useless rhetorical tool for elucidating social obligations, preferring to interpret the matter as one of paying for the benefits an individual receives in society (paragraph three).

Anyway. Mill approaches my thoughts closest, as he doesn’t codify consent as important. Spooner’s argument is that no legitimate government exists unless citizens express their consent to it (correct me if I’m wrong), and I don’t know the extent of Hume’s arguments on social contract and consent in general. While consent in personal interactions remains of vast importance, it doesn’t provide insight to legitimate structures on an institutional level.

Extending the argument of consent outside of what libertarians normally extend it, I think my point clearly emerges. Consent isn’t relevant for political institutions because libertarians deny its relevance when discussing economic and social institutions. If an individuals claims that he or she doesn’t consent to capitalism or the Puritan society in which he or she dwells as a fact of birth and other practical restrictions, such claims usually get dismissed by libertarians. It becomes a sort of “America: Love it or leave it” sentiment akin to what libertarians hear from neoconservatives when discussing political institutions. We do not consent to birth, we do not consent to living under capitalism or socialism, and we do not consent to living in American society or Czech society or Australian society.

That fact doesn’t mean that society, polity, or economy should accommodate those individuals; indeed, I think it elucidates my point that basing institutions on consent isn’t practicable or terribly useful as a tool to determine their legitimacy.

Low costs to exit a polity, society, or economy reduces the impracticality, but it doesn’t get at the principle.

I’m still unsure as to what should be used to determine the legitimacy of institutions, but consent in general appears unworkable to me; I see too many gaps with it on a level beyond individuals. John Hasnas’ Depoliticization of Law offers a possible solution (or, at least, a better rationale) when he discusses depoliticized law, wherein he means the use of a rule of law defined as

The idea of a government of general, neutral, and equally applied rules suggests a system in which no one is subject to any other human will; one in which men do not rule over men, but all are governed by intelligible, impersonal rules that do not elevate the interests of any citizen or group of citizens over those of others.

or, more simply, a government of laws, not men. How such a principle could be translated to the economy lies in emergent order coupled with a rule of law that aims to protect property rights, and in society, a rule of law rooted in the defense of the individual and the minority against the collective and the majority.

I’m not sure whether that’s clear or lacks convincing logic, but these are more musings than anything. It only appears that consent isn’t the most useful tool, especially as I think it’s obvious that if libertarians reject tacit consent in the political realm, they must reject it in the economic and social realm as well.

Ideas?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 28, 2012 10:00 pm

    “Extending the argument of consent outside of what libertarians normally extend it, I think my point clearly emerges. Consent isn’t relevant for political institutions because libertarians deny its relevance when discussing economic and social institutions. If an individuals claims that he or she doesn’t consent to capitalism or the Puritan society in which he or she dwells as a fact of birth and other practical restrictions, such claims usually get dismissed by libertarians. It becomes a sort of “America: Love it or leave it” sentiment akin to what libertarians hear from neoconservatives when discussing political institutions. We do not consent to birth, we do not consent to living under capitalism or socialism, and we do not consent to living in American society or Czech society or Australian society.

    That fact doesn’t mean that society, polity, or economy should accommodate those individuals; indeed, I think it elucidates my point that basing institutions on consent isn’t practicable or terribly useful as a tool to determine their legitimacy.”

    The whole concept of “living under capitalism” is a bit spurious, but I’ll pass on that one. In the current institutions and the current society, perhaps your argumentation works, and it probably works for the self-contradicting minarchist libertarians who pray for a benevolent monopoly on legal force.

    But how do your arguments fair when applied to a free society under an anarchocapitalist or voluntarist “structure”? We’ll have to take a look.

    But first off, why does consent matter in the first place for anything? It stems directly from the non-aggression axiom, which is the only justifiable political ethic (see Hoppe’s argumentation ethics: http://mises.org/daily/5322). No person has the right to initiate violence against another human being or his property. This is pretty standard libertarianism. Now, under the libertarian society, is the first person to throw a punch in a boxing match a criminal? No. But why, for he has surely initiated violence, breaking the non-aggression axiom? It is because his boxing partner has consented to the aggression or initiation of force. Consent makes ALL the difference when one man claims the ownership of the resources (property and body) of another individual. Anyway, without going too deep in, I’m going to try to focus in on more of what you actually said.

    “Consent isn’t relevant for political institutions because libertarians deny its relevance when discussing economic and social institutions.”

    No, libertarians certainly do not deny the relevance of consent to economic and social institutions. We favor the institutions of the free market because they depend upon voluntary/consensual exchange rather than coerced exchange. We do not favor “forced membership” into social/political institutions. Not sure where you get the idea that libertarians deny the relevance of consent in the field of economics and society.

    “If an individuals claims that he or she doesn’t consent to capitalism or the Puritan society in which he or she dwells as a fact of birth and other practical restrictions, such claims usually get dismissed by libertarians.”

    Then perhaps these “libertarians” are suffering from inconsistency, and the problem is with them, not libertarianism. If a person does not consent to capitalism, they are free (in an ancap society) to nonviolently secede from that society and give up the great gains of the division of labor. They are free to find other like-minded individuals, secure property through voluntary means or homesteading, and form a communist society where all members consent. They are not free to aggress against the capitalists or the Puritans, this much is true, but they have the right to nonviolently disagree with those surrounding them and to nonviolently act in a manner that they think makes them better off. Since each individual is self-owning, it does not matter if A does not consent to B being a Puritan. They have no right to violently control B. But, they are allowed to try and persuade if B is willing to listen, or to isolate themselves from B to the best of their ability.

    “It becomes a sort of “America: Love it or leave it” sentiment akin to what libertarians hear from neoconservatives when discussing political institutions. We do not consent to birth, we do not consent to living under capitalism or socialism, and we do not consent to living in American society or Czech society or Australian society.”

    We do not consent to two plus two equaling four, we do not consent to needing food in order to survive, we do not consent to scarcity, we do not consent to what is true, etc….this is consent divorced from right and/or possibility. Consent, it is true is not the ideal, but a manifestation of another ideal, that being self-ownership. Consent is relevant insofar as man is self-owning, and not owned by others, and thus has the right to contract freely without being coerced. Consent does not matter in cases where it is an impossibility to effect outcomes. It does not matter whether we consent to gravity or not, we are subject to it no matter what. Gravity is a part of the natural law, in the literal sense of the word.

    In addition, it is not “love it or leave it” mentality. Libertarians do not tell you to pack your bags and move or else shut up. Libertarians argue for private property. And given that the property is rightfully yours, you have the right to nonviolently secede from any country or person(s) claiming jurisdiction over you, and they have no right to interfere (this is not saying that in today’s society they won’t interfere) because they do not own you or your property.

    Consent makes absolutely all the difference, be it political, societal, or economic institutions/structures. For a libertarian to argue otherwise is not only contradictory, but intolerant. It is to deny the right of every individual to act in nonviolent disagreement.

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